The Test of Abraham Genesis 22:1-19 -- By: John I. Lawlor

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 01:1 (Spring 1980)
Article: The Test of Abraham Genesis 22:1-19
Author: John I. Lawlor


The Test of Abraham
Genesis 22:1-19

John I. Lawlor

The incredible story of the ordeal of Abraham and Isaac begins, presumably, with Abraham sojourning in the land of the Philistines (Gen 21:34) and concludes with Abraham, the main character in this drama, returning to Beer-sheba with the two young men and Isaac.1

The pathos of this account is unequaled by any other portion of the Abraham sequence and perhaps the entire Pentateuchal tradition. The reader emotes with Abraham, for the entire story radiates great tensions, strong reactions, and human emotions. Skinner felt this, for he remarks that parts of it “…can hardly be read without tears.”2

The manner in which the narrative has been put together evidences great literary artistry. Two factors unite to make the case. First, the use of repetitious statements seems intentional. The use of one such repetitious statement in v 1 (“‘Abraham!’ And he said ‘Here I am.’“) and v 11 (“‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’“) naturally divides the story into two general movements. The use of another “…your son, your only son…” used three times (vv 2, 12, 16) tends to increase the gravity of the situation. Such redundancy creates great tension; it seems as if God almost strains to remind Abraham that the stakes are high. Such obvious repetition, it seems, is premeditated, perhaps for the purpose of raising the anxiety level of the reader. Still another, “So the two of them walked on together” (vv 6 and 8), puts the reader off; it also heightens the tension that builds toward the climax.

Second, there is a certain symmetry to the story which is, in part, achieved through the use of both triplets and tensions/resolutions. With respect to the former, the imperatives “take,” “go,” and “offer” (v 2) are a case in point. Vv 3, 6, and 10 are further examples.

Furthermore, the blessing formula of vv 17 and 18 appears as a triplet. Wi...

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