The call of Abram (12:1–9). God’s first word to Abram is an imperative: leave! The three things he is to leave behind are arranged in ascending order: country, people, father’s household. The imperative is followed by a series of promises relating to progeny, reputation, and blessing. There is quite a contrast between 11:4 (“we may make a name for ourselves”) and 12:2 (“I will make your name great”). The climax of the divine “I wills” is that all peoples on earth (Gen. 10) will be blessed through Abram. Abram is to be not only a recipient of the blessing, but also a channel through which this blessing may flow to others. This all happens when Abram is seventy-five years old. God gets involved for the first time in the life of this septuagenarian.
Abram’s response is prompt: “so Abram left.” First the Lord speaks to Abram (v. 1). Then God appears to him (v. 7). Now that Abram has moved into Canaan (Shechem, Bethel), God makes a further promise to him: “to your offspring I will give this land.” Abram does not yet have even one child, and here is God talking about offspring. First God speaks (vv. 1–3), then Abram journeys (vv. 4–6). Next God appears (v. 7a), then Abram worships (v. 7). The chapter begins with the promise to make of Abram a great “name” and concludes with Abram calling on the Lord’s “name.”
Both father and son stand revealed with special clarity at this supreme moment. From Abraham the harrowing demand evokes only love and faith, certain as he is that the ‘foolishness of God’ is unexplored wisdom. So he is enabled, in the surrender of his son, to mirror God’s still greater love, while his faith gives him a first glimpse of resurrection: see on 5. The test, instead of breaking him, brings him to the summit of his lifelong walk with God.
Isaac too comes briefly into his own—not by what he does but by what he suffers. Here, it seems, is his role, undistinguished though he may be in himself. Others will do exploits; it is left to this quiet victim, in a single episode, to demonstrate God’s pattern for the chosen ‘seed’: to be a servant sacrificed.
- AV’s tempt is better expressed by prove or test (cf. RV, RSV). Abraham’s trust was to be weighed in the balance against common sense, human affection, and lifelong ambition; in fact against everything earthly.
- Each of the opening phrases heightens the tension another degree.
Moriah reappears only in 2 Chronicles 3:1, where it is identified as the place where God halted the plague of Jerusalem and where Solomon built the temple. In New Testament terms, this is the vicinity of Calvary.
- On Abraham’s early start, see on 21:14.
- The note of time, the third day, incidentally agrees with the placing of Moriah noted above, but chiefly speaks of the protracted test and sustained obedience.
- The assurance that Isaac as well as Abraham would come again from the sacrifice was no empty phrase: it was Abraham’s full conviction, on the ground that ‘in Isaac shall thy seed be called’ (21:12). Hebrews 11:17–19 reveals that he was expecting Isaac to be resurrected; henceforth he would regard him as given back from the dead. For an extension of this attitude, see Paul’s reflections on life through death in 2 Corinthians, especially 5:14ff.
- The loading of the wood on to Isaac brings inevitably to mind the detail in John 19:17: ‘he went out, bearing his own cross’. But the fire and the knife are in the father’s hands. Victim and offerer walking both of them together (the poignant refrain returns in verse 8) foreshadow, however, the greater partnership expressed in Isaiah 53:7, 10.
- Abraham’s God will provide was to be immortalized in the name of the place: see verse 14. It might almost be called his lifelong motto; many have lived by it since. His complete certainty of God, together with complete openness as to detail, makes this a model reply to an agonizing question. God’s method was his own affair; it would take them both by surprise.
9, 10. Von Rad points out the slowing down of the narrative towards the fateful moment; in 10 ‘even the single movements’ are captured. It is consummate story-telling throughout.
11, 12. The exact moment of intervention wrings the last drop of meaning from the experience. On the human side, the ultimate sacrifice is faced and willed; on the divine side, not a vestige of harm is permitted, and not a nuance of devotion is unnoticed (as the phrase thy son, thine only son, echoed from 2 and re-echoed in 16, makes clear). It is the answer, vividly conclusive yet anything but facile, to the question of Micah 6:6, 7.
- For the second time (cf. 21:19) God’s provision is found to have been ready and waiting. Note that in this sacrifice at least, the victim was a substitute (instead of his son); and what is explicit here the later ritual of Leviticus 1:4 seems well fitted to express.
- Jehovah-jireh is, apart from the name for God, the expression Abraham had used in 8. Provide is a secondary meaning of the simple verb ‘to see’ (cf. our ‘see to it’), as in 1 Samuel 16:1c. Both senses probably coexist in the little saying of 14b (which deserves to be better known), i.e. ‘In the mount … it will come clear’.
15–18. To obey is to find new assurance, as Abraham had discovered in 13:14ff.; note too the new promise in 17c. The best comment on God’s oath is in Hebrews 6:16–18.
Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 153–155). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). Genesis. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 19). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.