On Genesis, Part 33: The Dedication of Isaac

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On Genesis, Part 33: The Dedication of Isaac

In Genesis chapter 21 we had last seen Abraham at Beersheba, where he had made an oath with Abimelech. The only details we have of the contents of the oath were expressed in the words of Abimelech, where we read: “23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.” That is an oath of mutual respect and general cooperation which would also have been passed down to each man’s descendants. Then, before the oath was sealed, Abraham added the stipulation that Abimelech acknowledge the digging of the well at Beersheba by Abraham, so that Abraham could keep it, and that was ensured by the grant of the seven ewe lambs which Abimelech had accepted. But it becomes evident much later, in Genesis chapter 26, that the Philistines of Gerar had transgressed the terms of the oath. When that happened repeatedly, Isaac returned to Beersheba, where he seems to have found refuge. Although apparently he had never sought any recompense for the transgressions of the Philistines.

Now the events described in this chapter of Genesis, chapter 22, are highly scrutinized and also highly criticized by various parties who are critical of Christianity, because they describe the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham at the command of Yahweh his God. However we would describe this event as the dedication of Isaac, rather than as the sacrifice of Isaac, because the sacrifice was never completed, yet it nevertheless resulted in the dedication of Isaac to Yahweh God by his own father, who had the authority to do so. Then, as for the critics, they are generally ignorant of the seeming cruelty of the ancient world which surrounded the Biblical patriarchs, and they wrongly judge this event by modern standards of society, which have themselves developed out of Christian morality, rather than judging the event by the ancient standards of society under which the patriarchs had actually lived.

Yet comparing this event to many similar events which are evident in the ancient past, in the end we must conclude that Abraham’s sacrifice was an act of selflessness, whereas typically, human sacrifice in the ancient world was conducted out of acts of selfishness. For example, the pagan god Odin was said to have hung himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights in order to gain knowledge of other worlds and so that he may understand the runes. [1] But the sacrifice of Christ by hanging on a tree, or a cross, was so that He would redeem His people from their sins [2], also receiving nothing for Himself in return, and that was its stated purpose even if the critics of Christianity do not understand how the act could possibly have achieved that objective.

So Odin sacrificed himself to gain something for himself. For that same selfish reason, in a historical setting which was little more than six centuries after the dedication of Isaac here, the Mycenaean king Agamemnon, when he wanted his forces to set sail in order to make war against the Trojans, was described by Greek poets as having sacrificed his own daughter in order to appease the gods. Supposedly, as Agamemnon had gathered his thousand ships at Aulis in Boeotia, the goddess Artemis had caused weather which was not favorable for sailing, because she had a grudge against him. So in turn, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter in order to appease his idol, and most of Agamemnon’s companions approved of the matter at that time. While Iphigeneia dies at Aulis in some ancient Greek accounts, other later Tragic Poets such as Euripides sought to revise the account, and claimed that Iphigeneia was saved before the sacrifice could be executed, where it was claimed that Artemis snatched the girl away and substituted a deer in her place, reminiscent of this very account of the dedication of Isaac. So from that time, Iphigeneia was said to have lived among the Taurians as a priestess, in a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, as she had been dedicated to Artemis by her father when he placed her on an altar. [3] In contrast, the Tragic Poet Aeschylus reflects the earlier accounts, in his play titled Agamemnon, where he had described the motive for the murder of Agamemnon at the hands of his own wife Clytaemestra and her lover after his return from the war as being for the express reason that he had killed his own daughter, and in that accusation she was joined by the chorus. [4]

Another notable literary example of human sacrifice for selfish reasons is found in the Ynglinga Saga, which is the first section of the Heimskringla of the Icelandic Edda of Snorri Sturluson, where the Swedish king On, or Ane, had sacrificed nine of his sons, since Odin had promised him an additional ten years of life and rule for each son that he had sacrificed. There we read in part that “On or Ane was the name of Jorund's son, who became king of the Swedes after his father. He was a wise man, who made great sacrifices to the gods; but being no warrior, he lived quietly at home.” Then further on we read that “In Upsal's town the cruel king slaughtered his sons at Odin's shrine – slaughtered his sons with cruel knife, to get from Odin length of life.” [5] Now even though this King On was remembered in the Edda as a cruel man, he was also called a wise man, and the account portrays Odin, the greatest of the Germanic gods, as having approved of the king’s sacrifice of his own sons and also as having rewarded him for it repeatedly, since every ten years he continued to sacrifice one of his remaining sons so that he could stay in power.

