Aqedah : Sacrifice Of Isaac

My dear readers, once again I’ve been led by your comments to put off my own plans for a while. I had been planning to prepare a survey of the Lamb image in Tanach before we enter Passover, and we will definitely do that next time. However, because many of you reacted so strongly to the discussion of Genesis 22 in my last post, for now I feel led to write about Aqedah. Next time, we will continue with our survey of the Lamb image.

***

The secret things belong to the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.[1]  By God’s great mercy this connection between things secret and things revealed is utterly alive: even today the Lord speaks with us through His Word, continuing to reveal the secret things. Let us visualize that mountain, the location of one of the strangest events in the history of Israel. We see the aging father, who with his own hands binds his beloved son and lays him on the altar. Knife in hand, he has already stretched out his arm to slay him, but… halted by a voice from heaven, he looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket by its horns, which he then sacrifices as a burnt offering in the place of the son originally intended for this sacrifice.

 

When we look back down at this mountain and at these three figures, our hearts quiver with the awareness of this secret, with the foretaste of some incredibly important and only partially understood, not yet revealed, mystery of God: this picture is like some episode from His forethoughts and plans for the history of the world. This long ago slaying of the sacrificial lamb, which took place perhaps even before the beginning of time, but somehow still resounds today, exceeds all bounds of history, time and the passing world.  Why? What is so important there?  Why did the father have to sacrifice his son? Who was this son, laid on the altar by his father? And this ram, caught in the thicket by his horns – what does he symbolize?

 

What do you think – for whom was it more difficult – for the father or for the son? For the one who, with his own hand led his beloved son to the altar, or for the one who, unawares, was led to be slain?  One can only guess what was going on in the heart of the father as he walked down the path, knowing for what and for whom he took the fire in his hand.[2] Abraham knew only too well the reason for going up this mountain. The son, however, knew nothing. Isaac was obviously perplexed, all the time understanding less and less what was going on and where the lamb for the burnt offering[3] was. Nevertheless, without a single complaint he continued to follow his father in perfect obedience, and perfect trust. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.[4] Picture a son obediently ascending the mountain behind his father with a heavy load of firewood on his back (even Midrash says: “like one who carries his stake on his shoulder”[5]), not having the slightest inkling of what awaits him there at the top. He loved his father and knew that his father loved him. He could never have imagined his father doing anything to him that was inconsistent with his perception of the fatherly love of which he was the object. Consider what Isaac must have experienced when his father, whose love for him was the unshakeable foundation of his life, began to bind him on the altar on top of the wood, and raised his hand with the knife over him… Imagine the horror in the eyes of your child, if you had done this to him – horror, not even so much in the face of death, as the horror of absolute incomprehension of what his adored and adoring father is doing to him and where his love has disappeared to. This horror would have been fully experienced by the beloved son of Abraham, before the trial ended as it did (and it’s no surprise that many years after, Isaac’s son Jacob is still calling God: “The Fear of Isaac”[6]).

 

This story resonates with a mystery words cannot fully describe. It is the mystery of the father-son relationship, gradually displayed more and more fully as the pair continues the journey to the mountaintop. Consider: this is a path down which the father leads his son – a path on which the son starts out as just a son, but which he finds ends at an altar. A path on which, in walking down it, the son becomes the lamb, with none other than the father himself leading him to be sacrificed. The one who, up until now was simply a beloved son, is transformed on this path into the lamb to be offered up by the father. And the most unfathomable, the most torturous, tragic feature in all of this is that the son himself does not yet know about it. He knows that he is the son beloved of his father, but with every step on the path, each taken in complete ignorance, the closer he gets to the altar the more complete his transformation becomes. With a heart reeling from the agony, the father leads the son/lamb to his slaughter. In this is the mystery and secret of the Father’s plan, the Father’s love, and the Father’s election – The Mystery of Sonship.

 

‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering,’[7] Abraham tells Isaac, and although there on the mountain at first we see only two figures – Abraham and Isaac, father and son – after a time it turns out that there is someone else in the picture: the ram caught in a thicket by its horns.[8] The lamb, which God provided for Himself for the burnt offering! Neither Abraham nor we the readers could see how and when the ram got there; he simply was there, and had been from the very beginning. In Jewish sources, this ram is considered a creature of great importance and is included in the list of the things created at twilight at the end of the 6th day of Creation.[9]  The entirety of God’s design for the ages, His complete plan for humanity, is within this scene. At first, there are two: the father and the son; however, in the dispensation of the fullness of the times[10] it turns out that there is also the Lamb, who from the creation of the world, was destined for sacrifice. “I heard from behind the Heavenly Veil these words: ‘Not Isaac, but the ram predestined for the burnt offering.’”[11] The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world replaces, on the altar, the one whom Father Himself has called His son and firstborn[12].

