13. The Sacrifice of Isaac (22:1-19)
With this chapter we reach the climax of the faith life of Abraham—the supreme test and the supreme victory. This test of necessity had to come. The inner need of it becomes apparent when we weigh carefully how much love Abraham would naturally bestow upon his son Isaac. For Isaac was the son of his old age—long waited for and fervently welcomed. He was of a lovable, kindly disposition. He was the object of remarkable promises made by God. With him was linked up a fullness of promises tending to the salvation of mankind. But strong love on the part of man, even if such a love be good and natural, is apt in the course of time to crowd aside the higher love of God. Abraham was in extreme danger of coming by slow degrees and in a manner hardly observed by himself to the point where he would have loved his son more than his God. This problem must be faced and worked through. The love of God must consciously be set first. The love of his own son must consciously be relegated to its own proper place, not diminished but directed and purified.
This test, which makes Abraham face this issue and settle it, is here described as a "tempting." By this approach we see quite readily that the expression: "God tempted Abraham" is meant in a good sense and can, therefore, well be rendered by the expression which requires less explanation: "God put Abraham to the test." God brings Abraham into a position where he must face the issue and think it through. God does not do this in order to bring him to fall, even though the possibility of a fall may not be excluded. Nor does the temptation aim to bring to light hidden sins, even though in this case the possibility of falling into a very grievous sin is discovered as lying very near. The temptation does not aim to uncover the evil in a saint of God but rather to make apparent what good God has wrought in this faithful believer.
Another question that had best be disposed of in advance is the one: "How could God demand a human sacrifice, when He is on principle unalterably opposed to such a practice?". The answer must be given as follows: What God actually wanted Abraham to give was the spiritual sacrifice of his son. Naturally, God is concerned about the giving up of the son, a thing which is done by the heart; for without that even a bloody sacrifice upon an altar is worthless. But then the problem arises, Why did God ask for the spiritual sacrifice in the form of a material sacrifice? Apparently, this question voices a common protest but is itself partly the outgrowth of a misunderstanding and is so worded as to mislead. God asked for one thing only: the spiritual surrender, the giving back to Him of this great gift which He had granted to Abraham. The terms employed by the Lord are taken from material sacririces and, apparently, at this stage of the religious development of the race were the only terms available. God foresaw that a partial misunderstanding would result on Abraham's part. This misunderstanding was unavoidable, would not impair the trial that was being made, and could finally be corrected when it was about to lead to very grievous harm.
In the very nature of the case a very great perplexity must have arisen in Abraham's mind. The demand of God at this point seemed to be a flat contradiction of all the gracious promises ever given heretofore, and it may well have seemed to originate with none other than the devil himself. Yet herein the patriarch's faith proved itself a true faith, that he leaned in full trust upon his God that all must eventuate to the glory of God and to the eternal good of His children. So reason was taken captive under the rule of faith, and the test was successfully met.
There is no conflict between this interpretation of ours and the fact of the text where Abraham is bidden to go to the land of Moriah for the purpose of this sacrifice. For, in the first place, on the surface everything is transacted in terms of a material sacrifice. But, primarily, in the second place, even for thinking through and carrying out so fundamental a problem it is desirable to cut loose from customary settings and surroundings and there from the perspective that distance also lends to such matters to reach a satisfactory conclusion. If it still be protested that the expression "to bring or offer a burnt offering" is the regular expression for a bloody sacrifice upon a material altar, then it should also be borne, in mind that such a sacrifice always demanded the spiritual sacrifice that it typified. Why, then, could not this essential thing stand in the forefront in this case?
1, 2. And it came to pass after these things that God put Abraham to the test and said unto him: Abraham! and he said: Here am I! And He said: Take now thy son, thine only one, whom thou hast grown to love, even Isaac, and go for thyself to the land of Moriah, and offer him up there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I shall indicate to thee.