Therefore we see that from their own literature, which they often cite and which they claim to be holy, Germanic pagans worship a god who continually approved of and rewarded human sacrifice. Our pagan critics often complain that human sacrifice is Jewish in nature, which also demonstrates that they are often ignorant of their own pagan literature. But it is certainly not “Jewish”, and neither were Abraham and Isaac “Jewish”. Neither was the practice restricted to Jews, or even to Canaanites, as we see here from both Greek and Germanic literature. But we would of course agree, that human sacrifice is evil.

However neither did human sacrifice begin with Scripture. In the introduction to a translation of an ancient Sumerian epic titled The Death of Gilgamesh, from Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament we read in part: “Section В consists of the last forty-two lines of the poem. It begins with a list of Gilgamesh's family and retinue—wives, children, musicians, chief valet, attendants—and continues with the presentation by Gilgamesh of their gifts and offerings to the numerous deities of the nether world. That is, according to at least one plausible interpretation of the available material, Gilgamesh has died and descended to the nether world to become its king. Moreover, we must reckon with the possibility that a large palace retinue was buried with Gilgamesh—if so, we have here the first mention of human sacrifices of the type uncovered by Woolley in the tombs of Ur—and that Gilgamesh performs the placation rites essential to their comfortable sojourn in the nether world. The remainder of the poem is poorly preserved; it probably ends with a special tribute to the glory and memory of Gilgamesh.” Evidently, upon the death of Gilgamesh, many in his household were sacrificed so as to accompany him into the afterlife. [6]

As for the reference to the evidence of human sacrifice in Mesopotamia discovered by Woolley, who was a British archaeologist of the early 20th century, we read the following in an academic journal which was originally published in 2010 by Cambridge University Press: “Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavation of the Royal Cemetery of Ur in the 1920s and 1930s yielded thousands of human skeletons, few of which were documented in the field or preserved for later study or exhibition. The few Woolley retained, including 21 relatively well-preserved skeletons in the Natural History Museum, London, and 10 skulls, which he consolidated and lifted en bloc, have recently been re-examined for the insight they provide into skeletal populations, mortuary practices and the treatment of the dead in late third-millennium BC Mesopotamia (Molleson & Hodgson 2003). Two skulls from the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (hereafter Penn Museum) are examined, using current analytical protocols and new technologies. They provide physical evidence for the sacrifice and intentional preservation of attendants buried with Ur’s elites in the Royal Cemetery’s late Early Dynastic phase (c. 2500 BC) and substantially revise Woolley’s long-accepted reconstruction of royal funerary proceedings.” [7] This substantiates the interpretation of the events of The Death of Gilgamesh described by the editors of Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, although Gilgamesh was a king in nearby Erech, and not in Ur. However Woolley’s discoveries substantiate the fact that human sacrifice was conducted at Ur, perhaps over five hundred years before Abraham was born, over a thousand years before Moses had written Genesis, and Ur was the city in which Abraham was first found in Scripture, in Genesis chapter 12, so Abraham certainly must have been familiar with the practice.

[1 Odin – the one-eyed All-Father, The Swedish History Museum, https://historiska.se/norse-mythology/odin-en/, accessed October 12th, 2023; 2 i.e. Galatians 3:13; 3 Iphigeiea Among the Taurians, Euripides, lines 1-340; 4 Agamemnon, Aeschylus, lines 1496-1564; 5 the Heimskringla or The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway - The Ynglinga Saga, or The Story of the Yngling Family from Odin to Halfdan the Black, Internet Sacred Text Archive, https://sacred-texts.com/neu/heim/02ynglga.htm, accessed October 12th, 2023; 6 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament 3rd edition, James Pritchard, editor, 1969, Harvard University Press, p. 50; 7 Human sacrifice and intentional corpse preservation in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, Aubrey Baadsgaard, et al., Antiquity 85 (2011): 27–42, Cambridge University Press, January, 2015, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/abs/human-sacrifice-and-intentional-corpse-preservation-in-the-royal-cemetery-of-ur/E44F1731C922EF9FF43E0B5D2DF67AC1 accessed October 12th, 2023.]

