The story of the binding of Isaac begins with (see interlinear text here):

וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (ESV)

Are there any commentaries which explain the word "נסה" to mean something other than "tested"? If this is the case, it may make it easier to understand those answers to Why did Abraham say "We shall return" when sacrificing Isaac? that suggest that Abraham knew that Isaac would come back alive (whether resurrected or never killed).

Edit: I realize that this would fly in the face of many traditional interpretations of this story, I'm just looking to see if there are more modern commentaries that suggest this.

  • I would suggest that the enquiry should focus on the meaning of the word nasah, that is on lexical evidence, rather than on commentarial interpretation. Young has 'tried'; BDB has 'test/try' and AV has 'prove/test/try' 33 times out of 36.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 15:47

1 Answer 1


Yes, actually there is. The original meaning in the Hebrew was one of glory, not of leading astray. We think of testing or tempting someone as being an attempt to trick or cause to stumble. But, that was not the meaning. God does not cause us to stumble.

The translation in Young's is:

"And it cometh to pass after these things that God hath tried Abraham, and saith unto him, Abraham;' and he saith, Here [am] I.'"

From the Interlinear, the word "נִסָּ֖ה" is Strong's Greek 5524 "nasah," which is defined briefly as "test, try". But, going further we find the BDB #3,

"test, try, prove, tempt [but not in modern sense of the word: see DrDeuteronomy 6:16; Psalms 453, 483]

a. God tests or proves Abraham Genesis 22:1 (E)," Source: Biblehub

In the sense that God was proving Abraham's faith we find the full knowledge that God did not doubt Abraham would obey the command, but that He was showing, or proving to Abraham and Isaac and the world the fullness of Abraham's faith. Clarke's commentary explains it well.

:God did tempt Abraham - The original here is very emphatic: אברהם את נסה והאלהים vehaelohim nissah eth Abraham, "And the Elohim he tried this Abraham;" God brought him into such circumstances as exercised and discovered his faith, love, and obedience. Though the word tempt, from tento, signifies no more than to prove or try, yet as it is now generally used to imply a solicitation to evil, in which way God never tempts any man, it would be well to avoid it here. The Septuagint used the word επειρασε, which signifies tried, pierced through; and Symmachus translates the Hebrew נסה nissah by εδοξαζεν, God glorified Abraham, or rendered him illustrious, supposing the word to be the same with נס nas, which signifies to glister with light, whence נס nes, an ensign or banner displayed. Thus then, according to him, the words should be understood: "God put great honor on Abraham by giving him this opportunity of showing to all successive ages the nature and efficacy of an unshaken faith in the power, goodness, and truth of God." The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel paraphrases the place thus: "And it happened that Isaac and Ishmael contended, and Ishmael said, I ought to be my father's heir, because I am his first-born; but Isaac said, It is more proper that I should be my father's heir, because I am the son of Sarah his wife, and thou art only the son of Hagar, my mother's slave. Then Ishmael answered, I am more righteous than thou, because I was circumcised when I was thirteen years of age, and if I had chosen, I could have prevented my circumcision; but thou wert circumcised when thou wert but eight days old, and if thou hadst had knowledge, thou wouldst probably not have suffered thyself to be circumcised. Then Isaac answered and said, Behold, I am now thirty-six years old, and if the holy and blessed God should require all my members, I would freely surrender them. These words were immediately heard before the Lord of the universe, and דיי מימרא meimera daiya, the Word of the Lord, did try Abraham." Source: here

We could even say that the "test" was actually a demonstration of God's foreknowledge of Abraham's full faith and obedience.

All bold emphasis is mine.

  • Thanks for the link to Clarke's commentary. It is easy to forget that the questions asked here are not new, and have been wrestled with over millennia -- there is nothing new under the sun. Clarke's thoughts on verse 9 moved me significantly, and I can see in the little we have about Isaac in the narrative, the truth of them.
    – enegue
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 7:27
  • 1
    @enegue - The more I learn, the more I... learn? It is very nice to have such a wealth of good sources to check with. I find Clarke's Commentaries to be very reliable.
    – Gina
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 9:25
  • So the bit about Ishmael saying that he was the rightful heir and more righteous, and that he was circumcised when he was 13 years old is not in the BIble? This is in the commentaries of a rabbi?
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 13:43
  • @Zebrafish it most certainly is. The fact that Ishmael was circumcised when he was 13 years old is in the bible though
    – bach
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 14:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.