SynopsisAs we’ve read in past chapters, Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, but that son was a long time coming. But finally, in their old age, when it was no longer realistic for them to expect to bear a son, they did. They had Isaac, whom God said would be the father of a nation, carrying on Abraham’s legacy.
In this chapter, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Ouch. Kind of cruel. And it’s almost like God is purposely emphasizing the cruelty of the demand, when He is telling Abraham:
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (verse 2; emphasis added)
So, early the next morning, Abraham gathers up Isaac and some wood for the fire—which he makes Isaac carry—and they head off to Moriah. On the way, Isaac notices that they don’t have an animal for the sacrifice, and asks his dad about it, to which Abraham replies that “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (verse 8).
They get to the place, set up the altar, and Abraham binds up Isaac, for the sacrifice. Just as he is reaching for the knife, “the angel of the LORD” calls out to him, and stops him.
But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
The chapter ends with some more genealogy, listing the sons of Nahor.
ThoughtsThink how confused Abraham must have been, when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac! God has promised him that Isaac will be the one through whom God will fulfil His promise to Abraham—but now Abraham is being commanded to sacrifice him. In the book of Hebrews, Abraham is commended for his faith, in this act:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19)
He might not have known how it was possible, but he knew that God had promised Isaac would be the one through whom God carried out His promise to Abraham, so a little thing like death wouldn’t stop God from keeping His promise!
Occasionally you see the phrase “the angel of the LORD”, in the Old Testament, and I’m not sure what it means, exactly. In those passages, it usually seems like it is God talking; so I guess it’s either an angel, who is speaking on behalf of the LORD (and, therefore, the words are His), or it’s a manifestation of the LORD himself, and “the angel of the LORD” is simply how people wrote it down.
Finally, don’t be confused by the language, when the Bible talks about God “testing” Abraham, or when the LORD says “Now I know that you fear God…” When the Bible talks about God “testing” people, it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t know what Abraham is going to do, and wants to find out what kind of faith he has. He is the God who knows everything, after all. It’s not God who learns from this experience, it’s Abraham—and, by extension, those of us who are reading the book of Genesis, thousands of years later.