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ISAAC AND THE JEWS
Genesis 22:1-18; Hebrews 11:12.

9th March 2003

Everybody knows that Jews, when speaking of their faith and culture, refer to the patriarchs of their land and faith as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Isaac is the second of the patriarchs. He was the son of Abraham Genesis 17:18; 21:3 and the father of Jacob. Genesis 25:26 Isaac is mentioned seventy times in the book of Genesis. The Isaac story is in chapters 17,18, 22 and 26. Isaac is the link that connects the history of Abraham to that of Jacob, the father of the tribes of Israel. This gives him his primary significance apart from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions about his presence on Mt. Moriah.

Genesis highlights the amused reaction that surrounds Isaac from before his birth. Both his mother and father burst out laughing Genesis 17,18 when they heard the unbelievable news that a hundred-year-old man whose wife was in her nineties, would bare a son. Isaac was circumcised eight days after his birth. Genesis 21:3-5 At the time of his being weaned from his mother, his father gave a banquet. Genesis 21:8 He grew up among his kinfolk, playing with his half-brother Ishmael up to the very day that Sarah drove Ishmael and his mother Hagar Genesis 21:9-21 out into the desert. We encounter Isaac again Genesis 22 in the event that took place on Mt. Moriah, an event often designated "the sacrifice of Isaac," when it really deals with the "testing of Abraham". Abraham decides to marry off his son and asks his servant to find Isaac a wife among his relations in the home country. Genesis 24:1-61 The servant returns with Rebekah. Isaac was forty years old at the time of his marriage and he and his wife would remain childless until twenty years later when Rebekah gave birth to twins Genesis 25:21-28 Esau and Jacob.

1. THE UNUSUAL MOUNT MORIAH.

The Jews and the Muslims have conflict between the Koran's version of Abraham's ultimate test, the offering of his son to God and the Jewish version in the Torah. Muslims believe it was Ishmael their father, not Isaac, the Jews father, that Abraham took up Mt Moriah. In the Koran, Abraham tells his son of God's command, and the boy replies, "O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast." The Koran adds,"They had both surrendered," using the verb whose noun is the word "Islam." The Old Testament says Isaac was taken up the mountain. The Koran does not specify which son God tells Abraham to sacrifice. Muslim interpreters a generation after Muhammad concluded that the prophet was descended from the slave woman Hagar's boy, Ishmael. Later scholars confirmed Ishmael was the son who went under the knife. That decision effectively removed the Jews from Mt Moriah. Not only was the Jewish claim rejected, but their forefather lost his role in the great drama of surrender of Mt Moriah.

Mt Moriah then, is absolutely sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Abraham was directed by God to take his son Isaac, to go into the land of Moriah, and there to offer him for a burnt offering upon a mountain which God would show him. There is little to identify it. But the Jews and Muslims believe it was a mountain, now within the walls of Jerusalem on which Solomon's Temple was built. It is here that Jews believe Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. The Muslims agree that this was the spot where Abraham was tested to sacrifice Ishmael and so on top of the Temple mount where Herod's Temple once stood, they have built "The Dome of the Rock" Mosque.

On this rock where the testing of Isaac occurred, Muslims believe Mohammad stepped and ascended into heaven. Therefore the foundations which include the famous Western Wall is the most sacred spots of Jews, and on top of it, the Mosque which is sacred to Muslims. One further complication. When Abraham journeyed from the land of the Philistines, on the 3rd day he saw the place afar off. Genesis 22:4 This a mountain farther north than Jerusalem. So the Samaritans say the scene of sacrifice was actually on their Mt Gerizim.

2. THE UNIQUE SACRIFICE.

So this is one of the world's most sacred sites, to both Jews and Arabs, the site of a Temple where animals were sacrificed on an altar. The blood of those animals was offered for the forgiveness of sins. Just outside those temple walls, 2000 years ago, another sacrifice was made that affects your future. The man who tried to kill Jesus shortly after his birth in Bethlehem - Herod the Great - was the great architect of the Jerusalem that Jesus came to know. The Temple had been rebuilt by Herod over a period of 60 years, from 19 B.C., using 10,000 labourers and 1000 priests trained as masons.

It was totally destroyed forty years after the death of Jesus just 7 years after its completion. All that remains is the Temple Platform on which the Temple was built. It was built on the highest point of Jerusalem, Mt Moriah. At a crisis point in the life of Abraham, God called on him to sacrifice his young son, Isaac. As they climbed, young Isaac looked around and saw their donkey laden with wood, the bowls of burning coals, and his father with the sacrificial knife.

Isaac said, "Father, we have the wood, I see the knife, and we have the fire, but where is the sacrifice?" Abraham said, "Son, God will provide." As they neared the mountaintop, the lad spoke again. "Father, we have the wood, we have the knife, we have the fire. Where is the sacrifice?" His father said, "Put your hands behind you, son," and he bound the lad, laid him on the wood, and took the knife. A voice called, "Abraham, stay your hand. Look in the thicket." There in the bush was a ram, caught by its horns. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it. He gave the mountain a special name, "Jehovah-Jireh." The name means, "The Lord provides."

