Criswell Theological Review 4.2 (1990) 313-26

                        Copyright © 1990 by Criswell College, cited with permission.




                 THE ROLE OF GENESIS 22:1-19

                       IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE:






                                              ROBERT D. BERGEN

                                           Hannibal- LaGrange College

                                                Hannibal, MO 63401



                                                    O. Introduction


The story of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac as

recorded in Gen 22:1-19 has caught the interest of countless students

and scholars in a rainbow of disciplines. Philosophers, historians, and

biblical expositors have all exhibited an abiding interest in the peric-

ope.l Recent advances in the areas of linguistics and technology now

give- occasion for a new generation of researchers to discover the

passage as well. The following study is an interdisciplinary one, bring-

ing together insights from the areas of discourse linguistics and infor-

mation science in an examination of the text.


1. The Prominence of Gen 22:1-19 in the Abraham Cycle


Gen 22:1-19 is a crown jewel in the treasure box of OT narrative.

Expositors have garnished it with accolades, calling it "one of the

most beautiful narratives in the Old Testament,"2 "the most perfectly


1 One can find such comments in the writings of such diverse personalities as

I. Kant (Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone [New York: Harper & Row, 1960]

175), and A. Toynbee (An Historian's Approach to Religion [Oxford: University Press,

1979] 26, 39), not to mention all the individuals more directly connected with OT and

NT studies.

2 C. Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985)




formed and polished of the patriarchal stories,"3 "consummate story-

telling,"4 and "the literary masterpiece of the Elohistic collection."5

But what is it, the reader may ask, that sets this episode in

Abraham's story apart from all the others? What grammatical, lexical,

literary, structural, and sociolinguistic devices (if any) has the author

employed so artfully to gain this acclaim? The answers to these

questions are explored in the present section.


1.1 Conclusions from a Computer-Assisted Study


Help is first sought from a piece of artificial intelligence software

entitled DC,6 developed over the past four years by the present

writer. This program is designed to read and evaluate sizeable blocks

of linguistic data. It produces summary reports of relevant text-based

statistics and attempts to identify thematic centers present within the



1.1.1 Background of the Computer-Assisted Study


Studies coming out of the recently developed discipline of dis-

course linguistics have demonstrated that communicators constantly

manipulate three variables in the language code so as to express their

intentions. These variables are unit size, arrangement of information

within a given communication unit, and type of information within a

unit. An author may designate a certain section of a text as thematic in

at least three ways: 1) through the placement of language-specific

"marked" features within that portion, 2) through the employment of

statistically infrequent features within that portion, and 3) through

increasing the structural and semantic complexity of a given portion.

Based on the premise that authors drop objective, recoverable

hints regarding their communicative intentions within a text, DC was

developed in an effort to assist text analysts in the process of identify-

ing and interpreting those hints. In its present form, DC is designed to


3 G. von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972) 238.

4 D. Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (London: Tyndale, 1967)


5 J. Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (New York:

Scribner's Sons, 1917) 329. The praise is justified, even if the authorial assignment is not

6 An abbreviated acronym for the Discourse Critical Text Analysis Program. The

program is currently being "beta tested," and should be ready for interested individuals

within the next year. Individuals interested in obtaining the latest version of this and

related programs may contact the author at the address listed at the front of the article.


Robert D. Bergen: GENESIS 22:1-19 IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE     315


perform high-speed analysis of Hebrew narrative framework materi-

als. By monitoring changes in the language code of the nonquotational

aspects of Hebrew narrative text and then comparing the data with

normal Hebrew narrative patterns, the program is able to make intel-

ligent judgments about a variety of textual features. Factors that are

considered in making decisions include clause length, information

order, subject type, subject frequency, verb type, verb frequency,

length of quotation associated with a given clause, as well as relative

location within the text.

In performing the present study, DC analyzed a prepared data

file based on the BHS Hebrew text extending from Gen 11:27 to 25:11.

