Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Offering Up of Isaac. - For many years had Abraham waited to be fulfilled. At length the Lord had given him the desired heir of his body by his wife Sarah, and directed him to send away the son of the maid. And now that this son had grown into a young man, the word of God came to Abraham to offer up this very son, who had been given to him as the heir of the promise, for a burnt-offering, upon one of the mountains which should be shown him. This word did not come from his own heart, - was not a thought suggested by the sight of the human sacrifices of the Canaanites, that he would offer a similar sacrifice to his God; nor did it originate with the tempter to evil. The word came from Ha-Elohim, the personal, true God, who tried him (נסּה), i.e., demanded the sacrifice of the only, beloved son, as a proof and attestation of his faith. The issue shows, that God did not desire the sacrifice of Isaac by slaying and burning him upon the altar, but his complete surrender, and a willingness to offer him up to God even by death.
Nevertheless the divine command was given in such a form, that Abraham could not understand it in any other way than as requiring an outward burnt-offering, because there was no other way in which Abraham could accomplish the complete surrender of Isaac, than by an actual preparation for really offering the desired sacrifice. This constituted the trial, which necessarily produced a severe internal conflict in his mind. Ratio humana simpliciter concluderet aut mentiri promissionem aut mandatum non esse Dei sed Diaboli; est enim contradictio manifesta. Si enim debet occidi Isaac, irrita est promissio; sin rata est promissio, impossibile est hoc esse Dei mandatum (Luther). But Abraham brought his reason into captivity to the obedience of faith. He did not question the truth of the word of God, which had been addressed to him in a mode that was to his mind perfectly infallible (not in a vision of the night, however, of which there is not a syllable in the text), but he stood firm in his faith, "accounting that god was able to raise him up, even from the dead" Heb 11:19). Without taking counsel with flesh and blood, Abraham started early in the morning (Gen 22:3, Gen 22:4), with his son Isaac and two servants, to obey the divine command; and on the third day (for the distance from Beersheba to Jerusalem is about 20 1/2 hours; Rob. Pal. iii. App. 66, 67) he saw in the distance the place mentioned by God, the land of Moriah, i.e., the mountainous country round about Jerusalem. The name מריּה, composed of the Hophal partic. of ראה and the divine name יה, an abbreviation of יהוה (lit., "the shown of Jehovah," equivalent to the manifestation of Jehovah), is no doubt used proleptically in Gen 22:2, and given to the mountain upon which the sacrifice was to be made, with direct reference to this event and the appearance of Jehovah to Abraham there. This is confirmed by Gen 22:14, where the name is connected with the event, and explained in the fuller expression Jehovah-jireh. On the ground of this passage the mountain upon which Solomon built the temple is called המּריּה with reference to the appearance of the angel of the Lord to David on that mountain at the threshing-floor of Araunah (Sa2 24:16-17), the old name being revived by this appearance.
When in sight of the distant mountain, Abraham left the servants behind with the ass, that he might perform the last and hardest part of the journey alone with Isaac, and, as he said to the servants, "worship yonder and then return." The servants were not to see what would take place there; for they could not understand this "worship," and the issue even to him, notwithstanding his saying "we will come again to you," was still involved in the deepest obscurity. This last part of the journey is circumstantially described in Gen 22:6-8, to show how strong a conflict every step produced in the paternal heart of the patriarch. They go both together, he with the fire and the knife in his hand, and his son with the wood for the sacrifice upon his shoulder. Isaac asks his father, where is the lamb for the burnt-offering; and the father replies, not "Thou wilt be it, my son," but "God (Elohim without the article - God as the all-pervading supreme power) will provide it;" for he will not and cannot yet communicate the divine command to his son. Non vult filium macerare longa cruce et tentatione (Luther).
Having arrived at the appointed place, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood upon it, bound his son and laid him upon the wood of the altar, and then stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
In this eventful moment, when Isaac lay bound like a lamb upon the altar, about to receive the fatal stroke, the angel of the Lord called down from heaven to Abraham to stop, and do his son no harm. For the Lord now knew that Abraham was אלהים ירא God-fearing, and that his obedience of faith did extend even to the sacrifice of his own beloved son. The sacrifice was already accomplished in his heart, and he had fully satisfied the requirements of God. He was not to slay his son: therefore God prevented the outward fulfilment of the sacrifice by an immediate interposition, and showed him a ram, which he saw, probably being led to look round through a rustling behind him, with its horns fast in a thicket (אחר adv. behind, in the background); and as an offering provided by God Himself, he sacrificed it instead of his son.