The expression, "and it came to pass," is a loose mode of attaching what is to follow to the preceding event when no emphasis is to be placed upon the closer connection of time or events (G. K.111 g). All preceding events ("after these things") practically lead up to the one now to be related. Other instances of God's putting to the test in mercy are found, e. g., Exodus 15:25; 20:20; 16:4; De 8:2,16; 13:3,4. He that conducts the trial is "God," Ha'elohîm, not the Deity in general but the one true personal God. This work is very fittingly ascribed to Him, inasmuch as Abraham's personal relation to Him is under scrutiny. Besides, as Keil well points out, the trial originated with God not with the devil, not in Abraham's own thoughts as a result of his reflections upon the child sacrifices of the Canaanites or upon the question whether he loved the true God as much as they seemed to revere their idols in being ready to offer their own flesh and blood as sacrifices. We have no means of knowing exactly how this divine manifestation came to Abraham. Most likely it was in a vision by night. For dreams were employed in the case of those who stood farther removed from God. Besides, morning follows directly (v.3). We are sure that this prophet of God (Genesis 20:7) was able to discern clearly when he was receiving a divine communication and when not. Consequently, there is no doubt about the validity of the revelation. The double "Abraham" of the Septuagint is unnatural; the tenser emotion first comes v.11.
2. The successive terms descriptive of the son who is to be sacrificed are employed; not to make the sacrifice harder but to recall to Abraham's mind how much he has "grown to love" him. For 'ahßbhta, the perfect, is a perfectum resultativum, describing that the father has grown to love the son and now stands deep in that love (K. S.127). The successive terms are (1) "thy son," (2) "thine only one," (3) "whom thou hast grown to love," (4) his name "Isaac" the epitome of the great joy that came with this son. Taking his son, Abraham is to "go for himself." The dative lekha here used, a dative of interest, rules out the idea of others sharing in the test: Abraham must fight this problem through alone. Luther and others may not be far from the truth when they suggest that the patriarch told nothing of his purpose to Sarah. The place to which Abraham is directed to go is called by the general name "land of Moriah," which could better be rendered "region of Moriah" (B D B) as the word 'érets is also used in Genesis 19:28 and Joshua 11:3, K. W.-Gegend yon Moriah. No doubt, the word "Moriah" is here used by anticipation, ie., proleptically, in view of the event here recorded, which only afterwards gave the region this name. Inclined to find fault without warrant, many commentators have all kinds of flaws to pick with this expression. II:Chron.3:1 informs us that "Moriah" was the name of the mountain or hill upon which Solomon built the Temple. Why cannot a region get its name from some prominent feature in it? God Himself will have used some other designation of the region, a designation which conveyed to Abraham the very same thought that Moses conveyed to his readers by this term. This unwarranted criticism centers on the term "Moriah" (Moriyyah), claiming for the most part a corrupt text or a misunderstanding on the part of some inexpert writer or redactor—a device frequently resorted to to remove some undesirable or inconvenient feature from the text. The term may well mean "the place of the appearance of Yahweh" (die Erscheinungsstaette Yahwehs —K. W.), the letter 'aleph, which would mark the word as built on the root ra'ah, having been assimilated, (as is done not infrequently) for mor'iyyah. The prefix mem often indicates place, the suffix yah is contracted for "of Yahweh." The numerous textual changes suggested are quite unnecessary. ("Moreh" 12 :.6; or mar'eh, or ha'emorî —"of the Amorites," as if the Amorites had dwelt in any one place and not scattered abroad in the land). The root of all these objections is the fact that the critics find it hard to believe that divine providence should have marked the same spot twice by events far removed from one another in point of time yet covered by the same name. We, on our part, see an excellent propriety about having the site of the Temple marked doubly as "the place of the appearance of Yahweh" in Abraham's time as well as from the time of the erection of the Temple onward. Such instances of divine providence prove truth to be stranger than fiction.
The command, "offer him up there for a burntoffering," has been discussed in the introductory remarks to the chapter. However, this must yet be added, the "burnt-offering," ('olah), is the type of sacrifice best suited for this purpose; because it typifies complete surrender to God. The term is derived from the root 'alah, signifying "to go up," i. e., in the smoke of the sacrifice. Therefore, the son given to Abraham is to be given back to Yahweh without reservations of any sort.
That the sacrifice is to take place upon one of the mountains which Yahweh would "indicate" ('amar, "say," in the sense of "command," or "designate") to him, is stated only here. There is no special statement showing that God later indicated which mountain was to be used for this purpose. Nor is such a special statement necessary at this point; in fact, it is lost sight of under the strain of the stronger emotions that prevail in the climax of the narrative.
