A postcard from the edge (Gen 22) – part five

As we finish our week-long look at the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22), we have just a few “loose ends” to tidy up. And they focus on the conclusion of the story:

Gen 22:15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” 19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

God passes his own test

Firstly, we see God describing Abraham’s faithfulness in glowing terms. He’s passed the test (v1) set for him by not withholding “your son, your only son.” It’s a test that God himself passed, 2000 years later. We hear echoes of the Abraham story in the famous verse from John’s Gospel:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The Abraham story may also be behind what the voice from heaven says at Jesus’ baptism:

Matt 4:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son; with him I am well pleased.”

This is because in the Greek Old Testament (which was the text used by most of the NT authors), Gen 22:16 is translated “you have not withheld your beloved son.”

Just like Abraham was prepared to give his only, beloved son, God was prepared to do likewise. But where God stopped Abraham going through with it, in Jesus he went all the way.

God reaffirms his promises

We also see, at the end of the story, God affirming his promises to Abraham – the ones made back in Gen 12:1-3 and again in Gen 17:19-21. Yet here, the language is intensified (which is hard to translate into English – the NIV tries, adding “surely”). It’s like God is saying, now you’ve proven yourself faithful, I’m truly going to bless you. Whereas before, the covenant was grounded purely in God’s unconditional promise and faithfulness, it’s now also based in Abraham’s obedient response.

As James would put it:

James 2:21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.

Abraham’s obedience showed his trust in God was for real, and resulted in the blessing God had promised – becoming the father of many nations, and that through him all nations would be blessed.

God gets to work…

But for that to happen, it will take more than just Isaac. (If you don’t understand this bit, you need to have a talk with your parents.) So the last part of this chapter gives us a hint as to how that will happen. Far from being an irrelevant bit of genealogy, it’s the first sign God’s getting to work making his promises happen:

Gen 22: 20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah.

Of all the eight sons born to Abraham’s brother, only one of their offspring is mentioned – a daughter, named Rebekah. So in short order, Abraham got his son “back from the dead” as it were. And now we, the reader, get the news that God was busy making sure this son would have a wife – through whom children would be born and the promise would continue.

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