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Abraham, Isaac, and El Shaddai (part 4)

Post Title: The Active and Passive Qualities of Faith

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.


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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 over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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