Thursday, September 6, 2018

Genesis Post 39 - Abraham, Isaac, and Our Provider (Chapter 22)

Chapter 22 brings us to another theologically explosive chapter.

It's a tough chapter, one that I have been wrestling with lately.  Here are the first 19 verses:

Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

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.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”

So he said, “Here I am.”

And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son,from Me.”

Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.  And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”  So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

Right off the bat, we see that God tested Abraham.  The word for tested is nasah.  I really wanted to get a good understanding of this word, so I dug around in the Hebrew for awhile.  It means to test, to prove, to put to the proof.  The word is used later on when the Queen of Sheba wanted to test Solomon with hard questions, to see what he was made of.  

Of course, God already knew what Abraham was made of; He had already established an everlasting covenant with him.  Perhaps the testing is for us; that our faith is made stronger by the tests that God allows in our life.
Sometimes we pass those tests, sometimes we fail.  Sometimes we just don't understand the test. And sometimes, we get an A+, as in extra credit.  After wrestling a long time with this passage, I believe that Abraham didn't fully understand the test, but he was going for extra credit.  Hold that thought. for a bit.. I'll come back to it.

Several words in this passage are first mentions.  Some scholars say that first mentions are important, because they introduce the concept and context for the whole rest of the Bible.  Whether that is true or not, let's look at them.

Nasah - testing.  We have already looked at this word.  It sets the context for the whole scenario.  The word nissi comes from the same root word - banner.  A banner, or standard, is something that you want people to focus on, or to rally around. In warfare, a commander of an army would raise up the troop's banner, so the fighters could clearly rally around it and know where the battle was taking place.

Hineni - here I am. But you’ve got to watch out how you say it, because it is a way of expressing total readiness to give oneself – it’s an offer of total availability.  In other words, I hear your call. I understand what you are asking of me. And I am prepared and ready to do it, because I recognize, although it is hard, it is also important that I act.

In this chapter, Abraham uses hineni three times! This is the word used in Isaiah 6:8, after Isaiah had been cleansed by the coal to his lips.  God was looking for someone to send, and Isaiah responds, Here I am!  Pick me!  At Your service!

Ahava - love.  Take your only son (that remains, the other one had been sent away), whom you love...

Unlike the Greek language, which has numerous words for love, Hebrew has a single word for love just like we do in English.  It has always seemed weird to say I love God and also I love coffee using that same term, but I guess it is ok because Hebrew does it, too.  Abraham loved his son, Jacob loved Rachel, and Isaac loved goat stew.

Ahava (Love) sculpture

- the mountain in Jersualem where once stood (and will stand again) God's temple.  Today it is the site of a golden idol that I don't think will be around much longer.  Moriah means chosen by YHVH.  Scripture tells us in numerous places that Jerusalem is the only place where God has put His name (see 1 Kings 11:36, 1 Kings 14:21, 2 Kings 21:4 and 7, 2 Kings 23:27, 2 Chronicles 6:6, 2 Chronicles 12:13, 2 Chronicles 33:4, Ezra 6:12, Psalm 102:21, Jeremiah 3:17).

Seh - lamb.  Believe it or not, this chapter is the first place this word shows up.  Other patriarchs made sacrifices before, but a lamb is special and significant.

YHVH Yireh - The LORD will provide (or as the song goes, Jehovah Jireh).  This is the ONLY PLACE it shows up in the entire Bible.  That means, pay attention to what is being provided!

So let's back up.  I need to park on verse 2 for a bit.

I use Blue Letter Bible app, because it lets me look at the original languages.  So I was stumbling through the Hebrew of verse 2 with my limited knowledge thereof, and the first thing that jumped out at me was the presence of the word ET  (Alef Tav).  Three times in one verse!  I won't go into the meaning of that word here, other than long story short it is a covenant word that embodies Yeshua the Messiah.  The word is hidden, not well understood by the Jewish Rabbis, and is never translated into the English.  (If you need a refresher on the word et, you can click here.)

Ok, I was off to a good start.  But my biggest reason for wrestling with this chapter is because the idea that God would tell someone to kill their child does not jive with the character of God.  In fact, someone I know very well cannot get beyond that idea.  It's just wrong, she says.  And I agree.  How do we reconcile this test that the LORD gives to Abraham, without believing that God participates in something that He clearly and frequently calls an abomination, namely child sacrifice?

Recently I was listening to a pastor teaching on this subject, and he pointed out that God never told Abraham to kill his son.

There are two key words to look at:  Ala and Ola.  In the translation to English, they are used like this:  go to the land of Moriah, and ala him there as an ola on one of the mountains I will show you.

