Genesis 24 continues the Torah portion Chaiyei Sarah (Life of Sarah) and shows us how the spiritual vistas created by a righteous person’s life can reach beyond the temporary existence of the present world into the lives of the generations that follow. The household (beit) of Milcah (22:20-23; 24:28) and the tent (o’helah) of Sarah are symbolic elements of this narrative that convey the ongoing impact of the comforting presence of Israel’s matriarchs and in Yitzchak’s life, the poignant reminder of his mother’s comfort. Thus we recall the well-known Hebrew phrase, “L’dor v’dor” (Unto generation and generation).
The life of Sarah was a life of comfort (nachum) that seeded comfort for the generations to come. The last line of chapter 24 reads, “Yitzchak was comforted after his mother”, meaning that the gift of Rivkah as a wife and companion brought comfort to Yitzchak, thus continuing the godly comfort given to him by his mother Sarah, who had now passed into Gan Eden (Paradise).
Genesis 24 is the longest chapter according to the division and numbering of the Torah, however, this has little relevance in understanding a book that is neither divided or vowel marked in its original state. The books of the Torah are intended to be understood as a whole, each element revealing the sum and the sum filling the individual elements.
This story of the acquiring of a wife for Yitzchak illuminates a number of spiritual examples for the faithful follower of Messiah. The trust of Avraham is once again revealed in his certainty of God’s provision, the faithful obedience and perseverance of the chief servant of Avraham’s household (Probably Eli-etzer) is a shining example to those who follow after good teachers’ and the selfless love of Rivkah births comfort and brings hope into the grieving Yitzchak’s life.
This narrative functions as a hope filled farewell for Avraham, who passes away seven verses into the next chapter. God is offering physical proof of the promises yet to be fulfilled, giving Avraham a heart full of hope as he enters into Gan Eden (Paradise) to await the Olam Haba (World to come).
Gen 24:1 And Avraham (Father of many nations) became old, entering into years; and HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) blessed Avraham in all things.
The Rambam notes that God had given (ba’col) Avraham all things: riches, possessions, honour, longevity, and children, and that the one thing he lacked was to see his son Yitzchak married and having children to perpetuate the promise.
However, it’s more important to note that, ba’col (In the-everything) reveals something far greater than physical wealth and the perpetuation of progeny. The greater reality is that God was a blessing to Avraham by being present in all areas of his life, journeying with him in all things (ba’col), through the good times and the bad. Therefore, we understand that, “HaShem blessed Avraham and was present with him in all things”.
Gen 24:2 And Avraham said to his servant, the eldest of his house, who ruled over all that he had: “Put, I plead with you, your hand under my thigh.”
While it’s true to say that the servant mentioned in this chapter is never named, there is no reason to doubt the rabbinical view that this servant is the same as the one who Avraham spoke of as being the inheritor of his household, prior to the birth of Yitzchak. Eli-etzer is the only member of Avraham’s household previously named, who fits this description (Genesis 15:2-4).
“Avraham said to Eli-etzer his servant, the senior of his house, who had rule over all his property, ‘Put now your hand upon the section of my circumcision.” –Targum Yonatan
“Put now your hand under the thigh of my covenant” –Targum Yerushalayim
The phrase, “Put…your hand under my thigh” is a euphemism for the male organ and is thus inviting an oath made on the reproductive hopes of the male concerned. It is a sacred and intimate oath between the two men but is in no way a sexual act. Great trust and intimacy is invoked here, it should not be desecrated by immoral sexual innuendo.
The Targums and the rabbis generally agree that the positioning of the oath hand reflects the importance of the covenant of circumcision, and adds to the severity of the oath regarding the line from which the bride of Yitzchak must come.
The parallel passage in Genesis 47:29 may infer that the present passage is a death-bed prequel to this story, and that Avraham may have already passed away prior to Yitzchak’s marriage.
We should also observe the graciousness of Eli-etzer (My God helps), who had once been in line to inherit Avraham’s wealth and household. He is clearly a man of great integrity and humility who reflects his master’s spirituality back to him.
Gen 24:3 “And swear sevenfold by HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the God (Elohiym) of the heavens and the God (Elohiym) of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the C’naaniy (Canaanites), among whom I dwell.” Gen 24:4 “But you will go to my country (khaldee), and to my kindred (Charan), and take a wife for my son, even for Yitzchak (Isaac: He laughs).”
It seems that Avraham believed he might die before seeing his son married to a suitable woman. Therefore, he wanted assurance from his most trusted servant, that every effort would be made to find Yitzchak a bride from Avraham’s family. It’s clear from the following verses that Avraham trusted that God would provide for Eli-etzer’s oath. Thus Avraham places his trust in God’s provision over and above his own ability to bring about God’s promise.
The Hebrew, “Ash’biyacha” translated “swear” comes from the root, “sheva” (seven, oath etc.)
Avraham’s rejection of the Canaanites was not based on their idol worship because his own family in Charan were idol worshippers. Ultimately, Avraham seems to have understood election as being the guiding principle for his future family line. God chose those to whom He would give the promise so that no one could boast that they had earned the promise of their own fruition. Thus we read elsewhere, “I loved (Chose) Jacob and I hated (rejected) Esau” (Malachi 1:2-3).
Gen 24:5 And the servant said to him: “What if the woman is unwilling to walk with me to this land; should I take your son back to the land you came from?” Gen 24:6 And Avraham said to him: “Guard your way lest you turn back and return my son to there. Gen 24:7 “HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), God (Elohim: Judge) of the heavens, who took me from my father's house (Charan: to burn, mountaineer), and from the land of my birth (Khaldee), and Who spoke to me, and Who swore to me, saying: ‘Unto your seed will I give this land’; He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.”
The servants question shows that he is taking this oath very seriously. He is concerned that circumstances may prevent him from completing this task. However, Avraham warns him not to compromise the position of his son Yitzchak over the Promised Land. Then he encourages Eli-etzer with a recitation of God’s promise and the assurance that the Malakh Ha-Adonai (Messenger of YHVH) will go before him.
Gen 24:8 “And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only you will not take my son back there.” Gen 24:9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Avraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.
Many foolishly claim that the Torah is a book of law, devoid of true freedom. This is utter nonsense, as shown by the present text. Yes the Torah contains instruction and illuminates consequence but it is also full of the freedom of God’s Mashiyach. Avraham releases Eli-etzer from all impossible obligation and sets him free from anxious thought. As it is with all who would follow God through Yeshua His Son, Eli-etzer is simply asked to do what he is capable of doing and to trust that God has already purposed the outcome.
If only the spiritual fathers of the modern believing community would teach their disciples to rest in God’s provision and act according to the ability they’ve been given rather than to continually seek to perfect that which has already been chosen for destruction.
Eli-etzer having carefully weighed the commitment he was being asked to make, now acts in accordance with Avraham’s request, affirming his heart decision with a physical act of obedience. This is yet another example of Godly discipleship.
Gen 24:10 And the servant took ten camels, of the camels of his master, and walked forth with all the goodness of his master in his hand; and he arose, and went to Aram-naharaim (High land of the two rivers: Euphrates & Tigris), to the city of Nachor (snort: Charan).
He took ten camels, a Hebrew number of completion and fulfilment. Eli-etzer went forth with the knowledge that his burden would be carried by the completed purpose of God.
The Hebrew reads, “v’col tov adonayu” (with all good of his master). This can be understood in so many ways. Rashi suggests that it is a reference to the fact that Avraham had written over all his worldly possessions to Yitzchak and had given the deed to Eli-etzer to take to his family in Charan as evidence of the wealth that the bride of Yitzchak would enter into. However, it seems equally plausible that the text means to convey the fact that Eli-etzer was carrying the trust and hope of Avraham with him, for surely the greatest good that Avraham had to offer was the goodness of the Faithful God of all things and a response of trust. Thus the words, “and walked forth with all the goodness of his master in his hand” says that Eli-etzer carried the goodness of Avraham’s faith which he intended to act upon (hand is a symbol of strength and action).
Gen 24:11 And he made the camels to kneel down outside the city (Charan) by the spring of water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water.
Gen 24:12 And he said: “HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the God (Elohiym) of my master Avraham, send me, I plead with You, to happen to me now, the kindness (Chesed) you will show to my master Avraham.”
It is possible that Eli-etzer called on the God of his master because he was yet to have a personal encounter with YHVH. However, I believe that what is intended here is a statement of covenant promise rather than a blind call to an unknown God. Eli-etzer is acknowledging the fact that God has placed His name on Avraham and his descendants and that Eli-etzer has trusted in the God of Avraham. Thus what follows is a relational interaction between God and a faithful disciple of God’s chosen one. A servant of the servant, who is in fact a brother of Avraham in faith.
Gen 24:13 “Behold, I stand at the eye of the waters; and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water.”
It may be that Eli-etzer wanted to observe the true character of the women outside of the home environment. He seems to have been seeking a woman of humility, after all, drawing water was the job of the servants and younger, less prestigious members of the household.
Gen 24:14 “So let it come to pass, that the young woman (Ha-na’ar) to whom I shall say: ‘Let down your water pitcher, I ask you, that I may drink’; and if she says: ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also’; let the same be she that You have appointed for Your servant, even for Yitzchak (Isaac); and by this shall I know that You have shown kindness to my master.”
Some may misunderstand this as reliance on circumstance or the interpreting of omens, however, Eli-etzer first affirms his belief that God has already chosen the woman Yitzchak is to marry and then proposes a test of character that will prove the young woman’s true nature and inner beauty. Thus it is a sign that reveals kindness and charity that he is looking for rather than a circumstantial sign or an omen.
Gen 24:15 And it came to pass, before he had finished speaking, that, behold, Rivkah (tightly bound) came out, the daughter of Bet’uel (House/destruction of God) the son of Milcah (Queen), the wife of Nachor (Snorting), Avraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.
