JC Studies Blog



4 min 11 sec reading time

We are engaged in a Torah study, mining nuggets of insight from a familiar story in Genesis 22, called the Akedah in Jewish tradition.


Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." And 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 they went both of them together. - Genesis 22:5-6


We read of a father placing wood upon his son, which clearly indicates that he is more than a mere lad, strong enough to carry the load. Notice how the two went together—the two were as one (yachad). The unity of Abraham and Isaac is a theme repeated throughout the narrative. They represent a model for father-son relationships. Here is a father who loves and serves God with all his heart and a son who is willing to honor his father and receive his instruction.

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. - Genesis 22:7-8


In Hebrew, Isaac's question consists of six words, and Abraham's response to his son consists of six words. The word Abraham uses here connotes both God's seeing and providing. In other words, God will see to it; he will provide the offering (Elohim yireh). Again we have the intentional transposition of the standard syntax in which the word Elohim is used before the verb. This draws our attention to the fact that God himself is going to see to it; he is going to provide the sacrifice.


On the one hand, Abraham is prophesying, and on the other hand, he is teaching his son an essential truth about God. Jewish tradition identifies this as a classic example of the need for generational instruction by parents. Abraham has heard from God, and now he teaches his son diligently the words of the Lord (see Deut. 6:4-7).


Again we read that they walked on together. Isaac, suddenly realizing something was amiss, could have bolted at this point! He, like Abraham, was a free moral agent. But instead, we see him honoring his father as they walk together in unity.


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. - Genesis 22:9


When the Lord appeared to him on the plains of Moreh in Genesis 12:7, Abraham built an altar. Now the Lord appears to him on Mt. Moriah, and what does he do? He builds an altar to his God.

Then we read the solemn words that Abraham bound his son, language not used anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. The terminology, however, is well known in Second Temple Judaism. It means to bind, to tie together the legs of an animal about to be sacrificed (ya'akod). The word akedah comes from this word ya'akod. That is why this episode is called the Akedah in Jewish tradition. It refers to Isaac's faith, sanctifying the name of God by allowing himself to be bound.


Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. - Genesis 22:10


Try to imagine Abraham's state of mind at this moment; it really is inconceivable. Here is a man of God who is has lived so long and seen so much. Now he is willing to forsake all of his past and, in Isaac, his future. What emotional intensity! Against all odds, Abraham remains faithful because his God is faithful.


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 lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." - Genesis 22:11-12


God's divine plan is always on time, but not according to our schedule.

Remember, his desire is to bring forth from our character what is potential and made actual by the test. His intent is to prosper not to punish. When you and I show faith, his purpose for the test succeeds. This story reminds us that even our father Abraham had to sow in tears, but he reaped in joy.

The Hebrew word for faith is emunah. Abraham represents what I consider to be the essence of emunah—a positive determination to persist, to be faithful, to be loyal. Isaac also represents a crucial aspect of faith, namely, to trust (batach). Trust is more of an intentional passivity, Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

There are times when we have very active dynamic faith, but there are also times when we must relax and rest in him.

The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon gave a memorable illustration of trust. There was a captain of a large passenger ship that sailed the Atlantic. During one particular journey, the captain's family was with him on board when a storm suddenly arose during the night, tossing the great vessel from side to side. The ship was perilously leaning, and the passengers, fearing the worst, jumped out of their beds and began to put on life vests.


The captain's wife got dressed hastily and woke up their eight-year-old daughter. The mother informed her of the danger and the imminent peril they faced. "Get up," she told her, "and get dressed." The little girl met her eyes, and calmly asked, "Mother is father on deck?" Her mother said, "Yes, your father is on deck." The little girl put her head on the pillow, rolled over, and went back to sleep.


As it was for Abraham and Isaac, so it is for us. Our Father, the Captain, is on the deck.

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.




