Sunday, December 3, 2006

Jewish Commentary: Genesis 22:1-19

The Jewish orthodox sages and Rabbis understood the literalness of all of the Old Testament prophecies. Premillennialists and dispensationalists are in good company in seeing the Bible interpreted in a normal, literal hermeneutic. Someday, the eyes of the Jews will be open in seeing the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. Meanwhile, their interpretative notes and commentaries on great prophetic passages continue to support the “rightness” of looking for future prophecy being fulfilled actually, and literally!
Genesis 22:1-19

Is the Abrahamic Covenant conditional on Abraham’s Faithfulness? 

22:1 Tested. The better word would be “proved.” A test is never used for the purpose of injury, but to test the depth of resolve in one’s faith. This is the ultimate “proving” that goes beyond and summarizes all the other tests Abraham went through. The test would prove his willingness to sacrifice his dearest in the will of God – and after all, this was THE son through all the promises were going. The Rabbis speak of this trial as the tenth and the greatest to which he would undergo.

 He said unto him. God speaks directly to Abraham, but probably also in a night vision. Abraham knew it was God and responds instantly, “Here I am.” The Hebrew expression is He-naa-nee!

 22:2 Take now. The Hebrew is unusual. The imperative “take” is followed by the Hebrew particle hah which means “I pray you.” God is speaking to him “as friend to friend.”
 Your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac. God was very pointed as to which son he was to offer up. It was not Ishmael, the son of Hagar, but the only true son who was born to Sarah, Abraham’s actual legal wife.

 Go to the land of Moriah. Jewish tradition makes it clear that this was the location of the later temple mount (2 Chron. 3:1). All temple sacrifices would someday be offered here.
 And offer him there. Literally, “lift him up” (upon the altar) there!” God did not use the word “to slay” as of a sacrificial victim. From the outset, therefore, there was no intention of accepting a human sacrifice, though Abraham was not aware of this.

 22:3 So Abraham rose early in the morning. Abraham was diligent to get on with the instructions from God. It can be assumed that he had no idea as to how all of this would play out, but his obedience was certainly on display before God and Abraham’s servants (though they did not know all that was going on here!). Abraham answered the Lord in “deeds,” he lost no time in obeying the will of God.

 And he split wood. This task was usually left for the servants but Abraham took on this job himself.

 22:4 Raised his eyes. The wording makes it sound as if Abraham was scanning the horizon to see the place God had in mind. 

22:5 Stay here. This task was not the business of the servants. And, Abraham did not lie to them. The end of the drama will be a worshipping of the Lord!

 We will return to you. Did Abraham realize that this was but a test? Hebrews 11:19 relates the depth of his faith. He reasoned that if he had slain Isaac that God could raise him from the dead! This is a powerful testimony of faith! 

      The Rabbis ask the question, was there an undercurrent of conviction that the Lord would not make a sacrificial demand of him? The Rabbis declare that at the moment the Spirit of Prophecy came into him, he spoke more truly than he realized.

 22:6 The fire and the knife. No matter what Abraham thought, he came to the mountain fully prepared to be obedient. Isaac fully trusted his father and “the two of them walked on together.”

 22:7 Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answers his son with the same expression he used with God in verse 1. He-naa-nee! Or, “here I am!” Isaac asked the question with boyish curiosity. This question heightens the intense pathos of the situation. Israel’s future Messiah will be the ultimate Lamb of God sacrificed for sins. 

22:8 God will provide. Abraham had no idea what the Lord had in mind except that He would do what was right. And if there was to be a sacrifice, God would handle it correctly. This is the ultimate expression of trust. Isaiah 53:11-12 notes:

            My Servant (the Messiah) will justify the many, as He will bear their
            iniquities. He will pour Himself out to death, and will be numbered with the
            transgressors; yet He Himself will bear the sin of many.

    The Rabbis say that the Lord, the Master of the Messiah, will make Him suffer because of the sin of Israel, and thus it is written, “He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). (Midrash Konen, BhM 2:29-30) And, the Messiah’s skin will cleave to His bones, His body will dry up, His eyes will grow dim, and His strength will become like dry pottery, “All this because of the sins of our children” (Psalm 22). (Pesiqta Rabbati, ch. 36) 

22:9 Bound his son Isaac. This was so he would not struggle. Abraham was going all the way following God’s orders, but still not knowing what the Lord would do. This is one of the most “faithful” and obedient acts in the Bible!