Here we had best take note of the fact that no mention whatsoever is made of Abraham's personal reaction to this command from God. In purest epic style the action alone is recorded not the emotions of the actors. Note now how entirely unfair is the criticism of those who continually aim to press down to the lowest possible level their estimate of patriarchal religion as well as of all Israelitish religion. Because Abraham expresses no revulsion at the thought of sacrificing his son, critics draw conclusions such as to phrase it very cautiously—"The writer does not say that Abraham took exception to this awful sacririce" (Knobel quoted by Dillmann). Procksch is much bolder, speaking of "human sacrifice, the demand of which gives no offense to Abraham, and which therefore agrees with this earlier religious level." Now strict logic would demand that since nothing is said of the pain which tore the father's heart, therefore on this level of the development of the human race fathers felt no such tender emotions for their own flesh and blood. On this point, not governed by preconceived evolutionistic notions, the critics draw no such conclusions but are unanimous in speaking of the terrible struggle that arose in Abraham's heart. Such widely different conclusions, reached by the use of the argument from silence, are inconsistent. The second refutes the first.
So great a faith as Abraham's could not have allowed any room for such grievous misconceptions as the notion that human sacrifice should be offered by men. For the passages in the Pentateuch which forbid human sacrifices (cf. Le 18:21; 20:2 ff; De 12:31; 18:10) either list such a practice among the vilest of deeds of which mankind is capable or else specifically stamp it as an "abomination" of the most degrading sort. Dods distorts the issue when he remarks: "Abraham was familiar with the idea that the most exalted form of religious worship was the sacrifice of the first-born"; or when he offers conclusions such as: "Abraham's conscience did not clash with God's command." There is no instance whatever to show that in the earlier history of the people of God human sacrifice was ever resorted to. Jephthah's case (Jud 11) does not belong here and positively does not involve the bloody sacrifice of his daughter. Very late in the degeneracy of the kingdom Ahaz first attempted this horrible practice (2 Kings 16:3), a thing there mentioned as a foreign abomination. Hiel's story (1 Kings 16:34) does not tell of human sacrifice but of sons lost by divine punishment.
3. And Abraham arose early the next morning, and girded his ass, and took his two servants with him, and Isaac, his son; and cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and arose and went to the place which God had indicated to him.
The article with "morning," being the article used for that which is self-evident (K. S.299 a), is the equivalent of our "the next morning." Abraham's prompt and absolute obedience is here described. Here his faith looms up as positively heroic: God's behests are not to be questioned but executed. The various steps in the process are described from this point forward with a minuteness that makes the scene inexpressibly vivid. The ass is "girded" (chabhash) rather than saddled, for the beast must have been taken along to carry the rather sizeable load of wood sufficient to make a fire adequate for a burnt-offering. Two servants are taken to care for the beast and its burden as well as for the necessary supplies. They are "his two servants," i. e., those who specially wait upon their master, even as Balaam has two such (Numbers 22:22) or Sarah had Hagar (Genesis 16:3). The expression used would have been different if it was to have meant "two of his servants" (K. S.304 a). No doubt, Abraham let the servants cut the requisite wood, though the common mode of expression is here used: "he cut" or "clave." Here already every preparatory step taken by the father was a painful one. The expression "he arose and went" is the Hebrew idiom for our "he started out."
"The place which God had indicated to him," an expression which bridges over from the initial command (v.2) and implies that when Abraham arrived, the very place of the sacrifice had been revealed to him. This does not conflict with our claims immediately preceding v.1.
Here we may add that Samaritan tradition claims that Moriah is the region of Shechem. However, the distance from Be'er-shebha' to Shechem is too great for a three days' journey to allow time for a sacrifice after arrival. Even Jerusalem is about fifty miles distant; Shechem almost eighty. Forced marches with alternate riding on the ass are out of the question for an ass that bore the wood and for an old man perhaps 120 years old.
4, 5. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place in the distance. And Abraham said to his servants: Stay here with the ass. I and the lad will go up yonder that we may worship, and then we shall return to you.
