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Isaac at the Altar

What really happened with Abraham and Isaac?

The Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac, is the most read, recited and prayed over story in Judaism. There are also striking parallels here with the Birth of Jesus. Both are promised sons, born as a result of a miraculous conception (or at least highly improbable in the case of Isaac, on account of the age of his parents!). Both are offered up as a sacrifice and, although Jesus succumbs to death on the cross, in the longer term, both live on. Interestingly they were also both of similar age. Although Christian tradition places Isaac in late childhood, the Hebrew word used for him, naar, best describes him as a bachelor of marriageable age. In fact Jewish tradition places Isaac at around 36 years old, on account of his mother's death soon after this episode, at the age of 127, which was 36 years after his (improbable) birth when she was at the ripe old age of 90. If we accept this scenario then we concede that Abraham was 100 years old at the Binding of Isaac and in no position to forcefully control the situation. Therefore Isaac must have been a willing sacrifice, rather than a helpless youth. An interesting thought.

The location of this famous episode was Moriah, the very place, as the Midrash tells us, that Adam made the first altar, demolished by the Flood, then rebuilt by Noah. It was said to be directly under God's Throne of Glory in Heaven and the exact location of the future Temple to be built, in the great city of Jerusalem. The very name of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim in Hebrew, was said to be the result of a compromise by God. We are told that Abraham wanted to call the place Adonai Yireh, meaning "God will look down on this place and shower the world with goodness", but the oldest living patriarch, Shem, the son of Noah (how old must he have been?) wanted to name it Shalaim, the "City of perfection". God added these two names together to make Yerushalayim, meaning that the holiness of the city would be such that God would want to bless the whole World. If this is so, then this is something that the World can truly look forward to and which is confirmed by the Word of God, when looking at the events that perhaps may be nearer than we can imagine.

 "Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacle ... On that day HOLY TO THE LORD will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the LORD's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them." (Zechariah 14:16,20-21)

We skip a generation after Abraham and find that the next encounter is in a dream with Jacob.

 "The angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob.' I answered, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'" (Genesis 31:11-13)

Has the angel of the LORD exceeded his station here? He is not just giving Jacob direct and far-reaching instructions but he is claiming to be God. Has pride taken over here? No, it's not an angel making a bid for the top job. That's already happened once before and the whole of mankind is still paying for it!

When the Angel of the LORD announces that he is the God of Bethel (literally, the God of the 'house of God'), he is telling the truth. There can be no other sensible conclusion than that the Angel of the LORD is none other than God Himself. These appearances are known as Theophanies, from the Greek, meaning "seeing or showing God". When the Bible speaks of the Angel of the LORD making an appearance, you can be assured that it's God himself showing up.

But didn't we read that:

"You cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live." (Exodus 33:20)

So what actually happened? You will find out next week.

Steve Maltz
June 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book 'Jesus Man of Many Names')

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