4 min 17 sec reading time

"He said, 'Take 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.'" - Genesis 22:2


Literally, God says he wants Abraham to bring Isaac up (veha'aleihu). To make aliyah is to go up to Jerusalem, to emigrate to Israel. It comes from the same root. The sages point out that God does not explicitly say anything about slaughtering his son because he never intended to permit Abraham to do so. He says instead, "I want you to bring him up to Moriah." Abraham understood it to mean that Isaac is to be turned into a burnt offering, but God did not intend, nor does he permit, the killing of children.


God is opposed to human sacrifice, let alone child sacrifice, widely practiced by the surrounding nations.


How does Abraham respond? The narrative in Hebrew is very striking. Abraham gets up early and saddles the donkey ignoring his dignity in not using his servants. He splits the wood, loads up, and goes to the place. He is a determined man of action, yet he is a silent man. In the Jewish community, the circumcision ceremony on the eighth day is traditionally done early in the morning, commemorating father Abraham's eagerness to obey.

Perhaps Abraham got up quite early because he didn't want to disturb his wife. Sarah was deeply attached to her son Isaac. Maybe Abraham, out of his love for her, didn't want to cause her trouble, anxiety, or fear.

There is a Jewish tradition that when Sarah heard the news, she died because the very next chapter in Genesis tells of her death and Abraham eulogizing her. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that while he was still away on the journey to Moriah, she heard the news and breathed her last in the proud knowledge that she had raised a son who was willing to give his life in the service of God.


Rabbinic tradition concluded that Isaac was 37 years old when these things occurred because Sarah was 90 years of age when Isaac was born, and we are told here that she was 127 years when she died. So by subtracting 90 from 127, you get 37 years. Other traditions dispute that saying he was much younger.


The Hebrew word used to describe Isaac in verse 12 is na'ar, the same term used for the two servants in verse 5. It means a young person of indeterminate age, so we don't know exactly how old he was. Isaac is always depicted in art as a child, but how can he carry the wood upon his shoulders? Keep in mind that compared to Abraham's advanced age, Isaac is a mere lad.

What I want to point out and have you think about is that Isaac's actions are far more significant in Jewish thought than in our Christian traditions.

We focus almost exclusively on Abraham and how the sacrifice prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus. Yet Isaac has a vital role in all of this, evidenced by his voluntary co-operation and humble submission. He is represented as the archetypal martyr in Judaism, one who is willing to give up his life for God.


"On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar." The sages interpreted this to mean that he and Isaac were given spiritual vision—they saw the glory of God (shechinah) hovering over Mt. Moriah and knew that was the place. Abraham is a man of faith—he has the vision, the perceptiveness of faith—he recognized the mountain because he saw the glory of God hovering over it. He took Isaac and went up to meet God.


Abraham says to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy (na'ar) will go over there and worship and come again to you." What was he saying here? Was he speaking prophetically in an inadvertent, unconscious way? Was he convinced because of his great faith that he would return with Isaac? Was he trying not to disturb or frighten Isaac? The rabbis express all those views.


The Bible itself offers an interpretation (midrash) on this subject. Do you know where? In the New Testament! It's one of only two instances where the story is explicitly mentioned in the NT.


"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back." - Hebrews 11:17-19

The writer of Hebrews suggests that Abraham had such great faith that he believed even were he to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (olah), God was able to resurrect him, and that the two of them would be able to return.

"And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son." - Genesis 22:6


In his gospel, John seems to refer to this image when he notes, "they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull." Indeed as early as the second century in the epistle of Barnabas, we find direct connections being made in Christian teaching and preaching between Messiah Jesus and Isaac. Even as late as the 4th century, we know there was an Easter service in Jerusalem at which the sermon was on Isaac's binding, known in Hebrew as the Akedah.


Early in Christian tradition, the binding of Isaac was linked with the cross of Jesus.

Isaac prefigured the Messiah's sacrifice, who was the one promised by El Shaddai to come through the seed of Abraham.