Next time, as I mentioned, we will continue with our survey of the Lamb image. Meanwhile, as we are approaching Passover, the time of  gifts and blessings, I would like to bless you with a gift of free  script about Passover lamb that I wrote. You can download the script from my website, http://readjuliablum.com

 

 

[1] Deut. 29:29

[2] Gen. 22:6

[3] Gen. 22:7

[4] Is. 53:7

[5] Midrash Rabbah, 53:6

[6] Gen. 31:42, 53

[7] Gen. 22:8

[8] Gen. 22:13

[9] Pirkey Avot, 5:9

[10] Eph. 1:10

[11]  Haggadah: Tales, proverbs, sayings of the Talmud and Midrash

[12] If you want to read more about the mystery of Aqedah (sacrifice of Isaac) and the meaning of this sacrifice for Israel, you might be interested to read my book: “If you are the Son of God”.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. eric sachs

    It might be wondered just how valid is a sacrifice that shows up alive again three days later; Jesus no doubt wears a crown of thorns because he is that ram that was caught in the thicket by his horns. But the lineage is from Issac, and not the ram.

  2. Henrietta Wisbey

    O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God.!
    The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
    For me a key for unlocking these deep riches is to hear.
    Bow down your ear hear and your soul will live. Is.55:3
    I think there are things which the Lord speaks to us that we receive and hear in our innermost and when that is heard we have a confidence and a knowing that is unshakeable. It may not be seen or understood by others! But……
    I think Abraham had that hearing.
    God had reaveled to Abraham the way.
    The veil had been torn away.
    His eyes saw what he had heard.
    He walked in it.
    Thine ears shall hear a word behind you saying this is the way walk in it. Is.30:21
    Forever this is the pattern God so loved the world that He gave.
    There is so much in this wherever we look in Scripture the constant theme is shema. May that be my theme also.
    Blessings Henrietta.

    Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone.
    Job heard throughout his many searchings and God restored so much more.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Henrietta, it is so beautiful and so profound! And like always: the Scriptures you quote are the Scriptures I love. Isa 30:21 is one of my favorite verses!

  3. Robert Tobin

    I always love reading and studying this story. As you like to talk about the secrets we find, there was one I had not read as I was looking at your writing. Abraham and Isaac looked up and saw the mountain (the place) Makom. Everything I have read on this is that this place(Makom) is the same place Adam was created, the same place Adam gave offerings unto the Lord after he sinned in the garden, the same place Cain and Abel gave sacrifices to the Lord, the same place Noah sacrificed to the Lord after the flood.

    I also like it when Abraham looks up and see’s a ram behind him. This to me is God showing Abraham what is to happen in the future with His Son, Yeshua being put on the execution stake to be a sacrifice for mankind.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Robert, it is a very interesting issue indeed, this Makom topic. To everything you wrote, I would like to add also the story of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28) where the word Makom occurs 5 times. Jacob called the place Beth-El (House of God, and even though the place known as Beth-El was located 10 miles north of Jerusalem, some still think that it was the same place – Makom – that so many significant things happened there (the one that you are writing about) .

  4. Antwi Felix Twum

    Hi Julia,
    After God the Father provided Himself a Lamb, and the sacrifice was over how was the “path”down from the mountain like? Would the perfect protective trust the son had for the father ever remain the same? Of course I speak as a man, but each time I read your post, you give me the reason to conquer everyday battles. God richly bless you and all your endeavors. My comment is coming in a bit late though.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Antwi! I am very blessed to hear your words. As for the “path” down, it is a very big question : we know from the Scripture that Isaac didn’t come back with Abraham. The question is, as I wrote: where did Isaac go? We might have different suggestions, but since we also know that Isaac went through a very serious trauma there. (there are several times when Jacob is calling God “Fear of his father Isaac”), it seems that father and son went different paths down. Like you, I also think that their relations had changed after Moria.

  5. Nancy

    I truly enjoy reading your work. I would love to take your class. Perhaps this fall as the summer would not be conducive for me to concentrate.

  6. Osvald

    I think as a complement of what the Bible said, why not add some of the story of Jasher?