Maqôm here hardly means "sacred place," unless, perhaps, by anticipatory use, for nothing indicates that a sanctuary had been on the spot previously. The account is in conformity with fact: the temple hill did not stand out so prominently as to be discernible at a great distance. Therefore merachôq just means "in the distance" in a moderate sense. Here the verb with waw conversive follows a mere adverbial expression, which in sense, however, is the equivalent of an adverbial clause (K. S.366 1).
5. The two servants of Abraham could hardly have understood what is to follow, so Abraham leaves them far enough away as not to be able to witness the impending sacrifice. The act about to follow is rightly designated by Abraham as "worship"—the imperfect used as a voluntative (G. K.75 1). His concluding remark is a statement of faith: "we shall return." Hebrews 11:19 interprets this remark: "accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead." All God's promises received in the past gave him warrant for reaching such a conclusion. To label this word a "dissimulation" or "a somewhat confused utterance" or a mere "hopeful wish," does not do justice to its character. Knobel (quoted by Dillmann), goes to the limit of uncharitable exegesis when he claims this is "an untrue statement like Genesis 12:13, and Genesis 20:12."
6. And Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and laid it upon Isaac, his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they two went along together.
The details still continue, in fact, they are multiplied, to let us feel how each successive step was an added agony for the much tried father. In the sturdy strength of youth Isaac is well able to bear the load of wood up the hill. He may by this time have arrived at the age of some eighteen to twenty years. The aged Abraham, his strength cut by his soul agony, could hardly have carried this burden. With the resoluteness of faith he bears the two means of destruction: a container, like a censer, filled with live coals, and the fatal knife. The narrative gives free play to our imagination as it pictures father and son proceeding step for step up the hill. Isaac cannot but sense that some unwonted burden depresses his father past anything that the son had ever observed in the father before. This attitude on the father's part causes some restraint between the two, and a strange perplexity falls upon Isaac.
7, 8. And Isaac said unto Abraham, his father: My father! And he replied: What is it, my son? And he went on: Here are fire and faggots, but where is the lamb for the burnt-offering? And Abraham said: God will provide a lamb for Himself for a burnt-offering, my son. And they two went along together.
The splendid confidence existing between father and son cannot under these circumstances allow the father to divulge to the son the unspeakably heavy duty which seems imperative; nor does it prevent the son from asking about the seemingly very apparent omission—the sacrificial victim. The very address, "My father," must almost have been felt like a kind of knifethrust by the father. The reply, which literally runs: "Behold me, my son," or "Here am I," (A. V.), appears far too stilted by such a rendering, for it means no more than a kindly: "What is it?" as the Septuagint well renders ti estin tecnon, or the colloquial "Yes, my son" (Meek). The very thing that Abraham cannot utter is the matter about which Isaac asks: "Where is the lamb?" The question had to come even in the face of the unusual constraint that prevailed.
8. The father's love devises an answer which is a marvellous compound of considerate love and anticipative faith. He spares Isaac undue pain and leaves the issues entirely with God, where in his own heart he left them throughout the journey. In the light of what follows Abraham's answer is well-nigh prophetic: "God will provide." It marks the high point of the chapter, the one thing about God's dealings with His own that here receives emphatic statement. The verb used, ra'ah, usually means "see"—here "look out for," or "provide," or "choose," as in Genesis 41:33; De 12:13; 33:21; 1 Samuel 16:1, 17. The iteration, "and they two went along together," here proves very effective (cf. v.6). The lô "for him"—reflexive "for Himself" (G. K.135 i; K. S.27).
9. And they came to the place which God had indicated to him, and there Abraham built the altar, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac, his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
With a straightforward simplicity the successive steps leading immediately toward the climax are recorded. The tension of the narrative grows. One feels how each successive step grew more difficult for the heavy-hearted father. One observes with wonder the strength of his faith which will not suffer him to waver.
We remarked above that nothing shows when God "indicated" to him that this was the particular "hill" chosen for the sacrifice. Abraham himself built "the altar"—the article signifies that the altar requisite for such a sacrifice is meant. The wood is arranged— 'arakh, the regular word for setting the wood or the sacrifice in order upon the altar, yet it is not a highly technical term. So much for the impersonal elements utilized. Now, O marvel of marvels, he actually binds his own son! Isaac's submission to this act is best explained as an act of confidence in his father, a confidence built upon a complete understanding and a deep love which knew that the father could wish his son no harm. Therefore, even as it is not said that Abraham achieved the complete submission of faith, but the whole story is convincing evidence that he did; so in Isaac's case the same submission, only more passive in character, is also present. That Isaac suffered himself to be bound is an act of supreme faith in God and of full confidence in his father. Usually too little consideration is given to Isaac's heroism, which, if it were not for the more marvellous faith heroism of his father, could justly be classed as among the mightiest acts of faith.