“And it shall come to pass that, before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” –Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) 65:24
Yitzchak, who had been bound, would receive a wife who would bind herself to him in love and comfort.
Bet’uel’s father was Avraham’s brother and his mother was both a niece to Avraham and a sister to Sarah.
Gen 24:16 And the young woman (ha-na’ar) was good to look upon, a be’tulah (virgin), no man had known (had sexual intercourse with) her; and she went down to the eye, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
Because Rivkah is to be the mother of Yaakov (Israel), her virginity must be firmly established. Thus the Hebrew be’tulah, which can in itself be translated as virgin, is affirmed by the phrase, “no man had known her”, a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
The fact that Rivkah herself had come to the well to collect water infers that she was either reasonably young or that she had a humble disposition, or both.
Gen 24:17 And the servant ran to meet her, and said: “Give me to drink, I ask you, a little water from your pitcher.” Gen 24:18 And she said: “Drink, adoni (my lord)”; and she hastened, and let down her pitcher from her hand, and gave him drink.
It seems that Eli-etzer had already decided that Rivkah was the woman who stood out from the others as being chosen of God, or else why did he run to her? Rivkah did more than draw the water and set the pitcher down for Eli-etzer to drink from, she took from the water and gave it to him to drink.
Gen 24:19 And when she had done giving him drink, she said: “I will draw for your camels also, until they have done drinking.” Gen 24:20 And she hastened, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again to the well to draw, and drew for all his camels.
Camels are said to drink approximately 530 litres of water in their first drink. The fact that Rivkah, knowing the strenuous work that would be involved, none the less undertook this task for a perfect stranger, is evidence of her noble character. If the Ayshet Chayil (Woman of honour) had been written at this time, perhaps Eli-etzer would have begun to chant it under his breath in joyous anticipation.
Gen 24:21 And the man watched her intently; holding his peace, to know whether HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) had made his journey prosperous or not.
Eli-etzer was awaiting the confirmation of the family and the agreement of the bride to be. This is why the text says, “to know whether HaShem had made his journey prosperous or not”.
Courtesy dictated that Eli-etzer should intervene and help Rivkah with the task, however, Eli-etzer waited and watched, seeking the approval of God rather than men.
Gen 24:22 And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold;
It seems clear that Eli-etzer had already decided that Rivkah was the woman God had chosen for Yitzchak. These gifts were a token which inferred a coming offer of betrothal.
Rashi sees the gifts as representing: the half shekel offering that every Jew would one day give annually for the Sanctuary of God, the two bracelets for the two tablets of the instruction of God and the ten shekels as the Ten Commandments.
Gen 24:23 and said: “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, I ask you. Is there room in your father's house for us to lodge in?”
It’s interesting to note that before Rivkah can answer his first question he had already asked a second. He is obviously already concluded her election of God. Eli-etzer had travelled with a retinue as was the custom of the time. Thus lodging would be needed for the entire company traveling with him.
Gen 24:24 And she said unto him: “I am the daughter of Bet’uel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nachor.” Gen 24:25 She also said to him: “We have both straw and provision enough, and room to lodge in.”
“I am the daughter of the house of God, the son of the queen, whom she bore to a fierce one”
Rivkah continues to give both that which is asked for and more.
Gen 24:26 And the man bowed his head, and prostrated himself before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy). Gen 24:27 And he said: “Blessed be HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the God (Ha-Elohiym) of my master Avraham, who has not forsaken His mercy (chasdo) and His truth toward my master; as for me, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has led me in the way to the house of my master's brothers (relatives).”
We see here that Eli-etzer was intimately acquainted with YHVH, and called upon the holy personal name of Mercy, worshipping HaShem. He names God “Mercy” and “The Judge”, and attaches His Name once more to the chosen line of Avraham.
Eli-etzer acknowledges God’s faithfulness to Avraham and to his own journey of faith. The phrasing, “has led me in the way to the house of my master's brothers (relatives).” Can be understood both as an allusion to the physical direction and destination and to the idea that Avraham’s family share a lineage of Godly discipleship.
Gen 24:28 And the young woman ran, and announced to the house (beit) of her mother these words. Gen 24:29 And Rivkah (tightly bound) had a brother, and his name was Laban (White); and Laban ran out to the man, to the eye. Gen 24:30 And it came to pass, when he saw the ring, and the bracelets upon his sister's hands, and when he heard the words of Rivkah his sister, saying: “This is what the man said to me,” that he came to the man; and, behold, he stood by the camels at the eye. Gen 24:31 And he said: “Come in, you blessed of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy); why are you standing outside? For I have cleared the house, and made room for the camels.”
Rivkah runs to her mother’s house (beit) meaning her mother’s side of the family. Later in the text Yitzchak takes Rivkah into his mother’s tent (o’helah) which indicates her personal lodging.
Like Eli-etzer, Rivkah runs when she senses God at work.
On hearing about Rivkah’s encounter Laban also runs to meet Eli-etzer at the well. However, it remains to be seen whether he runs in order to show favour or with a darker motivation for wealth (Rashi) based on the gifts Rivkah has already received. His dealings with Jacob later in Genesis would seem to suggest the latter.
It’s interesting to note that it is Laban the brother of Rivkah who goes out to meet Eli-etzer rather than Be’tuel, Rivkah’s father.
Gen 24:32 And the man came into the house, and he ungirded the camels; and he gave straw and provision for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men that were with him.
Rashi, quoting the Midrash, records that Avraham’s camels were always muzzled when away from home so as not to eat the provender of another man’s animals.
Gen 24:33 And there was set food before him to eat; but he said: “I will not eat, until I have explained my errand.” And he said: “Speak on.”
Like so many other righteous men Eli-etzer will not receive comfort for himself until he has found comfort for his master and his master’s son. He will not rest until his oath is fulfilled.
Gen 24:34 And he said: “I am Avraham's servant. Gen 24:35 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has blessed my master greatly; and he is become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and men-servants and maid-servants, and camels and donkeys.” Gen 24:36 “And Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him has he given all that he has.”
Eli-etzer first identifies himself as the servant of Avraham, who is both known to be a man whom God has blessed and a blood relative of Laban. In order to be secure in our purpose as children of God we must accept our identity in Him.
Beginning with Avraham’s experiences of God’s provision, Eli-etzer recounts the events leading up to this moment in order to show how God has orchestrated this meeting and chosen Rivkah as a wife for Yitzchak.
Gen 24:37 “And my master made me swear, saying: ‘You shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the C’naani (Canaanites), in whose land I dwell.’
Eli-etzer refers to the oath so as to make clear that in spite of the many women in the land where Avraham and Yitzchak dwell, it is a woman from Avraham’s own blood that the Lord seeks for Yitzchak.
Gen 24:38 ‘But you shall go to my father's house (beit), and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son.’” Gen 24:39 “And I said to my master: ‘What if the woman will not walk with me?’”
As in the case of Yitzchak’s walking in agreement with Avraham, the woman who is to marry Yitzchak must be in agreement with the betrothal and accept her role of her own fruition.
Gen 24:40 “And he said to me: ‘HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), before Whom I walk, will send His angel with you, and prosper your way; and you shall take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father's house; Gen 24:41 then shall you be free from my oath, when you come to my kindred; and if they give her not to you, you will be free from my oath.’” Gen 24:42 “And I came this day to the eye, and said: ‘HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the God (Ha-Elohiym) of my master Avraham, if now You do prosper my way which I go: Gen 24:43 behold, as I stand by the eye of water; let it come to pass, that the Almah (virgin) that comes forth to draw, to whom I shall say: “Give me, I ask you, a little water from your pitcher to drink”;
In verse 16 Eli-etzer used the word, “na’ara” meaning, “Maiden” whereas here he uses the more specific word, “almah” which denotes a young woman in the prime of her youth and can infer virginity, making it a testimony to the young lady’s pure character.
Gen 24:44 and she shall say to me: “Both drink you, and I will also draw for your camels”; let the same be the woman whom HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has appointed for my master's son.’” Gen 24:45 “And before I had done speaking in my lev (core being, heart, inner person) behold, Rivkah came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down to the eye, and drew. And I said to her: ‘Let me drink, I ask you.’ Gen 24:46 And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said: ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she made the camels drink also.” Gen 24:47 “And I asked her, and said: ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said: ‘The daughter of Bet’uel, Nachor's son, whom Milcah bore to him. And I put the ring in her nose, and the bracelets on her hands. Gen 24:48 And I bowed my head, and prostrated myself before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), and blessed HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the God (Ha-Elohiym) of my master Avraham, who had led me in the right way to take my master's brother's daughter for his son.”
Eli-etzer concludes his account the way he began it, acknowledging the divine guidance and selection of HaShem as the primary reason for the proposed union. His hearers could be left in no doubt as to Whom both Avraham and Eli-etzer relied on for the fulfilment of the oath.
Gen 24:49 “And now if you will deal kindly (chesed) and truly (emet) with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.”
Rav Ibn Ezra says that Chesed (Kindness) denotes the intention to do what is good and Emet (truth) gives permanence to the right action it accompanies.
Gen 24:50 Then Laban (White) and Bet’uel answered and said: “What you’re saying proceeds from HaShem (YHVH: Mercy); we cannot speak to you bad or good.”
We now hear from both Laban and his father Be’tuel (Who may have been present from the beginning). The listing of Laban’s name before his father’s is an indication of his seeking to usurp his father’s authority. This is supported by the commentary of Rashi and becomes indicative of Laban’s character. Given the fact that Laban continues to worship false gods (as attested to in the narrative concerning Jacob), this proclamation concerning the will of Hashem has more in common with fearful concession than it does with true faith.
Gen 24:51 “Behold, Rivkah is before you, take her, and go, and let her be your master's son's wife, as HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has spoken.”
Nowhere in the chapter has HaShem spoken explicitly. Thus we understand that God speaks both to and through His servants.
