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“Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.”  Gen. 23:1

Jews typically do not read in chapters, but rather they read Parshas, which are larger portions of the text.  Parsha Chayei Sarah is the fifth parsha of Genesis, which means “The Life of Sarah”.  We may find “The Life of Sarah” an odd title considering that her death is announced in verse 1 and the rest of the chapter is comprised of Abraham acquiring her burial place.  However this is no mistake;  A midrash tells us that we are told of her death in connection with her life because her years were filled with life.  When you re-read verse 1 you will note the repetition – “Sarah lived… these were the years of the life of Sarah.

Sarah has the distinction of being the only woman in the bible whose age is given     upon death.  Some translations read Sarah’s age as one hundred years, twenty years and seven years.  There is no obvious significance to this breakdown – we know Isaac was born when Sarah was 90 or 91 for example, not 100.  Some Jewish commentators note that 120 years would be the ideal age (based upon Moses’ life), and the additional seven years could be because the number 7 represents completion, perfection, God, etc.

Though the reason Sarah died is not listed in scripture, a midrash tells us that Sarah died because Abraham returned from Moriah without Isaac, and she believed he had been sacrificed.  We cannot rule out this possibility, nor can we prove it.  It does appear that Isaac did not return with Abraham however (see my previous post: We Will Worship and Return to You)

 

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“Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn and Buz his brother and Kemuel the father of Aram and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” Bethuel became the father of Rebekah; these eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah.”  Gen. 22:20-24

We haven’t heard anything about Abraham’s family since he left them in Genesis 12. Abraham hears the news that his brother Nahor has a growing family.  Nahor has twelve children in all, and at least two grandchildren.  Eight of the children are through his wife Milcah, and four are through his concubine Reumah.

We often read verses like this and think there is no real purpose why they are there.  Consider that Abraham almost slew his only son (since Ishmael had been sent away) and was now reminded of his promise of many descendants to come.  Surely this news of his brothers expanded family warmed his heart and refreshed his hope!

This news is also mentioned because Isaac’s future wife, Rebekah would come from among the family, of which Abraham had hoped to marry his son into as we will see in Gen. 24.

 

“Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”  Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.”  Gen. 22:14-19

After Abraham completes the sacrifice of the substitute ram and names the place “Jehovah Jireh”, or “The LORD will provide” (or perhaps “The LORD will see our need” – see my previous posting God Will Provide), God reminds Abraham of the promises He previously gave him, and adds an additional blessing as well.

When Abraham was first called by God in Genesis 12:2-3, God gave several promises to Abraham, some of which are repeated here, including making him into a great nation, and that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  In 12:7 God adds the blessing of the Promised Land, which is also repeated in Gen. 13:14-15, and v. 16 Abraham’s future descendants are likened to the dust of the earth.  In Gen. 15:5 they are likened to the stars of the heavens. A few of these promises are reaffirmed yet again between Genesis 16 and 21.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean that Abraham really only needed to follow God’s initial calling to leave his family and travel to Canaan and the same promises would still be in effect?  Did Abraham have to go through the other ordeals such as circumcising himself and all his household, sending away his son Ishmael, and the near-death of his son Isaac, if the promises in the end were largely the same?  Or were the promises contingent upon Abraham’s continued obedience?  If Abraham had failed here, would the promises still hold true?

Perhaps God’s continued testing of Abraham was precisely to bring about one of His promises about Abraham:  “I will make your name great” (Gen. 12:2, paraphrased)

One new promise is in v. 17: “your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” This promise is echoed in Gen. 24:60 when Rebekah’s family blesses her before she departs to marry Isaac.

It may well be that this new promise is directly linked to Abraham’s latest trial. After all, in this story the offering of Isaac is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ.  As such, Isaac’s soon-to-be wife Rebekah becomes a picture of the church, as the church is the bride of Christ.  Isaac mysteriously disappears after the offering (see v. 19) and we do not see him again until he meets Rebekah.  Both Isaac (Abraham’s seed) and Rebekah receive the same blessing – to possess the gate of their enemies.  This is very similar to what Christ said in Matthew 16:18:

“…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.”  Gen. 22:13

Matthew Henry, in his Commentary, notes that just as Abraham was tested to ensure he loved God more than his father (Gen. 12), now God wanted to ensure Abraham loved him more than his own son Isaac.  Now that Abraham has proven this, the sacrifice of Isaac can be called off, and the ram offered instead.

