Jan. 7 Reading: Genesis 22-24 Commentary

Below is our Genesis 22-24 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” (Gen. 22:2)

“The Lord before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way…” (Gen 24:40)

Genesis 22 – God Tests Abraham’s Faith

commentaryThere may be no more shocking of a narrative in the Bible than the story in Genesis 22. In it, Abraham’s faith gets tested in a way that makes every parent sick to their stomach. Abraham’s world is about to get rocked in a way he could never have imagined.

When God calls, Abraham listens. What he heard though must have made his heart drop. These were God’s words, this their 7th interaction since Abraham came into Canaan:

“Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” (Gen. 22:2)

We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind. “You want me to do what?” must have been a thought at some point. This request was beyond extreme. In fact, it seems a very heathen thing to do. Child sacrifice was practiced in some cultures of the day.

But Isaac was the promised child, the one Abraham and Sarah had waited 25 years for. Now it seems that God is taking Isaac away from them.

We are told nothing of Abraham’s or Sarah’s thoughts on the matter. And nothing is mentioned from Isaac’s perspective. We don’t even know how old he was. Most likely, he was not a young child as he was tasked with carrying the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain. This would have required at least a teenager’s strength. The historian Josephus notes Isaac was 25 at the time of this incident. Other Jewish texts have Isaac as old as 37.

Regardless of age or their thoughts and feelings about the command from God, what we see from all parties is complete obedience.

The Journey

In Gen. 22:3, Abraham set out with Isaac, his donkey, a couple servants and supplies for the sacrifice. After a three day’s journey, they approached the location where the sacrifice was to take place. Abraham instructs the servants to stay behind and he and Isaac continue on.

It’s interesting to note Abraham’s words in verse 5 when he says to the servants, “…the lad and I will go younder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Was he keeping things from Isaac by saying this? Was he concealing his intentions from the servants because they might prevent him from doing this? Or was it something else?

Did he really believe they both would return together? The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham had concluded that even if God destroyed his son, that God could raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). That’s extreme, next-level faith. But it makes sense. After all, Isaac was the son of a promise, through whom God’s blessings would flow. Abraham knew and trusted in that promise.

Along the way, Isaac asks Abraham what they are going to sacrifice. Abraham’s response: “My son, God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a burnt offering” (v. 8).

The Sacrifice

They finally arrive at the location for the sacrifice. The altar is built and the wood is placed on it. And then in what must have been a surreal experience for both, Abraham bound Isaac and laid him on the altar.

Is this really going to happen? It’s one thing to see this from Abraham’s perspective. But to think of Isaac as a young man (who could easily overpower his older father) willingly allowing himself to be tied and place on the altar is another level of obedience altogether.

At the last second as Abraham stretches out his knife to slay his son, the Angel of the Lord (God Himself) calls out to Abraham and says, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (vv. 11-12). God stays the sacrifice. Abraham’s faith has been confirmed.

A ram is seen (most likely provided by God) caught in a thicket of thorns nearby. Abraham takes the ram and offers that as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. He names the mount in Moriah “The Lord Will Provide.” And once again, God reaffirms blessings on Abraham and his descendants.

This story serves as a challenge to us all. God will test our faith at some point to see how far we are willing to go, what we are willing to sacrifice, or how much we are willing to rely on him. The extent of our willingness says much about the depth of our faith.

It’s also a picture of another father/son sacrifice that would occur many years later, as Jesus was sacrificed on the cross by His heavenly Father.

Genesis 23 – Abraham’s Wife Sarah Dies

Sarah is certainly one the main female characters in the Bible. She figured prominently in the story of Abraham. She stood by him, faced the same dangers and challenges and realized the promises of God in her own life.

Now her story comes to an end in Gen. 23 where she dies at the age of 127. She lived long enough to see her promised child Isaac grow into adulthood. Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was born. (Gen. 17:17).

Abraham has to negotiate with the local leaders to secure a burial spot for Sarah. Even though he has lived in the land for years, he does not legally own the land. At this time, it’s still controlled by the Canaanites. Proof of this is seen as Abraham calls himself “…a foreigner and a visitor among you” (v. 4).

Abraham has always been a wise negotiator. He’d worked to secure water rights from the leaders before (Gen. 21:22-34). But this negotiation takes on a deeper weight for him. The owner of the land Abraham wants is willing to give it to him, free of charge. But Abraham will not accept something for which he does not have to pay. Finally, a deal is reached and Sarah is buried “…in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (v. 19).

Genesis 24 – A Bride for Isaac

Some time after the death of Sarah, Abraham sets out to find a wife for his son Isaac. In that time and culture, marriages were arranged between families. So Abraham tasks one of his trusted servants (some have speculated Eliezer from Gen. 15:2) with this task.

Abraham has one condition though. He tells his servant not to find a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanite people. The servant is to return to Abraham’s original country and find a wife for Isaac from his own family (v. 3-4).

This decision makes sense. It was not a racism issue, rather one rooted in Abraham’s faith and theology. The Canaanite people did not share his belief structure. Most notably, they worshipped false gods (Baal and Asherah). To introduce their values and beliefs into Isaac’s life would not have been consistent with what God wanted.

So the servant sets out to Abraham’s homeland, taking with him ten camels and gifts for the bride to be.

The servant has no idea how this is going to unfold. How do you go about selecting a bride for your master’s son? You leave it in God’s hands.

Finding a Bride

Upon arriving in Abraham’s homeland (the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia), the servant parks his camels outside the city near a well of water. And in demonstration of the same faith he’s most likely seen his master exercise time and time again, he offers up this prayer to God:

“O Lord God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’ – let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” (vv. 12-14)

No sooner than the words were spoken in his heart, than a woman named Rebekah comes to the well. She was “…born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother” (v. 15). The text describes her as a beautiful woman, a virgin who had not known a man. Seems like a perfect candidate. But would she meet the test of the servant?

It ends up unfolding exactly as the servant requested of God. He asks for a drink from Rebekah and she obliges. She also willingly, without prompting, says she will water the camels. This goes way beyond her social duties to be hospitable to a stranger.

Leaving Family

Upon seeing her, the servant is overjoyed and praises God. He explains to Rebekah who he is and what he’s asked of God. They both return to Rebekah’s house and the servant is introduced to her brother Laban. The servant again recounts the story of why he has come and how God answered his prayer.

The family cannot deny that this is from the Lord (v. 50), which is interesting and implies that the family of Bethuel and Laban also worshipped God. They agree to let Rebekah go to be Isaac’s wife and the servant blesses her and her family with many gifts, courtesy of Abraham.

Letting go is hard though. And after further discussion, the family wants her to remain for ten days or so so they can properly say goodbye. But Abraham’s servant wants to leave immediately. So they ask Rebekah what she wants to do. She agrees to leave immediately and return with the servant.

When they return home, the servant tells Isaac all that has transpired. Isaac takes Rebekah to be his wife and is comforted by her after his mother’s death.

Questions and Thoughts to Consider from Genesis 22-24:

Has there been a time in your life when you knew God was stretching your faith? What was that time period or event like?

What do you admire about Abraham’s faith as it relates to his son Isaac?

Have you ever agreed to something sight unseen like Rebekah? 

What other points would you want to know about in our Genesis 22-24 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.