The Akedah – The Binding of Isaac

Every three years these verse come up in the lectionary, and every time they do, I am feel drawn to them.  The power of this passage cannot be denied, and I am sure that it has occupied and troubled the minds of those who heard it ever since it was first told around campfires at night, well before anyone took pen to paper and wrote it down.  Here is my own paraphrase of the verses, as well as some questions for reflection. which I encourage you to answer, as best you can, in the comment section of this post.

Genesis 22:1-19

And it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham and said to him, `Abraham!’ And he answered, `Here I am.’ He said, `Please take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love (your heart’s delight), and travel to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.’

So Abraham rose early the next morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his servants with him, and his son Isaac.  He split the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, `Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go up there; we will worship, and then we will return to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He himself carried the fire and the knife; and the two of them walked on together. Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, `Father!’ And he answered, `Here I am, my son.’  Isaac said, `Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, `God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’  And the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid out the wood; he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But an angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, `Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, `Here I am.’ He said, `Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him;  for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only beloved son  from me.’ And when Abraham looked up, he saw a ram behind him, caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham named the place Yahweh-yired (The LORD will provide); as it is said to this day, `On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, `By Myself I swear, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, whom you love, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.  And through your descendants, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.’  Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed together for Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.


Questions for Reflection

The following questions are taken from the article “The Akedah:  Abraham, Issac, and the Struggling Father,” found in the Fall 2002 issue of “Achim Magazine.”

Begin by re-reading the text of the Akedah, Genesis 22:1-19, and with the text in mind, reflect on the following questions.
1. Why does God test humans?
2. Can Isaac forgive his father and God?
3. Does God desire that we sacrifice what we love most?

Rabbi Norman Cohen attempts to bring the events of the Akedah into our modern context. He writes:
“We are all like Abraham; so involved in our outside world – our careers, interests, or principles– that we do not or cannot see that it is our child, or spouse or parent that is bound on the alter. We are so adept at sacrificing that which is truly important to us on the altars we have erected that we may ask whether we are capable of hearing the cry of the angel before it’s too late.”  – Rabbi Norman Cohen, Self,Struggle, and Change (1995)

Having read the quote, think carefully about the following questions
1. How does my own faith in God compare to Abraham’s faith?
2. Can I hear the cry of those who are bound upon my altars?
3. For what reason might you be willing to sacrifice those who you love most?

Do you have other questions or thoughts about this passage that you would like to share?

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