The program was instructed to divide the Abraham cycle into twenty-

one subsections, and then to analyze and compare each of the di-

visions among themselves. The divisions, along with an indication of

their essential content, are listed in table 1.


1.1.2 Results of the Computer-Assisted Study


After the data had been read and evaluated by DC (a process

taking about three minutes), the results were displayed. The con-

clusion of DC's analysis was that division 17, Gen 22:1-19, was the

portion of the Abraham cycle encoded by the author as the thematic

peak. Abraham was, incidentally, identified as the thematically central

character. DC rated its degree of confidence associated with these

decisions as high.

Three primary evidences pointing to Gen 22:1-19 as peak were

identified by the program. First and most significant, in this section of

the cycle, the thematically central character occurred as the subject of

a narrative framework verb more times than any other. Thirty times

throughout these 19 verses Abraham functioned in this manner, twelve

more than in any other section. The assumption behind this test is that

the author of a text will normally employ the key character most

significantly at the most crucial portion of the story.

Furthermore, the combined number of occasions in which either

Abraham or God served as narrative framework verb subjects (40)

also exceeded that of any other portion of the text. The closest

competitor was division 10 (Gen 18:16-33), which had a total of

25 such occurrences. The operative assumption behind this criterion is

that the author of OT narrative will normally have God, the divine

protagonist, on stage during the portion of the story reckoned by the

author as most important. God's ten employments in the subject role

(in some instances identified as the theophanic hvhy j`xAl;ma) mark him as

particularly significant in the section, especially when it is noted that




Table 1: Divisions in the Abraham Cycle


Division No. Location        Essential Content

1                      11:27-32        Introduction

2                      12: 1-9           Call & Move to Canaan

3                      12:10-20        Abram in Egypt

4                      13:1-8            Abram & Lot Separate

5                      14:1-24          Abram Rescues Lot

6                      15:1-21          God's Covenant with Abram

7                      16:1-16          Hagar & Ishmael

8                      17:1-27          Circumcision

9                      18:1-15          Three Visitors

10                    18:16-33        Abram Pleads for Sodom

11                    19:1-30          Sodom & Gomorah Destroyed

12                    19:31-38        Lot & His Daughters

13                    20:1-18          Abraham & Abimelech

14                    21:1-7            Isaac's Birth

15                    21:8-21          Hagar & Ishmael Sent Away

16                    21:22-34        Treaty at Beersheba

17                    22:1-19          Abraham Tested

18                    22:20-24        Nahor's Sons

19                    23:1-20          Abraham Buries Sarah

20                    24:1-66          Isaac Gets a Wife

21                    25:1-11          Abraham Dies


Table 2: Narrative Framework Subject Occurrences of Abraham

(Listed by Division)


Robert D. Bergen: GENESIS 22:1-19 IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE     317


in six of the 21 divisions he never has a subject role, and in four others

he is so used no more than two times.7

A final reason germane to DC's decision to select Gen 22:1-19 as

the thematic center was the location of this pericope within the

overall expanse of text. A tendency of narrators in all cultures is to

place the section of story being encoded as most significant in the

latter 50 percent of the overall text. Clearly division 17 fits this criterion.

Incidentally, it should be pointed out that DC identified Gen

22:1-19 as possessing the highest connectivity among the sections of

text occurring in the final half of the Abraham cycle. The high con-

nectivity value is significant because it indicates that this pericope

repeats verbs and subjects used elsewhere in the text to a higher

degree than any other episodes in the likely peak region. The reuse

here of verbs and subjects used elsewhere in the Abraham cycle

suggests that division 17 contains a number of motifs used elsewhere

in the Abraham cycle.


1.2 Observations from Discourse Linguistics


Beyond the observations that can presently be made on the basis

of the computer program, numerous other features within the gram-

matical and semantic code of the text suggest. that the author intended

the story of Abraham's divine test to be the centerpiece of his story.


