“Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”” Gen. 22:5
Abraham tells the two servant lads that he and Isaac are going to worship and return. Why does he say this? Abraham has just trekked a three-day journey with one purpose in mind: to be obedient to God by offering up his son Isaac. How then could he possibly return with Isaac? Is Abraham being misleading about the task at hand to avoid questions? Is he still holding out that God has a different plan? Does Abraham have that much faith that somehow this will work out without taking Isaac’s life? We get some possible insight from the book of Hebrews, 11:17-19:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
To our knowledge, no one in the history of human existence had been raised from the dead at this point. The writers of the New Testament had the benefit of looking back on the writings about Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-22) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:30-37); Abraham had no such written miracles to offer him hope. And with such as the request at hand, Abraham was still trying to figure out exactly who this God, Jehovah, was.
Consider that this was to be a burnt offering. The prescribed method for this ritual would have involved first the slaying of Isaac with the knife, a sprinkling of blood, skinning the offering, dismembering the body, and ultimately burning the offering to ashes (see Lev. 1). This would not merely be faith that Isaac would survive a seemingly fatal stab wound. Abraham must have been wondering how God could possibly bring Isaac back from such a state.
This does not imply that Abraham did not have faith, however we must consider that perhaps he told his servant lads they would return together so that the servants did not attempt to stop Abraham from following through with the offering.
There are no shortage of opinions on this verse. There is the view that Abraham said this out of faith; even that Isaac’s survival was a prophecy by Abraham. Surprisingly, there are also many versions of the story in rabbinical writings where Isaac actually was offered, and God miraculously brought him back from the dead at some future point. There were views within Judaism in Medieval times attesting that the offering of Isaac showed atonement for all Israel. Some even suggest that Sarah’s death is related to Isaac’s death (upon her finding out.) As these interpretations are from extra-biblical writings, and seem to be in opposition to the biblical text, they are mentioned here just to show that even in Judaism, the concept of atonement for sins by human sacrifice did exist.
The bigger question however, is this: Did Isaac return with Abraham at all? Verse 19 reads “So Abraham returned to his young men…” There is no mention of Isaac returning with Abraham. In Genesis 24, as Abraham is about to die, we see him blessing his oldest servant – not Isaac as we would expect! Isaac is, in fact, still alive, but it appears he is not living with Abraham any longer. Isaac ultimately returns to marry Rebekah. Is this mysterious disappearance a picture of Christ coming back for his bride, the church?