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156 Abraham Attempts to Sacrifice Isaac Genesis 22 Part 4

Updated: Apr 22

In this final episode on Genesis 22 and the account of Abraham and his attempt to Sacrifice Isaac, Ian, Sascha and Warren provide a alternative way of understanding this troublesome story and suggest that Abraham thought it was God's voice but was deceived by his own devious nature. Join us as we consider the evidence for such a position.

156 Genesis 22 part 4 Abraham and Isaaac
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Genesis 22 Abraham attempts to Sacrifice Isaac

1 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

The Hebrew word translated “tested” is nasah. The KJV is the only translation to use “tempted” for nasah. The other translations use “tested” or “proved”. The NASB Exhaustive Concordance translates nasah as follows: make a test (1), proved (1), put (1), put to the test (2), tempted (3), test (13), tested (9), testing (3), tried (1), try (1), venture (1), ventures (1).

The idea of nasah being a test rather than a temptation is clear from the above. Temptation is linked with negative or evil intent. We are not tempted to do good in the normal usage of the word. Testing is associated with demonstrating skill competence, e.g., driving, surgical, or walking skills and many more can be tested. This skill testing is not associated with temptation. Temptation is moral testing. For instance, it is not ethical to test a person’s honesty. Shall I leave a hundred-dollar bill lying around to see if my son will take it? Moral tests seem to be synonymous with temptations if negative outcomes are anticipated.

It might be relevant to consider Job at this point. Was Job tested or tempted or both? The issue between God and the Satan was over the integrity of Job. Satan insinuated Job’s worship of God was protection money that he was paying. The intent of Satan was to expose the selfishness of Job. It was to be decided by ordeal if Job’s worship of God was motivated by selfishness or admiration. Thus, Job is being tempted by the Satan because he had negative intent.

The concept of testing or tempting is common in the psalms. God tests the people and the people test God.

God tests people.

Psalm 26:2 NIV (David feeling virtuous)

2 Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;

Psalm 66:10 NLT (Unknown)

You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.

Psalm 139:23-24 NLT (David)23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.24 Point out anything in me that offends you, & lead me along the path of everlasting life.

People test God.

Psalm 78:18-19 NLT (Asaph)18 They stubbornly tested God in their hearts,

demanding the foods they craved.19 They even spoke against God himself, saying,

“God can’t give us food in the wilderness.

Psalm 78:41 NLT (Asaph)Again and again they tested (tempted NKJV) God’s patience and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

Psalm 95:8-9 NLT (Unknown)The LORD says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness.9 For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did.

The Lord’s prayer amplifies the KJV’s use of “temptation” in Genesis 22 by the statement, “And lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13 KJV). The unspoken conclusion for most Christians from 1611 A.D. onward was that God sometimes tempts us. This statement is correctly translated as, “And you lead us not into temptation.” It is rather an acclamation of God’s goodness. This matter is elucidated in the podcast on The Lord’s Prayer.

When Jesus asks Phillip how to procure enough food for the 5000 men the reason given in John 6:6 is that Jesus was testing or proving him. The Wycliffe Bible actually uses the word “tempting” in this verse.

According to Matthew 4:1 Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The implication is clear from this verse that the Spirit wants Jesus tempted. Luke (4:2) and Mark (2) correct the source of the temptation by saying, the Spirit led him into the wilderness and he was tempted there by the devil. But the damage was done by Matthew’s account since it is the first gospel, the one most read before they tire of the repetition of the gospels.

James is clear that God never tempts anyone and James further indicts temptation as coming from within us.

James 1:13-15 NLT And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

If James is correct then we must look for the causation of Abraham wanting to sacrifice Isaac within himself.

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

During the slave epoch in what became the United States of America the child of a freeman and slave woman was deemed a slave. We find precedent for this practice here and in Galatians.

Galatians 4:24-27 NLT These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. 25 And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. 26 But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother.

The author of Hebrews writes from a Post-Jesus perspective when he suggests that Abraham believed that God could resurrect Isaac from the dead. Up to this point in recorded history there had been no resurrections.

Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

There are active and passive voices recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, the devil can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:15), creating confusion and misunderstanding. There is no reason to believe that he cannot disguise his voice as God’s voice for Abraham. He certainly influenced Herod to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18) so why not Influence Abraham to kill Isaac?

How does one know the will or command of God? George Muller, the man famous for establishing orphanages in England as a response to God’s leading, never did any fundraising and became famous for hearing God’s voice. He claimed the secret was to pray until the outcome was no longer a priority. It is at this point one is enabled to hear the voice of God.

Jesus Christ states, “If you are willing to do the will of God you will know if my teaching is true” (John 7:17). What this means is that truth is recognized through purity of motive rather than by analytical enquiry. When Jesus says, “By their fruit you shall know them” he also means the fruit of the message in our lives will authenticate the message’s truthfulness. Does the message make one more compassionate and less judgmental (Matthew 7:16-20).

