The Binding of Isaac – The Akedah
The binding of Isaac found at the end of the Torah portion Vayera in Bereshit (Genesis 22 1- 15), is considered by the Jewish sages to be one of the most important portions in the Torah, and is read during Rosh Hashanah. Rabbis continue asking such questions as: Why would the Almighty demand such a thing of Abraham or even Isaac. Is God sadistic? Did He need to test Abraham’s love for Him or the limits of his obedience? These questions can only be answered through a study of the Akedah in light of its fulfillment in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. The sages say that every verse from Moses to the last prophet speaks of the times of Messiah (Berachot 34 b). In Gen. 22:1, The Almighty calls out to Abraham using the first of three uses of the word “Hineni” (here I am) demonstrating that he was always ready to serve and obey Him. In verse 2, Abraham is told: “take your son, your only son (יחידך -yachidecha) Isaac whom you love and…” Was Isaac indeed Abraham’s only son? He already had a first born son named Ishmael but he was not the son of the promise. Isaac was the one through whom the Creator would fulfill His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). The sod (mystical understanding) revealed by Isaac being called the only (begotten) son is that this gives us a glimpse of another son of Israel who would be born years later through another miraculous birth.
Ishmael was born to the slave woman, Hagar because Sarah would not wait for the son promised by the Almighty. Sarah wanted a child, brought Hagar to Abraham who was not yet circumcised, and the son born from this union was achieved purely through human effort. On the other hand, Isaac’s birth through Sarah, the free woman, was the result of a miraculous intervention in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Yeshua ha Mashiach (the Messiah) was also born miraculously through God’s intervention in the life of Miriam, fulfilling Isaiah 7:14.
Rabbi Shaul (Apostle Paul) speaks of two covenants in Galatians 4:21-31 (in the Ketuvim Mashichim or Messianic Writings – known in Christianity as the New Testament) — the covenant of the slave woman and the covenant of the free woman or the promise. Rav Shaul is making a drash, (a teaching based on rabbinic understanding). The covenant of the slave woman represents religion based upon our own efforts and merits as a means to reach God. In this system, the religious leaders pervert the Torah into legalistic teachings, placing a heavy burden upon the people. Yeshua speaks of this in Mattityahu (Matthew) 23:4-5. “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to carry them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long”.
On the other hand the covenant of the promise demonstrates that only the Almighty can bring us into relationship with Him; it is not a result of our human effort or self-righteousness, but of the promise of God. We have been given the gift of “bechira chofshi”- free will and are now free to obey and to walk in his Torah or not.
Verses 3-4 reveal that Abraham did not question God but obeyed without a word of complaint when he was told to take Isaac and offer him on Mount Moriah. It was this same area of the Mount that Yeshua himself died the death of a martyr. This was unlike the Abraham who pleaded with the Creator over and over to save Sodom and Gomorrah. Was his son less important than these two cities? Of course not, as further exploration of the passage reveals.
Abraham and Isaac (along with two young men— tradition states that they were Eliezer and Ishmael) walked for three days. During this time Abraham exhibits the strong faith given to him since for him, Isaac was already dead from the beginning of their journey. The number three points to the fact that Yeshua would be dead for three days up until he was raised from the dead. He himself had given this as a sign that just like Jonah would be in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, so too would the son of man (a human being) be in the belly of the earth. This would be the only sign for that this wicked generation in order to prove to them that he was the Messiah (Matt. 12:40ff). (It is interesting to note that the haphtarah read on the afternoon of Yom Kippur is the entire book of Jonah!). Abraham believed that even if the Creator were to take the life of Isaac, he would be revived because …”…for is through Isaac shall that offspring shall be continued for you. (Gen 21:12b)” then he said to the two witnesses …”Stay here with the donkey, I and the boy will go there, worship and return to you.” It was later written in Torah that the testimony of two witnesses was needed in the proof of any case (D’varim (Deut.) 19:15; Yohanan (John) 8:17). The two men executed next to Yeshua (at that time there were more than 3 executed) served as witnesses of what transpired there; (here we can see the habesorah – הבשורה as a midrash) to teach us that the Torah was applied.
The second “hineni” occurred in Bereshit 22: 7. Isaac asked his father, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?” The response from Abraham is filled with trust for his heavenly Father, “My son, the LORD will provide himself (Elohim yireh lo) a lamb…” Isaac although called “naar” which usually refers to a young lad can also mean a man who is still unmarried. According to our sages, Isaac was 37 years and yet he obeyed his father allowing him to bind him and place him on the altar without argument. It was later revealed that Yeshua too was 37 when he died a Roman execution.
Avinu Abraham here too demonstrates the faith he had in “m’chayei ha meitim” – מחיה המתים the resurrection of the dead. Isaac was a picture of what was to come. Yeshua said that Abraham had rejoiced to see his day (Yochanan 8:56). According to our sages, Avinu Abraham understood that God had prepared this ram for him to bring in place of his son (Akedat Isaac). Also, this ram was brought into existence during the twilight of creation (Avot 5). This means that God decreed that this ram be prepared for the time of the Akeda (Yalkut Shimoni).
The Angel of the Lord (Malach Adonai) called out from heaven and Abraham replied with the 3rd hineni, Bereshit 22: 11 “Do not lay your hand upon the lad…for now I know that you fear God seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” The idea of the only begotten son first spoken of by Adonai Himself in verse 1 is again revealed. The Angel stated that “…now I know that you are a man who fears God because you have not withheld your son, your only son from me”. Isaac is called Abraham’s only son. This points to Yeshua, the only begotten of the Father – Yehudim Mashichim (Hebrews) 1:3-5 which describes him as the visible representative on earth of the invisible God (as others like Moshe Rabenu, who were representatives of the invisible Creator). It meant that as a human being he was given authority to represent the Creator on earth. Each of us has been given the Breath, the Ruach of the Creator and if we are truly to follow our master and teacher Yeshua, then we too are to live our lives as the visible Presence of God on earth.
When Yeshua was hanging on the Roman execution stake, he cried out “Eli Eli lama sabachtani”. This phrase has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by those who simply didn’t understand what he meant. They drew their own conclusions by stating that Yeshua was referring to Psalm 22:1 where King David cries out “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” The word for abandoned is “azavtani – עֲזַבְתָּנִי. By saying “sabachtani” – סבחתני, Yeshua was referring not to the Psalm of David but rather to the akeda in Bereshit 22:13 where the ram was caught in the thicket or thornbush — “b’s’bach” (בַּסְּבַךְ). The prophetic picture of this ram caught in the thorns was pointing to Yeshua who would later wear a crown of thorns.
The parallels between Isaac and Yeshua are beautiful and extremely important for us as his talmidim to know that Yeshua did not come in a vacuum. The entire Tanach speaks of many mashichim – many anointed ones. In Judaism, there is a Mashiach in every age. Each had a special role. Yeshua continued the work that Isaac began, and that of Moses later on at the giving of the Torah at another Mount Mt. Sinai. It is only by seeing the Akeda in light of Messiah Yeshua that we can truly understand its true meaning. We rejoice that we can trust in the promises of the Creator through the merits of our fathers, the resurrection from the dead and fullness of life not only in the here and now but in the olam habah.
The Calling of Moses – Our calling
As I was preparing my Torah study of Parashah* Shemot (Exodus) 1:1- 6:1, I became mesmerized by the birth and calling of Rabbenu Moshe (our teacher Moses) according to our legends. As a Sephardic Jew I like to find the common ground that we as Messianic Jews share with our sages. It is no longer a surprise to me after so many years of studying our sages that I find many parallels which can be drawn between the births of Yeshua and Moses.
* (weekly portion read at the synagogues)
There is clear evidence in the Ha Besorah (Good News) that the supernatural birth of Yeshua was not merely an attempt by the talmidim (disciples) to fabricate an extraordinary tale but was based on the pre-existent Jewish folklore of the day. In his excellent book “The Messiah in the Old Testament in the light of Rabbinical Writings”, Professor Risto Santala (Keren ahbah Meshihit Jerusalem 1992) tells us that”…the Messiah as the second Moses in Rabbinical literature presents parallels between similar types of fact, following the qal vaHomer (from the light to the heavy) Jewish principle of interpretation… In the same way one of the most frequently used parallels is the likening of Messiah to the first savior, Moses (Page 57).” If we follow the advice of the Talmud in that “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of Messiah” (Berachot 34b), we can see how important it is for us to know our own roots.
The Chumash (Pentateuch) by Rabbi Yaacov Benzaquen (ediciones Alpuente, S.A. Caracas 1991) contains a very surprising statement: “Our prophet Moses had an unusual conception and birth, according to the legends of our people….when Pharaoh gave the decree that all the male boys born from the people of Israel needed to be drawn in the River (i.e. killed), the people of Israel got divorced in order to not have more children. Amram and Yochabed were separated (divorced) but Miriam prophesied that Moses was going to be born and that he would be the Savior of Israel (Sotah 11b, 12a; Meg. 14a; Ex. R. 1.24; compare with Josephus, “Ant.” 2. 9). Amram and Yochabed remarried (some legends say that before Amram knew Yochabed, she was already with a child from the Ruach HaQodesh) and the light of Israel was born.”
In another legend we see the influence of Moses even in the activity of the days of creation-heaven and Earth were created for his sake (Lev.R.36. 4). In another account in Gen.1:6-8…”And God saw it was good” because God foresaw that Moses was going to suffer through water (Gen. R. 4.8). Another story states that at the moment of his birth, a peculiar light entered his home….Moses was circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Pirke R. El. 48). From this Pharaoh’s sister knew that he was a Jew. There are many more legends about Moses during his life and the relationship with Messiah, all of this in order to fulfill Deut. 18: 15-19.
Thus it became easy for me to see how to explain the miraculous birth of our Messiah Yeshua, whose life was the fulfillment of Moses as the leader of Israel, and the model of Godly leadership being fulfilled in Yeshua himself. This was known in Christianity as Moses redivivus (the second Moses).
From his birth Moses was separated by God to be the leader who would liberate Israel from slavery, in the same way that Yeshua would liberate Israel by bringing her back to Torah. Moses was prepared in the elitist of schools of his day; he was in the court of Pharaoh and he enjoyed the best teachers. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s sister, he needed to be prepared in the area of leadership and administration; areas he would need at a later date to fulfill his important role as the leader of Israel. When Moses went out of the palace he knew who he was and he never forgot it. When he saw that his countrymen were being abused, he tried to avenge them by killing an Egyptian but his own people turned against him. Moses became afraid and fled to the wilderness where for a period of 40 years he learned the art of being a shepherd, which God used to prepare him for the task that lay ahead. (Ex.2:11-22).
From the moment of his calling by God at the burning bush (Sena in Hebrew, from where we get the word Sinai, Ex. 3:1ff) to his death before the crossing of the Yarden (Jordan) River, (Deut. 34:1-12) Moses had a unique relationship with God, to which only Yeshua can be compared.
Moses was a most reluctant leader. From the beginning he tried by all means to pass the calling onto someone else…’who am I to go to Pharaoh… what is His Name. What will I say?…(Ex. 3:11-13); …But, they will not believe me and will not listen my voice…I beg you Lord, I am not a man of words…I beg you Lord send anyone…(Ex. 4:1,10,13). At the end God provided him helpers in Aaron, Miriam and Joshua, and God Himself was with him at all times. Moses spoke with God in a direct way unlike the other prophets.
Though Moses was a humble man, he lost his temper in a very uncharacteristic manner for him showing that he did indeed have a temper! Moses took upon himself the Glory of God which cost him dearly-to not be able to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:12-13). For us it is difficult to understand why God would place such a severe punishment on such a special man; according to our sages, the more that is given to you, the more is required from you! Later on we again see the true nature of Moses: He interceded before God for his people and he tried to become the expiatory lamb for them (Ex. 32:30-35). Even though we know that only God can do that…”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Here we can observe that the Scriptures are genuinely God’s revelation; He does not spare any of our heroes of the faith and shows them as they are- mere human beings without cosmetics. Since the Glory belongs to our God and not to us, we cannot take any credit. Moses always put God and Israel first; he saw himself as an instrument of God without taking his own position into consideration (how I wish that these words would ring true in all of us). Even his own children, Gershom and Eleazer were lost as part of the tribe of Levi and were not counted as part of the foundation of the Priesthood as were the children of his brother Aaron.
When I mentor young leaders of our Movement I want to help them follow Moses’ example and not follow the ways of the world. It is critical that instead they be focused on Whom they serve as he was. Now more than ever we need leaders committed to their calling who do not expect the world to accept, reward or admire them but who know that their service to God has eternal consequences.
We often admire leaders, who are the center of everything; their names are written in bold letters, their pictures are everywhere for everyone to adulate. What a difference for us to see the faithful servant who truly rejoices because he has been able to do the work of his Lord. We hear very little about these people who are quietly performing their labors of love but the Lord alone who knows them in secret will reward them openly as He will say “Well done my good and faithful servant!”
When we learn about leadership it is important to know that responsibility comes with the calling and we cannot run from it. Sooner or later we will be doing what we were called to do. In my personal life, I have often asked myself if I could be doing something else, something more lucrative for the good of my family. Like Moses I too have tried many times to argue with God about sending someone else but I have not been given the go-ahead to avoid my calling. This brings to mind a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”, where Tevye our central figure, in one of his many prayers asks God a valid question, “Lord I know that we are the chosen people, but for just once couldn’t you chose someone else?”
If God has called us let us be assured that he has been with us from the beginning and that He has prepared the works which we will do in advance. In the meantime, let us turn wholeheartedly to our calling and be faithful to do it because He is with us morning, noon and night. As the children of Israel went on their journey guided by God under the leadership of Moses (Ex. 13:21-22) we can be assured that our Messiah Yeshua will lead us in the same way.