By James Riley Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of New Testament, Samford University
CONFIDENCE IN TIMES OF TESTING
Today we close our series on Abraham and Sarah. Because we have skipped chapters 18 through 21, read those for context. Today’s passage falls between two stories of loss: Ishmael’s banishment and Sarah’s death.
Many readers have noticed similarities between this passage and the book of Job. One is the use of dramatic irony. Job and his wife are oblivious of the reason they suffer because they do not see the scene between God and the accuser that readers witness. Similarly, because of Genesis 22:1, readers know about Abraham’s test, but Abraham him-self does not.
A second similarity is that if Abraham carries out God’s instructions, he will have suffered a calamity as unimaginable as the one Job and his wife endure.
Finally, despite the ending of the Book of Job and the affirming words of Genesis 22:11–19, both stories disallow easy answers about faith and its testing.
A striking irony is that Abraham has endangered God’s promise of offspring many times, and Sarah has done so at least once. Now God seems to require the death of the promised child.
Our faith will often be tested. (1–2)
The vocabulary and syntax of verses 1 and 2 parallel 12:1, and both passages emphasize the enormity of God’s commands.
We do not know where “the land of Moriah” is. Later, it will be identified as the hill on which Solomon built his temple (2 Chron. 3:1).
Verse 2 contains three redundant statements. When God says, “Take your son,” there is but one choice, yet God goes on to say, “your only son, Isaac, whom you love.” The repetition increases the pathos, the suffering, of the reader.
The imprecise use of “only son” helps us to recall the elder son, Ishmael, and his mother have just been banished. Hence, we also are reminded that Isaac, not Ishmael, is the awaited heir. Furthermore, whereas Abraham was distressed about the loss of Ishmael (21:11–12), here we hear nothing about his feelings.
Trust God in the midst of the test. (3–10)
We know how the story ends, yet the slow release of details in verse 3 evokes dread from us. The language, “on the third day” (v. 4), and “ ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering’ ” (v. 8), led early Christians to view Isaac as a fore-shadowing of Christ.
In the context of the story, “on the third day” shows us how the narrative slows to an intolerable crawl once they see “the place.”
Note the juxtaposition in verses 6 and 9: The wood is laid on Isaac and then Isaac on the wood. Also note the ghastly irony of verse 7: The sacrificial victim asks where the victim is.
Because Abraham is stopped from slicing his son’s throat only when the knife is in his hand and because a ram, not a lamb, is provided, it is not clear that verse 8 shows Abraham knows what will happen. He is presented, rather, as willing to slaughter his son in obedience to God and burn the dismembered corpse.
God’s provision is always on time. (11–14)
The traditional translation of “The Lord will provide” (or “The Lord will see”) is Jehovah-jireh. Genesis 22 contrasts with 18:22–33, in which the patriarch challenges “the Judge of the earth to do what is just” (18:25). God receives the challenge and answers.
In light of that episode, Abraham’s unflinching obedience here raises the question, “What would I do if I were convinced God required such a thing of me? Would I behave like the Abraham of Chapter 22 or like the Abraham of Chapter 18?
May we seek to obey while we remain “standing before the Lord” (18:22).