וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי 22:1
Gene. 22:1 And it was after these things that God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
The word נִסָּה means to test, to prove, to tempt, to try. Do you think God needs to test anyone? If God is omniscient, does He not know what Abraham would do? In my thinking, this was not a test. I believe that the scribe was inspired by God to relate this episode in order that we should understand that its meaning was not in the words (because the words themselves exhibit little common sense), but in the underlying theology and philosophy. Foremost, is that faith in the Lord is the key to living a good life, the kind of life Abraham was to lead, one that would contribute something useful to the world, something that would outlive his years. By a good life, I don’t mean a happy, carefree, comfortable, long, or gentle life. To me, a good life is one spent in the service of the Lord, however that may be presented to us in our lifetime. A good life can be inordinately full of tests, of trials, of ordeals, of difficulties, even of tragedies. But if one glorifies the name of the Lord in the face of these events, maintaining a joyous wonder in fulfilling the word of the Lord, one will have lived a good life. Secondly, is there anyone who believes that Abraham was stupid? As far as I can imagine, there are only two types of people that would have acquiesced to God’s “test.” The first is an unthinking individual who, like a robot, would do whatever anyone with any authority would command him. The second is one who looks beyond what the eyes see, understands the purpose of a command, and tries his best to comply, knowing that it will be well. Abraham was undoubtedly the latter of these. I believe that God favors and enlists people like Abraham for His work. Moreover, I believe that Isaac’s near sacrifice that is depicted in the next few verses is symbolic of the destruction of the Temple. For this reason -- and others I’ll explain in their proper place -- I believe that Isaac represents the Jewish people during the post-Temple period until near the present. [Back]
וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּבֶן שָׁם אַבְרָהָם אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיַּעֲרֹךְ אֶת הָעֵצִים 22:9
וַיַּעֲקֹד אֶת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתוֹ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מִמַּעַל לָעֵצִים
Gene. 22:9 And they came to the place that had been told to him by God, and Abraham built there the alter and placed the wood in order, and he bound Isaac, his son, and laid him on the alter over the wood.
There has been much discussion and some controversy over how old Isaac was at this time. Some say he was at least 33 years of age. Their belief is based primarily on Gene. 21:20, to 21:22, and 21:34, and v. 22:1 above. Gene 21:20 and 21:21 say that Ishmael grew and received a wife. Then it says in v. 22:22, “At that time, ….” and the story continues with Abraham. Then in Gene. 21:34 it says “And Abraham sojourned … many days.” Then in v. 22:1 it says “And it was after these things ….” All these verses taken together imply a passage of an uncertain number of years between Ishmael’s being saved and the time of this verse. If Ishmael was 14 when he and his mother left Abraham’s household, then he might have been between 25 and 30 when he married. At this current point in the narrative he may have been anywhere from possibly 30 to as much as 50 years of age. That would make Isaac between 16 and 36 years of age. This appears to be reasonable on the face of it.
However, later in Gene. 25:20 we are told that Isaac was 40 years old when he took Rebekah for his wife. And Sarah died at the age of 127, making Isaac no older than 37 years old at her death. Then in Gene. 24:67 it says that Isaac was comforted after his mother when Rebekah came into his tent. So Sarah had passed when Isaac married. And he was 40 then. It also says in Gene. 24:1 that Abraham was old when he sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. He had to be at least 137. If Sarah died soon after Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son (called the Akedah), Isaac may have been in his thirties then. There is, however, no way to know how much time passed between the Akedah and Sarah’s death. Nothing is mentioned of any intervening years. So the estimate of Isaac’s age is based not on fact, but conjecture. The estimate that I mentioned above, 16 to 36, stands and cannot be reasonably disputed. In fact, we have what seems to be a clear indication that Isaac was at most a teenager in v. Gene.22:5. There Abraham says “... I and the boy will go up ....”
As an added element of uncertainty, later we shall find that the chronology of the Torah is sometimes very difficult to analyze. The phrase “And it was after these things ….” will be found to begin a later chapter in which the timing is decidedly ambiguous, with the narrative strongly implying that the events described happened at an earlier period. I will further address this difficulty when we reach that chapter.
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