The Word Made Fresh
1Later on God decided to test Abraham, and called to him; “Abraham!”
2God said, “I know you love Isaac, your only son. But I want you to take him to the Moriah area and offer him as a sacrifice on one of the mountains I will point out to you.”
3Abraham got up early the next morning and saddled his donkey and summoned two of his young servants and his son Isaac. He cut wood for a burnt offering and started in the direction God had told him. 4On the third day he could see the place some distance away. 5He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go yonder to worship, and then we’ll come back.”
6He gave Isaac the wood for the burnt offering to carry and he himself carried the fire pot and the knife. They headed out together.
7Isaac said, “Father?”
“We have the fire and the wood, but what about the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8Abraham answered, “God will provide the lamb, my son,” and they walked on together.
9When they arrived at the place God had shown him, Abraham built an altar and laid the wood on it properly. Then he tied his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood. 10He gripped the knife and raised it to slaughter his son.11But the angel of the LORD called down from above, “Abraham! Abraham!”
12“Don’t hurt the boy or do him any harm. Now I know that you fear God because you have not kept your only son from me.”
13Abraham looked around and spotted a ram caught by its horns in some thick brush. He slaughtered the ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14Abraham called the place Jehovah Jireh, “the Lord will provide,” and the saying is still heard today: “It will be provided on the LORD’s mountain.”
15The angel of the LORD called to Abraham again from above. 16“I myself promise that because you have done this and have not held back your only son from me, 17I will surely reward you by making your descendants as numberless as the stars in the sky, as countless as the grains of sand on the beach. Your descendants will take the cities of their enemies, 18and by them the nations of the world will be enriched, all because you have obeyed me.”
19Abraham went back to his young servants and they returned to Beer-sheba, where Abraham lived.
20After this happened, Abraham got this word: “Milcah has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21Uz is the firstborn, then Buz, then Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22then Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” (23Bethuel was the father of Rebekah.) These are the eight children Milcah had with Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24ln addition his concubine, Reumah, gave birth to Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maacah.
1-8: It certainly seems a cruel test, but since God did not intend for Isaac to die, Abraham could not have sacrificed him. There is in fact no danger to Isaac. Still we have to wonder why God would require such an extraordinary show of faith. Why does God find it necessary to test Abraham again when he has already promised land and lineage to the man? Ah, well, ours is not to reason why. Abraham hears God’s voice; Abraham does what God says.
One curious thing about God’s command is that he refers to Isaac as Abraham’s only son, and we know there is also Ishmael. Indeed, in chapter 25 we will be given an account of Ishmael’s descendants. Perhaps God means nothing here more than that Isaac is the only child now living with Abraham and Sarah, since Hagar has departed with Ishmael.
We are not told that Sarah knows what is going on when Abraham leaves with Isaac, but apparently she will not be there when he returns, as we shall see.
The mention of “the third day” in verse 4 should signal us that something unexpected will happen, and even that there will be a positive outcome, because the third day symbolizes life (it was on the third day of creation that God created life, and, of course, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day). Another hint is given in verse 8 when Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide the sacrifice. Either Abraham thinks he is lying to Isaac, or he knows God will not require him to carry out the sacrifice of his and Sarah’s only son.
9-14: Abraham builds the altar, puts the wood in place, binds Isaac and lays him on it. He actually raises his knife to slaughter his son before the LORD’s angel stays his hand. The angel says that now he knows Abraham fears God. Abraham passes the test. He sees a ram caught in a thicket and sacrifices the animal instead of the son.
15-19: The angel speaks a second time, telling Abraham that, now that he has been willing to sacrifice his only son (although Ishmael is also his son!), the LORD will indeed bless him. Was not the LORD indeed going to bless him before? There is something disturbing about this to me, and I can’t help but suspect that we are missing some element of the story.
Abraham returns to Beer-sheba, and again Sarah is not mentioned. In fact, Sarah hasn’t been mentioned since 21:12 when she had Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. When she dies in chapter 23 she will be living elsewhere (23:1). Did the episode with Isaac drive a wedge between them, or were they already separated following the episode with Hagar and Ishmael?
20-24: Abraham receives word from his brother Nahor back in Haran that a number of children have been born to him and Milcah (see 11:29), and other children through the concubine, Reumah – Hagar’s counterpart in the old homeland. The name that will concern us later is Rebekah. She is Isaac’s first cousin, once removed (that is, one generation removed – her father Bethuel is Isaac’s first cousin, Abraham’s nephew), and she will become Isaac’s wife.
I think we are right to be disturbed by the casual sharing of women by men who are supposed to be blessed by God. That practice will, of course, be declared out of keeping with God’s will eventually, but I find it remarkable that God routinely overlooks such sexual freedom (by men) early in human history.