Gen 24:52 And it came to pass, that, when Avraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself down to the earth unto HaShem (YHVH: Mercy). Gen 24:53 And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rivkah; he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious gifts. Gen 24:54 And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and stayed all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said: “Send me away to my master (adoni).”
These additional gifts were part of the bride price for betrothal. However, Eli-etzer’s request to leave the next morning was not customary. This shows his urgency in wanting to return before Avraham’s death.
Gen 24:55 And her brother and her mother said: “Let the young woman stay with us a few months, at the least ten; after that she shall go.”
The tradition for betrothal was such that a bride groom would prepare a new residence for his bride over the period of 12 months and then return to marry her and take her into his household. Thus Rivkah’s family requested that she remain for at least ten months in order to maintain the traditional custom.
Gen 24:56 And he said to them: “Delay me not, seeing HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.”
Eli-etzer’s motivation is clearly to return to Avraham before his passing so that Avraham can share in the joy of his son’s marriage to a member of his wider family.
Gen 24:57 And they said: “We will call the young woman, and inquire of her mouth.”
Gen 24:58 And they called Rivkah, and said to her: “Will you go with this man?” And she said: “I will go.” Gen 24:59 And they sent away Rivkah their sister, and her nurse, and Avraham's servant, and his men.
Rivkah, like Avraham, is willing and obedient to the call of God to leave Charan and journey into the land of promise. “I will go” remains the ultimate sacrificial response of believers today. No woman is to be married without her consent, even in the tradition of arranged marriages within ancient Jewish culture, no one was allowed to force a woman to marry.
Gen 24:60 And they blessed Rivkah, and said unto her: “Our sister, be you the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your seed possess the gate of those that hate them.”
Rivkah, the matriarchal version of Avraham, receives a blessing like that which was given to him (22:17).
The blessing to possess the gates of your enemies means both to capture their cities and to rule over them. The gate is the place of judgement, where the elders and rulers of the city decide matters of business and law.
Gen 24:61 And Rivkah arose, and her young woman (nurse maid), and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man. And the servant took Rivkah, and went his way. Gen 24:62 And Yitzchak (Isaac) came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi (Well of the living Seer); for he dwelt in the land of the Negev (South). Gen 24:63 And Yitzchak (Isaac) went out to meditate (l’suach: contemplate) in the field in the evening; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.
Yitzchak was coming from the waters of the living Seer, returning to the Negev and the tents of his father he walked in the evening contemplating and meditating of God’s goodness. Or perhaps he was contemplating the loss of his mother, meditating in grief, having sought solace at the waters of the living Seer.
It is from this scripture that the Talmud and Midrash derive the tradition that Yitzchak instituted the Minchah (afternoon prayer service). Avraham is said to have instituted the Sacharit (morning) service (Genesis 19:27), and Jacob the Maariv (evening) service (Genesis 28:11).
Gen 24:64 And Rivkah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Yitzchak (Isaac), she fell from the camel. Gen 24:65 And she said to the servant: “What man is this that walks in the field to meet us?” And the servant said: “It is my master (adoni).” And she took her veil, and covered herself.
Rivkah was so excited by the knowledge that the one approaching was Yitzchak that she fell from her camel. She veiled her face out of piety and by way of covering before her bridegroom. The unveiling of her face in the tent of Yitzchak’s mother is a foretaste of the wedding of the Lamb and the Olam Haba (World to come) where all who are in Messiah will gaze upon him with unveiled face, having been transformed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Gen 24:66 And the servant told Yitzchak (Isaac) all the things that he had done.
Gen 24:67 And Yitzchak (Isaac) brought her into his mother Sarah's tent (o’helah), and took Rivkah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Yitzchak (Isaac) was comforted after the loss of his mother.
The Midrash reads, “He brought her to his tent, she was Sarah his mother” (Rashi). This means that Rivkah became a comfort to Yitzchak just as His mother had been. He was privileged to experience the comforting love of a righteous mother and a righteous wife. I know how that feels, Baruch HaShem.
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
This Torah portion is titled, “Chaiyei Sarah” which translates to, “The Life of Sarah” rather than, “The Death of Sarah”. God is the God of the living.
The events of the Akeidah now concluded, Avraham returns to find that his beloved wife Sarah has passed away. Imagine the turmoil and anguish he must have suffered. The joy of receiving his son back from the dead, metaphorically speaking, is now met with the continuing reality, if temporary, of sin’s conclusion. The death of Sarah illuminates the truth that the promised resurrection is now (Yitzchak) and yet future (Yeshua).
The Targum Yonatan explains that Satan had told Sarah that Avraham had slaughtered Isaac and upon hearing this she cried out in grief and died. This would explain why Avraham and Isaac were not present at her death: “Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her” (Genesis 23:2.) The Rabbis suggest that this is the reason that the account of Sarah’s death follows directly after Ha-Akeidah (The Binding of Isaac). The sages remind us however, that Sarah’s appointed time had come regardless of Satan’s role in her demise, and that her last breathe came with the knowledge that she had raised a son who was willing to give up even his life in the service of HaShem.
We should also note that this Torah portion is titled, “Chaiyei Sarah” which translates to, “The Life of Sarah” rather than, “The Death of Sarah”. God is the God of the living.
“But concerning the dead being raised, haven’t you read in the book of Moses about the burning bush? How God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He’s not the God of the dead, but of the living.” –Mark 12:26-27
Gen 23:1 And the life of Sarah (Princess/Queen/Matriarch) was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.
The years of Sarah’s life are intentionally divided by the author of the Torah and His scribe. In Hebrew the text reads, “Vayi-h’yu chayeiy Sarah meiah (100) shanah (years) v’esriym (20) shanah (years) v’sheva (seven) shanah (years)...”
Rashi suggests that the division of years reflects the progression of Sarah’s spiritual innocence and natural beauty.
In both Hebrew thought and literature the number 100 reflects the tenfold completion of the number 10, signifying a fulfilled promise or purpose. The number 20, being twice the completion of 10, may convey the birth and resurrection of Yitzchak, or the first and second fulfilments of the ram’s sacrifice, and the number 7, known by even the Torah novice as a number reflecting the present and perfect manifest k’vod (glory) of God (Shekhinah), conveys a sense of the perfected purpose of God and His constant presence in Sarah’s life to this point in her story, with the promise of eternal life in the presence of HaShem in the Olam Haba (World to come).
By all accounts, this is the passing on of Israel’s first Queen, and prior to this we have already received news of Israel’s second Queen, Rivkah (Rebecca), the one in whom the purposes of God are tightly bound.
Gen 23:2 And Sarah died in Kiriat-arba (City of four) - the same is Chevron (Company, Shared, Magician) - in the land of C’naan (lowland); and Avraham (Father of many nations) came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
"And Avraham came from the mount of worship (Moriah), and found that she (Sarah) was dead, and he sat down to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.'' –Targum Yonatan
Hebron is situated in the hill country of Judah approximately 32 km south of Jerusalem. The Torah records it as the burial place of each of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel (Genesis 23:19; 35:27; 49:29-32; 50:13).
In laying their bones to rest at Hebron, the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel left a testimony of their faith in what God had promised would come. So too Joseph had instructed the sons of Israel with the prophetic words:
“And Joseph said to his brothers: 'I die; but God will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.' And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying: 'God will surely remember you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.'” –Genesis 50:24-25 TLV
“And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he had demanded an oath from the children of Israel, saying: 'God will surely remember you; and you shall carry up my bones away from here with you.'” –Exodus 13:19 TLV
Hebron was also the first seat of David’s kingdom (2 Samuel 2:1-4; 5:1-5).
Sarah died in a city named for a hero (Arba) of the Anakim (Long necked, giants) much later in Israel’s history (Joshua 14:15). It is also considered by Rashi to be a prophetic name in honour of the four (arba) great couples who were buried there: Adam and Eve (Pirke Eliezer, c. 20. & 36), Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah.
Gen 23:3 And Avraham rose up from before his dead, and spoke unto the children of Chet (Terror), saying:
We know from the latter verses that this was taking place at the city gate where business and legal matters were determined in the ancient eastern culture of Avraham’s time.
Sadly, today, Avraham’s children continue to rise up from before our dead in order to speak to the children of terror. Though the Historical Biblical record clearly testifies to Israel’s legal ownership of Sarah’s tomb and the surrounding land, Hebron remains in the hands (Palestinian Authority controlled land in the southern West Bank) of Israel’s enemies.
Chet was the son of C’naan, meaning lowland (Genesis 10:15). Thus we read, “The children of Terror from the lowland.”
Gen 23:4 'I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead from before my face.'
In modern terms we would equate Avraham’s words with a resident immigrant, one who has come from another land but has made his new home among us.
Avraham shows tremendous humility in pleading for a tomb for his wife. After all, the land he is asking for has already been promised to him by God.
The Midrash illuminates further both the promise of God and the humility of His servant Avraham:
“You humiliated yourself before them; by your life, I shall make you a lord and prince over them” -Midrash Ha-Gadol
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik notes that Avraham expresses the two roles a Jew must play. On one hand, a resident and advocate for his country, who prays for the wellbeing of the nation where he lives (Jeremiah 29:7). While on the other hand, a Jew in this world is always an alien, his allegiance is to God and his goal is set out in the Torah [The goal of the Torah being Messiah (Romans 10:4)]. Rav Yosef concludes that a Jew must always be ready to be a lonely alien, resisting the culture that surrounds him and maintaining his unique identity and responsibility.
The book of Leviticus describes the people of Israel as resident aliens living on land owned by God (Leviticus 25:23). These same words are also used to convey the transience of human life and the unworthiness of humanity in the face of God’s holiness and provision (2 Chronicles 29:15).
Gen 23:5 And the children of Chet answered Avraham, saying to him: Gen 23:6 'Hear us, my lord (Adoni): you are a mighty prince among us; choose from our tombs, bury your dead; none of us shall withhold from you his tomb, so that you may bury your dead.'