From this we may conclude that human sacrifice was generally pagan, and neither Christian nor specifically Hebrew, or Israelite, or even Canaanite and in fact, it was often condemned in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it was not condemned in the Edda or in the early Greek poets, all of which were long after the act was condemned in the writings of Moses. In those writings, where Yahweh God had warned the children of Israel that He would destroy the Canaanites, and that they should not follow them in their vile practices, we read in Deuteronomy chapter 12: “31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.” That Yahweh considers such human sacrifice to be an abomination is also illustrated in the lives of the later kings of Judah, for example in 2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6, in reference to kings Ahaz and Manasseh.

However here in the case of Isaac, what appears to be a demand for human sacrifice, but which had turned out to be a mere dedication, has an important place in the overall scheme of history which was determined beforehand by Yahweh, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel, as Yahweh imparts both information and lessons to men on terms that the men themselves may understand, and as He determines that they require. We cannot take it for granted that Abraham knew that Yahweh was his Father through Adam, or any of the other things which had later been revealed in Christ or in the prophets. Therefore at the time when this sacrifice of Isaac was demanded by Yahweh, not even Abraham could have known in advance all of the implications it would ultimately have for his son.

So with that meager background understanding of human sacrifice and the ancient world, we shall proceed with Genesis chapter 22:

1 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.

The Hebrew word translated as tempt here is נסה or nasah, which is to test or even to attempt (# 5254), in the sense of to try or prove. It is prove in the King James Version in Exodus chapter 16, where we read “4 Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” It is translated as tempt in places where Moses had accused the children of Israel of trying Yahweh Himself, in places such as Exodus chapter 17, in verses 2 and 7 in the King James version. So it is also where we read in Deuteronomy chapter 6: “16 Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.”

So here Yahweh God had tested, or proven, Abraham, but we shall assert that the real purpose of the test, unbeknownst to Abraham at the time, was to have Abraham dedicate his son Isaac on the altar which he would build to Yahweh here in this chapter. So Yahweh makes this demand:

2 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.

Isaac was not actually Abraham’s only son, but rather, the beloved son, and the Septuagint rendering reflects that where Brenton’s translation has “Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved – Isaac”. However while the the Hebrew word יחיד or yachid (# 3173) may mean only, it is defined in Strong’s original Concordance as “properly united, i.e. sole; by implication beloved; also lonely”.

This request was quite explicit and direct, however it is apparent that Abraham did not at all protest, and he is immediately depicted as having complied, in spite of any grief or consternation which he may, or may not, have experienced:

3 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. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

The common interpretation is that this land of Moriah describes the same place in Jerusalem where the mountain called Moriah, which was later the site of Solomon’s temple, had been located. But the Hebrew term מריה or Moriah (# 4179), means “seen of Yah”, or Yahweh, contains a name which was not yet revealed to Abraham. So if this is indeed the Moriah which was later a part of Jerusalem, then perhaps Moses employed another anachronism, so that we would know where the sacrifice occurred, but he did not inform us of the original name of the place in the time of Abraham. The name Moriah only appears elsewhere in 2 Chronicles chapter 3 (3:1), where it was said that there was “where the LORD appeared unto David his father”, speaking of Solomon, and therefore that was the place where the temple of Yahweh was built.

One major point against this interpretation is that in the time of Moses, the children of Israel had not yet possessed Jerusalem in order to give the mountain such a name, and they would not possess it until the time of David, when it was finally taken from the Jebusites, as it is recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 5, by which time Genesis was long completed and Moses was long dead. For that reason, perhaps we should rather accept the Septuagint version of this verse, where in Brenton’s translation we read: “2 And he said, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved – Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” However that is not enough by itself to lead us to a conclusion.

Here it is evident that Abraham had begun his journey in Beersheba, which is in the foothills which lie between the mountains and the sea near modern Gaza. On a straight line, Beersheba was almost twenty-five miles southwest of Hebron, where Abraham had lived beforetime, and nearly forty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Having a journey of three days, he may be expected to have travelled at least forty miles on the first two days alone, and even as many as fifty. While this might be consistent with a two-and-a-half day journey to Jerusalem, it is not quite certain that the site in question is actually the later mount Moriah of the time of Solomon, in spite of any prophetic implications which that may have. But on the other hand, verse 14 of this chapter seems to uphold the interpretation, and it is written elsewhere that Moses was a prophet.

The way this account is recorded by Moses, Abraham seems to go quickly about the task which he had been requested to carry out, in spite of any sorrow that he must have felt for his son. But perhaps Abraham did not have sorrow, because he was confident that somehow, even if Isaac had died, Yahweh would keep the earlier promises which he had made concerning Isaac, which we read from the first mention of Isaac, in Genesis chapter 17, that Yahweh had told Abraham, in part: “I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” So Abraham, believing Yahweh, continued to believe him and carried out the task which he was given while having full confidence in those promises.

