The sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:1-22:19)

“After these things God tested Abraham.  He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’  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 upon one of the mountains that I will show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and his son Isaac.  He cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.  Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey.  The boy and I will go over there.  We will worship, and then we will come back to you.’  Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. The two of them walked on together.   Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ Then he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Isaac said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’  Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’  Then the two of them walked on together.”

This Elohist story has God testing Abraham.  God tells him to go to take his only son and go to the land of Moriah.  Could this be Mount Moriah near Jerusalem?  He is to offer a burnt offering of his son to God on a mountain that God will show him. The next morning, Abraham set out on his donkey with his son and two other young men   Notice that it is always ‘early in the morning.’  He cut the wood for the burnt offering and traveled three days before he got to the place for the sacrifice. Abraham told the two young men to stay with the donkey as Abraham and his son would go and worship.  Isaac took the wood, while Abraham carried the knife.  Isaac wanted to know where the lamb for the burnt offering was.  Abraham replied that God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering.

“When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order.  He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  But the angel of Yahweh 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, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’  And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.  Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place ‘Yahweh will provide.’ as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of Yahweh it shall be provided.’”

Finally when they got to the place where God had shown them, Abraham built an altar and put the wood on it.  Then he bound up his son and put him on top of the wood.  Then Abraham took out his knife to kill his son. But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven and told him not to do anything to the boy. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to God. Abraham saw a ram stuck in a ticket.  So he took the ram and offered him up.  He called this place, ‘Yahweh will provide.’

“The angel of Yahweh called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says Yahweh, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  Your offspring shall possess the gates of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’  So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba.  Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.”

Now the angel of Yahweh called to Abraham a second time.  Since he had not withheld his son, he would be blessed with many descendants ‘as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand that is on the seashore.’  Abraham’s offspring would possess the gates of their enemies.  All the nations of the world would receive blessings through him.  So Abraham got the young men and went back to Beer-sheba, where Abraham lives.

Of all the incredible stories in this book of Genesis, this one takes the cake.  After struggling so long to have an heir with an almost miraculous birth, now Abraham is asked to kill him.  Perhaps it foreshadows the Christian event of Jesus the son, asking the Father to let the crucifixion pass. Notice that the Mount Moriah is a three day journey away.  This infanticide episode is saved by the angel of Yahweh.  Incidentally this may be the same angel of Yahweh that saved Ishmael at the well.  Not Yahweh, but his angel saves both sons of Abraham.  However, it is considered the great act of faith of Abraham that has been portrayed in various art works with Abraham holding the knife over his son.

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