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Genesis 22:1-19: God Tests Abraham
Bible Essentials: Set 3, Lesson 16
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn’t want to do, but you felt that you had to? How did the situation turn out?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Genesis 22:1-19.
22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
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.
What is the context for this passage?
When Abraham was 75 years old, God promised that Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation (Genesis 12). After a dozen years of waiting for a son to carry on his family line, Abraham and Sarah didn’t want to wait any longer. They developed a plan for Abraham to sleep with Sarah’s servant, Hagar, and they would have a son through Hagar. But this plan backfired when Hagar did become pregnant, and Sarah was jealous and spiteful to Hagar and Hagar’s son, Ishmael (Genesis 16).
God repeatedly comes to Abraham and promises that Abraham will have a son with Sarah. Finally, when Abraham is 99, God tells him that he will have a son next year (Genesis 18). And indeed, Sarah does conceive, and Abraham finally has his promised son at the age of 100. They named their son Isaac, as God commanded. They loved Isaac, and even sent away Hagar and Ishmael because Sarah didn’t want Ishmael to have any share in Abraham’s inheritance (Genesis 21). Finally, Abraham and Sarah could live in peace to bring up their treasured son, Isaac, whom God had promised and for whom they had waited 25 years.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Genesis 22 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God gives directions for his people to follow. Throughout Abraham’s life, God has given Abraham directions on where to live and what to do. Abraham has faithfully followed those directions and has been blessed through his obedience. In this story, God again gives Abraham instructions to follow—except this time, the stakes are much greater. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son.
God sometimes tests his people by asking them to do hard things. God knows people’s hearts, but occasionally he will test his most faithful people by asking them to do hard things. Here, he asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. Will Abraham have enough faith in God to follow through? Will Abraham trust that God will provide a way to keep his promise to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation? God decided to find out the answers to these questions.
God is a provider. When Abraham had sufficiently passed God’s test, God provided a way out. A lamb for the sacrifice. God provides for his people in many ways, and this is not the first time he has provided for Abraham. But it is perhaps God’s most important provision for Abraham. God provided a substitute sacrifice so that Abraham would not have to sacrifice his son.
God is a rescuer. In this story, God rescues both Abraham and Isaac. He rescues Abraham from having to follow through on the extremely hard action of sacrificing his son. And he rescues Isaac from being sacrificed.
God blesses those who are obedient to him. When Abraham had proven his faithfulness to God and his willingness to be obedient, God blessed Abraham. Or really, God re-confirmed his blessing that he had made to Abraham many years ago—to bless Abraham and make his descendants into a great nation.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People who trust God are willing to do hard things when he asks. Abraham had a pattern of having complete faith in God, and this story confirms his faith. God had asked him to do the hardest thing you could imagine—sacrifice his son. This son that Abraham had waited 25 years for. This son through whom God said his promise would be fulfilled. This son that Abraham had chosen over his true firstborn son. God wanted Abraham to sacrifice Isaac out of obedience, and Abraham was willing to do that.
Abraham was prepared to be obedient to God. When Abraham started on the journey to sacrifice Isaac, he didn’t just start walking. He was truly prepared, physically and mentally, to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham brought with him wood, fire, and a knife. All the supplies necessary for a sacrifice. And he brought Isaac, who would be the sacrifice. He also brought his faith in God—he had faith that God would provide the lamb.
Abraham thought ahead to separate himself from anyone who might stop him from obeying God. Although for most of the journey, Abraham and Isaac had his servants with him, at one point, Abraham asks the servants to stay back. Perhaps he thought those servants might try to stop him from sacrificing Isaac, and Abraham didn’t want anything to stand in the way of his obedience to God. What is holding you back from being obedient to God? What might you need to step away from in order to be obedient?
People ask questions when things don’t make sense. Isaac knew that he was going with his father to make a sacrifice and worship. He saw all the supplies for the sacrifice, except the most important thing. The lamb. That didn’t make sense to Isaac, because Isaac didn’t know the whole plan. So he asked his father his question—Where is the lamb?
Abraham trusted that God would provide a lamb. In response to Isaac’s question about the lamb, Abraham responded that God would provide the lamb. We don’t know whether this was Abraham’s true belief or whether he was just covering up his plan, but seeing Abraham display his faith throughout his life, it’s very likely that this is exactly what Abraham expected to happen. He was willing to follow through and be obedient, even if it meant sacrificing his son, but he was also trusting that God would provide another way.
