And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you [...].” - Genesis 22:15-17
This is one of the most important texts in all of the Torah regarding God’s covenant relationship with Israel.
El Shaddai had already initiated and established a covenant relationship with Abraham by grace alone. It was an unconditional gift that did not depend upon performance. Here he joins to the covenant his oath, his pledge; it too is unconditional and everlasting.
Notice this double emphasis, “By myself,” the Lord declares, “I swear an oath to you Abraham.” God reaffirms his promise to bless Abraham, but this time with language never used before in the covenant’s previous expressions. By his very being, he swears a solemn oath, united irrevocably and inseparably to his eternal covenant.
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” - Genesis 22:17-18
Abraham demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment and faithfulness to God, even willing to lose the very promises he had given him. As a reward for his obedience, God adds to everything he has already said, swearing an oath by his own being.
Obedience has rewards.
There is no false dichotomy here between law and grace, between grace and works—all those Protestant problems with which we wrestle. God’s grace is joined with Abraham’s faith resulting in something with implications for the whole world, even today. When God swears an oath, he keeps his word. Hallelujah!
Because Abraham gave his only son, God prospers his seed, and he becomes the father of many sons and daughters. Because Abraham was faithful, his offspring will be fruitful, numerous, victorious, and influential.
As Protestants, we are conditioned to read the biblical narrative exclusively as one of sin and redemption. We are taught it is the theme that connects the Bible. (For more on this, check out my series, How Do You Read the Bible?)
Please don’t misunderstand me. Sin and redemption is a crucial motif but as a subset of a much bigger picture. That bigger picture is one of blessing and consummation. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has to deal with sin by way of redemption to get you to a place where he can bless you and consummate his purposes with you and with all the works of his hands.
He has a plan that affects not only you but the very universe which eagerly awaits the great day of consummation. The lion, the lamb, the adder will all be changed, as will you and I, and the glory of the God of Abraham will be visible through all the earth. Like Abraham and Isaac, we must perceive with eyes of faith. One day, every eye will see, and every tongue will confess that there is but one God and one Lord Jesus the Messiah.
Our obedient responses to God’s grace contribute to his ends.
Here is something extraordinarily profound to me. Although it does not explicitly say so, I see in Romans another allusion to the Akedah. It is a wonderful text, and I want to show you some things about it.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? - Romans 8:31-32
Paul is alluding here to Abraham offering up his son, his only son whom he loves. God, like Abraham, offered up but did not spare his only son. Paul observes that if he did that, how much more will he bless you. In light of all this, here is a penetrating question.
Why do we struggle so much to accept that our Father wants to bless us in the intimacy of a covenant relationship in Jesus?
Here is another significant point. Contextually in Romans, Paul goes on to say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Where did he get those ideas, and why did he use those particular phrases?
Paul is so immersed in Scripture that he hardly says something that does not have some allusion or reference to the Hebrew text. (For more on this, get my series on the great apostle). We find all of these terms listed in chapters 27 and 28 of Devarim (Deuteronomy). These chapters deal with both the blessings and the curses of the covenant.
Hold that thought for a moment, and let me press your minds even further.
In Jewish teaching, long before the Christian era began, the Akedah was considered the basis for temple sacrifices.
In the morning and again in the evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple. The sages of Israel considered them (the tamid) as a re-enactment of the Akedah. Why? Because it was on that very mountain that Abraham offered up his son. In perpetual memory of Abraham’s faith and God’s mercy, sacrifices were offered on that same mountain, in the house of the LORD.
These morning and evening offerings were viewed as a liturgical commemoration of what had happened on that mountain so long ago. And this is the point I want you to see. They were to call to mind God’s pledge to Abraham for two reasons: so that in like manner his people would be faithful, and so that in his mercy, God would remember and spare Israel from being punished for her sins.
Even today, during times of fasting and distress, one of the traditional Jewish prayers recited says, “May he who answered Abraham on Mt. Moriah answer you and hearken this day to the sound of your cry.”
All of this is part of Paul’s theological matrix evidenced in Romans 8, and this is why he writes so specifically to us in Galatians concerning what Jesus has done. Jesus has, by his sacrifice, freed us from the curses imposed upon us by the Torah due to our disobedience so that we might have favor with God. “If you are Messiah’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Paul sees the death of Yeshua, the Lamb of God, as a sin offering that bears the curses which come from the covenantal disobedience of Israel. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Cor 5:21
The Son willingly took the sin of us all upon himself so that the Father’s intent to bless, evidenced by promise and pledge, could come to fruition. The Lamb of God bore the cross upon his shoulders precisely so that God could fulfill his promises to Abraham through his seed.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. - Galatians 3:13-14
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.