 22:10 Stretched out his hand, and took his hand to slay his son. This is an action verse! Abraham goes all the way to offer up his son, not holding back for a second!

 22:11 Abraham, Abraham. One can imagine that this was an urgent repetitive cry to stop Abraham. This exclamation shows the anxiety of the angel of the Lord to hold Abraham back at the very last moment.

    The angel of the Lord is a theophany, or an actual appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament. Too, it is clear that the angel of the Lord is God Himself from verses 15-16. 

            A study of the many passages dealing with the Angel of Jehovah will reveal
            a most remarkable breadth to the preincarnate work of Christ for His
            people. … In Genesis 22:11-18 the Angel stays the hand of Abraham about to
            sacrifice Isaac, and a substitute is provided—a beautiful type of the
            substitution of Christ on behalf of those under the curse of death. (Walvoord,
            Jesus Christ Our Lord)

 12:12 I know that you fear God. The Lord already knew this but it would now become “historically” obvious that this was the case. Abraham did not withhold his “only” son from the Lord!  

12:13 Raised his eyes. The implication is that Abraham did not see the ram caught in the thicket that was close by. The Lord withheld this revelation until just the right moment. The burnt offering of the ram became a SUBSTITUTE “in the place of his son.” This is a perfect illustration of the substitution of the Messiah for sins.

 12:14 The Lord will Provide. This is Jehovah-jireh, or “Jehovah sees,” or “provides.” Literally, “God will see to a lamb for Himself.” In the Masoretic text, in “the mount of the Lord it will be provided, seen”: “It will be provided.” 

12:15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven. The angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ, again summons Abraham to listen. This Messenger, this Divine Being, is actually One who abides in glory!

 12:16 Now it is abundantly clear that this “angel” is the Lord Himself! 

      By Myself I have sworn. There is no higher certainty than the fact that the Lord makes a promise based on His own trustworthiness and authority. He is Yahweh (“ye-wah”) the One who ever exists! He has no beginning and no ending! Moses referred to this oath when he pleaded for Israel (Exod. 32:13). The expression is equal to “as I live (exist).” See also Numbers 14:28.

 12:17 Coming to the question at the beginning of these verses, if Abraham had failed the test, would the covenant with him (the Abrahamic Covenant) be invalid? The answer is “no.” What God is saying in verse 17 is, now He can “greatly bless” Abraham and “greatly multiply” his seed! The covenant is unconditional in that it is only dependant on the faithfulness of God to fulfill it, but it now will have even greater effect because of Abraham’s trust in the Lord. The passage best reads: “Thus blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will greatly intensely multiply your seed.”

   As the stars of heaven … the sand which is on the seashore. As the sand has been placed as a boundary for the sea, and though the waves thereof roar and toss themselves, yet can Israel not prevail (Jer. 5:22), so would multitudes of enemies strive in vain to destroy Abraham’s descendants, but “Your seed shall possess …” 

    Your seed shall possess the gate of THEIR enemies. In Hebrew the word “seed” can be a collective, or it can be singular or plural. This is why some English versions wrongly translate “their enemies.” They also translate the passage this way because the first part of the verse does indeed speak of the seed of Abraham as a plural, “as the stars of heaven.” But the subject has changed. The second part of the verse is speaking of a conquering general who takes the city and possesses the “gate of his enemies.” The same thing happens in 24:60. The “hate them” (Isaac’s seed) should read “hate Him,” a singular referring again to the Messiah. The gate of the city was its most important site (see 19:1), and its capture gave one command of the city.

    Genesis 24:60 reads very much like 22:17 except it is Isaac who is addressed not Abraham. This is a confirmation to Isaac that the promise continues on through him, the next generation after Abraham.  

   The apostle Paul refers to this verse and makes the “seed” in the second part of the verse apply to One, i.e. to Christ (Gal. 3:16). He is the ultimate Seed (singular) of Abraham who will secure the blessings for all of the seed (plural).

 22:19 All the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you have obeyed (heard) My voice. This is a repeat of 12:3. The Gentiles (the goyim) shall be blessed through Abraham and the Jewish people.


    The Pentateuch and Haftorahs.
    Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period, Michael Avi-Yonah and Zvi  Baras (Jerusalem: Massada Publishing, 1977).
    The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1979).
    Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, William Green, ed. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 1999).