5 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. 6 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.

Evidently, Abraham had to keep a torch or a lamp of some sort, where it says that he “took the fire in his hand”. Even if he had flint and iron in order to make a fire, a technique about which he must have known, it is difficult to make a fire in that manner even with the modern flint and steel kits which are manufactured for that very purpose. So it was probably easier to carry a torch or a lamp, or to have a servant carry one.

Works of classical and modern art which portray the dedication of Isaac sometimes depict him as a young child. While we do not know how much time has transpired since his having been weaned, here it is evident that he must have been old enough to be able to carry a considerable amount of wood uphill to the site of the offering, where we read that “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son”, that means that Isaac had carried all of the wood. The next significant event which is recorded in Genesis, in the opening verses of chapter 23, is the death of Sarah at the age of 127 years, which is 37 years after she had given birth to Isaac. So here, Isaac is somewhere between 5 and 37 years of age. So it is evident, since he carried all of the wood, that Isaac must have been somewhat beyond childhood. The amount of wood sufficient to offer a young man in sacrifice must have been considerable, so Isaac must have been old enough to carry such an amount. One popular recipe found on the Internet for cooking a whole 60-pound pig [not that we would want to cook a pig] calls for five bundles of hardwood in addition to a bag of hardwood lump charcoal. [8] The size of the bundle is not specified, but one reseller estimates a .75 cubic foot bundle of hardwood to weigh between 23 and 27 pounds, depending on the variety of the wood. [9] A typical modern bag of hardwood lump charcoal sold in stores weighs about 20 pounds. So in any event, Isaac carried at least 140 pounds of fuel to the site where his father would build a fire, and possibly much more since he must have been much larger than a 60-pound pig. Therefore he was most likely a strong young man at the time of this event.

[8 How To Roast A Whole Pig Over An Open Fire, Gizmodo, https://gizmodo.com/how-to-roast-a-whole-pig-over-an-open-fire-1725473541, accessed October 12th, 2023; 9 Bundled Firewood – 3.4 Cubic Foot, Bundle of Warmth website, https://bundleofwarmth.com/product/bundled-firewood/, accessed October 12th, 2023]

7 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? 8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Not yet could Abraham inform Isaac that he was the offering, yet this lie which he had made in his innocence turned out to be true. So once again, as we read of the prophet Samuel, in 1 Samuel chapter 3, “19 And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and there did not fall one of his words to the ground.” Yahweh was also with Abraham, so these words which Abraham had spoken did not fall to the ground, even if Abraham himself did not yet know what would happen. For that same purpose, David had prayed in the 19th Psalm, saying: “14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Perhaps the record is purposely concise, but as soon as they arrive at the appointed location, Abraham moves forward immediately with the gruesome task at hand:

9 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. 10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Obeying Yahweh, here Abraham seems to have been dauntless, which is an indication that his life experiences since he was called by Yahweh to depart from Haran, must have taught him to trust in Yahweh completely, in spite of the fact that prospects of his having yet another son with Sarah were even more dismal than they had been when Isaac was born. So Abraham seemed confident that the promises to himself and to Sarah would somehow be fulfilled in Isaac, in spite of the fate of Isaac here. These things must have dominated his thoughts throughout the events which are described here, and Abraham seems to have never doubted or resisted his God in the course of their completion.

The sacrifice of Isaac foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice of Christ in many ways. They were both sacrificed on a hill or mountain-top, perhaps even in the same area, and they both carried to the respective sites of their sacrifice their own wood which was to be the method of their sacrifice, although the wood was used in different ways. Furthermore, while Yahweh did indeed provide a lamb [or actually, a ram] to replace Isaac, the sacrifice of Christ was portrayed in both the prophets and the gospel as that of a Lamb of God provided by God, dying on behalf of Isaac’s descendants.

Now Abraham’s test comes to a close:

11 And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

The phrase “here am I” seems to represent a colloquial answer, such as we say “hello” in modern English. It is the same answer he uttered when Yahweh spoke to him in verse 1, and where Isaac had spoken to him in verse 7, where Abraham is portrayed as answering in that same fashion even where it is evident that he and Isaac must have been within view of one another.

Now Yahweh reveals the nature of the trial:

12 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.