The answer given by the children of Chet is blatant flattery. In fact, the subsequent bartering and the exorbitant asking price shows how little respect they had for Avraham, whom they saw as an immigrant usurper rather than an assimilated member of their society. The social and legal structure of the time saw this first verbal interaction as the initiation of a bargaining protocol. The niceties are simply that, cultural etiquette rather than genuine sentiment.
Gen 23:7 And Avraham rose up, and bowed down to the people of the land, even to the children of Chet. Gen 23:8 And he spoke with them, saying: 'If it be your mind that I should bury my dead from before my face, hear me, and petition Ephron (Calf-like, dust man, stag diving) the son of Zochar (Tawny, reddish grey, whiteness, sheen) on my behalf,
Avraham bows down out of respect and in humility. Though Ephron was present (v.10), Avraham follows the local custom and seeks out the approval of the elders of the city gate in order to broker a negotiation with Ephron.
The phrase, “bury my dead from before my face” infers that Avraham is aware that his wife Sarah, while no longer before his face, is none the less in the presence of HaShem and before His face. That Avraham and Sarah believed in the Olam Haba (World to come) is affirmed by the Jewish writer of the book of Hebrews:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he was to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he migrated to the land of promise as if it were foreign, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob—fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was waiting for the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive when she was barren and past the age, since she considered the One who had made the promise to be faithful. 12 So from one—and him as good as dead—were fathered offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and as uncountable as the sand on the seashore. 13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised—but they saw them and welcomed them from afar, and they confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If indeed they had been thinking about where they had come from, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they yearn for a better land—that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” –Hebrews 11:8-16 TLV
Gen 23:9 that he may give me the cave of Machpeilah (Double, folding), which he has, which is within the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in the midst of you for a possession of a burying-place.'
The name Machpeilah (Double) infers that there may have been two caves in the location or that the place would one day be home to the bodies of both Sarah and Avraham.
The petition for gifting the cave is qualified by the offer to pay a fair price, thus, “give” should be understood as the literal act of giving something over, rather than as a present, or gift that is given entirely at the expense of the giver.
The phrase, “let him give it to me in the midst of you as a possession” seeks to establish a rhythm of testimony that sees this transaction firmly attested to by witnesses as a form of security for the future generations of Avraham’s family line.
Gen 23:10 Now Ephron (Calf-like, dust man, stag diving) was sitting in the midst of the children of Chet (Terror); and Ephron the Cheeti (Descendant of terror) answered Avraham (Father of many nations) in the hearing of the children of Chet (Terror), even of all that went in at the gate of his city, saying: Gen 23:11 'No, my lord (Adoni), hear me: I give you the field, and the cave that is within it, I give it to you; in the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.'
Ephron’s use of the epilate, “My lord” is equally as disingenuous as the general response of his clansmen. Again, he is either offering to give over the field with a price in mind, or he intends to gift it without a legal transaction taking place so that Avraham would become his tenant and the land would remain in Ephron’s family following Avraham’s death. This is not a genuine offer.
Ephron, realizing Avraham is intent on purchasing the cave and fields, calls on the witness of his clansmen in order to seek compensation for the cave and adds the field in order to glean a greater price. Anyone who has experienced the Jerusalem, Carmel or the Old Jaffa markets will have come across similar types of bartering protocol, a culture of wheeling and dealing. Ironically, the proclaiming of this deal before the witnesses at the city gate strengthens Avraham’s descendants’ legal claim to the cave and its surrounding land.
We should keep in mind that Avraham is negotiating for his wife’s burial place, he is recently bereaved and is surely in great turmoil and under weighty emotional stress due to the loss of his life-long partner and friend.
Anyone who would take advantage of a man during a time of grief is the very personification of unrighteousness.
Gen 23:12 And Avraham bowed down before the people of the land. Gen 23:13 And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying: 'But if you will, I plead with you, hear me: I will give the price of the field; take it from me, and I will bury my dead there.'
Yet again the phrase, “in the hearing of the people of the land” reinforces the legal status of the land and those who possess it. Avraham continues as he has intended from the beginning, offering a fair price for the field, which also contains the caves.
Gen 23:14 And Ephron answered Avraham, saying unto him: Gen 23:15 'My lord (Adoni), listen unto me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? Therefore, bury your dead.'
This is where the true character of Ephron is exposed. He offers a price that is at least 20 times the value of the land according to the standard shekel. Rashi notes that it was a price great enough to purchase a huge estate. There is no question that Ephron is using the urgency of Avraham’s situation against him, and that he is taking advantage of a grieving man and his retinue. By way of qualification, Jeremiah the prophet redeems an entire ancestral land plot several times greater than this one for 17 shekels (Jeremiah 32:9), and on Mt Moriah, David purchases the threshing floor and oxen for 50 shekels (2 Samuel 24:24).
Those who wish to contest this conclusion site the 600 shekels David paid for the entire Temple mount (1 Chronicles 21:25). However, the Temple mount is not comparable to the plot at Hebron, either in area or in significance. They also note that Omri paid 6000 shekels for the virgin hill of Samaria (1 Kings 16:24) but fail to take into account the context of this act and the evil intent and money flaunting of the wicked king Omri. Even if one were to concede the point of these two higher costings, it becomes redundant when the identification of the common trade currency (referred to in the next verse as, “current money”) is made.
Gen 23:16 And Abvraham listened to Ephron; and Avraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the hearing of the children of Chet, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.
Avraham agreed to the amount, not out of desperation but with the knowledge that he was setting a legal precedent for his progeny. Though the price was exorbitant, Avraham considered this a physical representation of the greater future benefits that God had promised to his offspring.
The Hebrew, “oveir lasocheir” translated as, “current money” is a description of a larger trading silver shekel that became known later in history as a centenaria. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 87a) explains, each shekel used to pay for the plot was worth 2,500 standard shekels (Rashi). Thus, in the end, Avraham paid a total of one million standard shekels for the plot and caves. Further to my notes on the previous verse, this means that in reality the full price paid for Hebron is a least 166 times the amount of the highest price paid for land by a Jewish leader (of a different size and for different reasons) in the Torah (Omri). To put it into today’s terms, “Ephron ripped Avraham off in a big way!”
This transaction serves to illuminate the character of the Father of Trust (Avraham), while bringing into the light the true character of the Dust Man, a Child of Terror (Ephron of Chet). The former is a son of the heavens (God, life eternal), while the latter remains a son of the dust (death).
Gen 23:17 So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpeilah, which was before Mamre (Strength), the field, and the cave which was within it, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the border thereof round about, were secured (yakam: rose, elevated) Gen 23:18 unto Avraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Chet, before all that went in at the gate of his city.
Finally the land and its caves are secured legally before Ephron, the people of Chet and the elders of the gate and are recognized as belonging to Avraham and his offspring for a possession. No longer is it land upon which Avraham sojourns, it is now his lawful homeland. This historical record which is over 4000 years old is irrefutable proof of Israel’s ancestral claim to the caves and surrounding land in the city of Hebron.
This location is one of modern Judaism’s four holiest sites and is currently part of the Palestinian authority controlled land of the southern West Bank. The 400 Jewish settlers who live there have need of the constant protection of up to 3,000 IDF (Israeli Defence Force) soldiers and this holy place has two separate worship areas, one for Jews and one for Muslims, kept separated by a bullet proof glass wall. Access for the average Jew is difficult at best and at worst, life threatening. The irony of calling the Jews who live in Hebron “settlers” is not lost on this writer.
The Midrash states that the caves and surrounding land in Hebron are one of the three places that Scripture identifies as being testimony of the Jews’ irrefutable right to the possession of the land of Israel. The Midrash goes on to say that the cave of Machpeilah, the site of the Temple and the tomb of Joseph were all purchased without counter offers being made and with legal currency.
The phrase, “were confirmed/secured” uses the Hebrew, “yakam” literally, “rose”. Thus the Midrash interprets it to mean that through Avraham’s purchasing of the land it became elevated because it passed from the hands of the commoner Ephron into the hands of the king Avraham.
Gen 23:19 And after this, Avraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpeilah before Mamre - the same is Chevron - in the land of C’naan. Gen 23:20 And the field, and the cave that is within, were made secure (yakam: rose, elevated) unto Avraham for a possession as a burying-place by the children of Chet.
© Yaakov Brown 2016
“Let no one say when tempted, ‘I am tempted of God’: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any one: But every person is tempted, when they are drawn away of their own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is fully realized, brings forth death.” – Yaakov (James) 1:13-1
Following the birth and weaning of the promised son Isaac and the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, Avraham had acquired the well of Beer-sheva (Sevenfold Covenant), planted a grove of shady trees as a memorial of what HaShem had done and remained in the land of the P’lishtim (Immigrants) worshiping and giving glory to HaShem (YHVH) El (God) of the Olam (Universe).
Now Avraham will face his final trial (Tenth). All his former trials have been completed and the promise of their fulfilment has come to fruition. This trial is different, the fulfilment of it will mean that it does not come to fruition at this time in history, and certainly not through the death of Isaac, although it will come to fruition as a result of Isaac’s bloodline. In fact, rather than loose his son, Avraham receives him back and a substitute takes his place.
This trial also differs in its perceived morality. Avraham, who exhibits great concern for justice elsewhere, is now faced with the enigma of a just God’s request for the death of an innocent (Isaac).
It is interesting to note that while Rashi and the Rambam differ on the order and specifics of a number of Avraham’s trials, they both list Ha-Akeidah (The Binding of Isaac) as the final and most important of the trials of Avraham.
The chronology of the Biblical text shows us that Isaac was thirty seven years of age at the time of Ha-Akeidah. Sarah was ninety (Gen. 17:17) at his birth and 127 at her death (Gen. 23:1). The Targum Yonatan explains that Satan told Sarah that Avraham had slaughtered Isaac and she cried out in grief and died. This would explain why Avraham and Isaac were not present at her death: “Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her” (Genesis 23:2.) The Rabbis suggest that this is the reason that the account of Sarah’s death follows directly after Ha-Akeidah (The Binding of Isaac).
