Genesis 21:1-21; 22:1-19 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What are we told in Genesis 22:1 (printed below?) What did God require Abraham to do? See Genesis 22:2 (printed below)

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, Abraham. And Abraham replied, Here I am. (Genesis 22:1)

And God said, Now take your son, your only son, the son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I will tell you. (Genesis 22:2)

Verse 1 of Genesis 22 introduces the events recorded in this chapter with the words “God tested Abraham.” We must understand that God possesses the divine prerogative to test our hearts and to test the genuineness of our profession of faith. Specifically, what the Lord required of Abraham was the offering up of his son Isaac unto the Lord as “a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). The burnt offering was the Old Testament sacrifice that was a declaration of the worshiper’s wholehearted devotion and commitment to the Lord his God. The burnt offering was a testimony that he was committed to obeying the first great commandment to love the Lord our God (cp. Matthew 22:37-38). In the case of Abraham, the Lord was requiring an actual demonstration of that commitment, not just a symbolic token of such devotion by means of an animal sacrifice. Whenever we are confronted with similar life-challenging tests the Lord is requiring the same thing of us.

2. How does Abraham respond to God’s demand? See Genesis 22:3 (printed below) Why do you suppose he responded in this way?

So Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and Isaac his son. Then he cut the wood for the burnt offering and departed, journeying to the place of which God had told him. (Genesis 22:3)

Abraham readily complies with the Lord’s demand: “Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and Isaac his son. Then he cut the wood for the burnt offering and departed, journeying to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). One of the reasons for his prompt compliance was the fact that Abraham understood who God is (note Genesis 21:33, “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and there he called on the name of Jehovah, the Everlasting God.”) Abraham worshiped and trusted “Jehovah, the Everlasting God”—the living God who is both sovereign (possessing divine dominion over man) and faithful. Note: the tamarisk is a long-lived evergreen; symbolizing the Lord’s perpetual faithfulness to the covenant He established with Abraham (Commentary on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch, Vol. 1, Keil and Delitzsch, p.247).

3. What previous testing had Abraham undergone and how had the Lord shown Himself faithful? See Genesis 21:8-20 (printed below)

The child grew and was weaned. And on the day that Isaac was weaned Abraham made a great feast. (9) Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, the son whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking Isaac. (10) Therefore she said to Abraham, Get rid of this maidservant and her son; for the son of this maidservant shall not be heir with my son, Isaac. (11) Now this matter was very distressful to Abraham because it concerned his son. (12) But God said to Abraham, Do not let this matter concerning the boy and your maidservant be distressful to you. Listen to all that Sarah says to you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring shall be counted. (13) I will also make the maidservant’s son into a nation, because he is your offspring. (14) So Abraham got up early in the morning; he took some bread and a bottle of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder. Then he gave her the child and sent her away. She left and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. (15) When the water in the bottle was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. (16) Then she went and sat down a good distance away from him—about the distance of a bow shot—for she said, Let me not see the child die. So she sat at a distance from him, crying out and weeping. (17) And God heard the boy crying. And the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, What is the matter, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. (18) Get up, lift up the boy, and hold him in your arms; for I will make of him a great nation. (19) Then God opened her eyes and she saw a spring of water. Then she went and filled the bottle with water and gave the boy a drink. (20) God was with the boy, and he grew. The boy lived in the wilderness, and when he grew up he became an archer. (Genesis 21:8-20)

We tend to forget that Isaac was not the first son whom Abraham was required to give up, Ishmael was. When Sarah saw Ishmael mocking little Isaac, with angry indignation she demanded Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael (verse 10). This matter was “very distressful to Abraham because it concerned his son” (verse 11). But God instructed Abraham to comply with Sarah’s demand (verse 12), and God comforted Abraham with the assurance that He would look after Ishmael and bless him, because Ishmael was Abraham’s son (verse 13). Consequently, despite the heaviness of his heart, buoyed up by God’s promise, Abraham obeyed: he sent Hagar and Ishmael away into the barren wilderness where they would die (verse 14-16)—were it not for the Lord’s promise and His faithfulness to keep that promise. Indeed, God spared the boy, providing water in the wilderness—and God was with the boy, and he grew (verses 17-20).

4. As Abraham and Isaac make their way to the place of sacrifice, what confidence does Abraham express to his servants (see Genesis 22:5, printed below) and to Isaac (see Genesis 22:7-8, printed below?) How is his faith and commitment rewarded? See Genesis 22:9-13,15-18 (printed below)

Abraham said to his servants, Stay here with the donkey, while I and the boy go over there; we will worship, and then we shall return to you. (Genesis 22:5)

Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, saying, My father. And he said, What do you want, my son? And he said, Here is the flint for making the fire and here is the wood; but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? (8) And Abraham said, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. So the two of them continued their journey. (Genesis 22:7-8)

Then they came to the place of which God had told him. There Abraham built the altar, and arranged the wood upon it. Then he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. (10) Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (11) But the angel of Jehovah called to him out of heaven and said, Abraham, Abraham. And Abraham said, Here I am. (12) Then he said, Do not lay your hand upon the boy, neither do any harm to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not held back your son, your only son, from me. (13) And Abraham looked up and saw that behind him there was a ram caught by his horns in the underbrush. Abraham went over and took the ram, and offered him up as a burnt offering instead of his son…(15) Then the angel of Jehovah called to Abraham out of heaven a second time (16) and said, I have sworn by myself, declares Jehovah, because you have done this thing—you have not held back your son, your only son, (17) I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of the heavens and as the sand of the seashore. Your offspring shall take possession of the city of his enemies. (18) By your offspring shall all the nations of the world be blessed. I solemnly pledge to you these things because you have obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:9-13,15-18)

Abraham expressed to his servants his confidence that both he and Isaac would return after offering their sacrifice to the Lord (verse 5). When Isaac inquires about the lamb for the burnt offering, Abraham replies, “God Himself will provide the lamb” (verse 8). At the last moment the Lord demonstrates Himself faithful: preventing Abraham from slaying Isaac and providing the ram for sacrifice (verses 11-13). In response to Abraham’s obedience—his acceptance of God’s will—the Lord further confirms His promises with a personal oath (Genesis 22:15-18).

5. The words of Genesis 22:2 (printed below) remind you of what New Testament passage? What is significant about this?

And God said, Now take your son, your only son, the son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I will tell you. (Genesis 22:2)

The Lord’s words of instruction to Abraham in Genesis 22:2 are an unmistakable echo of John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The Lord was not requesting of Abraham anything that He Himself was not willing to do. On the contrary, the Lord’s purpose was for Abraham to become like the Lord Himself: to experience and imitate God’s own self-giving devotion to those whom He loves. The event recorded in Genesis 22:12b-13—the Lord providing a ram as a substitute for Abraham’s own son—is what Jesus is referring to in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” It was God’s purpose that through his obedience, Abraham would gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s plan of redemption: the wonder of it, the cost of it, the love revealed in it.