10-12. And Abraham reached forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son, when the Angel of Yahweh called to him from the heavens, saying: Abraham, Abraham! And he said: Here am I. And He said: Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do anything to him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thy only son, from Me.
God knew that the hand that had the courage to pick up the knife would not have hesitated to perform the sacrifice. He knew that in Abraham's heart the necessary surrender had been made: Abraham would suffer nothing to stand between him and his God. God was Abraham's dearest treasure; God's will, his chief concern. Though the external sacrifice was not the object God sought, yet He allowed the situation to develop to this point, to furnish full evidence that the inner spiritual sacrifice was actually achieved. In this connection it must be considered, how often, especially in the matter of surrender or self-surrender, a point which falls short of the total surrender necessary, is often mistaken by a man for complete surrender itself. In this case there were to be no halfway measures.
11. He who speaks to Abraham is here designated as "the Angel of Yahweh." As Genesis 16:7-11 and Genesis 21:17, 18 already indicated, this person is divine and specifically the one who later assumed the form of man. In our passage His divine character is indicated by the words that close v.12: "thou hast not withheld thy only son from Me." That one can be God and yet so distinct from Him in one sense as to be able to say, "I know that thou fearest God," is to be explained on the ground of the distinction of divine persons. In this case there is no need of His appearing on earth, because, as it seems, the emphasis in His revelation lies upon the fact that God in high heaven, the Supreme Ruler, who is justified in asking such a sacrifice as He did of Abraham, is satisfied with what Abraham has done. The double call, "Abraham, Abraham," gives proof of its urgency: Abraham is to be restrained on the spot; A remarkable indication of the fine spirit of complete submission to God's every call and purpose lies in Abraham's reply, "Here am I," still more concise in the original hinnéni, "Here I." Parallels to the double call in this verse are found in Genesis 46:2; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:10; Acts 9:4.
12. In full conformity with His original purpose God restrains Abraham from carrying through the sacrifice. We may here yet take issue with an explanation that is a favourite with many, but, we hold, quite unsatisfactory. We refer to the explanation which represents God as merely pretending to be harsh in His demand and that for pedagogical reasons, but then after His purpose has been attained displaying His wonted loving-kindness. God cannot be guilty of pretense. He is not like parents who make themselves appear as though they cared little for their children but ultimately show their true attitude. Although this approach to the difficulty stands under the sanction of Luther's approval, we feel it to be strained and impossible.
Abraham is to do Isaac no harm whatsoever—(me'ûmah, "anything," has an old accusative ending ah, but is also used as a nominative). God Himself draws the conclusion as to what Abraham's act means: "I know that thou fearest God." The acme of true fear, i. e., reverence, of God consists in complete subjection to His sovereign will. Abraham's subjection was made without reservations. He had, indeed, feared God before; now he advances to the full measure of devotion, even as in the New Testament it is often said of believing disciples, "They believed on Him" when a new level of faith was reached. Here the mode of expression, besides, is quite emphatic: "that a fearer of God thou," the normal use of the participle for emphasis, yere' elohîm (K. S.241 i), and so the participle appears in the construct state. When God says, "Now I know" (yadhßti), that does not imply that at this earlier stage of development, though God's omniscience was granted, yet in cases where human freedom was involved, it was not always understood that God's knowing could cover them also (K. C.). Here yadhßti is used in the sense of "know by experience," and so we have here not even an anthropomorphism.
It matters little how we construe the last clause beginning with w lo'. This may be regarded as a causal clause introduced by w (G. K.158a), as our rendering, following A. V., has done: "seeing thou," etc., or else the copulative idea of w may be retained, and the clause marks a climax or a kind of result clause "and (therefore) thou hast not withheld," etc. (K. C.).
13. And Abraham looked up, and there was a ram behind him, its horns caught in a bush; and Abraham went and took the ram and sacrificed it for a burnt-offering in place of his son.