This is the dedication of Isaac to Yahweh, wherein Isaac now lawfully belongs to Yahweh his God, and not to his own father. Abraham had offered his son up to his God willingly, and Yahweh had explicitly accepted the offering. Referring to this event, explaining the need for Christians to perform good works, the apostle James had asked in chapter 2 of his epistle “21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” Likewise, Paul of Tarsus wrote in Hebrews chapter 11: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [or most-beloved] son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”

While the Hebrew words qadash, qadesh or qadosh, קדש or קדוש (see Strong’s #’s 6918 and 6942 through 6948) do not appear in this account in relation to the dedication of Isaac, they very often refer to something or someone which has been sanctified or separated for a particular reason, and in the Old Testament, usually that reason is for the dedication of the person or object to a god, and especially to Yahweh the God of Israel. Sometimes the sanctification process is merely a ritual cleansing, or sometimes it is a whole burnt offering, or some other purpose designated by the god. So designating that something or someone has been dedicated in such a manner, in English the terms are usually translated as holy, sanctified, or of people, also as saint. Therefore, even though those terms were not used here, the acts of Abraham here, which fulfilled the demands of Yahweh his God, nevertheless merit the distinction bestowed upon Isaac which those terms describe.

As Paul of Tarsus demonstrated in another way, in an analogy concerning Levi in Hebrews chapter 7, after Abraham was given the promises, he nevertheless gave tithes to Melchizedek, so the Melchizedek priesthood was superior to that of Levi, even if Levi was in the loins of Abraham when he had received the promises. Then, in Romans chapter 9, Paul had attested, in relation to the promises of Isaac, that “8 … the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Understanding the purpose for which Isaac was placed upon the altar as a sacrifice by Abraham, one may come to the conclusion that, in relation to Yahweh, the only people who could ever claim to be His are those who have originated from of the loins of Isaac. So in Ezra chapter 9 and in Isaiah chapter 6, various portions of the children of Israel were called “the holy seed”, and throughout Scripture they were all described as the “holy people”, having become holy when they were dedicated to God in the loins of Isaac. According to Daniel chapter 12, they are the holy people even after they had been scattered abroad in captivity on account of their sins.

The English word sacrifice comes from two Latin words, which are sacer, which is sacred, and the verb facere, which is to do, cause or create, among other related things, so sacrifice literally means to make something or someone sacred. In the ancient world, that did not necessarily mean destroying what is being sacrificed, but often, dedicating it to the possession and use of the god of any particular altar or temple. In this same manner, the Hebrew word qadesh and its related words were usually translated in the Septuagint with the Greek word ἅγιος or hagios, which is often holy in English, but which, according to Joseph Thayer, more fully means, in part, “set apart for God; to be, as it were, exclusively his” and in that same sense he defines the related verb, ἁγιάζω, in part as “to separate from things profane and dedicate to God, to consecrate and so render inviolable”. [10] In that manner, when Isaac was dedicated he was made sacred to Yahweh on the altar which his father had built.

In like manner the term was used among the profane Greek writers. In the Intermediate edition of their Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott define the adjective ἅγιος as “devoted to the gods ... sacred, holy” and there the reader is also referred to the Latin word sacer which we have already discussed here. [11] The ancient Greeks set something apart, or dedicated something to a god by placing it upon an altar in the temple of that God. Once that was done, the object, or even the person, became the property of the god of the temple, and fell under the authority of the priests. For example, as we had discussed in reference to Iphigeneia the daughter of Agamemnon whom he had sacrificed to Artemis, in the version of Euripides, she was snatched away and became a priestess in a temple of Artemis, where she would have been expected to have served the idol. In the ancient world, unwanted children, slaves, and captives in war were often dedicated to temples, and as a result, they became temple-workers or even prostitutes, raising money for the temple. Regardless of the role they were given to fulfill, such a person in Greek was called a ἱερόδουλος, which is a compound of words meaning temple and slave.

In another of his plays, Ion, Euripides depicted the rape of Creusa by Apollo, and how after the birth of the resulting but unwanted infant, Creusa had left the title character Ion exposed in the same place where Apollo had raped her. So he had him taken to Delphi and dedicated to his temple there, and “… the Delphians made him the steward and trusted chamberlain of all the god’s possessions, and from then until now he has lived a holy and respected life in the god’s temple.” [11] These possessions had come from temple dedications. Among the ancient Greeks, it was very common for men to take a portion of their proceeds or war booty, or even the work of their hands, to a temple and dedicate it, hoping in return for some favor or good oracle from the god, and this was especially true of the famous oracle of Apollo at Delphi. These practices are found throughout ancient Greek literature, from as early as the writings of Homer.