The Pesikta Rabbati teaches that the Akeidah took place on Rosh Hashanah. Hence it has become the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
Before we begin to study the text we should take time to reflect on the nature of trial (nasah). In the context of this passage the English term, “tempt” is entirely inappropriate. God does not tempt, nor does He have any need of testing in order to find out something, to the contrary, He knows all, past, present and future because He dwells outside of time and space.
“Let no one say when tempted, ‘I am tempted of God’: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any one: But every person is tempted, when they are drawn away of their own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is fully realized, brings forth death.” – Yaakov (James) 1:13-15
Given that God already knows the outcome of this trial, we cannot conclude that God is advocating human sacrifice as a common practice. To the contrary, He is foreshadowing the future manifestation of His own sacrificial love.
The fact that this portion of the Torah is as central to Jewish theology as the Shema, shows that it is understood as the ultimate example of God’s relationship to Israel and her devotion to Him. Add to this that Ha-Akeidah is a clear and irrefutable picture of the substitutionary sacrifice of God as Messiah, and we have a connection that binds (pun intended) together both the ethnic Jewish people and the believing nations of the world.
This may well be one of the most important studies you ever engage in. Read carefully, listen well, qualify your conclusions, and above all else, trust God.
Gen 22:1 And it came to pass after ha-d’varim (the words) these things, that Ha-Elohim (the God, Judge) did nesah (prove) Avraham (Father of many nations), and said to him, “Avraham”: and he said, “Hineini (I’m here, ready, prepared, willing), here I am.”
These events take place following the words (D’varim), “And Avraham planted a grove in Beer-sheva, and called there on the name of HaShem, the everlasting God. And Avraham sojourned in the land of Philistines' many days.” (Gen 21:33:34)
The text says, “Ha-Elohim” (The God) for good reason. There must be no misunderstanding regarding the use of Elohim here. This generic name for God, also used to name gods and judges, is pretexted here by the determiner, “the”.
The Midrash renders the word nesah as, “elevated” like a banner (neis). Thus we could read, “The God elevated Avraham”. Following the events of the Akeidah God doesn’t again speak directly to Avraham. This fact further illuminates the importance of these events. There is something in the story of the binding that acts as a catalyst for the perfecting of faith. We are reminded that, “the life is in the blood” which is given on the mizbeach (altar) for the remission of sin (Lev. 17:11). It makes sense therefore, that the substitutionary sacrifice in this account is symbolic of something much greater than the simple death of a ram.
Avraham’s response to God affirms the true character of the father of trust. The Hebrew Hineini has no English equivalent. It denotes humility, readiness, willingness, obedience etc.
Gen 22:2 And He (God) said, “fetch now your son, your only son Yitzchak (He laughs), whom you love, and lech lecha (walk, go forth) into the land of Moriyah (seen by YHVH: ra’ah & Yah); and ascend there, offering him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.
We should keep in mind that Avraham is 137 years old and Isaac 37, meaning that none of this could be forced upon Isaac. He must choose to accept every instruction of his father willingly. This is both an echo and prophetic ripple that reveals the Mashiyach and Only Son of HaShem, Who was sacrificed before the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
The words, “your son, your only son Yitzchak (He laughs), whom you love” are a glimpse into the future, when God will speak over His Son Yeshua saying, “This is my Son whom I love, in Him I am delighted!” (Mattitiyahu 3:17).
The unique identity of the Son Yeshua is further clarified in Yochanan 1:14:
“And Ha-D’var (the Word became flesh) and dwelt among us. We looked upon His k’vod (glory), the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of chesed (grace) and emet (truth).”
The phrase, “lech lecha” (walk and go forth) occurs only here and in 12:1, the initial instruction of God to Avraham, thus tying the two narratives together to show the completeness of Avraham’s call and purpose in God. This instruction to go up to sacrifice requires courage equal to the instruction to give up everything and follow God. We should pause a moment to consider the fact that the Talmidim (Disciples) of Yeshua responded to the call to follow God’s Messiah, but with the exception of Yochanan and the women closest to Yeshua, they were not able to muster the courage to go up to the sacrifice.
Moriyah (seen by YHVH: ra’ah & Yah), is the Temple Mount (2 Chronicles 3:1). Onkelos renders, “go forth into the land of Divine service”. It is thought that he takes Moriyah to be derived from mor (myrrh), which is one of the spices of the Temple service (Rashi). This connects the Akeidah to the Temple Mount and the foundation stone, which tradition identifies as the stone on which Isaac was laid.
Gen 22:3 And Avraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his male donkey, and took two of his n’arayn (young men) with him, and Yitzchak his son, and chopped the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went toward the place of which God had spoken.
Again, the phrase, “rose up early” indicates Avraham’s immediate obedience to God’s instruction.
The fact that Avraham saddled his own donkey is noteworthy. This was the job of a servant. Avraham was so intent on obedience to God that he ignored his personal dignity. The text also infers that it was Avraham who chopped the wood.
It is important to understand that the Hebrew n’arayn refers to a young man between the ages of 12 and 40 years. The same word used here to refer to Avraham’s servants is also used to refer to Isaac later in the text.
The Midrash says that the two young men Avraham took with him were Eliezer and Ishmael, who was visiting his father, having now lived in Paran for some time. It is an endearing thought, an illumination of reconciliation and the help of God. The names of these two, “God helps” and “Heard by God” are both beautiful representations of the character of God as it unfolds in the remainder of this historical story.
There are those who see contradiction and even hypocrisy in the actions of Avraham. They say that he pleaded for the innocent when God was about to destroy S’dom but here he is blindly obedient to God’s command to kill his innocent son Isaac. However, there is an important distinction between these two events. First, there were in the end, no innocent ones in S’dom. In fact, it is true to say that even those God spared were not innocent. Second, the destruction of S’dom was a judgement against sin, whereas the present instruction is related to sacrifice. God is not commanding a judgement, He is initiating a sacrifice. In order for sacrifice to be understood within the framework of redemption, that which is offered must be blameless and without blemish. Therefore, Isaac’s comparative innocence is essential to this sacrificial instruction and helps to explain Avraham’s willing obedience.
Gen 22:4 Then on the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far off.
The third day is an obvious foreshadowing to the death and resurrection of both Yonah (Jonah) and Yeshua (Jesus).
The phrase, “lifted up his eyes” is connected to Avraham’s receiving God’s previous promise of land and to the provision of God through sight. The mountain which is already seen by God is now being seen by Avraham. The Hebrew ra’ah (see) is the same root being used in verse 8 where it is usually translated as, “provide”. Provision and sight are synonymous terms in this context.
Avraham saw the cloud of God’s presence over the mountain, thus recognizing that it was the destination he was seeking (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer).
Gen 22:5 And Avraham said to his n’arayn (young men), “Stay here with the donkey; and I and ha-na’ar (the young man) will go yonder and bow down, and then we will return to you.
We should take special note of the term, “Na’ar” which is used here of both Avraham’s young men (servants) and the young man Isaac. This term can refer to a young man between the ages of 12 and 40, and should not be presumed to refer to a young child as is inferred by numerous English translations which use, “lad” or “boy” to translate this complex Hebrew term. In some cases this translation seems intentionally misleading, as in the KJV translation, which translates the same term, “young men” when referring to Avraham’s servants but, “lad” when referring to Isaac. This is at best inconsistent.
“And then we will return” is in the plural rather than the singular, “and then I will return”. This shows the trust that Avraham had in the promise of God (Gen. 21:12). The Jewish writer of the book of Hebrews affirms Avraham’s core belief:
“In trust Avraham, when he was being proved, offered up Yitzchak. Yes, he who had received the promises was offering up his one and only son-- the one about whom it was said, “Through Yitzchak your offspring shall be named.” He reasoned that God was able to raise Yitzchak up even from the dead—and in a sense, he did receive him back from there.”
– Hebrews 11:17-19
Gen 22:6 And Avraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Yitzchak his son; and he took the eish (fire, holy fire, altar fire) in his hand, and a knife; and they walked on together.
The Midrash compares Isaac’s burden of wood to the Roman practice of crucifixion:
“It is like a person who carries his cross on his own shoulder” –Gen. Rab. 56:3
There is an undeniable link to the Messiah Yeshua:
“Then they took Yeshua. He went out, carrying His own crossbar, to the Place of a Skull…” –Yochanan (John) 19:17 TLV
The phrase, “And they walked on together” denotes harmony of purpose. The same phrase is repeated in verse 8, by which time Isaac knew that he was to be the sacrifice.
The following portion of Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) is conveniently left out of the Haf-Tarah (filling/completing/illumination of the Torah) readings in the modern rabbinical Torah reading cycle. However, it was part of the triannual Torah cycle of the first century. It conveys a sense of the intimate agreement between Father and Son, and the willingness of the sacrificial appointee.
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter,
like a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so He did not open His mouth…
Yet it pleased Adonai to bruise Him.
He caused Him to suffer.
If He makes His soul a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days,
and the will of Adonai will succeed by His hand.” –Isaiah 53:7, 10 TLV
Gen 22:7 And Yitzchak said, “Avraham my father”, and continued saying, “My father”: and he (Avraham) responded, “Hineini Here I am, my son.” And he (Yitzchak) said, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Up to this point Isaac believed that they were going to make a sacrifice to God and would thus find a lamb for this purpose while on their journey.
Gen 22:8 And Avraham said, “Elohim (God) yireh (Root: Ra’ah - sees, will provide himself) a lamb for a burnt offering: so they walked on together.
Avraham’s trust, as illuminated in Hebrews 11:17, remains. He firmly believes that God will bring about a miracle. Once again, the phrase, “so they walked on together” conveys a unity of purpose.