Abraham’s story embodies here what Jesus said about being willing to hate our families (by comparison of our love for Him).  That is the necessary level to strive for, and Abraham was able to prove that to God.

God ultimately provides a substitute sacrifice as Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket.  Gesenius’s Lexicon (Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testamament Scriptures) defines the word ‘thicket’ here as “branches, interwoven1.  The late pastor Adrian Rogers noted that this scene prefigured the crown of thorns upon the head of Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice, prior to His crucifixion.

I believe God introduced the concept of the substitutionary sacrifice here to guide His people, the Jews, into understanding what He would do with the Christ. Another similar example would be in Genesis 41 – how Joseph was somehow both under Pharaoh, but was in full power, just as Pharaoh was.  This is a picture of how Jesus can be considered co-equal with God as the Christian faith believes.  After all, it was written of Joseph that he was paraded around Egypt with shouts of “bow the knee!”, and of Christ it is written in Philippians 2:10 “every knee will bow”.

The rams horn (the shofar) in Jewish tradition is related to this story.  Additionally, the liturgy for the second day of Rosh Hashanah includes the reading of Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac, as this story is known.

Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for cĕbak (Strong’s 5442)”. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 2 Oct 2010. < http:// www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5442&t=KJV >

“Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.””  Gen. 22:10-12

Abraham is literally seconds away from killing his son when the angel of the LORD calls out and stops him.  As Abraham carefully lowers the knife he is likely both perplexed and relieved;  Relieved because his son shall live, and with him the promises of God concerning his descendants.  Perplexed because his heart has surely been twisted in this ordeal, and in this last moment, untwisted, as the purpose of the test was revealed to Abraham.  This was not just a test of faith; this test was mental, physical and emotional in nature.  Every facet of Abraham was tested.

The heart of God is revealed to Abraham here as well.  We must remember that Abraham grew up in Ur, and that his father, Terah, was an idolater (see Joshua 24:2).  Abraham had likely at least heard of some of the other gods that demanded human sacrifice, if not experienced them more closely.  Surely, as the one true God revealed Himself to Abraham, and Abraham started following Him in all obedience, Abraham was not even considering that God was like the other false gods in any way.  But when God asked Abraham to offer up his only son, Abraham probably had many conflicting thoughts going through his head:  He was weighing what this God has done for him; how this God has even told him of future events, such as Sodom and Gomorrah and the birth of his son Isaac, prophetically, how the angels saved Lot, the victory he had against the four kings with just 318 men, these were all good things.  This God also asked Abraham to circumcise himself and his whole household, which was extremely painful for days, and aside from God’s promises, likely had no other obvious immediate benefit.

And now suddenly this God was asking for the offering of his only remaining son – the son that was promised and foretold, the son who was going to be the step to making Abraham into a great nation – and God was now asking Abraham to offer him up as if he were an animal, on the altar.  Certainly Abraham had to make a choice at that point if he was going to keep following God, and did so.  And so God shows His own heart to Abraham, that He was not like the other gods, He did not demand human sacrifice. Instead He relented, He showed His wonderful mercy.  And this mercy is the heart of God.

“Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.”  Gen. 22:7-8

Isaac inquires of his father Abraham where the animal for the sacrifice is, since they brought all the other provisions with them from Gerar.  Even the wood was brought, as they did not know if Moriah would have any wood to use. (Plaut) If Abraham would have brought a lamb however, it would have shown such a lack of faith that there would be no point in making the trip.  Surely Abraham was hoping God would somehow relent from His request, but armed with incomplete information he simply had to move forward.  This is not unlike our own Christian walk at times.