One famous account is related by Herodotus, who portrayed the conquered Lydian king Croesus as having been bitter against Apollo, since he dedicated to the temple at Delphi many valuable gifts after he had received an oracle which he believed was favorable. So Croesus is said to have gifted the temple with three thousand sacrificial beasts and gold ingots and elaborate garments, gold implements and furnishings in vast quantity. One solid gold statue alone was said to have weighed ten talents, which is approximately five hundred and seventy of our modern pounds. [13] But his venture to attack Persia resulted in his defeat, rather than the victory which he had expected in return for his gifts. So when Croesus sent to Delphi to inquire as to why Apollo had betrayed him, the priestess answered that he himself had failed to understand the initial oracle, and her answer read in part: “For when the god told him that, if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a mighty empire, he ought, if he had been wise, to have sent again and inquired which empire was meant, that of Cyrus or his own; but if he neither understood what was said, nor took the trouble to seek for enlightenment, he has only himself to blame for the result.” [14] Because of the ambiguity of the oracles attributed to Apollo, the idol was given the epithet Λοξίας, which Herodotus himself had also used in reference to the idol, and which is from the Greek word λοξός which is slanting or crosswise, but of language indirect or ambiguous. [15] However in contrast, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is not ambiguous, and His Word is explicit and true.

[10 Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon Of the New Testament, Joseph H. Thayer, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts, 1999, pp. 6-7; 11 An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon Founded Upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Clarendon, 1889, 1999, p. 5; 12 Ion, Euripides, lines 1-56; 13 The Histories, Herodotus, Book 1 Chapter 50; 14 ibid., Chapters 90-91; 15 An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, p. 478.]

The Israelites had also dedicated objects to Yahweh at His temple, which is evident in 2 Samuel chapter 8, where David had conquered the Philistines, Moabites and Syrians, and we read: “7 And David took the shields of gold that were on the servants of Hadadezer, and brought them to Jerusalem. 8 And from Betah, and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, king David took exceeding much brass. 9 When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had smitten all the host of Hadadezer, 10 Then Toi sent Joram his son unto king David, to salute him, and to bless him, because he had fought against Hadadezer, and smitten him: for Hadadezer had wars with Toi. And Joram brought with him vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of brass: 11 Which also king David did dedicate unto the LORD, with the silver and gold that he had dedicated of all nations which he subdued…” In a similar manner did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter, whereupon she and her friends lamented her virginity for two months, but not her life, as it is described in Judges chapter 11, whereafter it was said that “she knew no man”, and therefore lived out her life as a virgin.

The custom is seen in the ancient laws of Mesopotamia, in the Code of Hammurabi, an Amorite king of Babylon in the 18th century BC, where we read in part: “181: If a father dedicated (his daughter) to deity as a hierodule, a sacred prostitute, or a devotee [possibly a priestess] and did not present a dowry to her, after the father has gone to (his) fate, she shall receive as her share in the goods of the paternal estate her one-third patrimony, but she shall have only the usufruct of (it) [the right to enjoy it’s use] as long as she lives, since her heritage belongs to her brothers.” [16] In a 6th century BC inscription of Nabonidus, a later Chaldaean king of Babylon, he is recorded as having dedicated to the temple of the “Lord of Justice” the sum of “100 talents (and) 21 minas of silver (corresponding in value to) 5 talents and 17 minas of gold”, and among other things, “To Nebo and Nergal, my divine helpers, I (also) dedicated as temple slaves 2,850 men of the prisoners from the country Hume to carry the (earth) baskets (because) Marduk, my lord, has given more (prisoners) into my hands than to (any of) my royal predecessors.” [17]

In that same manner, all of the children both of Israel and of Esau were dedicated to Yahweh God in the loins of Isaac. However the dedication of Isaac was not only for good, but also in order to make an exhibition of evil, which we hope to discuss later on in Genesis, in relation to commentaries on the sons of Isaac, both Jacob and Esau. When the children of Israel separate themselves from the world and turn to Christ they demonstrate their acceptance of that fact. They fulfill the purpose for which they were dedicated to Yahweh in the loins of Isaac. That is what it truly means to be holy, sanctified or a saint in the New Testament. This we may also read in the promise of a new covenant in Ezekiel chapter 37: “24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. 25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. 27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 And the [nations] shall know that I Yahweh do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” That word for sanctify is the Hebrew word qadash (Strong's Hebrew # 6918), a verb related to those same words which mean to consecrate, sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be holy, be sanctified, be separate, etc.