The phrase, “Elohim yireh” (God provides) links the seeing (ra’ah) of God to His provision (yi-reh). Thus we can also read, “Elohim sees the lamb for the burnt offering”.
Gen 22:9 And they came to the place which Ha-Elohim (the God) had told him of; and Avraham built an altar (ha-mizbeach: Root, zabach – slaughter, kill) there, and laid the wood in order, v’ya’akod (and bound) Yitzchak his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
It is from this verse that the Hebrew title for this passage, “Ha-Akeidah” (The Binding) is derived.
The altar, ha-mizbeach, is intended for the shedding of blood. On every occasion that this term is used in the Torah without qualifying terms, it refers to an altar of slaughter. It is fitting that on the Mountain that would later become the site of the daily Temple offerings, this pivotal sacrifice is about to take place.
At the age of 137, Avraham could not have bound Isaac (37) without his consent.
“Father, I am a strong young man and you are old. I’m afraid that when I see the slaughtering knife in your hand I might flinch and possibly do you harm. I may also injure myself and become unfit for sacrifice. Or an involuntary movement by me might prevent you from performing the ritual slaughter properly. Therefore, bind me well, so that at the final moment I will not fail in my filial honour and respect, thereby not fulfilling the commandment properly.” –Midrash
The prophet Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) speaks of Yeshua saying:
“He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth.” –Isaiah 53:7
Gen 22:10 And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
The Midrash says that as Avraham reached for the knife, tears feel from his eyes into Isaac’s.
The Targum Yonatan records that Isaac looked up to see the Angels on high, while Avraham was yet unable to see them.
Rashi notes that the Angels also wept and their tears fell into Isaac’s eyes.
In this moving account there is an intimate, almost intrinsic grief which is shared by The Father God, the Angel of Hashem, Avraham and Isaac.
Gen 22:11 And the Malakh (Messenger) HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) called to him (Avraham) from the heavens, and said, “Avraham, Avraham:” and he responded, “Hineini (I’m here, ready, prepared, willing), here I am.”
The Hebrew text can be read literally as, “And calling toward (Avraham), messenger HaShem”. This should be understood to mean that the messenger (angel) is a manifest representation of HaShem Himself.
If the Angel of Hashem is the manifestation of the pre-incarnate Messiah Yeshua, then He is witnessing here the living symbolism of His own future sacrificial death.
Gen 22:12 And He (Malakh HaShem) said, “Don’t lay your hand upon ha-na’ar (the young man), neither do anything to him: for atah (until this time) yada’ti (I have known), that you are in awe of Elohim (God), seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.
Not even a hair of Isaac’s head was harmed. God speaks in a timely fashion and Avraham responds in the same manner with which he began this journey of obedience, thus answering the question of faith.
The Angel of Hashem, Who is speaking to Avraham repeats the phrase, “your son, your only one.”
I believe the traditional English translation, “for now I know that you fear me” is misleading. The phrase, “now I know” infers that at one time He did not know. This contradicts the essence of God’s character, His omniscience (Isaiah 46:9-10, 40:13-14; Psalm 33:13-15, 139:1-3, 139:4, 139:15-16, 147:4-5; Job 21:22, 37:16; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Romans 11:33; Hebrews 4:13; Luke 12:7; 1 John 3:20; Matthew 10:29-30). In fact, God need learn nothing from these events. He has already seen them concluded. If we read, “For until this time I have known” we are more inclined to interpret the statement as an assurance to Avraham rather than a declaration of discovery on the part of HaShem and His Angel.
Gen 22:13 And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Avraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering tachat (instead, for the sake, as a substitute) of his son.
Once again, the phrase, “lifted up his eyes” is connected to Avraham’s receiving God’s previous promise of land and to the provision of God through sight. The mountain which is already seen by God is now being seen by Avraham. The Hebrew ra’ah (see) is the same root being used in verse 8 where it is usually translated as, “provide”. Provision and sight are synonymous terms in this context.
A ram caught in a thicket may be without technical signs of blemish, such as discoloured wool or bodily deformity, and thus qualifies for the sacrifice as ritually clean. However, it is unlikely that the ram was without scratches and bleeding from the time spent in the thicket. This is a picture of the crown of thorns which was pressed down onto the head of our Messiah Yeshua.
The importance of a ram over a lamb here, is to make clear that the future substitutionary sacrifice would be made by a male.
Gen 22:14 And Avraham called the name of that place YHVH Yir’eh: as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the HaShem (Mercy) it shall be provided/seen (yeiraeh).
The original name of this place was Shalem, the name given to it by Shem, son of Noach (whom the sages identify as Malkitzedek [King of Righteousness], the king of Shalem). The Midrash says that following the Akeidah, when Avraham named the place Adonai Yireh, HaShem in deference to both Shem and Avraham, named the place Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).
Gen 22:15 And the Malakh (Messenger, angel) HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) called to Avraham out of the heavens the second time, Gen 22:16 And said, “By myself have I sworn, says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), because you have done ha-d’var (this thing, according to the word), and have not withheld your son, your only son:”
The Angel of Hashem speaks a second time only once the sacrifice of the ram has been performed. The familiar reprise, “your son, your only son” rings out again in affirmation of the faith that Avraham has exhibited and as a prophetic foreshadowing of the Messiah.
“For people swear by someone greater; and the oath, as confirmation, is an end to all their disputing. In the same way God, determining to point out more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchanging nature of His purpose, guaranteed it with an oath. So by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” –Hebrews 6:16-18 TLV
Gen 22:17 “In blessing I will bless you, and in making great (multiplying) I will make great (multiply) your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemy;
The language of this blessing mirrors that of several previous addresses (Gen. 12:3, 13:16, 15:5). Here it is said in confirmation of the promise which God saw completed in Avraham, before Avraham had come to the place of completing his trust through the action of bringing his son and heir as a sacrifice before HaShem.
Notice that the seed is singular, he will possess the gate (singular) of his enemy
What is different about this blessing is that it adds the clause, “and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemy”. It seems that this clause has not been added until now because the symbolism of the sacrificial act of the Akeidah had to take place in order to reveal the nature of the future seed (Messiah), Who would possess the gates of humanitys’ greatest enemy, death.
Gen 22:18 And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have heard (Shamata) my voice (b’kol).
It is through Yeshua, the greater son of Avraham and of David, the Messiah and sacrificial lamb of God, that all the nations will be blessed.
Avraham, “Shamata” listened, received, understood, comprehended and invited the kol (voice) of HaShem. Thus, he became the father of all who would trust God and the first Hebrew, the one who received the promise of Israel’s coming redemption.
Gen 22:19 So Avraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheva (Well of Seven, Well of Rest, Covenant of Seven); and Avraham dwelt at Beer-sheva.
All four men, “rose up” in immediate obedience and “went together” with harmony of purpose, to the well of sevenfold blessing, the mayim chayim (living waters) of covenant promise.
Gen 22:20 And it came to pass after ha-d’avriym (these words, these things), that it was told Avraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah (Queen), she has also born children to your brother (uncle, male relative etc.) Nachor (Snorting);
The promise of multiplying and the prospering of Avraham’s progeny is immediately supported by the news of a bride for Isaac.
The genealogy of Nachor’s family has been kept till now in order to coincide with the events of the Akeidah. Thus showing God’s providence in the birth of Isaac’s future wife and the maintaining of the Godly bloodline.
It is fitting that Rivkah (captivating, knotted cord, tied up, secured, bound), Isaac’s future bride is born to Milcah (Queen). Just as Sarah had become the Queen of the promise, Rivkah, who has been born to a queen, will become the binding (Akeidah) of the promise, securing it through the birth of Yaakov/Israel.
Gen 22:21 Uz (Wooded, counsel) his firstborn, and Buz (contempt) his brother, and Kemuel (Koom – El: Risen in God, Raised by God) the father of Aram (exalted), Gen 22:22 And Kesed (increase), and Chazo (vision), and Pildash (flame of fire), and Yidlaf (weeping), and Betuel (Bet-El: Dwells in God). Gen 22:23 And Betuel (Dwells in God) produced Rivkah (captivating, knotted cord, tied up, secured): these eight Milcah (Queen) did bear to Nachor (snorting), Avraham's brother (uncle, male relative etc.). Gen 22:24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah (elevated, arise), she bore also Tevah (slaughter), and Gacham (burning), and Tachash (animal hide), and Maachah (Pressure, squeezed, crushed: lit. She has pressed).
Rivkah, in addition to being the daughter of a queen (Milcah) is also the daughter of one who dwells in God (Betuel).
© Yaakov Brown 2016
When we touch the tzitzit (tassels) we are experiencing a physical representation of the living Word of God. We are being reminded of His Name, His Unity, and the immutable security He provides through the Shamash (Servant) Mashiyach. When we touch the tzitzit we begin to comprehend what complex unity means. Through its eight cords we see the complexity of the universe and the unseen realms. It is a tactile connection to the incorporeal. And the Bat Kol strums its strings, singing the words, "Adonai Echad!".
Tzitzit – Tassels [Tied at the four corners of the Tallit – Prayer Shawl] This method of tying is Ashkenazi but uses the techelet (תכלת Blue/violet) Shamash (שמש Servant) thread rather than the orthodox white Shamash thread. The blue thread follows the more ancient dyed thread tradition which originated during the time of the giving of the Torah and the entering into the land of Israel [Between 2700 & 1260 BCE].
The symbolism for the numbers is central to the overall symbolism of the tallit. Seven and eight equals fifteen, which in gematria (numerology) is equal to the two Hebrew characters Yod and Heh the first two letters of the holy Name of God YHVH. Eleven is the equivalent of Vav and Heh the last two letters of the holy Name of God. The total, twenty six, is thus equivalent and representative YHVH the four letter Name of God YHVH. Thirteen is equivalent to the Hebrew word Echad: Alef, Chet, Dalet which means One. So to look at the tzitzit is to remember and know that "God is One".