1.2.1 Semantic Prominence Markers


Employment of a Prominent Geographical Setting--a Mountain


One of the more subtle means by which an author sets apart an

episode intended to be taken as central is through the staging of the

event. Quite often the event will occur in marked settings. The setting

may be highlighted through unusual weather conditions (e.g., storms-

Noah [Genesis 7-8], Ezra [Ezra 10], Job [Job 38], Jonah [Jonah 1]) or

through usage of unusual places, especially mountains (e.g., Moses at

Sinai; Elijah at Carmel; Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration, and


According to the story, God directed Abraham to go to a moun-

tain. The key events in Abraham's test actually occurred on that

mountain. The fact that this is the only story in the Abraham cycle

with such a “marked" setting possessing a positive connotation in-

creases the conviction that Gen 22:1-19 is literally to be understood as


7 The six divisions in which God is not employed as subject of a narrative

framework verb are: 1, 5, 12, 16, 18, and 19. The four divisions in which God is

employed only one to two times are: 3, 4, 20, and 21.



the high point of the overall series. The fact that the mountain chosen

for this event later became Jerusalem's temple mount (cf. 2 Chron

3:1) would have given added religious prominence, and therefore

significance, to the site for later Israelite audiences.8


Employment of a Sociolinguistically Significant Temporal Setting-

the Third Day

Not only may an author manipulate the geographical and meteoro-

logical setting, he/she may also bring prominence to an episode by its

temporal setting. This may involve placing it at an unusual time of

day (e.g., night [Ruth 3]) or on a sociologically significant day

(e.g., Jesus' Last Supper and crucifixion during the feast of Passover


As noted by numerous commentators, “three days is the period of

preparation for more important events in the Old Testament."9 Its

presence, used elsewhere throughout the Book of Genesis in connec-

tion with significant events,10 is found in the Abraham cycle only here.

Though this feature is a subtle one and would have probably com-

municated only on the subliminal level to the original audience, its

presence in Gen 22:1-19 is telltale.


8 The identification of Mount Moriah with the site of the Solomonic temple invites

extended speculation concerning the date of composition and historical precision of the

Pentateuch. A common technique in narrative composition is to use a location con-

sidered especially important by the intended audience as the setting of the most

important event in a story. With the temple mount in Jerusalem surely being the most

important site in monarchic and Judahistic Yahwism, a writer creating the composition

fro,m the general time period of 950-450 B.C. could conceivably have borrowed the

prestige of the Jerusalem temple complex and retrojected it back into the Abraham

narrative. If this were so, the narrator could then have either modified a tale originally

associated with another site in Palestine, or simply created a new one. Though I have

never read this line of reasoning in Genesis commentaries, I suspect it would find favor

from many. Consistent with this suspicion is the fact that the majority of 20th-century

commentators understand the story of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son to be

primarily the product of the “Elohist," with minor additions (vv 15-18) coming from a

"Jehovistic Redactor" (cf., e.g., Skinner, 327, 331, and Westermann, 363).

My personal opinion in this matter differs from the preceding line of reasoning. I

believe that the events of Gen 22:1-19 happened exactly as stated and were written

down prior to the period of Israelite monarchy. The fact that Moriah was later

identified with the site of the Solomonic temple and, at a still later time, with the

general area of Calvary is a testimony to God's oversight of history, not the creative

genius of an OT narrator.

9 Westermann, 358. Cf. also G. M. Landes, "The 'Three Days and Three Nights'

Motif in Jonah 2:1," JBL 86 (1967) 446-50.

10 E.g., Gen 31:22; 34:25; 40:20; 42:18.

Robert D. Bergen: GENESIS 22:1-19 IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE     319


Heightened Vividness through Extended Repartee


When a narrator wishes to bring additional prominence to a

particular episode, he or she will often do so by increasing the amount

of dialogue at that point in the story. Quotations, the content of which

was too trivial to include elsewhere in the narrative, may be present in

force in the highlighted section, achieving at times the effect of drama

rather than simple narrative.

