As we wrap up this in-depth study of the Akedah, we are reflecting on how deeply connected it was to sin, sacrifice, and atonement in Jewish thought and tradition.
I just gave you an example of this, how the sages made a connection between Isaac’s binding and the morning and evening sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. Here are two more examples.
In the Autumn, during the Feast of Trumpets, also known as Rosh Hashanah, the ram’s horn (shofar) is sounded to remind Israel of the sacrifice God provided for Isaac. Significantly, the Torah portion read during this holy season is Genesis 22.
The shofar represents the ram substituted for Isaac. During these ten Days of Awe culminating in the solemn Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)—when Israel is being judged for their sins, and their fate hangs in the balance—they ask God to remember his oath to Abraham. Here is a prayer from the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.
“Be mindful of Abraham O Lord, of Abraham’s binding of his son Isaac on the altar, how he suppressed his compassion in order to perform your will wholeheartedly. In the same way, may your compassion overcome your anger toward us, and on behalf of Abraham’s posterity may you O Lord this day recall with compassion the binding of Isaac.”
The Akedah was also associated in Jewish thinking with the Passover, though more before the Temple’s destruction than afterward. The Book of Jubilees, written around 150 BC, says the ram substituted for Isaac prefigured the Passover lamb. The saving merits of the blood applied to the doorpost drew specifically from Abraham and Isaac’s obedience.
Notice the same sequence in Exodus as in the Akedah, God saw, and he provided. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. - Exodus 12:23
The blood applied on the three sides of the doorpost was to remind Israel of their sin. But it was also calling to mind that once before, during the time of testing, this same God saw and provided for their father, Abraham. This is why every Jewish father is called upon to dedicate his firstborn son to the LORD. How does he do that? By redeeming him with a sacrifice.
You can see the powerful impact of Abraham and Isaac’s actions on the biblical thinking of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus and the early church. The connections with the Passover lamb, the ram’s horn, and the Temple sacrifices give us much to ponder concerning the Messiah’s saving work. Everything points to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And to his blessing given in the grace of both promise and pledge at the place of testing.
How do you and I receive that blessing?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. - Galatians 3:7-9
It is breathtaking to see how Paul, in his theological thinking, has put all this together as part of God’s plan. When God’s Son appeared on the holy mountain as the Lamb of God, he did so as the means for fulfilling the blessings to Abraham on Mt. Moriah. As Israel’s Messiah, he bore upon himself all the curses they had brought upon themselves due to disobedience.
And that goes for us Gentiles as well. Jesus bore all the curses you and I bring upon ourselves because of sin so that the pledge given to Abraham might come to fruition in us—indeed to all of Israel. He reconciled Jew and Gentile together that we may receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.
It all goes back to Genesis 22.
Messiah Jesus, as Abraham’s seed, is the one by whom the nations are blessed. Because of Abraham and Isaac’s faithfulness, you and I receive that blessing.
Let’s close with another important idea from Paul. Perhaps he had Isaac in mind when he wrote, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. - Romans 12:1
The consensus of Jewish tradition is that Isaac was over thirty years old in Genesis 22. That means on Mt. Moriah, Isaac put himself on the altar; he was cooperating. It was not something his father could have forced him to do.
Why then, ask the sages, does Abraham have to bind him? Because, they say, Isaac was so concerned not to dishonor his father and profane the name of God. As he lay upon the altar, he says, ‘Father, please bind my hands and my feet lest at the moment I see the knife I flinch, and thereby injure myself or injure you, and disqualify myself as an unblemished sacrifice.’
We all face tests. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to bind yourself wholly to God and the sanctity of his name; to faithfully follow him, even to the point of giving up precious things in your life should he ask. In Messiah Jesus, you are saved and have an eternal destiny. That is not the issue. What I am saying is that there are blessings for obedience; there are rewards for sacrifice.
Will you pledge yourself to be like Abraham and Isaac?
As you yield to and cooperate with the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, he is working powerfully through you to bless others.
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.