{8}         Testing of Abraham (Gen 22—23)


Part J. Abraham’s Old Age (22:1—24:67)

J1.    Testing of Abraham (22:1–19)

·         Chapter 22 is known in Jewish tradition as the Akedah (Heb. aqeda), “the binding” (v.9), an important religious event. It is the final test of Abraham’s faith. There are striking connections between 12:1–9 and 22:1–19. In 12:1, the command was “Go by yourself (Heb. lek leka) from your country…to the land I will show you.” In 22:2, the command was “Go by yourself (Heb. lek leka) to the land of Moriah…I will tell you about.” The call at Haran required Abraham to leave his past; the call at Beersheba required Abraham to relinquish the future by offering Isaac as a sacrifice. In both times, Abraham obeyed immediately.

·         God’s tests are a means for revealing man’s obedience (Ex 15:25; 16:4; Jdg 2:22), producing fear as to rouse piety (Ex 20:20; Ps 26:2), discovering man’s authenticity (Dt 8:2; 13:3; 2Ch 32:31), and producing man’s well-being (Dt 8:16). Here, what is revealed is that Abraham “fears” God (v.12)—with a sure verbal linkage in Hebrew of “test” and “fear”. By presenting the challenge, the man could express his faith in a concrete way. The result was a deepened relationship between God and man.

·         The special circumstance of Abraham’s role as the father of the covenant requires a test without parallel. The Jewish rabbis argued that the testing of Abraham was not devious since God tests only those who can withstand, that is, the righteous (Ps 11:5). Christian tradition, on the other hand, focuses on the fulfilment of the promises (Heb 11:17–19; Jas 2:21–23) since Isaac alone could fulfil the promises, as God Himself stated (Gen 21:12), making it certain that Isaac would somehow survive. In addition, there is a moral problem in God’s command because God condemned human sacrifice as a terrible sin (Lev 10:1–5). Therefore, the issue lay with God, not Abraham, for he left it to God to resolve the theological and moral problems He Himself created.

·         Heb 11:17–19 tells about the faith of Abraham. Abraham trusted God to raise Isaac from the dead to fulfil His promise. Here Isaac’s survival is described as a figure of resurrection. Isaac was later commended (Heb 11:20) for his faith in blessing his sons. Isaac is commonly used by Biblical scholars as a type for Christ. However, there is no “explicit” reference to an Isaac-Christ typology in the Bible.

·         The most likely alleged typology is in Ro 8:32 where Paul mentioned “He who did not spare his own son” with the same verb used in Gen 22:12,16. The church fathers, however, often read the Akedah story typologically as the redemptive story of Christ’s crucifixion, including Augustine and Chrysostom. This is used sometimes in Christian interpretation today.

J2.    Nahor’s family (22:20–24)

·         The Nahor (brother of Abraham) genealogy provides a precise accounting of the family tree, in anticipation of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. This is the Aramean branch (v.21) of the Terah clan who remianed in Haran. The marriage of Milcah, Haran’s daughter, to her uncle Nahor united the two of the 3 branches of Terah’s family. With the marriage of Rebekah to Isaac, all 3 branches were united.

·         The 12 sons of Nahor parallel the number of sons born to Ishmael (Gen 17:20; 25:16), Jacob (Gen 35:22; 49:28), and Esau (Gen 36:2–4,20–21).

J3.    Death of Sarah (23:1–20)

·         Sarah’s death required the purchase of a family burial plot. The notion of burial indicates permanency. That Abraham secured a family plot in Canaan rather than returning to Haran conveys his commitment to the land promised to him. Ancient peoples cherished their ancestral burial ground; burial in the ancestral grave indicated honour and continuity with the family. Later, while in Egypt, Jacob and Joseph insisted that their remains rest in Canaan according to their faith in the divine promise (Gen 49:29–32; 50:24–25).

·         The recognition of Abraham’s elevated stature by the Hittites (“mighty prince” in v.6) was shown by their concession to Abraham’s wishes and their offering him a burial site in their land.