Lively, if brief, dialogic exchanges are in evidence in three sec-

tions of the Abraham test: 22:1-2 (three quotations: two by God; one

by Abraham), 22:7-8 (four quotations: two by Isaac; two by Abra-

ham), and 22:11-12 (three quotations: two by hvhy j`xAl;ma; one by

Abraham). These three occurrences of the phenomenon suggest that

the author intended the audience to participate in this episode more

intimately than in any of the others in Abraham's life.


Employment of a Sociologically Significant Speech Act-an Oath

From a sociolinguistic standpoint, perhaps the most solemn and

significant genre of speech in Israelite communication was the oath.

The taking of an oath was always serious business, but never more

serious than when God himself was the one doing so. The usage of

this ultimately significant speech act within Gen 22:1-19 serves as one

additional indication that the author was intending this section to be

taken as the climax of the Abraham cycle. Confirmation of this opinion-

should any be necessary is found in the fact that reference is evi-

dently made to Yahweh's oath of 22:15-18 five times in later Scriptures;

three times in the Pentateuch (Exod 13:11; 32:13; 33:1); and twice in

the NT (Luke 1:73; Heb 6:13). Throughout the entirety of the Penta-

teuch, God never again swears by himself that he will do something.11


Employment of Dilemma and Paradox


A common manner of focusing the audience's attention on a

given section of text is through presenting confrontations between

contradictory values, ideals, or concepts. The delicious tensions cre-

ated by such conflicts heighten interest levels and thus aid an author in

controlling audience focus. Abraham finds himself in dilemmas more

than once within the Genesis stories--e.g., when he is forced to

choose between preservation of his life and loss of his wife, and when


11 Outside of the Pentateuch he is recorded as having done so in the following

locations: Isa 45:23; 62:8 (swearing by his right hand and mighty arm); Jer 22:5; 44:26

(swearing by his name); 49:13; 51:14.



he is promised a land for his descendants though he has fathered nary

a son. However, no conflict is more dynamic, no dilemma more

wrenching than that experienced in 22:1-19. The choices were simple

for Abraham, yet excruciating. He could refuse God and preserve his

son's life, thereby jeopardizing the divine legacy. Or he could obey

God and preserve his right to a divine inheritance, yet lose his beloved

heir. This superlative example of dilemma indicates that the author

intended the story of Abraham's testing to be the climax of the

Abraham cycle.

Paradox is evident in the fact that the very God who promised

that Isaac would be the heir of promise (Gen 17:16, 19, 21) was now

the one who required the death of childless Isaac at the hands of

Abraham (22:2). The curve of human logic trails off into an asymptote

as the gracious giver of the promise becomes the supreme threat to

the promise.


Employment of Paronomasia


Memorable-and thus highlighted-sections of text are also cre-

ated through the utilization of paronomasia. The artful employment

here of the verb hxr in both the Qal (vv 4, 8, 13, 14) and Niphal stems

(v 14) serves as one of the most significant examples of this in all of

OT literature. The pun is sharpened especially because of the semantic

ambivalence of the final employment of the word translated "appear

provide." Translators and exegetes alike have found grist for footnote

mills here.


Inclusion of God's Final Activities Relative to the Abraham Cycle


God or the Angel of Yahweh occurs as the subject of a narrative

framework construction ten times during the "testing of Abraham"

pericope. However, in the remainder of the Abraham cycle, he never

again functions as the subject of an event-line verb. This relatively

dense concentration followed by a dearth of appearances suggests

that this episode contains God's final and, predictably, most memo-

rable actions.

