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“Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming.  Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel.  She said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “He is my master.” Then she took her veil and covered herself.  The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.  Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”  Gen. 24:62-67

Because I believe that Isaac is a picture of the Christ, and Rebekah is a picture of the church, it is difficult not to attempt to draw parallels between this portion of the narrative and end-times happenings.  Unfortunately to do so would probably raise more questions than it answered.  For instance, there is repeated instruction from Abraham not to take Isaac back to the land where he was from, but we know the Christ ultimately returns at the second advent, so it is difficult to draw such a parallel.

What the scene is about otherwise is the meeting of Rebekah and Isaac, and the consummation of their relationship.   There are a few items worth noting in these verses:

1 – Isaac was not living with Abraham, he was living in the Negev (v. 62).  Some speculate that Isaac parted ways with Abraham after his near-sacrifice in Genesis 22; that perhaps Isaac was disturbed by this, possibly being at an age where he did not have as full an understanding of God as Abraham did.  Also we note that it appears Isaac did not return with Abraham from Mount Moriah that fateful day (Gen. 22:19).

2 – The text notes where Isaac was coming from – Beer-lahai-roi – does this mean he was just arriving? If read that way it would appear to be divinely orchestrated; he would have had to leave his home at the right time to arrive while the caravan was arriving.  Such was the case with the servant, who arrived right when Rebekah was going out to draw water.

3 – It is also worth noting that the Targum Onkelos (the official Babylonian translation of the Torah), as well as some common translations render the place name where Hagar saw the Angel of the Lord at the well in Gen 16:14 and Beer-lahai-roi as the same place.  This was the place where Hagar fled to from Sarah after becoming pregnant with Ishmael.  The Lord told Hagar to go back and submit to her mistress.  It is believed by many Jewish scholars that this is in the text to allude to the fact that Isaac was actually looking for Hagar – to bring her back to Abraham now that Sarah has passed on – which I will discuss more in the next chapter’s postings.

4 – When Rebekah dismounts the camel (v. 64), according to Rashi she practically fell off.  It would appear that if she didn’t know the man was Isaac yet, she was certainly hoping it was.

5 – The servant refers to Isaac as his masters (v. 65).  Prior to this the servant referred several times to Abraham as his master.  In this case the servant likely considers both men as his master, though it draws an interesting parallel to the servant being a picture of the Holy Spirit, Isaac being a picture of the Christ, and Abraham being a picture of God.

6 – I find it fascinating that although the long awaited bride of Isaac finally arrives, it appears she waits patiently, with veil over her head, for Isaac to finish his conversation with the servant.  Before they enter the tent, the text tells us in verse 66 “The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.”  The servant’s report to his master took precedence.

“Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.”  Gen. 22:9

Abraham has spent many years walking with God, and now is in the midst of his last trial.  Even for righteous Abraham, this is the culmination of a lifetime of preparation – years of building steps of faith upon faith leading up to this point;  It is all too easy to briefly read this story in order to summarize it in our minds, too easy to marvel at the faith of Abraham to do what God asked of him without asking what significance it has for us.

Just as Abraham is tested, we too are tested.   We have the benefit of being able to read his story to gain wisdom, and insight into how our Creator wishes to interact with us; to know what He wants from us.  But if we do not ask how the story applies to us personally, we cannot gain anything from it.

Abraham heard from God, and went to Moriah to carry out a specific deed.

Have we heard from God at all?  Do we know where God wants us to go, or in what direction?   Once we know, are we willing to make that journey?  And once we arrive, are we prepared to give to God the thing closest to our hearts?

As followers of Christ we often sell ourselves short, assuming that because sanctification is a lifelong process and we will not ever be perfect this side of paradise, we don’t try hard enough.  After passing this final test, Abraham has reached his spiritual pinnacle; he is done building altars, and God is done testing him.  He is, essentially, sanctified.  We too must aim for this.  Jesus said “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

It is also too easy to think that such a drastic and bizarre test surely only applies to someone such as Abraham and is far removed from us.  And surely the promises given to Abraham in exchange for his obedience were far greater in scope than God would give to us… right?

Have we listened for God’s voice?  Have we went where He’s asked us to go?  Are we prepared to give Him what He’s asked of us?  Do we believe His promises?

“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.

“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.

“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.

“So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away.”  Gen 21:14(a)

Abraham acts quickly, arising early in the morning, and this is not the first time.  With the circumcision of himself and his household, he did not put off the act as we may based upon our fear of pain; but rather he did this the same day (Gen. 17:23), and we know he had no small household (See Gen. 14:14).

Likewise, here we see the putting out of Hagar and Ishmael once he knew it was God’s will (21:12)

In Genesis 22, we see Abraham arise early yet again when he receives God’s call to go to Moriah where he will be tested with the offering of Isaac (Gen. 22:3).

Thus we should learn that when we perceive that God wants us to take action, we should act quickly; for the sooner we act, the sooner His promises will be fulfilled.

“The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”  So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.”  Gen. 12:7

You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered.  I will come to you and bless you.”  Exodus 20:24

Abraham had recently arrived at the land of Canaan, where God had called him to go, and built his first altar.  Then he proceeded to the place between Bethel and Ai, and built his next altar, which became the location that Joshua would later use as a place of ambush to defeat the Amorites of Ai (Joshua 8:9, 26).

The next altar Abraham built was in the oaks of Mamre by Hebron, which, according to the promise above concerning giving the land to Abraham’s descendants, was given as an inheritance to Caleb (Joshua 14:13).

Abraham then built an altar was built in the land of Moriah to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:2.  In 2 Chronicles 3:1 we see that Solomon begins to build the house of the LORD, which is the temple, on Mount Moriah.  This location became the location of the second temple as well, until its destruction in 70 AD.  Today at this location in Israel there is no temple standing, only one of the retaining walls (known as the ‘western wall” or the “wailing wall”) remains.

Isaac builds an altar in Beersheba in Genesis 26:23-25.  Beersheba, along with much other surrounding land, becomes the inheritance of Simeon. (Joshua 19:1-2)

Jacob builds an altar in Shechem of Canaan (Gen 33:20) which later is part of the area that becomes Manasseh’s land (Joshua 17:2, 7).  Also, this is the place where Joshua was buried. (Joshua 24:32)

Jacob builds another altar in Bethel at God’s command for saving him from his brother Esau.  Bethel later becomes a border of the inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh’s land (from Bethel to Luz, Joshua 16:2-4)

After the incident at the rock at Horeb where God provided water for the thirsty and grumbling Israelites, Moses builds an altar at Rephidim upon defeat of the Amalekites.  Horeb is known as the ‘Mountain of God’ and is generally understood to be the location where the ten commandments were given to Moses, which is Mt. Sinai (see Deut. 4:10).

I regret that I cannot complete a more thorough study of altars built and later events at those locations at this time, however I trust these examples are sufficient in showing God keeping His promises.  We see how God does acknowledge the place where the altar is built and brings blessing to that place.  In fact, considering the promise of blessing was made after the ten commandments were given, we can see that God had purposed the promise of blessing even before He verbalized it to Israel!

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