Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.XXII.
THE OFFERING OF ISAAC ON MOUNT MORIAH.
(1) God did tempt Abraham.—Heb., proved him, put his faith and obedience to the proof. For twenty-five years the patriarch had wandered in Palestine, and seen the fulfilment of the promise perpetually deferred, and yet his faith failed not. At length the long wished for heir is born, and, excepting the grievous pain of parting with Ishmael, all went well with him, and seemed to presage a calm and happy old age. He was at peace with his neighbours, had quiet possession of ample pasture for his cattle, knew that Ishmael was prosperous, and saw Isaac fast approaching man’s estate (Genesis 22:12). In the midst, nevertheless, of this tranquil evening of his days came the severest trial of all; for he was commanded to slay his son. The trial was twofold. For, first, human sacrifice was abhorrent to the nature of Jehovah, and Abraham’s clear duty would be to prove the command. Could such a deed really be enjoined upon him by God? Now no subjective proof would be sufficient. In after times many an Israelite was moved by deep religious fanaticism to give his firstborn in the hope of appeasing the anger of God at his sin (Micah 6:7); but instead of peace it brought only a deeper condemnation upon his soul. Had Abraham been moved only by an internal and subjective impulse, his conduct would have deserved and met with similar condemnation But when, upon examination, he became convinced that the command came from outside himself, and from the same God with whom on former occasions he had so often held converse, then the antecedents of his own life required of him obedience. But even when satisfied of this, there was, secondly, the trial of his faith. A command which he had tested, not only subjectively by prayer, but objectively by comparison with the manner of previous revelations, bade him with his own hand destroy the son in whom “his seed was to be called.” His love for his child, his previous faith in the promise, the religious value and worth of Isaac as the appointed means for the blessing of all mankind—this, and more besides, stood arrayed against the command. But Abraham, in spite of all, obeyed, and in proportion to the greatness of the trial was the greatness of the reward. Up to this time his faith had been proved by patience and endurance, but now he was bidden himself to destroy the fruit of so many years of patient waiting (Hebrews 11:17-19), and, assured that the command came from God, he wavered not. Thus by trial was his own faith made perfect, and for Isaac too there was blessing. Meekly, as befitted the type of Christ, he submitted to his father’s will, and the life restored to him was henceforth dedicated to God. But there was a higher purpose in the command than the spiritual good of these ‘two saints. The sacrifice had for its object the instruction of the whole Church of God. If the act had possessed no typical value, it would have been difficult for us to reconcile to our consciences a command which might have seemed, indirectly at least, to have authorised human sacrifices. But there was in it the setting forth of the mystery of the Father giving the Son to die for the sins of the world; and therein lies both the value and the justification of Abraham’s conduct and of the Divine command.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.(2) Take now.—Now is not an adverb of time, but an interjection of entreaty, usually coupled with requests, and intended to soften them. It thus makes the words more an exhortation than a command.
Thine only son Isaac.—The words in the original are more emphatic, being, “Take, I pray, thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac.” If childlessness was so unendurable in old time to Abraham (Genesis 15:2), what would it be now, after so many years of enjoyment of a son, and after giving up Ishmael for his sake (Genesis 17:18)?
The land of Moriah.—Moriah may either mean Jah is teacher (see Note on Genesis 12:6), or Jah is provider. The first is supported by Isaiah 2:3, where the verb is rendered will teach; but the second agrees best with Genesis 22:8; Genesis 22:14. If this be the meaning, the name would be derived from this event, and would signify the place where “Jehovah will Himself provide the sacrifice.” It has been suggested by many able commentators, that the place meant was Moreh in Sichem, and that the site of the sacrifice was, as the Samaritans affirmed, the natural altar upon the summit of Mount Gerizim. But as Abraham and Isaac reached the spot on the third day, and evidently at an early hour, Gerizim is too remote from Beer-sheba for this to be possible Even Jerusalem is distant enough, as the journey from Beer-sheba takes twenty and a half hours; and travellers in those days had to cook their own food, and prepare their own sleeping accommodation. We may notice also, that Moriah is described as “a land,” in some part of which Abraham was to be shown the special mountain intended for the sacrifice; Moreh, on the contrary, was a place where Abraham had lived, and which was therefore well known to him.
