“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
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.