According an alternate winding tradition, each section is a different letter of God's four letter Name. The central commandment surrounding tzitzit is:
"And you should see it and remember all of God's instructions and do them“ (Numbers 15:39)
How do the tzitzit do this?
In gematria, tzitzit = six hundred. In addition there are eight strands plus five knots. The total is six hundred and thirteen which, according to tradition, is the exact number of commandments (mitzvot) in the Torah. Just to look at them, therefore, is to remember all the mitzvot.
Each of the five knots symbolize the five books of the Torah. The sum of the latter windings is 24, equals the number of books in the Hebrew Tanakh (OT).
The Shamash (Servant) strand binds all of the other strands together. This strand is the techelet (blue) strand that symbolizes mayim chayim (water of life). This strand represents the living Word of God Yeshua (Jesus) the Mashiyach (Messiah) [John 1:1]. He is the goal of the Torah [Romans 10:4]. He is the strand that holds all things together. He is also the servant (shamash) Messiah [Mark 10:45].
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
“Listen to all that Sarah has said to you, hear her voice, for she is a prophetess.” -Targum of Yonatan
Soon after the promise of the heir had been reaffirmed, S’dom was destroyed and Sarah abducted by Avimelech, her promised progeny almost defiled by the seed of Avimelech. However, God protected Sarah’s purity and secured her womb for Avraham’s seed. Now, having suffered many trials, both Avraham and Sarah can rejoice in the delivering of the son and heir, Isaac. But even this event will prove Avraham’s resolve as he is asked to part with his beloved son Ishmael, born to him by Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant.
The literary devices of Hebraic repetition and counterpoint are prolific in this chapter: an indication of things firmly decided and implemented by HaShem. Laughter is given to Sarah in the form of a son and with laughter Ishmael mocks the heir Isaac. Hagar sits a bow’s length away from Ishmael and her son subsequently becomes a bowman. The well of seven is a refuge for Hagar and a place of contention between Avraham and Avimelech, finally secured by Avraham through a sevenfold covenant of rest. The Holy name YHVH begins and ends the account as an allusion to the Mercy of God and the Judge Elohim is seen throughout.
Ultimately God’s will is done and the promised heir is made secure in the bosom of the father of faith, protected from the mocking laughter of his future enemies through the prophetic voice of his mother, the great matriarch and princess of Israel.
Gen 21:1 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) cared for Sarah (Princess), visiting her as He had said, and HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) made in Sarah that of which He had spoken. Gen 21:2 For Sarah conceived, and bore Avraham (father of nations, father of trust) a son in his old age, at the set time (moed) of which God had spoken to him.
Tradition holds that Sarah conceived on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (b. Rosh Hashana. 11a.), as a result, the present narrative is the Torah reading for that day.
“God did a wonder or wonders for Sarah.” –Yerushalayim & Yonatan Targums
It is God as Mercy Who begins this important account. He cares for Sarah and fulfills His promise to her.
“In trust also Sarah herself received the ability to conceive seed, and delivered a child when she was past age, because she judged Him Who had promised to be trustworthy.” –Hebrews 11:11
The similarities to the later birth of the Messiah are prophetic in nature. The differences equally important. Sarah, who had doubted HaShem’s angel now gives birth with great joy. While Miriyam (Mary), who received Gavriel’s message with great joy and firm belief, would give birth in a time of turmoil and later suffer the loss of her son, only to receive Him again with even greater joy than any experienced by Sarah. All this illuminates the metanarrative of God’s redemptive plan, which He decided upon before the creation of the world.
Verses 2 & 3, and later 25:19, emphasis the fact that Avraham is the father of Isaac. This is to ensure the reader that despite his age it was his fertile seed that impregnated Sarah and not the wicked king Avimelech.
Gen 21:3 And Avraham called the name of his son that was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Yitzchak (Isaac: he laughs). Gen 21:4 And Avraham circumcised his son Yitzchak at eight days old, as God had commanded him.
The name Yitzchak is the first of many uses of the Hebrew root tz’chok (laughter). Avraham was given the name by God in 17:19. There is much to learn from the ways laughter is used both in joyous proclamation and in sinful mockery. The halakhic applications abound.
Gen 21:5 And Avraham was a hundred years old, when his son Yitzchak was born to him.
The birth of Isaac took place 25 years after Avraham departed from Haran (Genesis 12:4).
Gen 21:6 And Sarah said, “Tzichak (laughter) has been made for me by Elohim (God: Judge), so that all that hear will Tzichak (laugh).” Gen 21:7 And she said, “Who would have said that for Avraham, sons would be nursed by Sarah? Yet my child, a son, I have born him in his old age.”
This laughter is joy, the text intends to convey the idea that a person who brings joy has entered the world, that all who hear of his birth will be filled with joy and respond in laughter. This joy has been introduced by the Merciful Judge of the universe so that all may join in celebrating the fulfillment of His promise. The laughter that accompanies this birth is a response of right action born of God’s mercy.
Rashi observes that this event brings hope and joy to the barren women of Israel, thus the joy shared by those who hear of Sarah’s miracle, forms a foundation for their trust in the God Who is able to bring life forth from a dead womb. This too is a picture of the Messiah and His resurrection.
The neighbors of Elisheva (Elizabeth), the mother of the prophet Yochanan rejoiced in this same way when they heard that she had given birth (Luke 1:58). In that context it is called, “rejoicing” which is synonymous with the term, “laughter” in Genesis 21:6.
Gen 21:8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Avraham made a great feast the same day that Yitzchak was weaned.
The age of weaning cannot be determined with certainty. The rabbinical views range from three years to twelve years, citing various sources. Though some modern readers may find the idea of lengthy weaning periods to be distasteful (no pun intended), it was not unusual in ancient times for children to be nursed well into their formative years. When we add to this the fact that at the time of these events people were still living much longer than we do today, it seems reasonable to split the difference and settle on an approximate age of seven (Philo: De his Verb. Resipuit. Noe, p. 275) for Isaac’s weaning.
Rashi (Tanchuma) claims that the feast was great because the great men of that generation attended: Shem, Eber and Avimelech. Note the names: Shem (Name), Eber (Beyond) and Avimelech (My father is King). Each name describes God, The Name (Mercy), Messiah, Who enters the world from beyond, and My Father the King of worlds.
Gen 21:9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar (flight) the Mitzree (Egyptian: double distress), which she had born to Avraham, m’tzacheik (laughing, mocking).
The Hebrew, “m’tzacheik” is a play on Isaac’s name, “Yitzchak”. The text can be read, “And Sarah saw the son Hagar the Egyptian, who she had born to Avraham, playing (m’tzacheik laughing, mocking).” We could say that Ishmael was Isaacing, or playing at being Isaac. This is yet another hint at the type of mockery that was taking place and illuminates the reason for Sarah’s firm resolve regarding Ishmael’s removal from the camp of Avraham. It seems that Ishmael was, at his mother’s prompting, seeking to usurp Isaac’s position as heir. This is of course confirmed by 21:10.
Ishmael is now a young man (17-27) and is fully aware of his moral responsibility. From the text we can discern that Hagar’s influence and his own delusions of grandeur are responsible for his mocking of Isaac (21:10). Ishmael could have chosen to laugh in joy at the honoring of his new brother, however, he instead seeks to humiliate Isaac in the presence of those over whom he will rule as heir. This is not the innocent mocking of a child rather it is the intentional sin of a young man.
This same kind of mocking laughter (tz’cheik) is linked to the sins of idolatry (Exodus 32:6), adultery (Exodus 39:17) and murder (2 Samuel 2:14). Rashi notes that this infers the complete corruption of Ishmael and sees his being sent away as a necessary act for the sake of Isaac’s spiritual character and protection.
“Keep not Your silence, O Elohim: don’t hold Your peace, and don’t be still, O Elohim. For, behold, Your enemies make a tumult: and they that hate You have lifted up their heads in pride. They have taken crafty counsel against Your people (Israel), and consulted against the ones You protect. They have said, ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel shall be remembered no more. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against You: The shelters of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;”
Gen 21:10 So she said to Avraham, “Cast out this maid-servant and her son: for the son of this maid-servant shall not be heir with my son, even with Yitzchak (Isaac: he laughs).”
“Now we, fellow Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah, are as Isaac was, the children of promise. But as it was then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless, what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, fellow Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” –Galatians 4:28-31
As the matriarch of Israel, Sarah saw the danger that Ishmael posed to her son and his Godly mission. Sarah’s response is not one of vindictiveness but of protection.
Gen 21:11 And the thing was very grievous in Avraham's sight because of his son.
Avraham was grieved both by his son Ishmael’s behavior and due to the resulting need for expelling him from the camp.
Pirke Eliezer calls this the most difficult of Avraham’s trials (Pirke Eliezer, c 30 ).
Gen 21:12 And God said to Avraham, “Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the boy, and because of your maid-servant; shema listen to all that Sarah has said to you, hear her voice; for in (through) Yitzchak your seed will be called (identified).”
The Targum of Yonatan reads, “Listen to all that Sarah has said to you, hear her voice, for she is a prophetess.”
The Talmud refers to Sarah’s protection of Isaac’s rights as evidence of the fact that she is a prophetess (b. Meg. 14a).
The Hebrew, “Shema”, listen, hear, understand, comprehend; is used here in the present continuous or perfect tense of the Hebrew. It is the positive counter to the use of the same word in the past tense in Genesis 3:17, where Adam has listened (Shema’ta) to the flawed advice of Eve. By listening to Eve’s advice Adam invited sin into the world, whereas by listening to Sarah’s advice (via HaShem) Avraham invites light into the world. That is, Isaac was to be the heir who would produce the struggling people Yaakov/Israel. Israel in-turn was to be light to the nations, a calling that was fulfilled by the Mashiyach Yeshua, born to the line of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov according to His humanity.