Providentially Abraham is led to look up at this moment, and he discovers a ram, which because of the intense preoccupation and mental struggle that absorbed Abraham's being before, had not been noticed. Perhaps, too, the beast had been quite enfeebled by a long struggle and had held still till now. Renewed efforts to liberate itself may just at this moment have attracted Abraham's attention, There is nothing so very marvellous about this as in fairy tales where the necessary feature always pops up (Procksch). Abraham's intense relief at being prevented from sacrificing his son seeks expression in a definite act of gratitude, which most logically finds expression in a sacrifice. A devout mind cannot but regard the ram as providentially provided. Words would not suffice to describe with what entirely different emotions the ram is offered in place of the "only son." It seems easiest to construe ne'echäz, with long "a," as a participle.
14. And Abraham called the name of that place Yahweh yir'eh; wherefore men say to this day: In the mount of Yahweh provision is made.
The fact that this verse says "that place" and not "this place" indicates that after Abraham had come away from the mountain and his thoughts on this experience had crystallized he thus briefly caught the meaning of it all in a kind of epitome: he had said to Isaac as they went up the mountain side, "Yahweh will provide"; Yahweh certainly had provided in a manner that most clearly displayed divine providence. The event was so unusual, and the character involved so prominent, and the formulation of the importance of the whole experience so much to the point that in Moses' day, as he wrote this account, he had heard from trustworthy witnesses that a kind of proverbial saying had perpetuated the thought of this significant name in that part of the country. Men were still wont to speak of that hill as "the mount of Yahweh" and to recount the substance of the experience in the words: "In the hill of Yahweh provision is made." This was as much as to say: When men come to a particular test that God imposes, God helps them in His gracious providence according to their needs. Of course, the divine name "Yahweh" is here most appropriately used because God's covenant faithfulness is most emphatically involved in the sparing of Isaac.
But the question remains: Is this translation of yera'eh warranted? Does this mean: "provision is made"? Shall we go back to the A. V., "it shall be seen"? Shall we repoint the word to make a Kal instead of a Nifal? Shall we attempt textual changes? Nothing of the sort. We have a good text. We have a sound tradition represented by the vowel points. The only real difficulty is whether the passive had not better be translated as a simple "it shall be seen." In support of this contention it is strongly claimed that the Nifal of the verb ra'ah must mean "appear" (Keil). However, the whole issue in this narrative has consistently turned on the question, not whether Yahweh would "appear" but whether He would "provide." If, then, in such a connection the passive of ra'ah is used, it definitely gains the meaning: "it is provided," or more idiomatically: "provision is made" (so also Meek). All this is so simple and so natural that we must reject as a weak evasion the verdict of Skinner: "The words behar Yahweh yera'eh yield no sense appropriate to the context." Gunkel attempts an emendation claiming that the name of the sanctuary should be Yeru'el. I believe that Luther's commentary gives ground for interpreting his translation in the sense we have given above, when he renders: Auf dem Berge da der Herr siehet, i. e., ersieht. Cf. also K. S.160 b. Strack is guilty of the most incoherent jump in thought when he claims that the phrase "to this day" or "in this day" refers to the time of David and to the event of the Angel's appearing at the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24).
15-18. And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and He said: By myself have I sworn, oracle of Yahweh, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, I will most abundantly bless thee, and most abundantly multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies; and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by thy descendants, because thou didst hearken unto My voice.