From this interposition of God, Abraham called the place Jehovah-jireh, "Jehovah sees," i.e., according to Gen 22:8, provides, providet; so that (אשׁר, as in Gen 13:16, is equivalent to כּן על, Gen 10:9) men are still accustomed to say, "On the mountain where Jehovah appears" (יראה), from which the name Moriah arose. The rendering "on the mount of Jehovah it is provided" is not allowable, for the Niphal of the verb does not mean provideri, but "appear." Moreover, in this case the medium of God's seeing or interposition was His appearing.
After Abraham had offered the ram, the angel of the Lord called to him a second time from heaven, and with a solemn oath renewed the former promises, as a reward for this proof of his obedience of faith (cf. Gen 12:2-3). To confirm their unchangeableness, Jehovah swore by Himself (cf. Heb 6:13.), a thing which never occurs again in His intercourse with the patriarchs; so that subsequently not only do we find repeated references to this oath (Gen 24:7; Gen 26:3; Gen 50:24; Exo 13:5, Exo 13:11; Exo 33:1, etc.), but, as Luther observes, all that is said in Psa 89:36; Psa 132:11; Psa 110:4 respecting the oath given to David, is founded upon this. Sicut enim promissio seminis Abrahae derivata est in semen Davidis, ita Scriptura S. jusjurandum Abrahae datum in personam Davidis transfert. For in the promise upon which these psalms are based nothing is said about an oath (cf. 2 Sam 7; Ch1 17:1). The declaration on oath is still further confirmed by the addition of יהוה נאם "edict (Ausspruch) of Jehovah," which, frequently as it occurs in the prophets, is met with in the Pentateuch only in Num 14:28, and (without Jehovah) in the oracles of Balaam, Num 24:3, Num 24:15-16. As the promise was intensified in form, so was it also in substance. To express the innumerable multiplication of the seed in the strongest possible way, a comparison with the sand of the sea-shore is added to the previous simile of the stars. And this seed is also promised the possession of the gate of its enemies, i.e., the conquest of the enemy and the capture of his cities (cf. Gen 24:60).
This glorious result of the test so victoriously stood by Abraham, not only sustains the historical character of the event itself, but shows in the clearest manner that the trial was necessary to the patriarch's life of faith, and of fundamental importance to his position in relation to the history of salvation. The question, whether the true God could demand a human sacrifice, was settled by the fact that God Himself prevented the completion of the sacrifice; and the difficulty, that at any rate God contradicted Himself, if He first of all demanded a sacrifice and then prevented it from being offered, is met by the significant interchange of the names of God, since God, who commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac, is called Ha-Elohim, whilst the actual completion of the sacrifice is prevented by "the angel of Jehovah," who is identical with Jehovah Himself. The sacrifice of the heir, who had been both promised and bestowed, was demanded neither by Jehovah, the God of salvation or covenant God, who had given Abraham this only son as the heir of the promise, nor by Elohim, God as creator, who has the power to give life and take it away, but by He-Elohim, the true God, whom Abraham had acknowledged and adored as his personal God, and with whom he had entered into a personal relation. Coming from the true God whom Abraham served, the demand could have no other object than to purify and sanctify the feelings of the patriarch's heart towards his son and towards his God, in accordance with the great purpose of his call. It was designed to purify his love to the son of his body from all the dross of carnal self-love and natural selfishness which might still adhere to it, and so to transform it into love to God, from whom he had received him, that he should no longer love the beloved son as his flesh and blood, but simply and solely as a gift of grace, as belonging to his God-a trust committed to him, which he should be ready at any moment to give back to God. As he had left his country, kindred, and father's house at the call of God (Gen 12:1), so was he in his walk with God cheerfully to offer up even his only son, the object of all his longing, the hope of his life, the joy of his old age. And still more than this, not only did he possess and love in Isaac the heir of his possessions (Gen 15:2), but it was upon him that all the promises of God rested: in Isaac should his seed be called (Gen 21:12). By the demand that he should sacrifice to God this only son of his wife Sarah, in whom his seed was to grow into a multitude of nations (Gen 17:4, Gen 17:6, Gen 17:16), the divine promise itself seemed to be cancelled, and the fulfilment not only of the desires of his heart, but also of the repeated promises of his God, to be frustrated. And by this demand his faith was to be perfected into unconditional trust in God, into the firm assurance that God could even raise him up from