Ala is the verb, the root word from which we get the Hebrew word aliyah.  Israelis use that term, to make aliyah, to mean moving to Israel; returning to the land of their forefathers.  Technically, however, it means to go up.  To go up to Jerusalem. To go up to the Temple.  For the smoke of an offering to go up.  To rise up, ascend.  Yes, the word is used frequently in scripture to depict a burnt offering because of the smoke that rises up, but the word encompasses so much more.  It is an act of complete surrender before God.

Ola, on the other hand, is really just the noun form of the same word ala... the object of the offering.  It also can mean the steps that you ascend.

I believe that Abraham's understanding was that he should actually kill his son.  Child sacrifice was well-known in the ancient world, and had not yet been clearly condemned by God in the Mount Sinai covenant.  Even in what I believe to be Abraham's misunderstanding of the command, he didn't argue with God.  He simply obeyed, without question, to the best of his understanding.  He went for extra credit on the test.

There are several Hebrew words that mean to kill, and God did not use any of those words:  Zevach, ratsach, harag.

I now believe that God is asking Abraham to perform a prophetic act, just as He does with many of the other prophets in scripture.  (I think of Ezekiel whose wife died and God commanded him not to mourn, and Hosea whom God commanded to marry a harlot - in order to be an example to the people of Israel.).

God wants Abraham to ascend a particular hill, and offer his son to God, similar to the way we dedicate our children to the LORD.  Isaac is the promised covenant child, and God is asking, Are you all in, Abraham?  This prophetic act of Abraham is to foreshadow the most significant act of God in all of human history.

What hill did they ascend?  The rabbis teach that Abraham offered up his son on Mount Moriah, which is where the Temple eventually stood and where the Dome of the Rock sits today.  But if we read the text carefully, we see that Abraham is go to to the land of Moriah, to a hill that God would show him.  In other words, go to Moriah and then I will point it out to you.

The Mount of Olives is straight across from Mount Moriah.  I believe this was the place where Abraham's act foreshadowed the actual sacrifice that was to follow thousands of years later... in the SAME PLACE!

Aerial photo of the Mount of Olives

Moriah is only mentioned twice in scripture.  Here and in 2 Chronicles 3:1 when Solomon is building the house of the LORD.  These two hills, Moriah and Olives, show the redemption of humanity.

On the third day (sound familiar?), Abraham sees the hill that God is directing him to and tells his servants to wait while he and Isaac go to shachah, or worship.  For those three days, Abraham must have been mourning what he expected to be the death of his son.

Isaac then carries the wood for the sacrifice, walking the very same route that our future Lamb of God would take carrying His own wood.  In the father's hand was the fire and the knife.

Even though Abraham believed he was supposed to kill his son, we can see that he also believed in the future resurrection.  He told his servants, we'll be back.

Isaac doesn't say much; he just questions his father, who explains that God will provide HIMSELF, the lamb.  Isaac isn't recorded as saying anything when his own father places him on the altar.  He is silent as a sheep before the slaughter?  Hmm.

Ahava (love) and shachah (worship) are connected in this passage.

Sacrifice demonstrates/proves love.  Does God have a sense of humor putting people together with completely opposite love languages?  Perhaps it is an opportunity for sacrifice.

As Abraham wields his knife, is all of the heavenly host looking on in horror?  Is there a collective sigh of relief when YHVH steps in to stop Abraham?

We then see that YHVH provides a ram (not a lamb, as Abraham had prophesied), caught in the thorn bushes.  The foretold Lamb shows up thousands of years later,  when YHVH would provide Himself, the lamb.  YHVH yireh - the LORD who Provides... Himself.

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Right after that, we see the connection of this prophetic picture of Yeshua's sacrifice to the Abrahamic Covenant that was introduced in Genesis 12:3. The land, the seed, and the blessing...  they are inseparable.

Here is something amazing.  This passage of Genesis 22 is part of the liturgy in synagogues around the world on Yom Teruah, the first of the appointed times of the fall.  In that very liturgy, we see the words salvation, forgiveness, and atonement... all gospel words.  We also have the connection to the ram's horn that is caught in the thorn bush.

The Feast of Trumpets is a dress rehearsal for the return of the Messiah and the resurrection, which I believe is coming soon.

Judaism does not teach blood atonement today in its theology, and yet this narrative shows up in the synagogues on the Feast of Trumpets.  (God's timing is such that I am teaching this concept to my Sunday school class on the very eve of Feast of Trumpets.)

The chapter ends with Abraham and company traveling to Beersheva.  Is that where Sarah was?  Had Abraham told Sarah what he planned to do?  Was she freaking out?  We just don't know.

And where in the world is Isaac?  This whole chapter was about him.  Is his absence a prophetic picture of Yeshua returning to heaven for a time after His sacrifice?  In Genesis, Isaac will not appear again in the story until he sees his bride face to face.  Can you say Revelation 19:7? Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.

We are then given a geneology of some of Abraham's relatives, setting up the big event that won't take place for another two chapters.  So stay tuned!

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