Text for the Week: The Test

Scripture: Genesis 22:1-19

After these events, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” Abraham answered, “I’m here.”

God said, “Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned offering there on one of the mountains that I will show you.” Abraham got up early in the morning, harnessed his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with his son Isaac. He split the wood for the entirely burned offering, set out, and went to the place God had described to him.

On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place at a distance. Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will walk up there, worship, and then come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?” Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.”

Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”

Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.

They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?” Abraham said, “I’m here.”

12 The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ramcaught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”[d]

15 The Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I give my word as the Lord that because you did this and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, 17 I will bless you richly and I will give you countless descendants, as many as the stars in the sky and as the grains of sand on the seashore. They will conquer their enemies’ cities. 18 All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me.” 19 After Abraham returned to the young men, they got up and went to Beer-sheba where Abraham lived.

Theme- God’s test of Abraham reveals who God is and who Abraham wants to become.


  1. Why would God want Abraham to kill Isaac? What does this story say about God?
  2. Does this story relate to the dismissal of Ishmael and the treaty with Abimelech in Gen. 21?

Helpful Information

Related texts: Hebrews 11:17-19, James 2:18-26

The wording of this passage intentionally harkens back to chapters 12 & 21 and we should reflect on these passages as we read.

The language of the passage highlights Abraham’s freedom and work to participate in God’s request.

For my background video click here


Reading Genesis 22 my first question is why after potentially half a century has God decided to test Abraham, and what is the purpose of the test? From chapter 12 onward, Abraham has experienced trials as he learns to trust God and better emulate God’s character. Why is the Bible’s last personal encounter between God and Abraham the first instance of a test, why here when Abraham has already proved his trust in God numerous times. It is in 15:6 that Abraham’s faith is recognized as his righteousness, and it is this verse that Hebrews cites as the measure of Abraham’s faith. I think there are several lessons that we are supposed to learn from this one event. If you read Genesis 12 and Genesis 22 back-to-back it is easy to recognize that in both places Abraham is called to leave his home and journey to an unknown place. Further, each of these calls has three clauses related to loosing family, in the first Abraham’s family is his present help and protection and here it is his future. There is in this an element that the call that was first placed on Abraham in Genesis 12 continued and the trials of that calling remained. Many have difficulty with this passage because the read this test as simply a gruesome and arbitrary command of God simply to test Abraham’s loyalty. They ask what kind of God would ask for a child sacrifice even if that God was going to rescind that command.

              I do not want to dismiss this difficulty because I wrestle with it (and I think the Bible wants us to), but this test does not seem arbitrary. Just like there are connections to Abraham’s call in this story, there are connections with the stories of Ishmael in this passage. Abraham rises early and does work for the journey himself which reminds us of the day he sent Ishmael out of his house (Gen. 21). I think we are supposed to recognize how Abraham and Sarah abused Hagar, how Abraham sent Ishmael away without enough food and water, how he has been concerned with perpetuating his name through Isaac and not with those who did not fit into the plan. Now, he is being forced to confront the reality that what he has prioritized is being taken away. We are supposed to recognize how Abraham is confronting the loss of both sons and how his actions contributed to that. The test is about how Abraham implicitly put one son ahead of the other because that son represented God’s blessing. Abraham loved Isaac because he would inherit the blessing of God and did not even provide Ishmael with enough to live on when he sent him away. Yet God responded to the plights of Abraham’s sons in a way different from Abraham; God saved both from death and miraculously provided to accomplish it. Ishmael may not have been the son who would inherit God’s blessing but that does not mean God did not love and show generosity to him, rather God provided as much for Ishmael as Isaac. This theme comes up again with Jacob and Esau, God provides the same care and provision for both, even though only one inherits the blessing. This connection is highlighted in the fact that Abraham’s identification for God in 22:14 is “YHWH sees” which reflects the name which Hagar uses earlier when she encounters God after being abused, “El [God] sees” (Gen. 16:13). I think this test is at least in part about Abraham recognizing how he has hurt Hagar and Ishmael and resolving not to be as callous about Isaac. Yes, he fully intends to follow through with sacrificing Isaac but there is a hesitancy in the text that seems to indicate he is looking for God to provide an escape, because he has discovered how precious people are. Abraham has learned that God sees in the same way as his abused slave woman, but this is not just any god who sees but the one he knows by name and has carried him through his journey. He has learned that it is in God’s nature to provide and protect and that God is not sadistic and bloodthirsty. There is a nit of this in the very beginning that it often not translated into English, God does not command Abraham to sacrifice his son but makes a humble request. I read this as if God is offering Abraham an invitation to discover how unlike the other gods his God is. It is only through witnessing God’s deliverance and protection that Abraham can truly understand God’s loving character and learn how to emulate it. The true measure of Abraham’s faith is trusting God enough to walk down a difficult and dark road to more deeply understand God’s character.

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