Happy New Year, everyone! I know that for some of you this is your first High Holidays experience, and I’m excited for you, because you are going to discover that thematically there is so much about these three important Fall holidays that points us to Yeshua the Messiah, and the salvation He provides, and His Second Coming to Planet Earth. This evening begins the month of Tishri and the start of what is commonly called Rosh HaShanah – ‘The Head of the Year’. Biblically speaking, however, it is known as Yom T’ruah, the Holiday of blowing the Shofar. It is Israel’s civil New Year. The religious New Year would be the first day of the month Nisan – the month in which we celebrate Passover.
In synagogues all over the world, the Scripture that will be read during this holiday, and has been discussed during the month of Elul is Genesis chapter 22, known as The Akedah – the ‘binding’ of Isaac. Let’s take a moment and review a little of the history leading up to this chapter.
Sometime after the death of his brother Haran, Avraham’s father Terah decided to move their family out of Ur in Chaldea and to journey to Canaan. Terah, however, settled the family in Haran, near what would today be Syria. So God summoned Avraham to leave his father’s house and finish that journey and settle in Canaan. Avraham obeyed God, bringing his family and Lot – the son of his deceased brother, with him.
While Avraham acquired great wealth along the way, the one thing he and his wife Sarah lacked was a child. And in the ancient world, this was considered a sign of divine disapproval. Sarah had been unable to bear children, and by this time he was nearly 100 years of age and Sarah 90. But God made a remarkable and lavish covenant, promising that they would in fact bear a child of their own, and that Avraham would even become the father of descendants as numerous as the visible stars in the night sky, and that all the world would be blessed through him.
And so, at the appointed time, miraculously Sarah became pregnant, and then their son Yitzhak (Isaac – whose name means ‘laughter’) was later born. Imagine their delight, and the wonder of such an aged couple having a baby boy.
Now several years have passed. Isaac is a na’ar – a young man. We don’t know exactly how old he was by this time. The great rabbi Rashi put him at age 37. Josephus has him at 25. Most scholars suggest that he was at the very least in his late teens. For that reason I prefer ‘lad’ to ‘boy’ as a better way to render the word in this context. God once again asks something difficult of Avraham – something extraordinarily difficult. We now come to Genesis chapter 22, and we’ll be reading verses 1-18.
Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the lad go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the lad,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord Will Provide’. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Of all the passages in Scripture that could be read during Rosh HaShanah, of the 929 chapters in the Tanakh, the Old Testament Scriptures, I think it’s fascinating that Genesis chapter 22 is the traditional reading in synagogues around the world! But why the Akedah? I mean, I get it that Avraham demonstrated ultimate faith and obedience. And I get it that shofars are made from rams’ horns, and there is a ram discovered in Genesis 22.. But really… is that it? I mean, when you think about all the examples in the Bible of the blowing of the trumpet, either as a warning of an oncoming army, or the celebration of the end of war, or the enthronement of a new king in Israel… why Genesis 22? Why the Akedah?
Candidly, the rabbis have long wrestled with this passage, finding it extremely unpalatable that Avraham was willing to kill his son and had to be stopped from going through with it; and even more unpalatable that God was the One who told him to do it. Canaanites were all too eager to sacrifice their children to Ba’al and the Asherah, and Adonai forbade Israel from imitating their ways. So why would He command Avraham to do this thing, unless He had some greater purpose?
Indeed, how can a person recognize the God-intended purpose of the Akedah apart from understanding and believing the Scriptural teaching on the Suffering Messiah. As the great prophet Isaiah wrote (53:10), …it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
I’ll tell you why I don’t think it’s the reading at Rosh HaShanah. I don’t think it is coincidence. I think it is providence. Granted, the rabbis may have chosen it with the idea that Avraham’s obedience earned him great merit, which we supposedly need to borrow for another year. But I have another theory. I think the Akedah is read at this pivotal time of year precisely because Isaac – in several ways, is a type of the Messiah, and that God wants His people Israel to know it.
- Isaac is like Messiah in the miraculous circumstances of his birth
- Isaac is like Messiah in his perfect obedience to his father.
- Isaac is like Messiah in carrying the wood on which he was to be offered up
- Isaac is like Messiah his quiet, obedient submission,
(making no protest even when he was being tied up and laid on the wood).
And since, according to Scripture, Avraham is credited with actually having gone through with the sacrifice of his beloved son:
- Isaac is like Messiah in having been raised from the dead.
Now as for merit, as the Avinu Malkaynu prayer we prayed a short while ago attests, we have none. That is why we appeal to God to deal charitably and graciously with us. Merit isn’t something on loan to us from the Patriarchs for a year at a time. The only way any man or woman or boy or girl can attain merit – righteousness, is to have it credited to them permanently – eternally, completely apart from our own attempt to earn it (as if we could), as the gracious gift of God, courtesy of the infinite righteousness which Messiah Yeshua possesses.
God has so orchestrated the choice of Genesis 22 during Rosh HaShanah and the weeks leading up to it, I believe, in order to capture the attention of Jewish people who desire the truth; so that they may at last have their eyes opened, their hearts softened, and be given the courage to embrace Yeshua, Israel’s promised Messiah and Redeemer. And let’s all pray toward that end.