Abraham’s answer that “God will provide for Himself the lamb” (v. 8 ) was unknowingly prophetic, though not specifically in the current circumstance.  God did provide a substitute animal for Abraham’s offering, but it was a ram, not a lamb.  The lamb that God would ultimately provide as an offering for Himself would be Jesus the Messiah, the pure and spotless lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The modern translations of this portion of the verse may be lacking in scope however.  Here are a few other translations of this section of the text from various Hebrew sources (emphasis mine):

“The lamb is known to the LORD”

“God will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering”

“God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering”

It appears what reads in our modern English translations simply as provision really involves this idea of knowing or seeing. Consider the same Hebrew word, ra’ah, is used four times in this chapter alone, but is translated differently two of those times:

  • v. 4 – On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance
  • v. 8 – “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
  • v. 13 – Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns
  • v. 14 – Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide

According to Strong’s, to provide, or provision, isn’t one of the definitions of the word.  So what does this mean for this verse?  Robert Alter in his commentary believes it has to do with the scope of what we are reading – And so we need to ‘see’ past a short sighted view of child slaughter to the grander scope of the promise of true vision.” This could be the case.  It could also be implying that God knows the Lamb, Christ, who will ultimately be the sacrifice, personally.

“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.”  Gen. 22:6

Genesis 22:6 is yet another verse that gets glossed over in an effort to move the story along, causing us to miss a significant detail.  To the Jewish reader, we have the dramatic irony that Isaac is carrying the very wood that he himself is to be sacrificed upon.  To the Christian, this is a foreshadowing of Christ carrying His own cross to His crucifixion.

Surprisingly, there is a midrash (Jewish rabbincal writing) from after the time of Christ that points out this very parallel, first quoting from this verse, it then reads “like one bearing his own cross.” (Gen. Rabbah. 56:3)

The phrase “So the two of them walked on together.” appears twice to build the tension leading up to the event (v. 6 and 8).   In verse 7, Isaac will ask Abraham where the sacrifice is, since they have all the other provisions.  He can probably deduce from Abraham’s answer that he will be the offering.  The phrase is then repeated – “the two of them walked on together.”

According to Rashi, the implication is that Abraham and Isaac were together ‘in one purpose’.  Isaac went willingly, even though he was aware of what was coming.   The general belief is that Isaac is between 25 and 37 years  of age a this point, and Abraham is 100 years older than Isaac.  Isaac could have easily overpowered Abraham, or simply ran away if he wished to.  Instead, Isaac is a willing participant.

In the New Testament writings, we see that Christ also willingly laid down His own life (John 10:18, 1 John 3:16).  There are many more parallels between Isaac and Jesus.

“Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.””  Gen. 22:5

Abraham tells the two servant lads that he and Isaac are going to worship and return.  Why does he say this?  Abraham has just trekked a three-day journey with one purpose in mind:  to be obedient to God by offering up his son Isaac.  How then could he possibly return with Isaac?  Is Abraham being misleading about the task at hand to avoid questions?  Is he still holding out that God has a different plan?  Does Abraham have that much faith that somehow this will work out without taking Isaac’s life?  We get some possible insight from the book of Hebrews, 11:17-19:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”

To our knowledge, no one in the history of human existence had been raised from the dead at this point.  The writers of the New Testament had the benefit of looking back on the writings about Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-22) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:30-37);  Abraham had no such written miracles to offer him hope.  And with such as the request at hand, Abraham was still trying to figure out exactly who this God, Jehovah, was.

Consider that this was to be a burnt offering. The prescribed method for this ritual would have involved first the slaying of Isaac with the knife, a sprinkling of blood, skinning the offering, dismembering the body, and ultimately burning the offering to ashes (see Lev. 1). This would not merely be faith that Isaac would survive a seemingly fatal stab wound.  Abraham must have been wondering how God could possibly bring Isaac back from such a state.

This does not imply that Abraham did not have faith, however we must consider that perhaps he told his servant lads they would return together so that the servants did not attempt to stop Abraham from following through with the offering.