At this point it is a good thing to remind oneself of Whitelaw's quotation from Oehler, that this is a chapter "which is joined together like cast iron." For since at this point the divine name Ha'elohîm is abandoned and Yahweh appears, criticism must attempt to make the different sources stand out prominently over against one another, and so the claim is raised that the preceding section (from E) closed definitely with v.14 Genesis 22:14 and had come to a natural close. Then an effort is made to make the verses 15-18 Genesis 22:15-18 appear as a manifestly later addition which is practically foisted upon the preceding narrative. For this purpose the word shenith is even pressed as though it could not have been used in the original account-which is tantamount to saying: God cannot speak a "second time" to a man in the course of one narrative. However, since covenant promises are being made by a merciful God, God is naturally here designated as appearing in His capacity as Yahweh. Since in manifestations it is regularly "the Angel of Yahweh" who functions, these words are appropriately ascribed to Him. Besides, severe exception is taken to the use of the phrase "oracle of Yahweh" (ne'um yahweh) as though its use in a word from Yahweh were entirely inadmissible. True, the phrase as such appears only once more in the Pentateuch, viz. Numbers 14:28. Yet in Genesis 18:14 God also refers to Himself in the third person, and if in later prophetic usage the expression ne'um yahweh comes to be very common, it may well be that this usage builds upon our passage. As for the reasonableness of having a special assurance together with reaffirmation of the former promises given to Abraham in answer to his meeting the supreme test, no one can deny that the occasion practically calls for a divine utterance in a life where every important juncture was marked by significant utterances. Besides, it is quite appropriate that the Lord's last word to Abraham should be an outstanding one embracing the substance of all those that had preceded.
16. The outstanding feature about this word is the new and entirely unique element of the divine oath: God swore by Himself. No other instance of God's oath by Himself appears in the Scriptures, except when the oath is mentioned where God swears that Israel because of its disobedience shall not enter into the land of promise (Numbers 14:28), or when it is said that the Lord sware to give the Promised Land to Israel. Yet it may be safely said, we believe, that these latter oaths are implied in this first one. Yet it remains as a remarkable fact that God, who is truth, swore by Himself; not, however, as though it were necessary but in order to give all possible assurance to man. Here the oath of God in particular stands in recognition of Abraham's supreme act of obedience. God delights in rewarding faithful service: Abraham did not withhold his best; God will bestow His best.
We must note in this connection a correct observation that Luther makes. He points out that the Scriptures speak of God's having sworn to David that He would establish his seed forever (Psalm 89:3; Psalm 132:11, etc). Yet we have no record of such an oath in the Scriptures. Luther argues that since the oath to Abraham involved the gift of the Messiah, if David is assured that the Messiah is to come from his line, then the oath of Abraham transfers itself to David. We believe this exposition to be correct.
In the perfect nishbß'ti the action reaches over from the past to the present: in the past the decision was reached, now it is expressed. The kî following merely introduces direct discourse and is repeated at the beginning of v.17 Genesis 22:17.
17. The former blessings are repeated in most emphatic fashion, including everything promised since Genesis 12:1. The verbs, reinforced by the absolute infinitive in this case, are the equivalent of the verb idea plus a "most abundantly." Richest blessings, most remarkable increase are promised. To the blessing of the descendants like "the stars of heaven" (Genesis 15:5) is added the new and more emphatic one of "the sand which is upon the seashore." The success of his descendants when they encounter enemies is indicated by the statement that they "shall possess the gate of their enemies." Since the gate was the keypoint in the question of control of a city, "to possess the gate" was the equivalent of gaining control of or capturing a city. This statement, however, does not guarantee that Israel shall conquer the world by aggression but merely shows what the outcome will be when Israel is assailed. Neither does the statement include spiritual conquest. That is covered by the next verse. Nor dare we forget that in reality this promise to Abraham's seed is conditioned by obedience. Only they who continue in the faith of Abraham and so are his true children may look to the possession of these things. Let it be observed that weyirash is not a converted perfect, as might have been expected, but an unconverted imperfect, a construction which makes the act stand out more distinctly over against the preceding (K. S.370 s).
18. This verse does not contain the same promise that is found in Genesis 12:3, for hithbarakhû does not mean "be blessed." Yet for all that the thought of 12:3 is implied, and the statement is without a doubt Messianic. Hithbarakhû is of the Hithpael stem, therefore reflexive: "they shall bless themselves." That means that when "all the nations of the earth" discern how great the blessing is that Israel enjoys, namely in the Messiah, then everyone "shall bless himself by thy descendants," i. e., he shall invoke upon himself the blessings that Abraham's children have in the Christ. That "all the nations of the earth" shall do this indicates the universal appeal that the Messiah has for all men and also indicates that He is to be a Messiah capable of bestowing blessings upon all. When the statement concludes with the words that God so richly blesses Abraham, "because thou didst hearken unto my voice," that does not mean that the blessing is an earned reward but rather a reward of grace.