The final event-line verb of which a divine being is the subject is

the theophanic utterance of 22:15-18. A tendency in narrative is to

make a major character's final sizeable speech his or her most impor-

tant one. The quotation in vv 15-18 stands as the last in a series of

35 speeches delivered by God or the Angel of Yahweh throughout the

Abraham cycle and ranks sixth in length. As last in the series, it

possesses a natural prominence that tends to make it particularly

memorable. The fact that it is contained in the 22:1-19 pericope

serves additionally to confirm the intended centrality of this section.

Robert D. Bergen: GENESIS 22:1-19 IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE    321


1.2.2 Lexical Prominence Markers


Employment of a Hapax Legomenon


A favored means by which communicators draw attention to

particular language units is through the employment of unusual vocabu-

lary. The narrator's usage of a hapax legomenon in v 9, dqf, has

certainly accomplished that. In fact, the common Jewish name for the

entire temptation pericope is ‘aqedah.


Employment of a Unique Narrative Clause Structure


Information may also be made to stand out by expressing it in a

clause whose structure differs significantly from the norm. Gen 22:13

contains a construction that contains no parallels anywhere in the

narrative framework of the Pentateuch. A woodenly literal gloss of

the clause reads "And-behold ram behind being-caught in-the-bush

by-his-horns." Though exclamatory clauses are relatively rare in their

own right, no other hn.ehiv clause in the corpus of Pentateuchal data

contains an adverb in the preverb field. This information order was

apparently problematic enough to translators to warrant a textual

emendation, replacing rHaxa with dHx<; the LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch,

and Aramaic targums all accept this modification. The majority of

popular modern English versions follow this emendation as well.12

Yet on the basis of modern linguistics and textual criticism's

principle of lectio difficilior, the awkward reading of the MT seems

preferable. Discourse linguists recognize that natural human language

patterns predictably contain grammatical abnormalities in zones of

high thematic interest. In 22:13 it can be argued that the conveyance

of a once-in-a-universe event, i.e., a ram being caught in a thicket

behind a man who is just about to sacrifice his favorite son, required a

once-in-a-grammatical-universe kind of clause.


Employment of Lexical Variety in Divine References


Within Hebrew narrative, characters are made more prominent

through increasing the number of means used in referring to them.

Within this section of the Abraham cycle, three different words or

phrases are used to refer to God: Myhilox<, j`xAl;ma, and hvhy. The


12 Included among the popular versions which base their translation on an emended

Hebrew text are the New English Bible, the New American Bible, the Jerusalem Bible,

the Good News Bible, the Living Bible, and the New International Version. Popular

English versions accepting the MT's reading include the King James Version, the

Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, and the New King

James Version.



diverse referencing of God in 22:1-19 suggests that the author was

deliberately increasing the thematic centrality of God, the ultimately

significant divine character, at this point in the story.


2. The Role of Gen 22:1-19 in the Abraham Cycle


In spite of the generous praises accorded Gen 22:1-19, no con-

sensus exists as to its function within the Abraham cycle. The majority

of 19th and 20th century scholars have preferred instead to interpret

the story as though its essential message was derivable apart from any

consideration of its immediate literary context.13 Thus it has been

variously perceived as an explanation for the absence of human sacri-

fice in Israelite religion, an etiological legend, and an edificatory tale

depicting model obedience.14 By most accounts, its "true" purpose

cannot be known anyway, since the story was supposedly repeatedly

transformed by the OT community of faith to meet her changing

spiritual needs.

The recent expansion of the biblical scholar's role to include that

of literary critic promises to bring with it a reevaluation of prevailing

conclusions, or at least a redirecting of efforts. With the advent of

canonical criticism, reader-response criticism, and the like, the biblical

scholar is free to examine a text as it now stands. The following

conclusions are based on an evaluation of the story as it is found in

the MT.

The thesis of this paper is that Gen 22:1-19 functions as the

thematic crux of the Abraham story, bringing together in climactic

fashion seven different motifs developed throughout the whole. Each

of these motifs is discussed below.


