Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
- Abraham Was Tested
2. מריה morı̂yâh, "Moriah"; Samaritan: מוראה môr'âh; "Septuagint," ὑψηλή hupsēlē, Onkelos, "worship." Some take the word to be a simple derivative, as the Septuagint and Onkelos, meaning "vision, high, worship." It might mean "rebellious." Others regard it as a compound of יה yâh, "Jah, a name of God," and מראה mı̂r'eh, "shown," מורה môreh, "teacher," or מורא môrā', "fear."
14. יראה yı̂r'ēh, "Jireh, will provide."
16, נאם ne'um, ῥῆμα rēma, "dictum, oracle; related: speak low."
21. בוּז bûz, "Buz, scoffing." קמוּאל qemû'ēl, "Qemuel, gathered of God."
22. חזו chăzô, "Chazo, vision." פלדשׁ pı̂ldâsh, "Pildash, steelman? wanderer?" ידלף yı̂dlâp, "Jidlaph; related: trickle, weep." בתוּאל betû'ēl, "Bethuel, dwelling of God."
23. רבקה rı̂bqâh, "Ribqah, noose."
24. ראוּמה re'ûmâh, "Reumah, exalted." טבה ṭebach, "Tebach, slaughter." גחם gacham, "Gacham, brand." תחשׁ tachash, "Tachash, badger or seal." <מעכה ma‛ăkâh, "Ma'akah; related: press, crush."
The grand crisis, the crowning event in the history of Abraham, now takes place. Every needful preparation has been made for it. He has been called to a high and singular destiny. With expectant acquiescence he has obeyed the call. By the delay in the fulfillment of the promise, he has been taught to believe in the Lord on his simple word. Hence, as one born again, he has been taken into covenant with God. He has been commanded to walk in holiness, and circumcised in token of his possessing the faith which purifieth the heart. He has become the intercessor and the prophet. And he has at length become the parent of the child of promise. He has now something of unspeakable worth, by which his spiritual character may be thoroughly tested. Since the hour in which he believed in the Lord, the features of his resemblance to God have been shining more and more through the darkness of his fallen nature - freedom of resolve, holiness of walk, interposing benevolence, and paternal affection. The last prepares the way for the highest point of moral likeness.
God tests Abraham's unreserved obedience to his will. "The God." The true, eternal, and only God, not any tempter to evil, such as the serpent or his own thoughts. "Tempted Abraham." To tempt is originally to try, prove, put to the test. It belongs to the dignity of a moral being to be put to a moral probation. Such assaying of the will and conscience is worthy both of God the assayer, and of man the assayed. "Thine only one." The only one born of Sarah, and heir of the promise. "Whom thou lovest." An only child gathers round it all the affections of the parent's heart. "The land of Moriah." This term, though applied in Ch2 3:1 to the mount on which the temple of Solomon was built, is here the name of a country, containing, it may be, a range of mountains or other notable place to which it was especially appropriated. Its formation and meaning are very doubtful, and there is nothing in the context to lend us any aid in its explanation. It was evidently known to Abraham before he set out on his present journey. It is not to be identified with Moreh in Gen 12:6, as the two names occur in the same document, and, being different in form, they naturally denote different things. Moreh is probably the name of a man. Moriah probably refers to some event that had occurred in the land, or some characteristic of its inhabitants. If a derivative, like בריה porı̂yâh, "fruitful," it may mean the land of the rebellious, a name not inapposite to any district inhabited by the Kenaanites, who were disposed to rebellion themselves Gen 14:4, or met with rebellion from the previous inhabitants. If a compound of the divine name, Jah, whatever be the other element, it affords an interesting trace of the manifestation and worship of the true God under the name of Jab at some antecedent period. The land of Moriah comprehended within its range the population to which Melkizedec ministered as priest.