“The Christian theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote a powerful book about it (Abram sacrificing Isaac), Fear and Trembling, in which he coined such ideas as the “teleological suspension of the ethical”—the love of G-d may lead us to do things that would otherwise be considered morally wrong—and “faith in the absurd”—Abraham trusted God to make the impossible possible. He believed he would lose Isaac but still keep him. For Kierkegaard, faith transcends reason.” / conversation/vayera/the-binding-of-isaac-a-new-interpretation/

This solution to Abraham offering Isaac seems to open the door to all sorts of mischief and fanaticism. This attitude opens the door to many options which can be claimed to be the will of God.

We may also ask why Abram did not protest this command of God as he has a history of protest or debate with God and others.

  1. In chapter 15 he suggests to God that Eliezer will be his heir (2-4). Next, he wants proof from God that he will possess the land (7-8).

  2. In chapter 17 he laughs when God says he and Sarai will have a son and recommends that God accept Ishmael as the promised son (17-22).

  3. In chapter 18 he bargains with God for the survival of Sodom (16-33).

  4. In chapter 20 Abram protests God’s infertility on Abimelech’s women (17-18).

  5. In chapter 21 Abram has serious negotiations with Abimelech in connections with water rights (22-32).

Abram is thus clearly a skilled negotiator and protestor who is not afraid to confront God himself. Hundreds of years later Moses negotiated with God at the burning bush and at Sinai. David’s protest psalms, Jonah complaints (4:1-4) and Habakkuk’s outcry against injustice by God (1:2-4) indicate that it was thus part of Israelite tradition to engage in serious dialogue with God.

However, in this incident Abraham does not protest the sacrificing of Isaac with the LORD. This seems to indicate that the voice that called him to sacrifice his son came from within himself as James described the process.

James 1:14-15 NLT Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

Here are some explanations offered for the proposed sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.

The story is a literal record of exactly what happened.

The story is a prefiguring of how God would sacrifice his son.

Abraham had to learn that Isaac did not belong to him.

Abraham, because of his faults and failures, felt the need to do something to make restitution, placate, appease, or propitiate God.

Abraham thought it was God’s voice but he was deceived by his own devious nature.

We consider these options below.

1. The story is a literal record of exactly what happened.

This means God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as the surrounding pagan nations did. If this explanation is accepted then one has to reconcile it with the following scriptures, over 20 of which express God’s abhorrence of child sacrifice:

Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill (murder).

Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10—child sacrifice is detestable for God.

Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5—child sacrifice brings shame on God’s name.

2 Kings 3:27; 16:3; 17:17, 31; 21:6; 23:10—child sacrifice arouses God’s anger.

2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6—child sacrifices are pagan practices.

Psalm 106:37-40—child sacrifice results in God’s anger.

Isaiah 57:5—child sacrifice makes the LORD unhappy.

Jeremiah 7:31; 19:4-5; 32:35—the LORD never commanded child sacrifices

.Ezekiel 16:20-21; 20:26, 31; 23:37—you sacrifice my children to idols.

Micah 6:7 Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin

of my soul?

Interestingly, Jeremiah states the LORD never desired sacrifices of any kind. What he wanted was obedience.

7:22 NLT When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and

sacrifices I wanted from them. 23 This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your

God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’

It seems impossible to reconcile God requiring Abraham to sacrifice Isaac with the abhorrence of the LORD for any sacrifice and especially child sacrifice.

2. The story is a prefiguring of how God would have to sacrifice his son.

This argument is that Abraham is privileged to share this parallel experience with God and will understand God’s sacrifice better. This view is used to justify the penal substitution theory of the atonement which is premised on the understanding that God needed the death of Jesus to be legally reconciled to sinners.

This metaphor for the atonement understands law to be the bedrock of the universe rather than the love of the LORD for his creation. While there are laws which describe the reality of the material universe, human relationships are moral entities not legal phenomena. God’s motivation is always that of love (1 John 4:8). He is not bound by law as Jesus illustrated by his Sabbath miracles. Imposed law, as opposed to inherent law is only necessary where love is not understood or practised. Imposed law is always a response to some evil. Speeding laws are necessary because some drivers have been speeding and endangering lives.

Moses was a law man and his legacy of law orientation is reality for many well-meaning religious people. This is true because Jesus’ teachings, miracles, life, and death are seen as confirming law rather than revealing the Kingdom of Heaven. Love supersedes law in every possible way. Paul understood that Law condemns while Love inspires (Romans 5:20-21).

This option is only valid in a universe where law supersedes love. This is not the moral order Jesus brought to our planet.