At the start, Abraham certainly did believe that he would have to sacrifice his son Isaac, as his actions here have demonstrated. But the plan of God as it is now revealed was that Abraham would only dedicate his son Isaac, having relinquished him to Yahweh the moment he placed him on the altar. While his emotional reactions are not recorded, they must have been strong, but now he must have been relieved, where we next read:

13 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.

Here the truth of the words which Abraham had spoken to Isaac becomes manifest, where he told him earlier, in verse 8 of this chapter, that “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” The word for lamb in that passage is שי or שה, sey or seh (# 7716), which is a general term that describes any animal of a flock, weather a sheep or a goat. Here the word for ram is איל or ayil (# 352), which is more specifically a ram, but a ram could nevertheless be described by the earlier term which is translated as lamb in the King James Version, but which was not necessarily translated as lamb.

Another famous discovery of Sir Leonard Woolley in Mesopotamia is a statuette which he himself had called the "ram caught in a thicket", having alluded to this very account of the dedication of Isaac. But the statuette does not discredit this account. In a pastoral society, it is quite frequent that goats and rams may climb their forelegs up into the brush or onto the stumps or branches of trees, in order to eat any leaves which they may reach. [18] Some goats even climb to the tops of certain trees. [19]

[16 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 174; 17 ibid., p. 337 18 Ram in the Thicket, Ur, Iraq, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, https://www.penn.museum/collections/highlights/neareast/ram.php, accessed October 12th, 2023; 19 Tree-climbing goats spit out and disperse valuable argan seeds, New Scientist, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2132751-tree-climbing-goats-spit-out-and-disperse-valuable-argan-seeds/, accessed October 13th, 2023.]

14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.

There is academic debate over the use of the name of Yahweh reflected in the translation of the original Hebrew phrase translated here as Jehovah-jireh in the King James Version, which is Yahweh sees, or Yahweh has seen (# 3070). The phrase, which we would write as Yahweh-jireh, is from the name Yahweh and a verb, ראה or rah (# 7200), which means to see. The verb is prefixed with a י or yodh, which serves as a pronoun meaning he, but which is redundant in English in this context. It may also be argued that the Septuagint supports the presence of the name Yahweh here, where in the corresponding Greek it has κύριος εἶδεν, which is “the Lord hath seen” in Brenton’s translation. While not much of this chapter has survived in the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is one scroll which has Elohim-jireh instead, which is God sees, or God has seen.

So in The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, where a fragment of this passage had been preserved, there is a footnote which reads: “Since, according to the Bible itself, the name Yahweh – translated ‘Lord’ in most modern editions of the Bible – was later revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus (3:13-15), students of the Pentateuch have long debated the use of Yahweh in the book of Genesis. A common solution suggests that an early author/editor indiscriminately used the term in his copying of the text. 4QGen-Exoda – sure to fuel the debate afresh – ‘replaces’ the term Yahweh in Genesis 22:14 with the more common Hebrew term for God. Thus the familiar Jehovah Jireh becomes Elohim Jireh.” There the authors also translated jireh, from a word which is literally to see, as to provide, which is one out of many figurative uses of the term where it appears in various contexts. [20]

So while we may not accept all of their conclusions, it is certain that scribes in at least some places may have taken liberties in transcribing, and that they did make mistakes, whether they were accidental or purposeful. But as we have asserted on diverse occasions, Moses had used many anachronisms intentionally, as he was writing this account for the sake of the children of Israel, and the events themselves had taken place long before he had written. So it is very likely that Abraham called the place Elohim Jireh, but Moses knew that Yahweh, being the only true God, for that reason had thought that the place should be known as Yahweh Jireh. However even with that, it is evidently not mentioned again in Scripture unless it is accepted to be the later place called Moriah.