the dead. - But this trial was not only one of significance to Abraham, by perfecting him, through the conquest of flesh and blood, to be the father of the faithful, the progenitor of the Church of God; Isaac also was to be prepared and sanctified by it for his vocation in connection with the history of salvation. In permitting himself to be bound and laid upon the altar without resistance, he gave up his natural life to death, to rise to a new life through the grace of God. On the altar he was sanctified to God, dedicated as the first beginning of the holy Church of God, and thus "the dedication of the first-born, which was afterwards enjoined in the law, was perfectly fulfilled in him." If therefore the divine command exhibits in the most impressive way the earnestness of the demand of God upon His people to sacrifice all to Him, not excepting the dearest of their possessions (cf. Mat 10:37, and Luk 14:26); the issue of the trial teaches that the true God does not demand a literal human sacrifice from His worshippers, but the spiritual sacrifice of an unconditional denial of the natural life, even to submission to death itself. By the sacrifice of a ram as a burnt-offering in the place of his son, under divine direction, not only was animal sacrifice substituted for human, and sanctioned as an acceptable symbol of spiritual self-sacrifice, but the offering of human sacrifices by the heathen was condemned and rejected as an ungodly ἐθελοθρησεία. And this was done by Jehovah, the God of salvation, who prevented the outward completion of the sacrifice. By this the event acquires prophetic importance for the Church of the Lord, to which the place of sacrifice points with peculiar clearness, viz., Mount Moriah, upon which under the legal economy all the typical sacrifices were offered to Jehovah; upon which also, in the fulness of time, God the Father gave up His only-begotten Son as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, that by this one true sacrifice the shadows of the typical sacrifices might be rendered both real and true. If therefore the appointment of Moriah as the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, and the offering of a ram in his stead, were primarily only typical in relation to the significance and intent of the Old Testament institution of sacrifice; this type already pointed to the antitype to appear in the future, when the eternal love of the heavenly Father would perform what it had demanded of Abraham; that is to say, when God would not spare His only Son, but give Him up to the real death, which Isaac suffered only in spirit, that we also might die with Christ spiritually, and rise with Him to everlasting life (Rom 8:32; Rom 6:5, etc.).
Descendants of Nahor. - With the sacrifice of Isaac the test of Abraham's faith was now complete, and the purpose of his divine calling answered: the history of his life, therefore, now hastens to its termination. But first of all there is introduced quite appropriately an account of the family of his brother Nahor, which is so far in place immediately after the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, that it prepares the way for the history of the marriage of the heir of the promise. The connection is pointed out in Gen 22:20, as compared with Gen 11:29, in the expression, "she also." Nahor, like Ishmael and Jacob, had twelve sons, eight by his wife Milcah and four by his concubine; whereas Jacob had his by two wives and two maids, and Ishmael apparently all by one wife. This difference with regard to the mothers proves that the agreement as to the number twelve rests upon a good historical tradition, and is no product of a later myth, which traced to Nahor the same number of tribes as to Ishmael and Jacob. For it is a perfectly groundless assertion or assumption, that Nahor's twelve sons were the fathers of as many tribes. There are only a few names, of which it is probable that their bearers were the founders of tribes of the same name. On Uz, see Gen 10:23. Buz is mentioned in Jer 25:23 along with Dedan and Tema as an Arabian tribe; and Elihu was a Buzite of the family of Ram (Job 32:2). Kemuel, the father of Aram, was not the founder of the Aramaeans, but the forefather of the family of Ram, to which the Buzite Elihu belonged, - Aram being written for Ram, like Arammim in Kg2 8:29 for Rammim in Ch2 22:5. Chesed again was not the father of the Chasdim (Chaldeans), for they were older than Chesed; at the most he was only the founder of one branch of the Chasdim, possibly those who stole Job's camels (Knobel; vid., Job 1:17). Of the remaining names, Bethuel was not the founder of a tribe, but the father of Laban and Rebekah (Gen 25:20). The others are never met with again, with the exception of Maachach, from whom probably the Maachites (Deu 3:14; Jos 12:5) in the land of Maacah, a small Arabian kingdom in the time of David (Sa2 10:6, Sa2 10:8; Ch1 19:6), derived their origin and name; though Maachah frequently occurs as the name of a person (Kg1 2:39; Ch1 11:43; Ch1 27:16).