“He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.””  Gen. 22:2

Taking it in Context

One disadvantage we as Christians have is that our scripture portions are divided up smaller than a follower of Judaism would read.  The Jews read Parshas, or ‘weekly Torah portions’ which are generally much larger than a chapter in a standard bible.   For example, Gen. 12:1 – 17:27 is Parsha Lech-Lecha, and Gen. 18:1 – 22:24 is Parsha Vayeira, which cover the equivalent of 11 chapters – the majority of the Abraham narrative.  In the case of the Jews, this portion may be read on the same day or a week apart, whereas unless you sit down and read 5 – 10 chapters at a time, you may miss something.  I say this is a disadvantage, because there are elements that are simply forgotten between chapters, and within the original language especially there are phrases that carry over that would trigger a recollection from a previous passage.

An example of this is the phrase “go to” (the land of Moriah) in Gen. 22:2.  This is the same word in the Hebrew that was used in Gen. 12:1 when Abraham was called “to go forth” from his homeland.  Such words and phrases routinely tie the narrative together in the Hebrew that we likely often miss, as they do not always come through in the translation.  The remainder of the verse follows the same pattern:  “to one of the heights I will point out to you” (22:2) / “to the land that I will show you” (12:1).  These phrases should entreat the reader to think back to Abraham’s first calling from God as he stepped out in faith, comparing it to the level of faith needed in the current trial before him.

What Was God’s Intention?

The scholar Rashi contends that God never intended that Isaac be slaughtered, but rather, be ‘brought up’ (to the altar).  Abraham would have assumed that by going this far he would have to carry out the ritualistic deed.  So in essence God told him to bring Isaac up to prepare him for an offering, but did not tell him to carry out the sacrifice.  This is why God then says in verse 12  “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him”.  At first it seems as if God changed his command at the last second, but in Jeremiah 19:5 God speaks against human beings as burnt offerings by referring to the act as “a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind”  If Rashi is correct, there is no contradiction in the command here, only an obligatory assumption on the part of Abraham.

Mt. Moriah

Today in Israel, the golden dome you see as the centerpiece of Jerusalem is an Islamic holy site – The “Dome of the Rock” where the story from the Qur’an and the Bible took place.  This is also the location where it is believed the Jewish temple once stood (see 2 Chron. 3:1).  The Western Wall, sometimes referred to as the Wailing Wall, is the retaining wall to the temple mount, down below and adjacent to the Dome of the Rock.