FROM ANNUNCIATION TO SACRIFICE
Torah Portion Vayera (“And He Appeared”, Gen.18:1-22:24) would be of special interest to the New Testament’ readers because the structure of this portion, in a sense, is similar to the structure of the Gospels (in particular, the Gospel of Luke): this Portion starts with the Divine Annunciation of the miraculous birth of the son of the promise, and ends with Aqedat Izhak, the sacrifice of this son (called by the Scripture “the only son”).
Genesis 18 begins with a very interesting scene, where God comes to Abraham in the form of three Heavenly Guests. One of the main objects of this visit was the annunciation – the announcement of the miraculous birth of Isaac. A very similar announcement we see in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke: the angel Gabriel appears before Mary and tells her about miraculous birth of her son. The Gospel of Luke (and every other Gospel) ends with Jesus’ sacrifice, with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In this sense, the starting and the ending point of our today’s portion, and the starting and the ending point of the Gospel of Luke are very similar.
THE ANNUNCIATION: SARAH AND MARY
In Genesis 18, God comes to Abraham to announce the miraculous birth of Isaac:
And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son”
In his Gospel, Luke tells us that “the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” to a virgin named Mary announcing the miraculous birth of Jesus: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.
A closer analysis of both scenes reveals several similarities between them. First of all, the fact that both Isaac and Jesus were named before their births is definitely worth mentioning. In the previous chapter, Genesis 17, Abraham was told that Sarah was going to have a son and that they were to name him Isaac. It’s the same with Jesus: not only does the angel reveal His name to Mary in the Gospel of Luke, but also, in the gospel of Matthew, the angel said to Joseph: “you shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21)
It’s very interesting to watch both women. Both to Sarah and to Mary, the miracle seemed incredible and impossible – indeed, it surpassed all the human understanding and imagination. Therefore, their first reaction was that of disbelief and doubt. In Genesis 18, when the Lord announced the birth of Isaac, Sarah laughed with that famous laughter within herself:
12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Gen.18:12)
When the angel announced the birth of Jesus, “Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34)
And yet, both of them acted in faith and obedience – and the history of humanity was changed because of their faith and obedience.
THE SACRIFICE: ISAAC AND JESUS
As in the case of Jesus, we know almost nothing about Isaac’s childhood and youth. Fast-forward some years – and we arrive to one of the strangest and most dramatic stories of the Hebrew Scriptures: Aqedat Itzhak, the sacrifice of Isaac. To most Christians, Isaac in this scene is seen as a type of Jesus: God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac because this sacrifice would point ahead to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. In the New Testament, Abraham being ready to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, becomes the type of the Father being ready to sacrifice His Son for the world:
2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen.22:2)
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John3:16).
From the New Testament perspective, this parallel is very clear: the Father is going to sacrifice His Son. What do we find in the Jewish tradition, though?
The NT interpretation of Genesis 22 traditionally sees the symbol of the cross in this laying the wood on Isaac. Christian readers might be surprised to find a similar thought in Midrash as well:
So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son (Gen.22:6)
…like one who carries his stake on his shoulder (Bereshit Rabba, parasha 56)
Isaac – who was probably a young adult already (37 years old according to the Jewish midrashim) – followed his father in perfect obedience and trust. Moreover, there is a Jewish haggadic tradition that states explicitly that there on Mount Moriah, Abraham offered up two sacrifices: he began with the actual sacrifice of his son and ended with the sacrifice of the ram. Here Isaac is explicitly said to be the lamb of burnt offering:אתה השה לעלה בני – “You are the lamb, my son” , ‘The ashes of Isaac’ and ‘the blood of Isaac’s Aqedah’, though contradictory to the plain meaning of the Scripture, are carefully preserved by this tradition: they are to serve forever as atonement and advocate of Israel in every generation. This is exactly what Abraham is asking for when he continues his prayer in Bereshit Rabbah: “Even so may it be Thy will, O Lord our God, that when Isaac’s children are in trouble, Thou wilt remember that binding in their favor and be filled with compassion with them!” The Binding of Isaac, then, was thought to have played a unique role in the whole economy of the salvation of Israel and to have a permanent redemptive effect on behalf of its people – and thus, we observe here the striking similarity between the haggadic tradition of Aqedah and the Christian soteriology.
I would like to remind you, my dear readers, that we offer a course on the Weekly Torah Portion, and those interested to study in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, are welcome to sign up for this course or to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and for the discount (excerpts from the lesson on Vayyera are included in this post).
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 FSee Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993)
 Bereshit Rabbah, 56,4
 Bereshit Rabbah, 56,10