2.1 The Climax of the "Abraham Tested" Motif


The unambiguous intention of the biblical narrator is that the

19 verse pericope of Genesis 22 be understood as a divine testing of

Abraham. If it is valid to say that the events of this chapter are the

only ones in Abraham's life explicitly called a "test" (Heb. hs.Ani), it is

equally valid to note that this is not the only test within Abraham's

life. In fact, at several points in his life Abraham faces significant tests.

The testing motif begins with God's call for Abraham to leave coun-

try, nation, and family (12:1). It continues with the test of famine in


13 Impetus and justification for this surgical removal of text from context comes,

arguably, from biblical scholarship's preoccupation with source identification.

14 Cf. Westermann, 354; Skinner, 3.32.

Robert D. Bergen: GENESIS 22:1-19 IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE    323


the promised land (12:10). His years in Palestine are dogged by the

continuing test of faith in God's promise of an heir (15:4-6).

But the concluding and obviously climactic test of Abraham's life

was God's call to take a final journey, one parallel in some ways to his

journey of chap. 12. As in his first expedition, Abraham did not know

his destination when he set out; as in the original journey so many

years before, Abraham was called to separate himself from his

people in this case his only son. As the last test in the series, the

journey of 22:1-19 holds the position of natural prominence.


2.2 The Climax of the Abrahamic “Heir Denied" Motif


That concern for a proper heir for Abraham would be a central

issue in the story of Abraham is implied in the genealogical note of

11:30. Even before the readers learn of Abraham's promises they are

informed of his problem: Sarai is barren. The thread of Abraham's

concern for a proper heir is woven more consistently into the fabric

of his story than is any other. Would nephew Lot substitute in some

way for his own lack of offspring (cf. 13:14-16)? What about Eliezer

of Damascus (15:2-5, 13, 16, 18)? If not him, then perhaps Ishmael

(16:2-10; 17:8, 18). Do not make me laugh, God! You mean Sarah is

going to bear the child that will be Abraham's proper heir (17:15-21;


One questions whether Abraham himself believed God's promise.

No sooner had the Lord given the astounding assurance of effete

Sarah's impending motherhood than Abraham imperiled it all by

giving Sarah in marriage to another man (20:2-13). Nevertheless, God

rescued Sarah and delivered on his promise (21:1-7). Now in chap. 22

the child whose birth was hinted at twelve chapters previously (11:30),

the one for whom Abraham had waited a lifetime and whom he loved

above all others, was to be given up to God as a childless burnt

offering (22:2). This most prominent theme--that of Abraham's search

for a proper heir--ties the diverse stories of the Abraham cycle

together more securely than any other.


2.3 The Climax of the “Abraham the Altar Builder" Motif


Abraham's pious devotion to the Lord is evidenced by the altars

he built and the sacrifices he offered. On three occasions throughout

his story the narrator depicts Abraham as constructing an altar dedi-

cated to Yahweh (12:8; 13:18; 22:9). Only in the third instance does the

narrator note the actual offering of a sacrifice. In the previous instances

Abraham merely “called on the name of the Lord" (12:8; 13:4, 18).



The extra detail provided in the altar sequence of 22:1-19 clearly sets

this event above the others.


2.4 The Climax of the Abrahamic “Separation from Family" Motif15


Abraham's life is the story of a series of familial schisms. In

addition to the events of Genesis 22, Abraham is pulled away from his

Mesopotamian ancestral roots (12:1); he parts company with his be-

loved wife Sarah on two occasions (12:15; 20:3), and twice more with

Hagar (16:6; 21:14); he breaks ties with nephew Lot (13:11); and also

separates from his firstborn son Ishmael (21:14).

Each of these previous experiences, however, pales in comparison

with Abraham's divinely appointed separation from his favorite son

Isaac. Here Abraham is called to break the deepest of genetic and

psychological bonds, that of father and son, father and future. The

barrier being erected between them is not, as in the other cases, one

of altered marital status or geography--it is the wall of death.


