Abraham and Isaac

'And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.  And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.' Genesis Chapter 22.                                                    

   The story of Abraham and Isaac has endlessly engaged Jewish, Christian and Islamic theologians. It raises difficult issues. Why would a merciful God demand the death of a child, when killing, particularly human sacrifice, (see Jeremiah ch. 19) was forbidden? The usual view is that it was a test of the faith of Abraham, but wouldn’t an all-seeing God be aware of this anyway?
  First, let us give the story the correct title. It is often known as ‘The sacrifice of Isaac’, but, of course, he was not, in the end, sacrificed. The most appropriate title is ‘The binding of Isaac.’

A Jewish perspective.
Inevitably, there is no single interpretation, but a range of ideas, about Akeda, as it is known in Judaism. It I suggested that Abraham knew perfectly well that in the end he wouldn’t have to: after all, predictions of Isaac’s future were made to him by God. (Genesis ch21 v 12). Some have said that Isaac was not a child at this point, but a man of 37, who perfectly understood what was happening and had accepted it. Another idea suggests that it is in fact a polemic against child sacrifice. This was not unfamiliar at the time, but was forbidden, as clearly stated in Deuteronomy Chapter 18: ‘There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire.’ (v 10)

An Islamic perspective
Islamic scholars seem to agree that Abraham’s son agrees to the sacrifice, but which son is it? Some suggest it is Ishmael, the illegitimate son, rather than Isaac.

A Christian perspective
The story is referred to In Hebrews chapter 11, when a different explanation for Abraham’s decision is given:
 ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.  Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.’ (v 17 – 19) As we’ll see, the idea of resurrection is a significant one as part of the Christian notion of the story as a precursor to the passion of Christ, so let’s look at the parallels.
  The first is the location. According to legend, the mountain in Moriah is identified as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Chronicles 2 says ’Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David.’ (Ch3 v 1). Now the journey. The three days it took mirrors the three days of the Passion. When approaching the mountain, Isaac is made to carry the wood for the sacrificial fire, as Christ carried his cross. The thorns that trapped the ram could be seen to represent the crown of thorns. Then the sacrifice of the lamb, seen as a precursor of the lamb of god: Christ himself.
When considering art, the Christian perspective has the most to offer, and we’ll start looking on the next page. Before we do,
here's something quite unusual: a sixth century mosaic showing the binding of Isaac from the Beth Alpha synagogue in northern Israel.

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