AKEIDAT YITZCHAK - The Binding of Isaac by Alan Gilman
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. (Bereshit/Genesis 22:9-10)
Could you imagine Isaac telling this story from his childhood to own his sons, Jacob and Esau. "Hey boys, did I ever tell you about the time God told my dad to offer me as a sacrifice?" to which Esau laughs and blurts: "You gotta be kidding, Dad. You make up the craziest stories." Jacob, trying to appear overly intellectual, gives his brother a knowing look, and says: "Undoubtedly father is speaking in exaggerated metaphorical terms." Isaac shakes his head. "No, my sons. The journey we took to Mount Moriah was so strange. We walked for days accompanied by a few of my father's most trusted servants. He had said something about making an offering to his God. We didn't take any animals with us to sacrifice, so I figured he would trade for a sheep or a goat from a herdsman along the way.
But when we arrived at the foot of the mountain, still with no animal, he told the servants that they should stay there while he continued on with me to worship God. We carried fire, wood, and a knife up to the top. By that time, I couldn't keep my thoughts to myself any longer. I asked him where the animal for the offering was. He looked off in the distance while saying, 'God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.' This was getting really weird.
To this day, I can't tell you why I let him, but he tied me down to the wood -" Seeing the terror in his sons' eyes, Isaac interrupted himself - "Obviously he didn't do it." Their tension eased slightly. Isaac had a hard time trying to convey what happened next. It seemed like forever before he was able to get the words out. "He didn't do it, but when I saw the knife in my father's hand hanging over me, I was completely frozen. It was as if time stood still. Then God spoke. At least that's what my father said; I thought I heard something, but I couldn't make it out. Perhaps I was too scared. Dad dropped the knife and began to untie me.
He then went off to some shrubs nearby, where a ram had gotten his horns caught in some thorns. I don't know how it got there or why we hadn't seen it till then. Dad said that he was to offer the ram in my place. He and I never talked about it after that."
If you know the stories of Jacob and Esau, you would know that each of them in their own way had serious issues with their father's and grandfather's faith. From what we can tell, Esau never showed interest in God at all, while Jacob really struggled. When God spoke blessing and promise to him as he was running away from Esau, Jacob's response was tentative. I can't say for sure that it was Isaac's experience on Mt. Moriah that turned his sons off from God, but I wouldn't be surprised if it played a major part.
I share these dramatic speculations to emphasize that there is nothing sentimental about encountering the true God. Too often stories like this are glossed over, distracting people from their troubling details. To be comforted by this story's resolve is one thing, but to miss its distress is to miss a core aspect. God's involvement in our lives can really mess us up at times. He has no issue upsetting our routines, challenging the status quo, or forcing us to face our dysfunctions in spite of how uncomfortable that may be.
Readers of the New Testament tend to delight in the commentary to this story from the book of Hebrews, where we read that Abraham thought that God would raise Isaac from the dead if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19). This means he was indeed willing to kill his own son. Some may take this to be a great act of faith, which it is, but at what cost to his son? "My dad trusted God so much that he was willing to kill me?" Oh my!
But isn't Isaac's submission to his father a beautiful and moving picture of what Messiah actually did for us? Messiah did submit to an untimely, unjust death on our behalf, but beautiful and moving? Really? Yeshua submitted to depths of evil that you and I can hardly conceive of. He was willing to take head on the fulness of sin's consequences that we might have eternal life. The results of his death are beyond wonderful, worthy of our unending gratitude, but the process certainly wasn't nice.
As we walk with God, we, like Isaac, may be intimidated - even traumatized - by the threat of death. Until the final judgment God's people will be continually threatened by the brutality of sin's effects on the creation. That's why it is so crucial to remember the knife hanging over us will not have the final word. Yeshua's conquest over death, typified by Isaac, should encourage us to face the evil in our own day with confidence and hope in spite of the trauma.
Most Christian scholars and theologians see Isaac as a youngster, perhaps 13 years old, who could not resist his father’s actions. However, Jewish tradition sees Isaac as 36 or 37 years old at the time of the Akeidah. They deduce this because Gen 22 (which recounts the story of Akeidat Yitzchak) and Gen 23 – the death of Sarah - follows in quick succession. Sarah passed away at age 127 years; Isaac was conceived when she was 90 years old. That makes Isaac about 36 0r 37 years old.
Likewise, Yeshua appears to have been born at around 6 C.E., some 2 years after the death of Herod (4 C.E.). Yeshua died in 30 C.E., this suggesting that he too was around 36 years old at the time of his crucifixion.
In John 10:17-18, Yeshua said:
“I lay down my life so that I may take it up again. No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again.”
There are other similarities between the Isaac and Yeshua:
Both Isaac and Yeshua were miraculously conceived by women who in the natural would not have been able to give birth to a child.
Both fathers – Abraham and HaShem – were willing to sacrifice their unique sons
John 3:16 -- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
Both Isaac and Yeshua were sacrificed in the very same place, Mount Moriah.
This is relevant because no other Biblical figures shares this specific history. God commanded Abraham to travel about 50 miles to sacrifice Isaac at just this location, without ever offering an explanation.
Both sons of promise carried the wood up the hill where they would be sacrificed. In all of scripture, this is also unique to these 2 men.
In both accounts, the story concludes with the message that “God will provide.”
Both these events occurred on the 3rd day
Genesis 22:4 – “on the 3rd day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw THE place from a distance”. HaMakom (one of the names of God).
On the 3rd day after his circumcision, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the 3 divine visitors approaching. On the 3rd day, at the dawn of the 3rd day, Yeshua rose from the grave, the first fruits of those who were dead.
However, there is one major distinction between these two events. The Father intervened to spare Isaac but He did not intervene to spare His only Son, Yeshua, who was destined to die on the execution stake! Not My will but Thine, O Lord!