The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Here I am!

I set the stage for digging deeper into the story of Abraham and Isaac in The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Introduction. Abraham’s faith is the lesson we learned in Sunday. Faith is the basic place we start, but Abraham’s faith is only scratching the surface of the story.

This story is not simply about Abraham’s faith. We often view this story as simply a test of Abraham’s faith, which it is, but it’s much more than that.

Think about it: God does not need to test Abraham to know who he is. God already knows what kind of man Abraham is. Many decades before this story, we are told that Abraham believed God, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.

When God called Abraham to leave his country, his people, his father’s household – which was his legacy – and God would make a great nation of his descendants, Abraham left, not even knowing where he was going. Though he was 75, Abraham responded with faith and went. (Gen. 12:1-4)

Many years and adventures later, Abraham was still childless, living in the land God showed him, and Abraham still believed the promise God made to him, though he had nothing to show for it. His faith was already counted to Abraham as righteousness. (Gen. 15:1-6)

Isaac was not born to Abraham and Sarah until Abraham was 100 years old, a quarter century after the initial promise. (Gen. 21:1-7) All the while, Abraham had faith. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not primarily a story about Abraham’s faith.

Isaac was not born to Abraham and Sarah until Abraham was 100 years old, a quarter century after the initial promise. (Gen. 21:1-7) All the while, Abraham had faith. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not primarily a story about Abraham’s faith.

Though the story begins with the statement that God was testing Abraham, it doesn’t say God was testing Abraham’s faith. (Gen. 22:1) Perhaps, God tested Abraham to show Abraham who God is!

I will explain, but first we need to understand something of the Ancient Near East culture Abraham lived in. A key factor in this story is that child sacrifice was a universal and ubiquitous practice in the Ancient Near East.

Abraham was intimately familiar the gods of his culture who were unpredictable, arbitrary and capricious, requiring allegiance and sometimes even child sacrifice to be appeased. What Abraham may have sensed, but didn’t fully understand, was that his God is not like the other Ancient Near East gods.

In our western mindset, we might expect God to announce who He is: we might expect Him simply to tell us. In the eastern mindset, we discover who God is through our lived experience and the lived experience (stories) of other people.

God doesn’t simply tell us who He is; God shows us. To “know” God is not simply an intellectual exercise; it is a lived experience. Thus, all of Abraham’s life is an example for us, and here we learn who God is through Abraham’s lived experience.

God reveals Himself to Abraham experientially through Abraham’s faith, and He reveals Himself to us through Abraham’s story. If you haven’t read the introductory article yet, I encourage you to do it now at the link above.

With this basic understanding, I encourage you to read Genesis 22:1-14 now. Following we get into the details of the story.

The story begins with God calling to Abraham, and Abraham responding, “Here I am!” This verse might prompt you to think of Adam and Eve, remembering that God called to them after they ate the forbidden fruit, and they hid.

Abraham’s orientation toward God is different. When God calls, he says, “Here I am!” Abraham is a man who responds to God (a man of faith).

Go ahead now and read the passage again, this time with the emphasis I have provided at the link below.[1]

The phrase, “Here I am!” is is repeated multiple times and deserves some attention. The Hebrew word is הִנֵּה (hinneh), meaning “lo! behold! Here I Am!”

This phrase appears three (3) times in the story. Twice Abraham says, “Here I am!” in response to God, and once Abraham says, “Here I am!” in response to Isaac.

Abraham’s ready responsiveness to God is important in the story. He responds immediately and willingly at the beginning of the story, even when God seems to be demanding the ultimate sacrifice. (Gen. 22:7)

Abraham responds just as immediately when the angel of the Lord calls out to him in the moment Abraham was about to do the deed. (Gen. 22:11) Abraham always was a man who responds to God.

We see this when God instructs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain God will show him in the land of Moriah. (Gen. 22:2) This is much like God’s initial prompt to Abraham many decades earlier to leave his country, his people and his father’s household to go to a land God “will show you”. (Gen. 12:1)

Abraham went obediently, not knowing where God was taking him. (Hebrews 11:8) Abraham had long been a man of faith, a man who responds to God. His responsiveness to God is illustrated throughout his life.

That responsiveness to God is echoed here again, but Abraham’s response to Isaac stands out. Abraham responds the same way to Isaac as he responds to God, saying, “Here I am!”

(In the BEMA Discipleship podcast, Marty Solomon points out that this Hebrew word appears in its unconjugated form only three places in the Bible, and all three times are in Genesis 22. That phrase is echoed elsewhere in Scripture, but that will be the subject of the next article.)

Going back to the story, we read that they had walked three days when Abraham looked up and saw in the distance where God was taking him. (Gen. 22:4) For three days, they walked to the mountain. For three days Abraham mulled over in his mind what God was asking him to do. For three days, Isaac and the two men Abraham invited with them walked and wondered what they were doing.

Did Abraham tell Isaac or the men what he was being asked to do? The passage suggests he didn’t.

Abraham prepared the wood for the burnt offering at the beginning of the journey. (Gen. 22:3) When they could see the mountain God showed him, Abraham put the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac to carry. Only when Abraham and Isaac separated from the men who had gone with them (Gen. 22:6) did Isaac ask Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7)

Isaac didn’t know. But, before Isaac asks the question, he says, “My father!” (Gen. 22:7)

According to the BEMA podcast, the nuance that can be seen in the Hebrew suggests that Isaac interrupted his father. It implies, therefore, that Abraham was talking, or maybe there was silence.

Imagine Abraham in that circumstance, trying to make small talk, trying not to think about what he is about to do, trying to avoid the subject. Or maybe there was just awkward silence. Maybe Abraham was praying under his breath. Then Isaac breaks in: “My father!”

Isaac interrupts Abraham’s thoughts and highlights the angst that Abraham no doubt would have felt with the words, “My father!”,

Abraham is quick to respond, “Here I am!”

Of course, Abraham was there. Why did Abraham say, “Here I am”?

Jewish teaching from the Midrash suggests that Abraham is giving Isaac assurance. He was saying, “Here I am!”, and I am not going to leave you! When Isaac asked the pointed question about the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb…” (Gen. 22:8)

It wasn’t until Abraham prepared the altar with the wood for the burnt offering, put Isaac on top of the wood, and was about to go through with the deed Abraham believed God was asking him to do that God intervened, calling Abraham! Abraham!”

God intervened, and Abraham responded with great relief, “Here I am!” (Gen. 22:9-11) Probably faster than he responded before!

Abraham told Isaac God would provide, and He did!

Immediately, there was a ram caught in the thicket: an offering for Abraham. Just as Abraham believed, God provided the offering Himself.

In this way, Abraham learned through his firsthand experience, by virtue of his faith and willingness to respond to God, that God is not like the other Ancient Near East gods. God makes promises, and He keeps them.

God is not unpredictable. He is not arbitrary and capricious.

God is trustworthy. We can commit ourselves in response to God and trust Him, even when we don’t understand where God is taking us or what He is doing.

This is a lesson that Abraham would never forget, and it’s a lesson Isaac would never forget. It would be passed down generation after generation. It would stand as lived proof that God is not like the other gods. God is not arbitrary and capricious, requiring child sacrifice for appeasement. God would provide the sacrifice Himself.

Most significantly of all, God demonstrated to Abraham (and to us) who He is.

There is even more to the story, however. God foreshadowed the blessing He would provide through Abraham and his descendants to all the families on earth through this story. With this article getting long, however, I will need one more article to dive deeper and to explore this angle of the story in more detail.  

[1] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take 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 shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 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.” And 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. 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 22:1-14 ESV

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