19. And Abraham returned to his servants and they arose and went together to Beersheba, and Abraham made his home in Beersheba.
So the narrative concludes, telling how the group that had come from Beersheba returned thither and how Abraham "dwelt" there (A. V.), yeshebh being used, of course, in the sense of "made his home" there (Meek).
This remarkable event, historical and complete in itself in reference to Abraham, has prophetic import. Under God's providence this event becomes a type of the sacrifice on Calvary. The starting point for this consideration may well be the simple fact that God does not expect man to do for Him what He is not ready to do for man. Abraham and all men are expected to give up their dearest possession to God. God on His part gives up His dear Son. In Abraham's case the type is all the more to the point because Isaac is an only son, even as Christ is the Only Begotten. Nor is it merely a case of pious ingenuity when we discover a parallel between these two. Romans 8:32 sanctions this approach in a word that reads like an allusion to this chapter: "He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all ..." A proper exposition of this passage must, therefore, point to this type that is involved as necessarily belonging to the exposition. In the homiletical use of the passage at least two approaches are possible: either one centres attention on Abraham and his faith life and allows the type to be brought in incidentally, or where one desires to use the text as a foundation for the treatment of the subject of God's giving up of His Son for us, the various typical elements of the text are successively used, and everything centres about the true sacrifice of Christ. Abraham and Isaac merely appear incidentally by way of illustration.
14. Nahor's Descendants (Rebekah) (22:20-24)
20. And it came to pass after these things that someone reported to Abraham: Behold, Milcah, too, has born children to Nahor, thy brother.
The distance from Mesopotamia to southern Palestine was so great that practically all contact between these two brothers, Abraham and Nahor, had been lost. Now "someone reported" (yuggadh—"it was told") to Abraham, perhaps, a chance traveller in a caravan train. The individual in question was fully informed and was able to give to Abraham the exact names of the children. These names were faithfully noted and are here presented chiefly because in the list of them Rebekah is to be found, concerning whose identity we shall soon need information. The "too" (gam) used with Milcah signifies that just as Abraham's wife had born him legitimate offspring in the son of promise, so Abraham's brother's wife had also given him offspring.
21-24. Uz, his first-born and Buz, his brother, and Kemuel, the father of Aram; and Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Yidlaph, and Bethuel (and Bethuel begat Rebekah). These eight did Milcah bear to Nahor, Abraham's brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she also bare sons, Tebah, and Gaham, and Tahash, Maacah.
The remarkable coincidences that are here met with are that Nahor's case presents a strange parallel to that of Abraham as well as to that of Jacob. To Abraham's, in that Nahor has a wife and a concubine. To Jacob's, in that there are twelve sons. Critics, as we quite readily understand, see in this double coincidence proof of the legendary character of the account. Others again create artificial difficulty by claiming that at this time the third generation could not yet be reported in Nahor's line (Rebekah and Aram) when only the second is found in Abraham's. But it should not be forgotten that Isaac was born so very late as practically to place him parallel to the third generation.
Another difficulty is created by the assumption that since Jacob's twelve sons became the heads of twelve tribes, therefore these twelve sons of Nahor must be counted as tribes. The analogy is farfetched. The tribal theory in reference to these early ancestors has several fallacies. We must here even reckon with the possibility that perhaps not one of these twelve sons ever originated a tribe. So, of course, we cannot tell if, for example, the land of Uz, mentioned Job 1:1, is to be thought of as the land where the descendants of Uz, the son of Nahor, dwelt or not; or whether Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, is a descendant of the Buz here mentioned or not. Even more problematic, then, becomes the question where these sons of Nahor lived.
Aram, the son of Kemuel, presents a problem in that Genesis 10:22 Aram is mentioned as one of the sons of Shem, and in that connection, without a doubt, as the founder of the tribe or people of the Aramaeans. However, the Aram in our chapter is hardly to be regarded as the founder of a nation; and if he were, then Keil's suggestion can relieve the difficulty. For a comparison of 2 Kings 8:29 with 2 Chronicles 22:5 indicates that Arammim is another mode of writing Rammim. In case, then, that the Aram in question actually is the father of a tribe, he would be the father of the Rammim rather than of the Arammim. If he is an individual, Aram would be another form of the name Ram.
Homiletical Suggestions are embodied in the above comments.