Here are some of the parallels:

  • Both Isaac and Jesus were miraculously conceived. Isaac was born to a mother whose womb was closed but supernaturally opened by God. Jesus was born to a virgin mother and was conceived of the Holy Spirit.

  • Both are the beloved and only begotten sons of their father.

  • They both carried the wood for their sacrifices.

  • It is on the third day that Isaac is offered up and rises from the altar. It was on the third day that Jesus rose from the grave.

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


Updated: Nov 21



3 min 15 sec reading time

In Jewish tradition, Genesis 22 presents the last of ten tests for Abraham, the first one being when he was told to leave his country, his kin, and his father's house in chapter 12. Now he faces his greatest test.


Why does God still need to test him at this point? Hasn't Abraham proved his dedication, his loyalty? Yes, in a sense, but not in an unconditional way. He was obeying God through all those tests because God was going to bless him: make him wealthy, prosperous, and the father of many nations. This test will decisively show if Abraham is willing to unconditionally and wholeheartedly serve and obey for God's sake.


God elected Abraham by his grace, but is he worthy to be the father of the faithful?

"After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" Here I am in the text is actually only one Hebrew word, hineni. It is the only word Abraham speaks to God throughout this whole narrative. He says it twice, in verse one and again in his response to the angel in verse eleven.

Hineni is a response of humility, responsiveness, and readiness to obey. It is the reply of the devout.


Regarding Abraham's response, many through the centuries have wondered why he didn't challenge God, push back against this seemingly immoral act. After all, he was not a man lacking in courage. Do you remember the story of Sodom? There Abraham takes God on, so to speak. No, he is not a man reluctant to challenge El Shaddai.


In Genesis 22, God engages Abraham, but this time he is noticeably and utterly silent. In his first call, he was asked to leave his past. Now he is being asked to forsake his future. This means giving up the promised son, the one through whom the blessing of God will come to the nations. And the only thing we hear from our father Abraham is "here I am" (hineni).


"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go [...]." The Hebrew here reveals that God is entreating Abraham; his direction comes with regard to his concerns. He is saying, "Abraham, take your son, please, and go to the place I will show you."


The sages point out that Abraham is entirely a free agent; he does not have to comply. There is no threat of punishment. God's grace has already elected Abraham—the promises have been uttered, the covenant is given. What we see is God imploring him, "Abraham, please take this test."


He then uses the very words he used in Genesis 12:1, "get yourself up and go forth (lekh lekha)." This is just one of many parallels between Abraham's first and last test. Both are about the blessing of obedience, both include family, both require radical reliance, in both Abraham builds an altar, and, God promises him posterity and prosperity.

To get the most from Genesis 22, you need to read it in the light of chapter 12.


"[...] 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." Moriah is an important idea for biblical authors. There are at least three intriguing interpretations that have been offered up for the meaning of the word. Each, in their way, adds something insightful to ponder for those immersed in the narrative.

  • The first idea is that Moriah comes from the Hebrew word to see (ra'ah). It is a play on words, "the place I will show you (mareh), is Moriah."

  • The second idea is that Moriah comes from the word to fear (yireh). Therefore, Moriah literally means fear of God (Yah). There is a Jewish midrash that says Moriah is the place from which the fear of the Lord emanated to the whole world.

  • The third idea is that Moriah comes from the root to teach (yarah). So it is related to teaching (torah). The sages note that Isaiah says the Torah will go forth from Jerusalem, the Word of the Lord from Zion.

We are told in 2 Chronicles 3:1 that "Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah." Mt. Moriah is associated, in Scripture and tradition, with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But it goes deeper; according to ancient Jewish understanding, the rock upon which the temple was built and around which the Holy of Holies was constructed was the very rock where Abraham bound Isaac.


All of this adds a depth of meaning as we study the story of Abraham, Isaac, and El Shaddai. And it enriches our reading of both Testaments from this point forward.

This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore his audio seminars.


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