Abraham continually listened for God’s instructions. When God called out to Abraham at the beginning of this story, Abraham listened. He heard God’s voice and followed God’s instructions. But once Abraham thought he had all the instructions, he didn’t stop listening for God’s voice. Even all the way to the end, when he had the knife raised to sacrifice his son, he was still listening. And that constant attention to God’s voice paid off—the angel of the Lord called to him and told him not to kill his son.
Abraham feared God. When the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, the angel said, “Now I know that you fear God.” That was the point of this test. To see if Abraham feared God. What does that mean? It means that Abraham had such faith in God, such reverence for God, that it changed the way he lived. God’s influence was the most important influence in his life, even over his beloved son.
People can display their faith in God by their actions of obedience. God knew that Abraham had faith because it was visible in his actions of obedience. Abraham didn’t just follow God in his mind, hidden away from everyone else. His faith was visible to everyone because of the choices Abraham made and the actions he took. We can also display our faith by being obedient to God in a way that is visible to those around us.
Abraham was thankful for God’s intervention. When God provided the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham didn’t just say, “See, I knew God would do that. I knew he wouldn’t make me sacrifice my son.” No, instead he sacrificed the ram that was provided and followed through in his time of worship. He celebrated God’s provision.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan was to test Abraham’s faith. Abraham was the first person in the line God had selected to eventually bring his Son to earth. Did God make the right choice? God decided to find out by testing Abraham. And Abraham passed the test, showing that God does absolutely know the best plan and select the right people to fulfill that plan.
God’s plan was to save Isaac from death. God’s plan was to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation through Isaac, the promised son. God didn’t really want Isaac to be dead. God wanted Isaac to be alive to fulfill God’s promise. Therefore, God had a plan to save Isaac from death, as long as Abraham was obedient. Abraham’s obedience and faith in God was the key to God’s plan being unfurled.
God’s plan was to reward Abraham’s obedience. This whole story is a test of Abraham’s faith and obedience. It was a hard plan, but necessary. If (and when) Abraham passed God’s test, God’s plan was to reward Abraham’s obedience. This reward was to fulfill the promise that God had made to bless Abraham and make his descendants as numerous as the starts in the sky. Not only that, but God promised to bless all nations through Abraham’s offspring. And all of this could be fulfilled because of Abraham’s obedience.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
This passage has so many themes that can be seen throughout the rest of the Bible. First, we have the theme of Abraham’s descendants becoming a great nation. We’ve explored this theme in the last several lessons in Genesis. Back in Genesis 12, God promised that Abraham’s descendants would become great nation. This promise was reiterated several times until God finally gave Abraham and Sarah a son. Then, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham obeyed. Once Abraham had proven his faith in God, God saved Isaac and again promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. We see this promise fulfilled through the nation of Israel, whose story is recorded throughout the Old Testament and beyond.
Second, we have God as provider for his people. When Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham had faith that God would provide a lamb. And if he didn’t, then Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead (see Hebrews 11:17-19). Either way, Abraham had faith that God would provide life for Isaac due to Abraham’s obedience. God confirms his ability to provide over and over again. He provided a way out of slavery for the Israelites. He provided food and water for the Israelites in the wilderness. He provided victory in battle as the Israelites took over the Promised Land. He provided a Son for Mary, a Son who would be the Savior of the world. He provided power for the apostles as they shared the good news of Jesus Christ. And today, he provides a way of salvation, a way to avoid condemnation and separation from God.
Finally, we see a father willing to give up his son for a greater purpose. Abraham knew that God had promised that his descendants would be reckoned through Isaac (Genesis 21:12). He may not have understood God’s command to sacrifice this son who had been promised to him for so long. But he trusted God’s plan, and he was willing to sacrifice his son for that plan. Later in Scripture, we see another Father willing to sacrifice his Son for God’s plan. God himself allowed his own perfect Son to be sacrificed on the cross for a greater plan—a plan that would provide forgiveness and salvation to all who call on his name. Except God had to actually follow through with sacrificing his son. Whereas God provided a lamb as a substitute for Abraham’s son, God’s son was the only perfect Lamb that could take away the sins of the world.
The next time God asks you to do something that seems really hard and that doesn’t make sense, remember, God isn’t going to ask you to do something he isn’t willing to do. God isn’t going to ask you to do something hard and then not give you the faith and the strength to complete the task. He will be with you and provide everything you need to be obedient.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For additional study related to this topic, read Hebrews 11:17-19.
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For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Genesis 22 Resources
Or you can download the journal sheets here*:
*Substack doesn’t support PowerPoint file downloads yet, so if you want to access the PowerPoint file for group study, you will need to download it from the resource page linked above.