Preface: The following text is not the same as the above-recorded audio. The text is summarized but includes many passages that were briefly alluded to in the audio. In order to get the most out of this study of Genesis 22, I would recommend listening to the audio and reading the text below. The audio is also available as a podcast, more info here.
Aqedah is a word that is used only once in the active, conjugative form the entire Bible and it is a reference to the tying up of Isaac. This word is so unique that, in Jewish culture, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is called the "Aqedah" or "Akedah".
"The Akedah became in Jewish thought the supreme example of self-sacrifice in obedience to God's will and the symbol of Jewish martyrdom throughout the ages."
- Jewish Virtual Library
This text has become a classic in world literature, as noted by German philosopher Erich Auerbach in his book Mimesis. This powerful story has inspired philosophers like Kant and Kierkegaard and artists like Rembrandt. Not only that, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac has remained a fundamental text in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. It is remembered in the Jewish liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Kippur. It is often alluded to in the Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper, and it is remembered in the Muslim feast of Id-al Kabir. (Doukhan, Jacques. Genesis. Nampa, ID, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2016. p274)
The Gift vs The Giver
Though this story is very complex and many continue to argue over different details and aspects of this story I believe the main issue is trust. Do we trust God to fulfill His promises? God had repeatedly promised Abraham a son (more details on this post). Will Abraham trust God to fulfill His promise? Abraham may not understand what God is doing, Abraham may not have all the information regarding his current situation, but he did have God's promises. The question then becomes, does Abraham love the gift more than the Giver? Does Abraham love Isaac more than he loves God?
But before we go deeper into the interpretation and application of the story, let's read some portions of it.
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
- Genesis 22:1 ESV (bold mine)
Abraham was not aware of this, yet we, the readers, are made aware of it. The storyteller is asking us to suspend judgment and wait until the end. It's like he is telling his audience "things are about to take an unexpected turn, but wait until the end!" Abraham is not aware that this is a test, but we are made aware lest we misunderstand God's command. God's command can only be properly understood in the context of it being a test. This command will make more sense as we read the story and finally become clear in verse 12. Genesis 22:12 brings with it its own challenges, but we will address those when we get there.
I believe we also need to properly understand the word "tested" found in verse one.
Moses said to the people,“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
- Exodus 20:20 ESV (bold mine)
You can see how this word is used in different verses here. The way I see it when God tests us He is giving us an opportunity to grow closer to Him. A test here means an opportunity to further develop our faith. God was giving Abraham an opportunity to succeed where he had faltered in the past.
Abraham answers God saying "Here I am" indicating his willingness to follow and obey.
He said,“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
Genesis 22:2 ESV
your only son
whom you love
Do you notice the emphasis? At this point, Ishmael had been gone for years. Abraham has one son, the son of the promise, Isaac. Isaac is the son God has promised him from the beginning, Abraham knows it is God's will for Isaac to exist. The birth of Isaac was a miracle! Clearly, it was God's will for Isaac to be alive. Abraham loved Isaac, probably more than anything else on earth.
God may seem harsh here asking Abraham to be willing to give up his one and only son. But the idea of placing God above all else is not unique to this story.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10:37 ESV
One has to wonder if God is asking for too much, or if we are out of touch with what having Jesus as our Lord and Savior is all about. We seem to be comfortable with the Savior part, but the Lord part appears to bewilder us.
Jesus Christ Crucified
Living in the western world, in a Christian nation, many of us are in danger of taking the cross for granted. We see it so often it can seem normal or commonplace. Not only that, living in the US there is so much of life that is catered to our taste and desires that we are in danger of thinking that God dying for our sins sounds about right. We can believe we are so special that God should die for us, of course. We can take for granted the fact that Jesus left His throne up in heaven to be born in a manger here on earth and to live a life full of pain and suffering for a mostly ungrateful generation, for a mostly ungrateful race, the human race. (more on that on this post)
We can take for granted all that God does for us and believe that He ought to do even more for us, without ever pondering if there is anything He might require of us. Do we ever consider what God might want from us?
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
- 1 Samuel 15:22b ESV
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6:8 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:43-48 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
There are many other texts but these should suffice for us to understand that God does have some plans for our lives. God has some expectations. Is it okay for God to ask a few things of us since He does so much for us? Can our relationship with God be about more than just asking Him to always do things for us? Can our relationship with God survive Him having some expectations from us?
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
- Genesis 22:6-8 ESV
Isaac was old enough to carry the wood up the mountainside. Isaac was also old enough to notice something was missing. Abraham gives a prophetic answer. Abraham did not know the details of what God would do, but Abraham knew who God was. Abraham was familiar with the character of God and with the promises of God. On verse 5 Abraham tells his servants
“Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
Which indicates that Abraham believed he would return with his son, even though he knew God had asked him to kill his son.
Paul explains this in Hebrews 11.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
-Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV
Like Abraham, we are not always aware of the details of God's plans, but do we know God well enough to trust Him? To obey Him even when we can't see the whole plan? Do we know God enough to trust Him to have our best interest at heart?
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
-Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
Though God was testing Abraham, Abraham already knew that God is the one who provides. We never overcome by our own strength or abilities. we only overcome through God!
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
-Philippians 4:13 NKJV
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
- Joshua 1:9 ESV
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
- Philippians 2:13 ESV
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
- 2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV
These are only a few of my favorite verses regarding God's ever-present help in our lives. The Christian life is not about my abilities, but rather about the abilities of the God I love. Success in the Christian journey has more to do with availability than ability. Do I make myself available to God for Him to do His will and reveal His power through my life? Because it is God who will give the victories over all trials. It is God who saves!
Do not lay your hand on the boy!
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
- Genesis 22:10-14 ESV
God never meant for Abraham to kill his son. It was only a test. God did not discover something new but Abraham realized that he had passed the test. Abraham now could understand the gospel, the plan of salvation, the good news better than anyone. Abraham now understood the importance of not only his son but ultimately of the Son of God who would come out of his descendants. Not only that, Abraham understood the heart of God in His willingness to give His only, one of a kind, Son to die. God did provide for Himself a Lamb, way to die on our behalf.
God, however, did not provide a lamb for Abraham at the mountain. There God provided a ram caught in a thicket. God did provide a Lamb, but it was much later.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
- John 1:29 ESV
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
- Revelation 5:12b,13b ESV
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
- Revelation 12:11 ESV
When all is said and done, all we have to do is trust God. We have to trust Him enough to obey Him. Trust Him to save us, and to provide for all of our needs, and to recognize that He knows better. When God calls us to do something, He makes sure to equip us with all we need to succeed.
When God calls us to do something, may we always be willing, trusting in Him to provide us with all that we need to succeed for His honor and glory.