The Covenantal Significance of Genesis 22:1-19

by Cody Alan Kingham, M.Div. 

Genesis 22:1-19 derives its meaning from the context of the Abrahamic narrative, the narrative of Genesis, the Pentateuch, and inner-canonical exegesis throughout the Hebrew Bible (HB). The purpose (meaning) of the chapter is to demonstrate God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his covenant promise with Abraham in light of his faith in God, and to provide a future-oriented hope through a singular messianic offspring who defeats his enemies.

Genesis 22:1-19 stands within the larger Abrahamic narrative (Gen. 12-25). The text narrates God’s testing of Abraham (Gen. 22:1). The story’s tension derives from the endangerment of God’s promise in Gen. 12:2, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you…” (auth. trans.) The promise’s fulfillment comes through Abraham’s son (Gen. 17:16), a channel of blessing to the world (Gen. 12:3, 15:4, 17:7-8). A series of threats to this promise appears throughout the Abraham narrative: Gen 12:11-20 (Pharaoh takes Sarai), Gen 13:1-18 (Lot chooses his land), Gen 16 (Sarai gives Hagar), and Gen 20 (Abimelech takes Sarah). Gen 22 is the last of these threats and demonstrates God’s faithfulness.

The chapter divides into seven sections. 1.) Genesis 22:1 sets up the narrative in light of the previous chapter in which Isaac is born and Ishmael and Abimelech are dealt with graciously. The background statement, “God had tested Abraham” sets the stage for the story,[1] 2.) God commands Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering (22:1-2), 3.) Abraham demonstrates his obedience by arising early and preparing (22:3), 4.) Genesis 22:4-8 foreshadows the sacrifice “on the third day.” Isaac’s preservation is foreshadowed when Abraham tells his servants “We will return…” (22:5). The dialogue between Abraham and Isaac (22:6-8) heightens the tension. 5.) They arrive at the place (22:9-10), 6.) The Lord intervenes and provides (22:11-14), and 7.) The Lord blesses Abraham’s offspring in light of his faith (22:15-19).

The blessing of 22:15-19 shares multiple thematic and verbal links across Genesis. The promise to increase Abraham’s offspring “as the stars of the sky” ties directly into the promise of Gen. 15:5. The nations being blessed in Abraham’s seed finds links in Gen. 12:3, 18:18, 26:4, and 28:14.[2] The latter half of vs. 17, “Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies,” echoes the theme of Gen. 3:15 of an offspring defeating the serpent.

It also provides the basis for echoes throughout the Pentateuch of a warrior-king who will violently defeat his enemies. This begins with Gen. 49:8-12 in which the language of a lion is introduced. Num. 24:9, 17-18 combines the language of “possessing the gate” (Gen 22:17) with the lion language of Gen. 49:8, interpreting these passages as eschatological and messianic. The full picture of this King in the Pentateuch is thus an offspring in Abraham’s line who defeats his enemies (including the serpent of Gen. 3:15) and establishes an eternal rule on the earth (cf. Ex. 15:18) in which he is worshipped by the nations (Gen. 49:10).

Other books in the Hebrew Bible pick up on the language of Gen. 22:17-19. Jeremiah 4:2 and Ps. 72:17 both quote the promise of blessing for the nations, and understand the offspring as a singular king. This messianic background provides the basis for additional promises throughout the HB. Notably, the Apostle Paul, interpreting the Pentateuch, applies the singular offspring promise to Jesus himself (Gal. 3:16).

Gen. 22:1-19 is an extremely significant text with multiple intertextual connections across the Bible. It provides a crucial connection point between the promises of Gen. 3:15 and the conquering King of Gen. 49:8. And it guarantees God’s faithfulness to establish and preserve his promises through a messiah.

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