3. Abraham had to learn that Isaac did not belong to him.

This is the wisdom of Hebrew thinking. It is persuasive because it illustrates Jesus’ maximum that when you lose your life you gain your life. When Abraham “lost” his son, he gained his son. After the Exodus and Sinai, the firstborn belonged to the LORD and had to be redeemed at the Sanctuary.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks considers this event as far more than a pagan sacrifice and his comments are relevant.

“Throughout Tanach, the gravest sin is child sacrifice. The Torah and the prophets consistently regard it with horror. It is what pagans do. . . .

“It is what Mesha, King of Moab, does to get the gods to grant him victory over the Israelites:

When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land. 2 Kings 3:26-27

“How can the Torah regard as Abraham’s supreme achievement that he was willing to do what the worst of idolaters do? The fact that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son would seem to make him—in terms of Tanach considered as a whole—no better than Baal or Molech worshippers or the pagan king of Moab. This cannot be the only possible interpretation.” isaac-a-new-interpretation/

Sacks concludes that the lesson the Lord wanted Abraham to learn was the Isaac did not belong to him but to the LORD. Sacks is a representative voice of Judaism but it does not have the authority of Christ’s voice who commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

4. Abraham, because of his faults and failures, felt the need to do something to make restitution, placate, appease, or propitiate God.

He needed to give up something to show his remorse, as is done during Lent or Ramadan and the laws of restitution. He had blackened the name of God with his lying about Sarah to Pharaoh and to Abimelech. He had followed Sarai’s suggestion of having the promised son via Hagar. He had cruelly sent away Hagar and Ishmail into the desert.

Here are examples of Old Testament stories which demonstrate the idea that the LORD or other gods needed to be placated by human sacrifices.

King David, when there was a drought in Israel, was willing to have the Gibeonites execute 2 sons and 5 grandsons of Saul to placate the LORD. Then it rains (2 Samuel 21).

The king of Moab sacrificed his son to placate his god (2 Kings 3:26-27).Jonah recommends his own death by drowning as a means of placating God (1:12). Micah recognises the wickedness of this idea when he asks rhetorically,

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:7)

He answers this question in the next verse.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

The concept of placating God with human sacrifice, which was current in Micah’s time, was not what God wanted.

In Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son God provided a ram, in Jonah’s case he provided a fish to negate these human attempts to placate him with human life given in death. The concept of the need to placate a god with human life is widespread in human history with the most persuasive offering being that of a firstborn child or a virgin girl. The LORD is different as he points out to Moses at the Golden Calf episode he cannot accept substitution, the innocent in place of the guilty.

Exodus 32:32-33 NLT But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” 33 But the LORD replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20)

This response by the LORD is clear that he is not placated by a substitutionary death. He is not placated by any death as Micah 6:7-8 states. Death is a consequence of sin (Romans 6:23) not a requirement or punishment from the LORD (John 8:44, 10:10; Hebrews 2:14).

Jeremiah 19:5— “They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”

5. Abraham thought it was God’s voice but he was deceived by his own devious nature.

He followed the practices that were prevalent in the surrounding cultures. This practise of child sacrifice would be emulated by his descendants as we have already noticed.

Jeremiah’s report of the Lord’s reaction is normative for the LORD’s attitude towards child sacrifice. One can argue that Jeremiah had a different view of child sacrifice to Abraham but Jeremiah is quoting the LORD not his personal view of the matter. Notice that he says the idea of child sacrifice has never entered God’s mind.

Jeremiah repeats God’s abhorrence for child sacrifice 13 chapters later: Jeremiah 32:35—child sacrifice never ever crossed God’s mind.

There are those who legitimately feel that if we say that God did not ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac that we no longer take the Bible seriously. However, there are narratives that are re- interpreted in the Christian understanding.

1. We decode or interpret the literal story of Genesis 3 about a snake speaking to Eve. It took 4000 years before it was understood that this was the devil deceiving her on the basis of the last book of the New Testament (Revelation 12:9).

2. The burning bush (Exodus 3:2) or gentle breeze (1 Kings 19:12) are examples of God speaking through his creation to a human beings.

3. We reinterpret a literal donkey speaking to Balaam to be an angel of God speaking through the animal (Numbers 22:21-39).

4. 1 Samuel 28:15-19 records a literal dialogue between dead Samuel and a desperate king Saul. We know communicating with the dead is forbidden in the Old Testament so this puts us in a quandary. The solution is to say that the voice of dead Samuel is that of a fallen angel or a demon. But then we have reinterpreted the literal words of the Bible.

However, it is the only way to make sense of what is being told us.

Human communication always includes interpretation of the idioms and metaphors being used. “I had butterflies in my stomach,” has nothing to do with a stomach or insects. To deny that we have to understand idioms is naivety in the extreme and we cannot exclude this process from our reading of the Bible.