Offer him there for a burnt offering.—Hengstenberg and others have argued that Abraham was not to kill Isaac, but to surrender him spiritually to God, and sanctify him by a burnt offering. But this is contradicted by the narrative itself (Genesis 22:10), and by the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews referred to above, where the victory of Abraham’s faith is described as consisting in the belief, that even though Isaac were killed, nevertheless the promise would still in some Divine manner be fulfilled in him.
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.(3) And Abraham . . . —Every preparation for the sacrifice is minutely detailed, as if to show the calmness with which Abraham girded up himself for obedience. He even took the wood ready cleft, not because there was no wood there (Genesis 22:13), but in order that on arriving at the destined place there might be nothing to distract their thoughts, and that so they might proceed at once to the sacrifice.
Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.(4) On the third day.—We may compare the patriarch’s feelings during these two weary days of travel with those of Hagar as she wandered in the wilderness, and each day felt the death of her child growing nearer and more certain. But hers were human sorrows only, while Abraham was giving up the son on whom his spiritual hopes depended.
Afar off.—The summit called the Mountain of the House, usually identified with Mount Moriah, cannot be seen by a traveller from Beer-sheba at a greater distance than three miles (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 251). Hence it has been argued that some more widely conspicuous hill-top must be meant. But the phrase afar off is used very indefinitely, and three miles exactly agrees with what Abraham did. For he left the servants at the spot, and laid the wood on Isaac, and went the rest of the way on foot. It must have sorely taxed the strength of the lad to be compelled to carry the wood a distance of three miles; while to have carried it from the spot where Gerizim becomes visible would have been impossible.
In Isaac thus carrying the wood on which he was to be sacrificed, the Fathers discerned a type of Christ carrying his cross (John 19:17).
And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.(5) I and the lad will . . . come again to you.—In these words Abraham gives utterance to the hope ascribed to him in Hebrews 11:19. The belief in the resurrection of the body was no new thing with Abraham, as it was part of the creed both of Chaldea and Egypt (Tomkins, Studies, p. 127).
God will provide himself a lamb.—Heb., the lamb. We learn from Hebrews 11:17-19, that Abraham expected that he was to consummate the sacrifice, but that Isaac would be restored to him from the dead, and the promise that his seed was to be born of him so fulfilled. The bestowal of Isaac had been so extraordinary, that Abraham would not feel staggered at what otherwise would have seemed incredible. Apparently, therefore, he meant Isaac by the lamb, thus showing that it was not he who chose the victim, but God. The few words that passed between father and son, the notice by the latter that amid such careful preparation no victim had been provided, the father’s answer that that matter was left to God, the resolute faith of the one, and the trusting submission of the other, as “they went both of them together,” form a picture full not merely of interest, but even of tragical pathos.
And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.(9) Abraham . . . bound Isaac.—Jewish commentators agree that this was done with Isaac’s consent, nor could it well have been otherwise. Thus his youthful faith was tried equally with that of his father, his future life sanctified, and himself ennobled by being made a type of Christ (1Peter 2:23).
And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.(11) The angel of the Lord.—Up to this point, the narrative had been Elohistic, but it is the angel of Jehovah who interferes to stop the sacrifice (see on Genesis 16:7).
And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.(13) Behind.—By a slight change in the shape of a consonant, many ancient authorities read one ram instead of a ram behind (“him” is not in the Hebrew). This correction is almost certain, as nowhere else is the word translated behind used as an adverb of place. The ram was probably that with four horns, still common in the East.
A burnt offering in the stead of his son.—We have here the fact of substitution, and the doctrine of a vicarious sacrifice. The ram took Isaac’s place, and by its actual death completed the typical representation of the Saviour’s death on Calvary. In The Speaker’s Commentary it has been well shown, that there is no difficulty in this representation being composed of two parts, so that what was wanting in Isaac should be supplied by the ram. And while it would have been most painful for Isaac to have actually died by his father’s hand, the doctrine of the possibility of a vicarious sacrifice would have been even less clearly taught thereby. He therefore rises again to life from the altar, and the ram dies in his stead, and by the two combined the whole mystery is set forth of God giving His Son to die for mankind, and of life springing from His death. Compare the mystery of the two birds, Leviticus 14:4; and the two goats, Leviticus 16:8.