And offer him for a burnt-offering. - Abraham must have felt the outward inconsistency between the sacrifice of his son, and the promise that in him should his seed be called. But in the triumph of faith he accounted that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead. On no other principle can the prompt, mute, unquestioning obedience of Abraham be explained. Human sacrifice may have been not unknown; but this in no way met the special difficulty of the promise. The existence of such a custom might seem to have smoothed away the difficulty of a parent offering the sacrifice of a son. But the moral difficulty of human sacrifice is not so removed. The only solution of this, is what the ease itself actually presents; namely, the divine command. It is evident that the absolute Creator has by right entire control over his creatures. He is no doubt bound by his eternal rectitude to do no wrong to his moral creatures. But the creature in the present case has forfeited the life that was given, by sin. And, moreover, we cannot deny that the Almighty may, for a fit moral purpose, direct the sacrifice of a holy being, who should eventually receive a due recompense for such a degree of voluntary obedience. This takes away the moral difficulty, either as to God who commands, or Abraham who obeys. Without the divine command, it is needless to say that it was not lawful for Abraham to slay his son.
Upon one of the hills of which I will tell thee. - This form of expression dearly shows that Moriah was not at that time the name of the particular hill on which the sacrifice was to be offered. It was the general designation of the country in which was the range of hills on one of which the solemn transaction was to take place. "And Abraham rose up early in the morning." There is no hesitation or lingering in the patriarch. If this has to be done, let it be done at once.
The story is now told with exquisite simplicity. "On the third day." From Beer-sheba to the Shalem of Melkizedec, near which this hill is supposed to have been, is about forty-five miles. If they proceeded fifteen miles on the first broken day, twenty on the second, and ten on the third, they would come within sight of the place early on the third day. "Lifted up his eyes." It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader of the Bible that this phrase does not imply that the place was above his point of view. Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the vale of Jordan Gen 13:10, which was considerably below the position of the observer. "And return unto you." The intimation that he and the lad would return, may seem to have rested on a dim presentiment that God would restore Isaac to him even if sacrificed. But it is more in keeping with the earnestness of the whole transaction to regard it as a mere concealment of his purpose from his servants. "And he bound Isaac his son." There is a wonderful pathos in the words his son, his father, introduced in the sacred style in this and similar narratives. Isaac, when the trying moment came, seems to have made no resistance to his father's will. The binding was merely a sacrificial custom. He must have concluded that his father was in all this obeying the will of God, though he gave him only a distant hint that it was so. Abraham is thoroughly in earnest in the whole procedure.
At this critical moment the angel of the Lord interposes to prevent the actual sacrifice. "Lay not thy hand upon the lad." Here we have the evidence of a voice from heaven that God does not accept of human victims. Man is morally unclean, and therefore unfit for a sacrifice. He is, moreover, not in any sense a victim, but a doomed culprit, for whom the victim has to be provided. And for a typical sacrifice that cannot take away, but only shadow forth, the efficacious sacrifice, man is neither fit nor necessary. The lamb without blemish, that has no penal or protracted suffering, is sufficient for a symbol of the real atonement. The intention, therefore, in this case was enough, and that was now seen to be real. "Now I know that thou fearest God." This was known to God antecedent to the event that demonstrated it. But the original "I have known" denotes an eventual knowing, a discovering by actual experiment; and this observable probation of Abraham was necessary for the judicial eye of God, who is to govern the world, and for the conscience of man, who is to be instructed by practice as well as principle. "Thou hast not withheld thy son from me." This voluntary surrender of all that was dear to him, of all that he could in any sense call his own, forms the keystone of Abraham's spiritual experience. He is henceforth a tried man.
A ram behind. - For "behind" we have "one" in the Samaritan, the Septuagint, Onkelos, and some MSS. But neither a "single ram" nor a "certain ram" adds anything suitable to the sense. We therefore retain the received reading. The voice from heaven was heard from behind Abraham, who, on turning back and lifting up his eyes, saw the ram. This Abraham took and offered as a substitute for Isaac. Both in the intention and in the act he rises to a higher resemblance to God. He withholds not his only son in intent, and yet in fact he offers a substitute for his son. "Jehovah-jireh", the Lord will provide, is a deeply significant name. He who provided the ram caught in the thicket will provide the really atoning victim of which the ram was the type. In this event we can imagine Abraham seeing the day of that pre-eminent seed who should in the fullness of time actually take away sin by the sacrifice of himself. "In the mount of the Lord he will be seen." This proverb remained as a monument of this transaction in the time of the sacred writer. The mount of the Lord here means the very height of the trial into which he brings his saints. There he will certainly appear in due time for their deliverance.