Furthermore, with that it is also plausible that Moses did indeed intend to associate the name of this place with Moriah (# 4179), which means “seen of Yah”, or seen of Yahweh, and which is therefore only a slightly different way of saying Yahweh Jireh. Strong’s original Concordance explained that the Hebrew term מריה or Moriah was from the same words as Yahweh Jireh, but in a different order. The first part of the word is from the same verb ראה or rah (# 7200) which means to see, however in the name Moriah the verb is prefixed with an מ or mem, which means from, and we have explained that in jireh it is prefixed with a י or yodh, which means he. So this is probably the best argument which upholds the assertion that Isaac was dedicated on what would later be known as Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, and it is difficult for us to disregard.

Now Yahweh continues to speak to Abraham in Mount Moriah:

15 And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 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:

The Septuagint has the last clause of verse 16 to read “.. for now I know that thou fearest God, and for my sake thou hast not spared thy beloved son.” It also has similar language in verses 2 and 12 of this chapter, where it also reads beloved rather than only. As we have explained in various contexts in the New Testament, where the word μονογενής or “only-begotten” appears in contexts where there were clearly other sons, the word is an idiom for one’s most-beloved son, and the Septuagint translation in these three verses and elsewhere helps to exemplify the meaning of the idiom. Ishmael was put out of the presence of Sarah, ostensibly so that he is not a threat to Isaac, but he does appear with Isaac later in Genesis, at the death of Abraham where he comes to help Isaac bury his father, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 25, where he is still described as a son of Abraham.

Now for what Abraham had done, the promise which he had received at the beginning, in Genesis chapter 12, is repeated and augmented:

17 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; 18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

When we discussed The Call of Abraham in part 21 of this commentary and the similar blessing that Abraham had received in Genesis chapter 12, we said in part that:

While Abram could only have understood this promise within the context of his own time, in the understanding of Paul of Tarsus, looking at the Genesis account through Christian eyes, the reference to “all the families of the earth” was a prophetic statement which referred to the future twelve tribes of Israel, the descendants of Jacob who inherited the promise to Abraham that his seed would inherit the earth. This is what Paul had meant where he wrote, in Galatians chapter 3, that “6 Just as ‘Abraham had trusted Yahweh, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ 7 then you know that they from faith, they are sons of Abraham. 8 And the writing having foreseen that from faith Yahweh would deem the Nations righteous, announced to Abraham beforehand that ‘In you shall all the Nations be blessed.’ 9 So those from faith are blessed along with the believing Abraham.”

Here Paul’s interpretation is corroborated where this promise is repeated here, since where it says “and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies”, Yahweh God clearly indicates that there must be some nations which are not blessed in Abraham’s seed, but which are accounted as enemies whose gates the seed of Abraham would possess. Furthermore, where Paul said that the nations to be blessed were “those from faith”, he must have meant that those nations were from of the faith of Abraham, as he himself had defined it in Romans chapter 4, and therefore the nations being blessed in this promise must be those nations which would come from the seed of Abraham, and none others, because that is what Abraham himself had believed.

19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

Now that Abraham has returned to Beersheba from the dedication of Isaac, having received yet another assurance that Isaac would indeed have a glorious future, we see the first indication of what his immediate future would include:

20 And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor; 21 Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. 23 And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah.

We need not elaborate on the family of Nahor, as only one of those mentioned here are relevant to the life of Isaac, or the balance of Scripture. It is apparent, however, that Nahor was blessed with bountiful descendants after he remained in Haran. So as Genesis proceeds, it is Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel who shall become the wife of Isaac, and the mother of Jacob and Esau. Bethuel, a name which is said in Strong’s original Concordance (# 1328) to mean destroyed of God, something of which I am very skeptical, is defined by Gesenius merely as man of God, or of a place, tarrying of God, in relation to its use as a name for a town of Simeon later in Scripture. [21] The Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon agrees with the definition of the term as man of God. [22]

When, without any dispute or any promise of anything in return, Abraham had placed his son Isaac on the altar at the commandment of Yahweh his God, Abraham was surrendering his authority over his son, and dedicating him to Yahweh whereby Isaac became the only man ever dedicated to God, and accepted by God by the explicit command of God. So unlike any other human sacrifice of the historical records until the sacrifice of Christ Himself, Abraham’s sacrifice was the ultimate sacrifice which a man could make, as he was willing to risk everything which he had been promised in order to please his God, but he himself had been promised nothing additional in return for that sacrifice. So his willingness to comply with the sacrifice of Isaac was entirely selfless, and it was also a type, a foreshadow, of the later sacrifice of Christ.

This concludes our commentary on Genesis chapter 22.

[20 The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English, Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999, p. 10; 21 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 149; 22 The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishers, 2021, p. 143.]

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