In the Scriptures we read that for our sin, loneliness, and helplessness, "God will provide." Jehovah-Jireh! God will provide whatever you need. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, "My God will supply all your needs." Philippians 4:19 The Psalms Psalm 37:5 say: "Give yourself to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will help you." Peter wrote: "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7 God provides for all our anxiety, and for our need for a sacrifice for our sins.

The concept of offering sacrifices is foreign to our understanding, but to Israel it was central to her worship. Israel had an agreement with God called a Covenant. God would be their God and bless them as a nation if they obeyed his laws. Their failure to be obedient meant they had to offer gifts of produce from the farms and vineyards, and the sacrifice of animals. The Patriarchs - Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses - all built altars and made sacrifices. The Temples of Solomon and Herod had huge altars where animal sacrifices were made.

The more evil the sin, the more expensive the sacrifice. The wealthier the person, the more expensive the sacrifice. The Priest who sinned, or the wealthy man, had to sacrifice a bull, a chief had to sacrifice a he-goat, an ordinary citizen a female lamb, a very poor person a dove, such as Mary and Joseph gave after the birth of Jesus. Part of the slain animal was burnt on the altar and the smoke was a sign of the person's repentance. The person who had sinned deserved to die, but a sacrifice was made instead - the blood of the animal being given in place of the blood of the person who deserved to die. The animal's life was the sinner's substitute.

Jesus was seen as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sin of the world. Paul said: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." 1 Corinthians 5:7 "God offered Him, so that by His death, He should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in Him." Romans 3:25 Christ's death became an atoning sacrifice to enable the forgiving of our sins through His blood. Jesus was to replace the old sacrificial system with a unique sacrifice: His own death as the Lamb of God. Isaac Watts put it: "Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain, Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ the heavenly Lamb, takes all our guilt away; A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they." Jesus would be the unique sacrifice. His blood was powerful in its effect, cleansing all from sin. "His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me." We think of Jesus dying upon the Cross, shedding His blood as the sacrifice for our sins. His death upon the Cross is powerful in how it cleanses us from our sin. He was the unique Temple sacrifice for our sins, made once and for all.

3. THE ULTIMATE DIFFERENCE.

Jesus was to replace the old sacrificial system with the unique and ultimate sacrifice, His own death as the Lamb of God. Isaac Watts put it: "Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain, could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ the heavenly Lamb, takes all our guilt away; A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they." Jesus was God's provision as a sacrifice for our sin. "His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me." Jesus died upon the Cross, shedding His blood as the sacrifice for our sins. His death upon the Cross cleanses us from our sin. He was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

Here is the ultimate difference between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In Islam Abraham offers Ishmael his son, on Mt Moriah for the sake of Allah. Today multitudes of Muslins would offer their sons to die for the sake of Allah. In Judaism, Abraham had the faith to offer his son Isaac on Mt Moriah, but God provided a substitute, a ram, whose blood was shed in the place of Abraham's son. So the animal sacrifices continued in the Temple.

In Christianity, on Mt Calvary, God offers His Son to die for us, the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. God gives His son for us, not we give our sons for Allah. He died for us a perfect sacrifice. No other sacrifice is required. His was the unique and ultimate sacrifice. By faith we believe that Jesus died in our place, a substitute for each of us. Where Jesus died is marked today by The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The grey rock mass of Golgotha (or Calvary) inside is the most Christian place in the world.

Just above the rock is a chapel shared by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The Catholic side boasts three mosaics. In the centre is Mary; to the left is Christ, lowered from the Cross; and to the right is Abraham, about to slay Isaac who is bound on the altar in an image of Jesus sprawled on the Golgotha's rock. The Apostle Paul proposed Isaac's binding and release was a prophetic foreshadowing of the Resurrection.

The Apostle Paul reminds us of Abraham's original response to God's Call and through the old man's embattled faith, or "hope against hope," as Paul famously put it, that God would bring him a son. Such faith, Paul wrote, made Abraham "the father of all who believe." This means a believer no longer needs be Jewish or to follow Jewish law to be redeemed-the way now lay through faith in Christ. Because Abraham predated the Jewish law as brought down from the mountain by Moses, "the promise to Abraham and his descendants ... did not come through law." Nor, Paul argued, did it come through tribal inheritance. The God of the Hebrew Bible deemed Abraham to be "righteous" years before his circumcision, and years before he had a son. Abraham's children are people of faith and Baptism in faith brings you into God's family. It was Abraham's faith that God would provide a sacrifice that led him to take Isaac to the top of the Mount. God did provide the sacrifice and on the top of Mt Calvary, God in his great love provided His own son as a sacrifice for our sin. Like Isaac, Jesus was bound at the place of sacrifice and God provided the sacrifice for our sin. Our faith in Jesus Christ enables us to have our sins forgiven and to receive the promises first made to Abraham.

REFERENCES.

  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary. F E Gaebelein Ed 1981.
  • TIME Sept 22 2002. "The Legacy of Abraham." David Van Biema.
  • J. OSCAR BOYD, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  • Bruce Feiler, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths. William Morrow
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