2.5 The Climax of the Abrahamic Faith Motif


The majority judgment of 20th-century biblical scholarship is that

the speech of 22:15-18 is a late and loosely connected addition to the

story of Abraham's test.16 However, a literary and thematic analysis

suggests that far from being an awkward appendage to the story, it is

in fact the keystone. In this four-verse section, three themes of funda-

mental significance not only to the story of Abraham, but also to the

Pentateuch are brought to a climax. The first of these is the theme of

Abraham's sacrificial, obedient faith.

Abraham's obedient faith was demonstrated at crucial moments

throughout his life: in his movement from Haran at age 75 (12:4); in

his trust in God's promise of countless offspring (15:6); in his joyous

acceptance of God's assurance of a son from Sarah's womb (17:15-22;

18:10); and in his remarkable willingness to offer Isaac on the altar

(22:3-14). But only in the last-mentioned event is the Lord actually

quoted as commending Abraham for his faithful obedience. With this

added touch at the climactic moment in Abraham's life, the narrator

sets the final act of obedience on a pedestal above the others, giving it


15 My appreciation is expressed to Prof. J. H. Walton for the suggestion to include

this section.

16 Westermann, 355, 363; Skinner, 331; von Rad, 242-43. But see W. Brueggemann

(Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching [Atlanta: John Knox, 1982]

186), for an alternative position.

Robert D. Bergen: GENESIS 22:1-19 IN THE ABRAHAM CYCLE      325


a prominence that was apparent even to the NT writers centuries later

(Heb 11:17-19; Jas 4:21).


2.6 The Climax of the Abrahamic Blessing Motif


In his speeches to Abraham, God used a form of the word "bless"

seven times.17 The first five were utilized in God's first recorded

statement to Abraham; the sixth and seventh occurrences were found

in God's last words to Abraham. The concluding theophany affirmed

the essential twofold thrust of the blessing statements of 12:2-4: Abra-

ham would be blessed by God, and all nations on earth would derive

a blessing from him. The promise, so bright in the beginning, had

been preserved untarnished through Abraham's incredible obedience.


2.7 The Climax of the Abrahamic "Possess the Land" Motif


A pivotal theme in the story of Abraham, and certainly in the

Pentateuch as well, is that God would give the promised land to

Abraham's descendants. The concept first appeared in 12:7 and was

repeated by God on four additional occasions within the Abraham

cycle (13:14-17; 15:7-21; 17:8; 22:17). The most militant and trium-

phant of these passages is the final one. Though brief, the reference is

clear and pointed: reception of God's gift of the land would require

the use of force on Israel's part. Israel would have to fight the battles,

but God had already settled the outcome of the war.


3. Implications of the Study


Results of the previous study suggest two truths: first, that nar-

rators have at their disposal a number of means by which they may

guide the attention of their audiences. Skillful employment of these

means permits writers to maintain a significant degree of control over

the messages which their audiences receive from the texts. Incumbent

upon a writer is the responsibility to drop hints in the text sufficient to

permit a literate audience to retrieve the intended messages being

deposited by the author. A primary responsibility of the audience is to

identify and correctly interpret the lexical, grammatical, and semantic

clues left by the creator of the text.

Second it is clear that the use of artificial intelligence resources

presently available today can yield contributions to the science and

art of interpreting the Bible. While the role that artificial intelligence


17 Gen 12:2, two times; 12:3, three times; 22:11, one time; 22:18, one time.



plays is at present small and supportive, the potential within the

foreseeable future looms large indeed. As the fields of language,

philosophy, and psychology continue to clarify the marvelous mechan-

ics of human communication, computer programs utilizing these in-

sights can be written that efficiently read and interpret language. And

we need not fear these probable inevitabilities. Rather, let us eagerly

await these hearing aids, await them as a race of hearing-impaired

sinners desperately needing to hear the voice of God in his Word.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            The Criswell College

            4010 Gaston Ave.

            Dallas, TX 75246

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: