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Offering Issac - God's Idea

by Louise Lee  
12/21/2013 / Bible Studies

The Abrahamic narrative has reached its summit in Genesis chapter 22:1-19, where God asks Abraham to offer Issac, his only beloved son, as burnt offering. Does God truly desire child sacrifice? Has Abraham been mistaken about God's instructions? What is the test (Gen. 22:1) all about? What does this passage reveal about who God is? What can we learn from this narrative as contemporary readers? This study seeks to examine the passage of Genesis 22:1-19 from the original intent of the divine narrator (the Holy Spirit) through its literary forms, so as to understand and apply the theological understanding of God into 21st century Christian living.

This Abrahamic narrative (Genesis 22:1-19) is structured in the form of chiasm (A, B, C, D, D, C, B, A) as follows:
Introduction (vs. 1a) A
1. God's command, "Sacrifice your son" (vs. 1b 2) B
2. Departure next morning (vs. 3) C
3. The third day at the foot of the mountain (vs.4-6b) D
4. Journey up the mountain (vs. 6c-8) D
5. Preparation for Sacrifice (vs. 9-10) C
6. Angel speaks to stop sacrifice (vs. 11-18) B
Epilogue: Return to Beersheba (vs. 19) A

From the structure of the text, the narrative climaxes in the long sacrifice scene at the mountaintop when at the last minute the angel calls off the sacrifice, a ram is substituted, and the great promises are confirmed and elaborated. The narrative begins with "Some time later, God tested Abraham" This sets a tone for the rest of the story. By then, Abraham has learned many lessons and certainly has reached a level of maturity that God wanted to test him on. "Test" in the Hebrew's usage has the idea of testing or proving the quality of someone, and generally involves hardship. There is a strong indication that Abraham would pass the test. However, without looking at what has happened before this event, we would not be able to understand this point.
To this point, Abraham has come a long way with regards to God's promise. He has believed God and left his country, his people and his father's household to follow God; and after waiting for twenty-three years, he has finally received the son of promise, Issac, at his old age; He has also recognized the trouble of trying to help God out: Instead of waiting for God's answer, he accepted Sarah's advice. Ishmael was the result of the fleshly act and it brought troubles. Before this verse, Abraham had just sent Ishmael away. Now, Abraham is back to where he was first called.
We can see from the parallel passage at Haran:
"Goto the land I will show you." (Gen 12:1)
"Goon the mountain I will show you." (Gen 22:2b)

"So, Abram went" (Gen 12:4)
"Early the next morning, he set out for the place God had told him about". (Gen 22: 3)

The call of Abraham forced him to let go of everything familiar and dear to him and he left Haran; on the other hand, the call to sacrifice Issac challenged the promises of God. From this parallel, we see Genesis 12 called Abraham to leave his past; Genesis 22 called him to leave his future! And at both places, Abraham has responded with immediate actions with no question asked, no discussion with anyone and no bargaining with God.
No doubt, Abraham is the main human character in narrative that the author would like to draw our attention to. "Abraham!" God calls. Some time back in Gen 17:5 this God has changed his name to "Abraham" and has made a covenant with him. Because of this God's promise, Issac was born to him (Gen 17:19). Abraham cannot be mistaken who this God is. Without hesitation, Abraham answers, "Here I am!"
Is God asking for too much? Isn't he like other gods who demand child sacrifice? Since Issac is a gift from God, doesn't he have all the right to take him back? Most probably, Abraham would have all these thoughts at the back of the mind when he takes this journey up to the mountain. We can only imagine the difficulty of Abraham, yet the author does not tell us more than just "Abraham obeyed". "Obeyed" is translated from a Hebrew word "shama". It has the meaning of hear and listen with understanding. "Abraham, Abraham" God calls again, Abraham's answers "here I am" opens up his eyes to see the sacrificial lamb God has prepared.
Here is another powerful parallel:
"Abraham" "here I am" Abraham obeyed.
"Abraham, Abraham""here I am" Abraham sees the ram caught in the bush.
A correct response to God's calling allows Abraham to see the provision of God.
Genesis 22:8 drops another hint that Abraham would pass the test. When Issac speaks up and asks about the sacrifice. Abraham answers him that God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering. This reflects that Abraham has learned to trust God's way to fulfill what He called him to do. A man who places his trust in God Himself is what God has been looking for. Abraham thus qualified for the test.
In affirming Abraham's obedience, God commends his obedience two times at vs. 12 and vs. 16, saying that he does not withhold his son. Further to that, for the first and the last time in Genesis, the LORD swears an oath in his own name guaranteeing what he is about to say, a guarantee reinforced by the formula "declares the LORD." From now on, the LORD promises that he will not simply bless but really bless him. And the LORD spoke to Abraham the last time of the promise of blessing (22:17-18).
The result of the test is Abraham: pass with distinction.
Though Abraham has been brought under the limelight in 22:1-19 narrative, indeed, the key character is God. The author is using Abraham to portray God as father and provider. These two roles are closely associated and could not be separated. God the Father is the source of all creation. The title 'Father' suggests one who cares, one who is intimately concerned about His creation and all His creatures. Abraham named the place "The LORD will provide" reflects his understanding of God's role as a father and provider. God was first mentioned as in Gen 22:1 Elohim (to be worshiped) and later as the LORD (Yahweh Gen 22:14). The change is noteworthy because this shows a relational progression: Abraham has progressed from a relationship of a worshiper and a creator to that of a father and son relationship. By offering his son, Abraham is able to identify the father heart of God.
God as Blesser is truly revealed through the Abrahamic covenant. First mention of the promise 12:1-3 begins with blessing: I will bless youI will bless those who bless you all the people on earth will be blessed through you. In 22:17-19, God speaks to Abraham about his intention again on "blessing". "Bless" or "blessing" appears in the Old Testament means, "to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc" Blessing is always connected with an intimate relationship with God, and this intimacy is achievable with obedience the only way to connect to the blesser. He is the source of blessings. God is faithful in keeping his promise and for those who obey, He is their provider.

The words "love", "obedience" and "worship" are mentioned the first time in this passage as well as in the whole Bible. These three words speak of the key elements in our relationship with God. God is always the initiator of a promise, a plan or a purpose in a Christian life. In like manner of Abraham, we might have gone through many detours regarding doing His will and seeing His promise fulfilled. As we mature, God chooses at times to "test" our trust in Him by requesting us to give up things or people that we love dearly. As the end of the story tells us that God does not desire our sacrifice (of our time or money etc), but our obedience. And obedience requires constant hearing and constant doing with understanding. Lastly, offering ours bodies as a living sacrifice is the best form of worship unto the Lord (Rom 12:1-2).

Louise Lee
(My first illustrated book Psalm 23 for Kids is now available at

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