·         The negotiation for the burial site apparently followed an established protocol. In the first round, Abraham apporaches the Hittites (v.3,5), perhaps leaders of the people. In the second round, he appeared before “the people of the land” (v.7) including Ephron. In the third round, he again appeared before “the people of the land” but addressed Ephron directly (v.12).



22:1     Some time later: Isaac had grown to at least an adolescent what could endure a climb bearing wood (v.6) but was still considered a “boy” (v.5,12).

Here I am: (Heb. hinnenni) occurring 3 times in this passage (v.1,7,9).

22:2     your only son: the only son left (Ishmael had departed) and the apparent heir.

the region of Moriah: the destination was not certain for Abraham, just like when he left Haran. “Mount Moriah” was mentioned only once in the Bible (2Ch 3:1) and is the traditional location of Abraham’s sacrifice. It is the site of Solomon’s temple. Today, the Muslim shrines El-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock occupy the traditional site of Mount Moriah. However, not everyone subscribes to this explanation. The mount in this chapter could simply be “one of the mountains” of a mountain range.

burnt offering: The term first occurs in Gen 8:20 after the Flood. The sacrificial animal was to be fully consumed, producing an aroma that pleases the Lord (Gen 8:21; Lev 1:9).

22:3     Early the next morning: showing Abraham’s prompt obedience and full submission.

cut enough wood: Abraham might be able to find wood at the place of sacrifice but he was fully prepared.

22:4     On the third day: 3 days of travel, perhaps less than 3 full days. From Beersheba to Jerusalem is an 80-km journey. Abraham had ample time to ponder retreat but he steadfastly moved forward.

22:5     will come back to you: Abraham relied on God to make good on His prior promise about Isaac.

22:6     placed it on his son Isaac: Isaac became both the beast of burden (carrying the wood) and the sacrificial lamb.

he himself carried: Abraham carried “in his own hand” the fire and the knife—showing the deterrmination to be the offerer.

22:7     where is the lamb: The absence of the animal was obvious to Isaac and to the servants. Here is the only recorded words of Isaac in the story.

22:8     God himself will provide: In Levitical sacrifice, the offerer himself provided the animal. Here, Abraham reversed the means, showing that God’s command made the matter his own responsibility.

22:9     He bound his son Isaac: Isaac was a willing victim who must have recognized at this point that he was the intended offering. He, as the stronger and swifter of the two, submitted without struggle to the binding. Since Isaac was not resisting, the binding was perhaps not needed but it might be the father’s intention to postpone the painful end of the ordeal. Isaac’s silence parallels Christ’s silence (Isa 53:7) when led to death.

22:10   reached out his hand and took the knife: The event is told in “slow motion” so the reader can experience the anguish of the father.

22:11   the angel of the LORD called out: The voice marks the turning point of the story; the test had accomplished its purpose.

22:12   Now I know that you fear God: “Fear God” describes the man’s obedience and trust motivated by his love of God—perhaps “reverence” is a better word. James observes that Abraham’s “faith was made complete by what he did” (Jas 2:22).

22:13   a ram: The death of the discovered ram “instead of his son” symbolizes the idea of substitutionary atonement—both in the Levitical system and in the death of Jesus. The appearance of the snared animal was certainly a miracle (v.14).

22:14   called that place The LORD Will Provide: The name (Heb. yahweh yireh) for the mountain could be interpreted in 2 ways: provide/see (Heb. raa) and “he saw” (Heb. wayyar). The phrase “it will be provided” as the object refers to the animal promised in v.8. The Greek reading could mean “on the mountain the Lord was seen” as the object refers to God—God appeared. The two senses could also be combined in the sentence: “God will see to the sheep.”

the mountain of the LORD: a divinely ordained, sacred space. The term is commonly referred to Sinai/Horeb (Ex 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13; 1Ki 19:8), but also Jerusalem’s temple (Isa 2:3; 30:29; Mic 4:2; Zec 8:3)

22:16   I swear by myself: a divine confirmation of the promises. The voice from heaven occurred at the baptism and transfiguration of Christ as a confirmation of the sonship and ministry of Jesus.