God affirms Sarah’s instruction, which is an act of righteous trust. With these words Sarah becomes Israel’s second prophet. God reminds Avraham that Isaac is the chosen seed who will perpetuate the ministry of light to the nations through his son Yaakov, Israel.
Gen 21:13 And also of the son of the maid servant will I make a nation, because he is your seed.
By way of consolation God comforts Avraham with the knowledge that He will also take good care of Ishmael, making him a great (subservient) nation.
Gen 21:14 And Avraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder with the child (young man), and sent her away: and she departed, and teitah (strayed, practiced error) in the wilderness of Beer-sheva (Well of seven, sevenfold covenant, well of blessing, covenant of rest).”
The act of waking early is a sign of immediate obedience on Avraham’s part. Regardless of his own grief at the loss of Ishmael, Avraham trusted God and acted in prompt obedience.
The Hebrew v’teitah indicates Hagar’s return to idolatrous practice as she sought a place of solace in the wilderness near Beer-sheva (a well which will be illuminated in the latter section of this account). Rashi suggests that Hagar returned to the idolatrous practices of her father’s house.
Ishmael is thought to be between 17 (Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 2. 2) and 27 (Pirke Eliezer, c. 30. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 53. fol. 47. 4.) years of age at this point in time.
Beer-sheva is approximately 19 kilometres from Gerar and 32 kilometres from Hebron to the south.
Gen 21:15 And the water ran out, so she cast (threw off) the child (young man) under one of the shrubs. Gen 21:16 And she went, and sat down at a distance from him, a bowshot (0.8km) away: for she said, “Let me not see the death of the child (young man).” And as she sat there she lifted up her voice, and wept.
Bereshit Rabba, records a bowshot distance at about half a mile (.8 Kilometre), saying that two bowshots make a mile (1.6 kilometres) [Bereshit Rabba, ut supra. sect. 53. fol. 47. 4].
The term, “Child” here could be misunderstood to mean, “Young child”. However, a child remains the child of his mother regardless of his age, and this is what is intended here. Infact we know from both the chronology of Biblical events and from tradition that Ishmael is between 17 and 27 years of age at this point in time.
The great irony of Hagar’s lack of water, is that her blindness has come about through her own spiritual decay. Both her expulsion from the camp of Avraham and her subsequent suffering are directly related to her continued attempts to seek Isaac’s inheritance for her own son Ishmael.
Rabbi Hirsch wisely observes that, “Hagar’s behavior is disgraceful… Rather than comfort her child in his dying moments, she thought only of herself and the discomfort she would feel in the presence of his agony.” This is why the following verse begins with the words, “God heard the voice of the boy;”
Gen 21:17 And God heard the voice of the boy (young man); and the angel of Elohim (God, Judge) called to Hagar out of the heavens, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not; for Elohim (God) has heard the voice of the boy (young man) where he is.”
God’s communication with Hagar differs greatly from the way He has met with Avraham. We note that the angel of Elohim (God), rather than the angel of YHVH, calls to her from the heavens rather than meeting her in humanoid form on earth as He had done with Avraham. It is Elohim, the Judge and Ruler, Who attends to Hagar’s son. Mercy (YHVH) is with Avraham (Isaac and Yaakov) but Judgement (Elohim) has come to Ishmael and his decedents.
Gen 21:18 Arise, lift up the boy (young man), and hold him in your hand; for I will make him a great nation. Gen 21:19 And Elohim (God) opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the water-skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
Some suggest that this well was made to appear supernaturally, however, the context suggests that the well finds its symbolic form in the origin story of verses 23-33, where Avraham presents ewe lambs as an offering that testifies to his right to its water through the cutting of a covenant before the Judge, Elohim. Due to the fact that the agreement for, and the naming of the well (v.23-33) is considered to have preceded the events of verses 1 through 21, it is safe to conclude that the limited supplies given to Hagar by Avraham were intended to last her the short distance to Beer-sheva, a well that Avraham had already redeemed for the use of his household.
The sages say that this well has ancient origins and was in fact, “Created between the two evenings, that is, on the evening of the seventh day of the creation.” (Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. c. 30)
It is by the Word of Hashem that Hagar’s eyes are opened and she receives living water. Hagar had returned to idolatry (v.14) and was therefore, not only physically but also spiritually blind. Yeshua said, “Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst again.” This well is Beer-sheva, the well of sevenfold blessing, rest and covenant promise. By trusting in God’s Word, Hagar receives life for both herself and her son.
Gen 21:20 And Elohim (God) was with the boy (young man); and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
Hagar had sat a bow shot away from her son. Now her son becomes an archer. Both Ishmael’s role and the role of his descendants are emphasised by the symbol of the bow (warfare).
“And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brothers.” –Genesis 16:12
Jewish tradition says that Ishmael, “Was born with a bow, and brought up with one, and that he shot an arrow at his brother Isaac, with the intention to kill him, while he was in Abraham's house;” (Pirke, c. 30 Ammian. Marcellin. Hist. l. 14)
Gen 21:21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran (Beautiful caverns): and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt (Mitzrayim: double distress).
The location of the ancient wilderness of Paran is debated and manipulated by Islamic scholars, however, it seems most likely that the location of Paran is below the Sea of Salt (Dead seat) to the south-west near the border of Modern Israel and Jordan. There are a number of factors that support this location, including the name itself relative to the geography of the region.
One Jewish tradition suggests that Ishmael had two wives; the first he divorced, and then married the Egyptian; his first wife, they say, he sent for, and took out of the plains of Moab, whose name was Aishah, and the other Phatimah (Pirke Eliezer, ut supra. c. 30).
“And he (Ishmael) dwelt in the wilderness of Paran, and took to wife Adisha, whom he divorced, and then his mother took him Phatimah to wife, out of the land of Egypt:'' –Yerushalayim & Yonatan Targums
Gen 21:22 And it came to pass at that time, that Avimelech (My father is king) and Phichol (Peh-col: Mouth of all, strength) the chief captain of his army, spoke to Avraham, saying, “Elohim (God) is with you in all that you do:” Gen 21:23 “Now therefore, swear to me here by Elohim (God) that you will not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done to you, you shall do to me, and to the land where you have sojourned.” Gen 21:24 And Avraham said, “I will swear.”
These events can be understood to have been set in the past and read as, “And it was in the past at that time…” This seems consistent with the previous identification of the wilderness of Beer-sheva in the account of Hagar’s expulsion. The establishing of the well of Beer-sheva prior to Hagar’s wandering shows that the blessing of God comes to her via Avraham’s trust.
It is worth noting that Avimelech does not seek a covenant with Avraham because of his wealth but with the words, “God is with you in all that you do.”
It seems that the Philistines observed this oath until the days of the judge Samson, when they began to attack Israel for the first time (Sotah 10a).
Gen 21:25 And Avraham rebuked Avimelech because of a well of water, which Avimelech's servants had violently taken away.
If there was to be a covenant Avraham wanted it to be established with truth and integrity. This is why he placed his cards on the table regarding the continued violent behaviour of Avimelech’s men. With peace comes responsibility and openness. Any peace devised outside of these parameters is a false peace.
Gen 21:26 And Avimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this thing: neither did you tell me, nor have I heard of it, until today.”
Avimelech’s claim seems unlikely, given that it had been his practice to send his men to commit crimes against others (the abduction of Sarah).
Gen 21:27 And Avraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Avimelech; and both of them karat (cut) a covenant. Gen 21:28 And Avraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Gen 21:29 And Avimelech asked Avraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?” Gen 21:30 And he said, “These seven ewe (female) lambs shall you take from my hand, that they may bear witness of me, that I discovered (chafar) this well.” Gen 21:31 So he called that place Beer-sheva (Well of seven, sevenfold covenant, well of blessing, covenant of rest); because there they both swore. Gen 21:32 Thus they karat (cut) a covenant at Beer-sheva: then Avimelech rose up, and Phichol (Peh-col: Mouth of all, strength) the chief captain of his army, and they returned into the land of the Pilishtiym (Immigrants).
The seven (Shiv’ah) female lambs correspond to the oath (Sh’vuah) and emphasize the completeness, longevity and rest that the oath will bring. Allegorically speaking, based solely on the meaning of the names, the father of trust is making an agreement with his father the King. Thus the well is named quite literally, “Well of Seven” or, “Well of Oath”.
Avraham’s insistence that Avimelech accept the lambs as a gift is an ancient means of verifying ownership, much like the transaction carried out in Ruth 4:7. It is a symbolic act, intended to be witnessed by all present as a mark of future legal security.
Gen 21:33 And Avraham planted an orchard (tamarisk) in Beersheva, and called there on the name of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), the everlasting Elohim (God). Gen 21:34 And Avraham sojourned in the land of Pilishtiym (Immigrants) many days.
The account ends with the planting of an orchard representing shade and respite for weary desert travelers and the unity of the God-head in Mercy (YHVH) and Judgement (Elohim).
The planting of trees, possibly tamarisk (an evergreen tree that common to the Middle East, it can reach heights of 15.2 meters) is an act of remembrance. Infact trees are still planted today in Israel in memory of loved ones and to mark special events. Therefore, the planting of these shady trees near a well in an arid location are best understood to represent a memorial to the God Who has provided and heir, life-giving water and shelter in the wilderness for Avraham.
Avraham is said to have sojourned in the land of the Philistines for twenty-six years (Yarchi & Bereshit Rabba, sect. 54. fol. 48. 4)
Rashi says that it is important to read this as a sojourning because the years from the birth of Isaac are to be counted in the 400 years during which Avraham’s descendants would be aliens in a land not their own. However, the land in which Avraham is now sojourning has already been promised to him and his descendants, therefore, Rashi’s assertion is incompatible with the prophetic word of God. The four hundred years can only refer to the years Israel will spend in Egypt as slaves to Pharaoh.
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,