There are no shortage of opinions on this verse.  There is the view that Abraham said this out of faith; even that Isaac’s survival was a prophecy by Abraham.  Surprisingly, there are also many versions of the story in rabbinical writings where Isaac actually was offered, and God miraculously brought him back from the dead at some future point.  There were views within Judaism in Medieval times attesting that the offering of Isaac showed atonement for all Israel.  Some even suggest that Sarah’s death is related to Isaac’s death (upon her finding out.)  As these interpretations are from extra-biblical writings, and seem to be in opposition to the biblical text, they are mentioned here just to show that even in Judaism, the concept of atonement for sins by human sacrifice did exist.

The bigger question however, is this:  Did Isaac return with Abraham at all?  Verse 19 reads “So Abraham returned to his young men…”  There is no mention of Isaac returning with Abraham.  In Genesis 24, as Abraham is about to die, we see him blessing his oldest servant – not Isaac as we would expect!  Isaac is, in fact, still alive, but it appears he is not living with Abraham any longer.   Isaac ultimately returns to marry Rebekah.  Is this mysterious disappearance a picture of Christ coming back for his bride, the church?

“On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.” Gen. 22:4

This verse is yet another that gets glossed over when we read the scriptures for informational purposes and do not think about what is happening in the narrative, and how it may apply to our lives.  When Abraham was asked by God to  circumcise himself, he acted quickly and carried out the task that very day (Gen. 17).  In this case it is simply not possible for Abraham to act with immediate obedience and accomplish the intended feat so quickly.  With the daunting task that lay before him, Abraham has a full three-day journey ahead to Mt. Moriah.

There are times when things must be thought out, and wrestled with in our minds.  Perhaps in this case, God wanted Abraham to have plenty of time to think about what he was asked to do: to sacrifice his only son, the one through whom God’s promises were to be fulfilled.  After all, if Abraham acted on impulse and slew his son it would not prove anything to God, and he would have truly lost his son Isaac (and with him the promises from God.)  God was trying to prove something, as he said “for now I know that you fear God” afterward.

And the request simply did not make sense.  God saw to it that despite three full days to think about it, the request was not going to make sense until an Angel of the LORD called for Abraham to stop when he was moments from killing his beloved son.

The fact that nothing is recorded about Abraham stopping along the way may be telling; although he likely stopped for the night, he otherwise kept walking.  We are all called to quick obedience, and to press onward.  In this case, if Abraham had tarried, his mental anguish about offering Isaac would tarry as well.  And to be certain, there are times in our lives when the trial we are undergoing  simply does not make sense;  but we are rewarded when we press on, and pleasantly find that despite the circumstances in the end our situation worked out.

I once was speaking with a Jewish friend about what faith is.  He believed that faith was simply faithfulness – that is, obedience, to God.  At first this stumped me as I could not immediately disagree, though I knew faith was something more than this.  Then I thought of this story, the binding of Isaac.  Faith is also obedience to God even when it doesn’t make sense.


“So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”  Gen. 22:3

First we note Abraham rising early, which appears to be his custom, at least when God is involved (see Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3)

What we may also miss is that Abraham seems to be doing all these miscellaneous chores himself.  Abraham is about to make a three-day journey.  He has servants; he will be bringing two of them with him.  Why is Abraham saddling his donkey?  Why is he the one splitting the wood?  It may be that he is just a kind master and doesn’t mind doing some things himself, but surely he has a lot on his mind.  Perhaps Abraham feels he must go through all the steps of this act himself, to ensure no guilt is upon anyone else.

Abraham brings wood because he does not know if the place he is going will have wood available (Plaut).  However he does not bring an animal, because he must believe Isaac is to be the sacrifice.

As Abraham is making all these preparations, what was he thinking about?  Could Jehova, this God who called Abraham to Canaan and away from his fathers house of idols (see Joshua 24:2) and revealed wondrous promises to him, could this God be just like the gods of his fathers, who demanded human sacrifice?  Could this awful thing be true?  If this is the case, Abraham would have to make a choice if he would obey and follow such a God.   Perhaps Abraham was testing God at the same time.  “Will this God I’ve been following that purports to be the one true God, give me such wondrous promises but yet dash my hope to pieces by the murder of my miraculous son, by my own hands, the very son through whom such wondrous promises are to come?”

Or did Abraham trust God much more than that?

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