Abraham has arrived at the moral elevation of self-denial and resignation to the will of God, and that in its highest form. The angel of the Lord now confirms all his special promises to him with an oath, in their amplest terms. An oath with God is a solemn pledging of himself in all the unchangeableness of his faithfulness and truth, to the fulfillment of his promise. The multitude of his seed has a double parallel in the stars of heaven and the sands of the ocean. They are to possess the gate of their enemies; that is, to be masters and rulers of their cities and territories. The great promise, "and blessed in thy seed shall be all the nations of the earth," was first given absolutely without reference to his character. Now it is confirmed to him as the man of proof, who is not only accepted as righteous, but proved to be actually righteous after the inward man; "because thou hast obeyed my voice" Gen 26:5. The reflexive form of the verb signifying to bless is here employed, not to denote emphasis, but to intimate that the nations, in being blessed of God, are made willing to be so, and therefore bless themselves in Abraham's seed. In hearing this transcendent blessing repeated on this momentous occasion, Abraham truly saw the day of the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Son of man. We contemplate him now with wonder as the man of God, manifested by the self-denying obedience of a regenerate nature, intrusted with the dignity of the patriarchate over a holy seed, and competent to the worthy discharge of all its spiritual functions.
With the nineteenth verse of this chapter may be said to close the main revelation of the third Bible given to mankind, to which the remainder of this book is only a needful appendix. It includes the two former Bibles or revelations - that of Adam and that of Noah; and it adds the special revelation of Abraham. The two former applied directly to the whole race; the latter directly to Abraham and his seed as the medium of an ultimate blessing to the whole race. The former revealed the mercy of God offered to all, which was the truth immediately necessary to be known; the latter reveals more definitely the seed through whom the blessings of mercy are to be conveyed to all, and delineates the leading stage in the spiritual life of a man of God. In the person of Abraham is unfolded that spiritual process by which the soul is drawn to God. He hears the call of God and comes to the decisive act of trusting in the revealed God of mercy and truth; on the ground of which act he is accounted as righteous. He then rises to the successive acts of walking with God, covenanting with him, communing and interceding with him, and at length withholding nothing that he has or holds dear from him. In all this we discern certain primary and essential characteristics of the man who is saved through acceptance of the mercy of God proclaimed to him in a primeval gospel. Faith in God Gen. 15, repentance toward him Gen. 16, and fellowship with him Gen. 18, are the three great turning-points of the soul's returning life. They are built upon the effectual call of God Gen. 12, and culminate in unreserved resignation to him Gen. 22. With wonderful facility has the sacred record descended in this pattern of spiritual biography from the rational and accountable race to the individual and immortal soul, and traced the footsteps of its path to God.
The seed that was threatened to bruise the serpent's head is here the seed that is promised to bless all the families of the earth. The threefold individuality in the essence of the one eternal Spirit, is adumbrated in the three men who visited the patriarch, and their personal and practical interest in the salvation of man is manifested, though the part appropriated to each in the work of grace be not yet apparent.
Meanwhile, contemporaneous with Abraham are to be seen men (Melkizedec, Abimelek) who live under the covenant of Noah, which was not abrogated by that of Abraham, but only helped forward by the specialities of the latter over the legal and moral difficulties in the way to its final and full accomplishment. That covenant, which was simply the expansion and continuation of the Adamic covenant, is still in force, and contains within its bosom the Abrahamic covenant in its culminating grandeur, as the soul that gives life and motion to its otherwise inanimate body.
This family notice is inserted as a piece of contemporaneous history, to explain and prepare the way for the marriage of Isaac. "Milkah, she also," in allusion to Sarah, who has borne Isaac. So far as we know, they may have been sisters, but they were at all events sisters-in-law. The only new persons belonging to our histoy are Bethuel and Rebekah. Uz, Aram, and Kesed are interesting, as they show that we are in the region of the Shemites, among whom these are ancestral names Gen 10:23; Gen 11:28. Buz may have been the ancestor of Elihu Jer 25:23; Job 32:2. Maakah may have given rise to the tribes and land of Maakah Deu 3:14; Sa2 10:6. The other names do not again occur. "And his concubine." A concubine was a secondary wife, whose position was not considered disreputable in the East. Nahor, like Ishmael, had twelve sons, - eight by his wife, and four by his concubine.