Series: Abraham, Isaac, and El Shaddai
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
“Now I know that you fear me” is not the same as saying, “I didn’t have foreknowledge of this matter.” The issue was not uncertainty about how it was all going to turn out. The issue was one of relationship. It is as if to say, “Now, Abraham, I know you in a way I didn’t before.”
I explained to you earlier that God’s test of Abraham was not a temptation but an elevation. The principle here is that because testing strengthens character, God’s test makes actual in us what is potential, and because we demonstrate faith, it creates the opportunity for God to reward us based on our deeds.
This story is for the benefit of Abraham and all of us who learn from his example.
Father Abraham embodies for us what it means to have a biblical fear of the LORD. His fear, demonstrated by wholehearted commitment, expanded their relationship.
Though the idea is not popular in Christianity today, rabbis through the centuries have wrestled with and taught what it means to have the fear of the Lord (yirat Adonai). They help us understand that fear and love are two sides of the same coin.
On the one hand, love for a holy God without the reverence and awe that leads to obedience can become a kind of emotion-based sentimentality.
On the other hand, fear of a holy God is incomplete unless joined with a love that unites you with him in relationship and purpose.
Abraham demonstrates genuine fear of God by his actions. It is complete, wholehearted obedience without thought of punishment or reward.
Most of us have a garage sale mentality when God asks us to make a sacrifice for him. “You can have all the stuff in my garage that I don’t need, but everything that I want, I am keeping.” We don’t stand in awe of the Holy One of Israel.
Abraham did. He surrendered and gave himself—all that he was, all that he is, and all that he hoped to be—in service to his God. His overriding concern was to sanctify the Name. Echoing Abraham’s wise choice, the wisest man who ever lived ends his book by saying, The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. - Ecclesiastes 12:13
Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. - Genesis 22:13
Abraham fears and God provides because a God-fearing man is a God-blessed man.
Why is it a ram rather than a lamb? The ram has two significant associations later in the Torah. First of all, it is linked with the ordinance of priests in Leviticus chapters 8 and 9. Second, it is connected with the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:3, specifically the covering of sins. In our story, the ram to be sacrificed has atoning connotations.
So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” - Genesis 22:14
There is a beautiful play on words in the Hebrew text. Abraham fears (yereh), and the LORD sees (yireh). Abraham named the place Yahweh Yireh, which means the LORD sees/provides.
I find it impressive that Abraham here draws no attention to himself. This is a place where God provided. Abraham was far more impressed with God’s faithfulness than with his own faith. The narrator then comments, “as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’”
The Hebrew word yira’eh behind the phrase it shall be provided is subject to various interpretations. It can be read as an active or a passive verb. If it is read as an active verb, it means God sees and provides. If it is read as a passive verb, it means God is seen. So which is it? Both! God sees and provides for his humble servants. Through his provision, he makes himself visible as their God and Father.
There is another significant play on the Hebrew word yira’eh. It can be read either he will provide, or it will be provided. So which is it? That’s right, both! The LORD provides, and when we see the provision, we see him at work. In the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures—the last phrase of Genesis 22:14 is translated, “on the mountain, the Lord appears.” I like that.
On that mountain, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did indeed appear again. He came to the children of Abraham in the person of his Son as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.