22:17   I will surely bless you: This passage recalls earlier promises and expands upon them: (1) “surely” is added; (2) “make your descendants as numerous” is added to the comparison to the stars; (3) “the sand on the seashore” is included; (4) “possession of the cities of their enemies” is new.

22:18   your offspring: (Heb. zera) may refer to an individual or a collective group. The ambiguity can bring both meanings. For the Jews, it can be interpreted to mean David and the Israel nation. For Christians, it can be interpreted to mean an individual (Jesus Christ) and the group (Israel or even the church). Peter quotes Gen 22:18 in Ac 3:25 in showing the Jewish leaders that Christ is the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise of blessing intended for all families.

22:19   set off together: The verse is a double conclusion. “They set off together” parallels “the two of them went on together” (v.6,8). “Abraham stayed in Beersheba” parallels “Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines” (Gen 21:34). Abraham’s spiritual sojourn was near to its end.

22:21   Uz: the same name as the Shemite son of Aram (Gen 10:23), the descendant of Esau (Gen 36:18–29), and the place of Job’s residence (Job 1:1). The last may be a variation of Buz, an Arabian location.

22:23   Rebekah: The Abraham line provided the paternal ancestry (Isaac, Jacob) to the chosen people while the Nahor line provided the maternal ancestry (Rebekah, Leah, Rachel). Rebekah’s name could mean “a cow” (Heb. biqra) or “cattle” (Heb. baqar) or “blessing” (Heb. beraka).

23:2     Hebron: the same location where Abraham stayed (ch.13). “Kiriath Arba” means “city of four” pointing to 4 related cities including Hebron and Mamre.

mourn for Sarah: Mourning rites in the ancient Near East included many expressions of sorrow: loud weeping, tearing clothes, sitting in dirt, wearing sackcloth, and shaving the head.

23:3     an alien and a stranger: This was Abraham’s social status which explains his landless condition.

23:6     listen to us: The conversation was in an amicable mood as shown by the courteous address “listen to us/me” (v.6,8,11,13,15). The Hittites also offered “the choicest of our tombs”.

mighty prince: could also meant “a prince of God” or “the elect of God”,  showing their recognition of Abraham’s special stature.

23:9     at the end of his field: allowing Ephron the Hittite to retain the territorial integrity of his land.

23:10   the gate of his city: Apparently, a delegation of Hittites and Abraham went to Ephron’s residence to make the proposal. The city gate was the setting for civil transactions (Dt 25:7; Ru 4:1).

23:11   give you the field: Ephron offered to give the field to Abraham. However, many commentators explain this as a form of haggling. If Abraham accepted, it would be similar to an insult to Ephron who could then rescind the offer, now or later.

23:13   so I can bury my dead: Abraham preferred a formal business arrangement to ensure a family burial site for future generations.

23:16   Abraham agreed: The custom of the day was to ask for double the fair market value, fully expecting the buyer to offer half the stated price. Abraham’s acceptance of the price with no reservation made the transaction immediate, legitimate, and permanent.

in the hearing of the Hittites: The transaction was done in the eyes of numerous witnesses.

23:17   deeded to Abraham: again in v.20 to assure that the transaction was legitimate with a formal recording of a deed although no written document was mentioned.



·         God tested Abraham not to see whether Abraham was faithful and obedience. God knew beforehand what the result would be. The test was for the benefit of Abraham so that he could deepen his capacity to obey God and develop his character. Just as fire refines ore to extract precious metals, God refines us through difficult circumstances. Through this difficult experience, Abraham strengthened his commitment to obey God and he also learned about God’s ability to provide.

·         It is difficult to let go of what we deeply love. Have you withheld your love, your children, your money, your time from God? Yet when we do give to God what He asks, He returns to us far more than we could dream.

·         Abraham not only showed Canaanites that he worshipped a different God, his reputation was also above reproach, thus gaining respect from people around him. Christians too need to act to gain the respect of others in order to be a testimony for God.