Study Guide

Book of Genesis Chapter 22

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Chapter 22

The Binding of Isaac (a.k.a. the Akedah)

  • Get ready, because God is about to test Abraham—big time.
  • How? Well, Abraham is ordered to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. God, of course, recognizes that Abraham loves Isaac, but he commands Abraham, "Go!" (22:2). (Sounds like that same command in 12:1, the opening of Abraham's story.)
  • This time, God is commanding him to go to the land of Moriah and offer Isaac as a burnt offering.
  • This should strike us as rather shocking given all the attention focused on Sarah's need to bear a son and his priority over Ishmael in the preceding chapters. 
  • Plus, the promises in 13:16, 15:5, and 21:12 are all dependent on this kid. 
  • Abraham gets up extra early, prepares a donkey, and orders two servants to go along. He also splits the wood he'll need for the offering and finally starts on his way.
  • The narrator pays lots of attention to the details, slowing down the pace of the story and creating suspense.
  • After three days, he arrives at the spot.
  • Abraham tells his two attendants to stay with the donkey, while he and Isaac go to worship. They take the wood and the knife and go on their way.
  • Isaac addresses Abraham, "Father!" (22:7 NRSV). Abraham responds, "Here I am, my son" (22:7 NRSV). All of the intimate familial language is supposed to hit us right where it hurts.
  • Isaac can put two and two together. He sees the wood and the fire, but wants to know where the sheep is.
  • Abraham responds, "God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (22:8 NRSV). 
  • Take a second to dwell on Abraham's response. Is Abraham lying to Isaac to protect him from knowing the brutal reality of what he has to do? Or is he in a way speaking to God, suggesting that God really should provide a lamb?
  • Oh, also, Hebrew doesn't use commas. That means that "burnt offering" and "my son" in 22:8 are simply juxtaposed next to one another. It's possible to understand Abraham as saying, "God will provide for a burnt offering, which will be my son." 
  • You can bet your bottom dollar that the ambiguities in 22:8 are intentional.
  • Now back to our show. 
  • They journey on together, and finally arrive at the appointed place. Abraham builds an altar, lays out the wood, and binds Isaac. 
  • BTW, the Hebrew verb for "bind" is 'aqad, which why this story frequently goes by the title of the "Akedah." 
  • The narrator emphasizes again that Isaac is "his son" (22:9) in order to milk as much pathos as possible from this story.
  • Abraham places Isaac on top of the wood on the altar, reaches out his hand, and takes the knife.
  • Notice that the narrative-pace is still very slow. Every detail is narrated. The purpose is to create suspense. (We're helping, we know.)
  • And then… the deity's messenger calls to Abraham and tells him that he doesn't have to go through with it. It's pretty clear that he "fears" God, so he can stop before he actually does the deed.
  • Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of his son.
  • He names the place, "The Lord will provide" (22:14 NRSV), which in Hebrew looks like this, YHWH-yireh, from which the KJV gets, "Jehova Jireh," a phrase with a bit of cultural currency these days.
  • The messenger re-confirms the covenant.
  • The end.

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