And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.(14) Jehovah-jireh.—That is, Jehovah will provide. In Genesis 22:8, Abraham had said “Elohim-jireh,” God will provide. He now uses Jehovah as the equivalent of Elohim. It is added that hence arose a proverb “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen,” or rather, In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided.—The verb literally means to see, or, to see to a thing, and the sense of the proverb plainly is that in man’s necessity God will Himself see to it, and provide due help and deliverance. The Samaritan, Syriac and Vulg. have a better reading, namely, “In the mount Jehovah will provide.” This makes no change in the consonants, which alone are authoritative, but only in the vowels, which were added since the Christian era, and represent the tradition of the Jewish school of Tiberias. The LXX., without changing the vowels, translate, “In the mount Jehovah shall be seen,” which would be a prophecy of the manifestation of Christ. The other two renderings, besides their general proverbial sense, point onward to the providing upon this very spot of the sacrifice that was to take away the sins of the world (comp. Isaiah 53:5).
But when and how did this grow into a proverb? and who added this note? It may have been inserted by Moses when he arranged these marvellous. documents; less probably by Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue, when they collected and revised the several books of Holy Scripture after the exile. In either case, the proverb is a national testimony to the genuineness of the record, and proves that the facts narrated in it were so impressed upon the memory of Abraham’s descendants, as to shape their thoughts and language.
And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:(16) By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord (Jehovah).—This solemn interposition of an oath (Hebrews 6:17), of which the present is the sole instance in Holy Scripture, plainly indicates that this trial of Abraham’s faith was of no common kind, and that its typical teaching is of no ordinary value. Abraham might have appealed to God’s own attributes, and said, Far be it from thee, Lord, to command a human sacrifice, and bid a father slay his son. He might have pleaded the promises bound up with Isaac’s life. But no, as soon as he is convinced that the command comes from God. he obeys, and, against hope, still believes that the promises will all be fulfilled in the sacrificed Isaac. He is thus the highest and most perfect example of faith, and by his offering of his son the Church received the assurance that the Son of God incarnate in the flesh would upon that very mountain offer the sacrifice Divinely necessary for the pardon of man’s sins.
The blessing now given to Abraham differs from those that precede it in three particulars. First, it is no longer a promise, but a solemn compact ratified by an oath. Next, it assures Abraham’s seed of victory, whereby the spiritual Israel is certified of the ultimate triumph of the Gospel. Lastly, it transfers to Abraham’s offspring the promise of being the means of blessedness to all mankind.
(20) Thy brother Nahor.—Dwelling so far apart, news would seldom reach Abraham of those whom he had left at Haran. But besides the domestic interest, the knowledge thus conveyed to him was the cause “probably of Abraham’s determination to seek a wife for his son from among his own kindred. It has been noticed that Nahor has twelve sons, eight by his lawful wife, and four by his concubine. So Jacob has twelve sons, eight by two lawful wives, and four by two concubines. Lastly, Ishmael has twelve sons. These coincidences are curious, but afford no ground for the assertion that therefore these narratives are mythical. For coincidences quite as strange are to be found in every history, and in daily life.
Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram,(21) Huz.—The same name as Uz in Genesis 10:23; Genesis 36:28, the Hebrew in all cases being’Uz. For the various regions supposed to have been “the land of Uz,” see Notes on Job 1:1; Jeremiah 25:20.
Buz.—Probably he was the ancestor of Elihu (Job 32:2); but Buz, in Jeremiah 25:23, seems to have been a region in Idumea.
Kemuel, the father of Aram.—He was not the progenitor of the Aramaic race, but the ancestor of the family of Ram, to which Elihu belonged (Job 32:2), Ram being the same as Aram (Keil). If so, Buz and Kemuel must have coalesced into one tribe.
And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel.(22) Chesed.—He was not the ancestor of the ancient Chasdim or Chaldees, but possibly of the small tribe of robbers with the same name who plundered Job (Job 1:17). Of the rest, no trace remains in history.
And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah.(24) Maachah.—This name appears as that of a small Aramaic people, in Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5; 2Samuel 10:6.