preaching study: genesis 22:1-19

In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in fostering a “community” approach to study and prep for the message, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the TNIV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!

This week in our contemporary service, I’m preaching Genesis 22:1-19, the well-known Abraham and Isaac text in which Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac as an offering to the Lord and at the end of which, God relents and allows the boy, the child of the promise, to live.

This is one of the most difficult texts in all the bible to deal with theologically. The questions it invites include those concerning God’s promise, goodness, omniscience. These all seem to hang in the air at the end of the chapter; the passage closes, the narrative moves on, but the seemingly discordant notes linger. One question does not lack some resolution, however…more on that later.

Literary Context

  • Basic Structure: vv1-2, God’s Command; vv3-11, Faithful Response; vv12-19, Faithfulness Honored
  • The dramatic portion is framed by narrations of God’s calling Abraham (“Abraham!” vv1, 11), and references to Abraham’s attentive posture (“Here I am,” vv1, 11) and to Isaac (“your son, your only son,” vv2, 12).
  • The centerpoint dramatically is the same as it seems theologically and devotionally in connection with the overarching narrative of God’s saving mission in the world. It is Abraham’s answer to his son Isaac’s question, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (v8). This is the one question that gets resolution within these verses where the others seem not to be addressed beyond their being raised. It is answered in vv13-14.

Cultural Cues

  • We might investigate cultural and historical background that would help fill in some of our knowledge gaps, like…
  • How did the practice of burnt offering sacrifices work?
  • What was the practice of human and/or animal sacrifice like in the Ancient Near East (ANE) at that time?
  • What is the significance of the mountaintop (literary or historical/cultural, or both) for (a) sacrifice and (b) religious experience?
  • What is the significance, if any, of the types of animals–sheep and ram?

Canonical Connections

  • An obvious connection for Christians is the parallel with Christ’s experience of self-sacrifice: “son, only son” (v2), placing of the wood “on his son Isaac” (v6), the lamb as the burnt offering sacrifice (vv7, 8), setting is a mountaintop (vv2, 14), and Abraham’s words, “God himself will provide the lamb” (v8)
  • There are other canonical references that comes to mind as well that we might benefit from bringing into conversation with this text, including gospel passages of the passion such as Mark 14-15 and Luke 22, and the passage on faith and works in James 22:14-24 in which James refers explicitly to this text to make his point in the context of New Testament faith.
  • Pressing a bit further to the theological questions advanced in the story, we might find Daniel 3 (the young men in the fiery furnace) an engaging conversation partner for questions about God’s protection, God’s provision, our faith, and sacrifice that finds one faithful to God.
  • Another conversation partner that may help us encounter this text all the more faithfully is our sharing in Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, this Sunday. This sacramental practice reminds us also of a connection to the Passover event, but we’ll listen to its voice in and through an engagement of our text and the richness of the sacrament itself.