“If God is so good, then why does evil exist? Why did God send a flood to destroy the whole world if everything he created was ‘very good’? Why did God send his only Son to be executed for a sinful people? Why did God send a rebellious nation into a flourishing land to wipe out everyone and everything? Why is God a monster?”
For those who are familiar with the Christian tradition, these objections may sound familiar in one form or another. Often, these questions come from skeptics of the faith as they wrestle with their own faith (or the lack thereof). These questions are all legitimate questions for “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [his] ways higher than [our] ways and [his] thoughts than [our] thoughts” (Isa. 55:9, ESV).
One specific instance of a “hard” dealing with God comes from Gen. 22. Prior to this narrative, Abraham is granted a child—Isaac—through his wife Sarah by God. However, in this passage, Abraham must wrestle with a difficult dilemma: does he obey God and sacrifice his only son, or does he preserve his life?
The first step of any exegetical process is to examine the text. Examining the text provides the foundation for the theology and application of the passage.
This passage contains many significant words that one could spend entire papers to exegete. In what follows, a handful of words will receive a quick lexical analysis, but one word will receive more detailed attention.
There are four significant verbs throughout this narrative. הָלַךְ. This verb is translated simply as any of the following: “go, proceed, move walk.“ Throughout this passage, it is used of persons walking into places, lands, and cities. Knowing this verb helps clarify the activity inherent in this passage with the travels of the people and who they travel with. לָקַח. Throughout this passage, this verb is used in two different idiomatic ways: to take an object (and later do something with it), and to lead one somewhere. This usage helps clarify when “Abraham took” in this passage: he would “take” his hand and do something with it, and he would take his son and prepare him as a sacrifice. נָסַה. The first verb in the passage is God “testing” Abraham. External readers know this is the case, but Abraham does not know he is being tested; God is not intending to cause him to stumble, but as a similar meaning, he could be “giv[ing] experience [or] train[ing].” שָׁחַט. This verb is simply translated “slaughter” in the context of human sacrifice. This verb helps clarify the action that Abraham almost took—killing his only son on the altar.
The purpose of this passage falls on the word רָאָה. There are many meanings to this verb—BDB provides definitions and examples that spans four pages. Therefore, only the qal in Gen. will be examined.
Towards the end of the passage, after the angel of the Lord delivered Abraham from his almost fatal action and spared Isaac, Abraham “lifted up his eyes” and saw a ram in the thicket. He seized the lamb and sacrificed it in Isaac’s place. Therefore, Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide.”
Range of Meaning.
There are eight possible definitions (with sub-nuances) that concern the range of meaning of this verb. For one, it is used with a subject with an accusative person (12:12, 15) or with someone with rank (43:3, 5). It can also be used by an accusative of object when the person is the subject (13:15; 31:12) or with an adverb or adverbial phrase (41:19). There are many close phrases where an accusative follows directly after the verb (accusative of person, 6:2, 8:1; accusative of face, 31:5; accusative of object, 1:4, 49:15; have experience of …, 20:10). It can refer to the ability of vision (27:1). Another use is perception (followed by a כִּי particle, 1:10; מָה of indirect question, 2:19, 37:20; close הֲ”whether,” 8:8, 18:21; accusative, 42:21). It can also be used volitionally when people are the subject and an accusative of object followed (9:22, 23; sometimes with a preposition, 16:13), when the subject is God and there is an accusative (9:16; sometimes without an accusative, 8:13, 18:2, 13:14), translated as “look after, see after, learn about (with an accusative of object, 37:14), translated as “look out, find out” (with an accusative of person, 41:33; with ל preposition, 22:8), or to concern oneself about an accusative of object (39:23). At times it can be used as an imperative to mentally observe something (27:27, 31:50). Finally, it is also used with a ב prefix (gaze at … so as to become acquainted with, 34:1; look at with kindness, helpfulness, 29:32; upon a spectacle … [of] grief, 21:16).
BDB identifies 19 related words to רָאָה. For instance, רָאֶה is an adjective meaning “seeing.” Additionally, רֹאֶה is a masculine noun meaning “seer.” A homophone of this word means “prophetic vision.” A second homophone of this word is a proper name in 1 Chronicles 2:52. Next, רַאֲוָה is a qal infinitive construct. רְאוּת is a feminine noun meaning “look.” רְאִי is a masculine noun meaning “mirror.” רֳאִי is a masculine noun meaning “looking, seeing, sight” which is used in 16:13. ראית is also listed. מַרְאָה is a feminine noun meaning “vision” and is used in 46:2. A related homophone is a feminine noun meaning “mirror.” מַרְאֶה is a masculine noun meaning “sight, appearance, vision” and is used in 2:9; 12:11; 24:16; 26:7; 29:17; 39:6; 41:2, 4, and 21. יִרְאִיָּיה is a proper name in Jeremiah 37:13, 14. Additionally,רְאָיָה is a proper name in 1 Chron. 4:2. רְאוּבֵן is a proper name used in 29:32 and 30:14. רְאוּבֵנִי is an adjective used with foreigners. There’s also ראות, רְאִי, רְאֵים, and ראישׁון to round out the list.
To properly interpret and understand a passage, one needs to know its genre. For if one does not know its genre and the rules it is governed by, then their interpretation will be off. For example, the purpose between a “white-paper” and a love letter are different. One would not read a “white-paper” as a romantic gesture to one’s beloved, and vice versa—one would not analytically break down the flowery argument in a love letter. The Pentateuch, by and large, is narrative though there are sections of law code. More specifically, Genesis is largely narrative, too, with some poetic elements. Gen. 22 is a narrative. However, it is more specifically a testing narrative as Moses declares in 22:1.
As argued, this passage is narrative. Therefore, it does not fit in the usual linear outline that readers of the Bible often find (especially when it comes to Pauline epistles). This passage better fits the typical narrative plot diagram in the following figure.
Figure 1. Gen. 22 plotted on a narrative diagram.
Verse 1 is considered the exposition. Verse 2 is considered the inciting incident. Verses 3-10 are considered the rising action. Verses 11-13 are considered the climax. Verses 14-18 are considered the falling action. Verse 19 is the resolution
- Francis Brown, Samuel Driver, and Charles Briggs, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1977), 229–37.
- Brown, Driver, and Briggs, BDB, 542–3.
- Brown, Driver, and Briggs, BDB, 702.
- Brown, Driver, and Briggs, BDB, 702.
- Brown, Driver, and Briggs, BDB, 1006.
- The following section comes from Brown, Driver, and Briggs, BDB, 906–8.
- The following section come from Brown, Driver, and Briggs, BDB, 909–10.