The concept of a supernatural evil being who could deceive Abraham with such a command was unknown at this point in history. In the Torah it was understood that there was one supernatural being, YHWH, who created and controlled all supernatural events. The concept of the devil, as we understand this being, was only revealed by Jesus two thousand years later (Podcast 8).

3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.

The first sentence suggests that Abram had a dream which influenced him. This is an emotionless account of this incident. It is typical of the flat narrative the Hebrews often use in their story telling. Abraham had to chop a lot of wood to consume a large burnt offering. There was a thicket on the mountain of sacrifice but it would not have yielded enough wood to consume the body of a 16-year-old boy as opposed to that of a small lamb. The large amount of wood must have raised questions in the minds of Isaac and the servants.

4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

The last statement is either a deception or a statement of great faith. The author of Hebrews is of the opinion that it was a faith statement.

Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

Did Abram leave the servants behind because he was afraid the servants might intervene since Isaac was the only heir? Abraham was now 116 years old and could have already demonstrated some cognitive decline. Abraham had also left home early, possibly to avoid having to tell Sarah of his intent.

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.

This action parallels what Abraham had done for Hagar when he sent her away.

Genesis 21:14 NLT So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba.

On both occasions he is losing a loved son. His does not protest because he would have to inform Sarai who would hardly agreed with him.

As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Abraham is deceiving his son, and it is part of his nature. He passed off Sarah as his sister now he passes off Isaac as a sheep.

9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.

It is astonishing that Isaac does not object to Abram’s desire to sacrifice him. The Jews focus on the heroism of Isaac in the story. Muslims focus on the heroism of Ishmail who they believe was to be sacrificed. In any event we have two men, separated by 100 years of age and the younger allows the elder to prepare him for sacrifice. It seems that the interaction of Abraham and Isaac is not recorded.

11 At that moment the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

This divine response can be understood in at least two ways.1. I now know that you love me because you obeyed my command to kill your son.2. You were willing to sacrifice your son, an act I never intended (Jeremiah 19:5). Learn the lesson that I do not want human sacrifices. Here is a ram for you to sacrifice.

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.

It was God who provided the sacrificial animal for Abraham. Over a thousand years later he provided himself as the sacrifice. God did not require blood for reconciliation for he was never estranged from us. He came looking for Adam and Eve after they hid from him in the garden. We wanted his blood or his life and God gave it to convince us that we have a merciful, loving, Saviour God who will go to any length to convince us he loves us. This is the vulnerability of God. God is represented by the ram in this story, not by Isaac.

14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

The mountain of the Lord is mount Zion, which is symbolic of where Jesus, the lamb of God, which means he is the lamb provided by God was tortured and slaughtered by us in our rage against God. “Zion” (Hb. Tsyon) also means the holy city.

15 Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven. 16 “This is whatthe LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”

This part of the story apparently confirms that the LORD had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. This is not necessarily the correct conclusion since Abraham was affirmed as an obedient follower of what he thought was the LORD speaking to him. The obedience of Abraham can also be understood to be that he sacrificed a ram rather than his son.

The New Testament creates a different picture with regard to the causation of death.

Jesus, who is the fulness of God (Colossians 2:9), is portrayed as the life-giver not a life-taker. There is not a single instance of Jesus causing death in the New Testament. Peter accuses Jesus of cursing the fig tree which died but he is wrong. Jesus predicted the death of the tree. It was already dying and this was why it had no figs. This fig tree symbolized the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 8:5, 13; Micah 7:1-2) which was dying spiritually. It was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and its people because they forced away the LORD’s protection with their wickedness.

“In him was life and that life was the light of the world” (John 1:4).“

God sent not his Son into the world to judge (condemn) the world but to save it” (John


“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy but I have come to give life, abundant

life” (John 10:10).

“I (Jesus) am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

The writers of John and Hebrews identify the source of death, or the life-taker.

The devil was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).

The one who has the power of death is the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of

the evil one (1 John 5:19)

All people on earth are blessed through THE promised son of Abraham, Jesus Christ. He is the only eyewitness of God (John 1:18). He is the life, light, and love of God. This life includes the resurrection of all people at the end of the age (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

19 Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.

Back to the mundane sameness of most of our lives here on earth. Did either Abraham or Isaac ever tell Sarah what had happened?

Rebekah’s Origin

20 Soon after this, Abraham heard that Milcah, his brother Nahor’s wife, had borne Nahor eight sons. 21 The oldest was named Uz, the next oldest was Buz, followed by Kemuel (the ancestor of the Arameans), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. 23 (Bethuel became the father of Rebekah.) In addition to these eight sons from Milcah, 24 Nahor had four other children from his concubine Reumah. Their names were Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.

This apparently random piece of genealogical information is included to explain where Rebekah came from since she is the mother of Jacob who is later called Israel. This is the immediate maternal line of Israel.

Ian Hartley October 2023

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