Grafted In Bible Study, Lesson 1.
Table of Contents
“Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.”
As Christians, do we know exactly what we have been grafted into? We have heard of our Judeo-Christian heritage, but what does that really mean to us on an everyday level? We hear much about faith and grace, but rarely about our roots. We will all agree that we all came from Adam and Eve, but we do not always think about the fact that we believers have Abraham as our father. We will be looking at our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the pillars of our… church?
“And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’”
The Bible tells us that “Abraham is the father of those who are of faith” (Romans 4:11-12, Galatians 3:9). Who is our father Abraham? Abraham was the tenth generation from Shem, the son of Noah. In Hebrew, his name was Avram until God changed it to Avraham. The name Avram means “exalted father,” or “the father is exalted.” Variations of this name have been found in Akkadian texts dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries BCE. Scripture states that Avraham was from the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. Originally, this was believed to have been in southern Iraq. After excavating this area, they found no record of the Chaldeans in the city of Ur until the first millennium BCE. So scholars believe that Ur may have been in upper Mesopotamia, which may have been started by people who had once lived in southern Iraq. Upper Mesopotamia would have been much closer to Haran, which the text of Avraham is centered around.
Terah, Avram’s father, packed up the family and headed for Canaan, but instead went to Haran (Genesis 11:31-32). While in Haran, God spoke to Avram and said, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
The first phrase here in Hebrew is lekh lekha, which means “to go forth,” in the sense of separating oneself or taking leave of. It is not clear why Terah detoured to Haran in the first place. He never did go on to Canaan, but God made it clear to Avram that he was to separate himself from his father and move on. When God called Avram, He made several promises to him:
1. “I will make you a great nation.” This nation would be great not only in number, but also in significance.
2. “I will bless you.” This meant financial and material prosperity.
3. “I will make your name great.” In the Near East, a person’s name was equal to who that person was. Avram would not only have fame, but would be greatly esteemed.
4. “You shall be a blessing.” Avram himself would be a blessing to those he came in contact with.
5. “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” God gives Avram His protective care. Anyone who does harm to Avram will now have to deal with God.
6. “And all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.” God goes from the realm of blessing Avram himself to blessing those he comes in contact with and finally to all humanity.
In the late Apostolic Era, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus offered the following explanation of Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Rabbi Eliezer expounded, “What is meant by the verse, ‘And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Abraham, ‘I have two goodly shoots to engraft on you: Ruth the Moabitess and Naamah the Ammonitess.’ All the families of the earth, even the other families who live on the earth are blessed only for Israel’s sake. All the nations of the earth, even the ships that go from Gaul to Spain are blessed only for Israel’s sake.” (b.Yevamot 63a)
Rabbi Eliezer used the passage to explain how two Gentile women—Ruth the Moabite and Naamah the Ammonite—came to be regarded as part of Israel and even mothers of the Davidic kings. The Torah specifically says, “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation…” (Deuteronomy 23:3). How could Ruth and Naamah be mothers of the kings of Israel?
Rabbi Eliezer explained that they had been grafted into Abraham.
This creative re-reading of the passage is consistent with other traditions about Abraham which portray him as actively involved in leading idolaters to worship of the LORD. Abraham could be likened unto a tree of faith. Rabbi Eliezer likened his converts to branches removed from trees of the nations and grafted into the tree of Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s converts find blessing in his faith: all the families of the earth will be blessed as they are grafted into him.
Paul used Genesis 12:3 as the programmatic text for his unique gospel message of Gentile inclusion through Messiah. In Galatians 3:8 he quoted Genesis 12:3, saying, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘all the nations will be blessed in you.‘” To Paul, the phrase “all nations will be blessed in you” was the gospel. He equated those words with the good news of the kingdom.
Let’s look at Romans 11: 17-21, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”
Paul compared the nation of Israel to an olive tree. He compared the nations to wild olive branches taken from other olive trees (other nations) and grafted into the olive tree of Abraham’s family. He probably derived the analogy from the same intentional misreading of the Hebrew of Genesis 12:3 that Rabbi Eliezer employed. (Rabbi Eliezer may have acquired the interpretation from the Jewish believers. Rabbi Eliezer once admitted that he enjoyed the teachings of the disciples of Yeshua.)
In Paul’s version, Gentile believers in Yeshua are grafted on to the olive tree that symbolizes Abraham’s family. The “grafted-in” Gentiles became members of the family, so to speak. The analogy vividly illustrates the blessing of Abraham to the nations: “All the families of the earth will be grafted into you.”
In the same passage, Paul warned the Gentile believers not to become arrogant over the natural branches (Jews and proselytes). Rather, they should remember that, as engrafted branches, they are the guests.
He admitted that some of the natural branches had been removed from the tree because of their unbelief. However, even this unbelief he explained away as a necessary and temporary state to allow time for the nations to come to faith—a preliminary to the final redemption.
Who are the natural branches that have been removed? Paul makes it clear that those branches represented Paul’s own Jewish contemporaries who intentionally rejected the good news about Yeshua and the kingdom. As noted above, Paul told his readers, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). In other words, Paul warned his readers not to be too quick to count the Jewish people out on the basis of faith or disbelief in Yeshua. He said, “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will those who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:24).
For Avram the personal blessings would have been easy enough to believe, but becoming a great nation? This took great faith!
So we see that the first thing Avram did after God called him was to have faith. He took God at His word. He picked up his belongings and he, with his wife Sarai, along with his nephew Lot, set out to “go forth” to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5). Many wonder why Avram took his nephew Lot with them. It was a custom that the oldest uncle would care for a deceased brother’s children, as 1 Timothy 5:8 tells us, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Haran was Lot’s father who had died. Avram was seventy-five years old.
Though God had made promises to Avram, He never mentioned land ownership to him. This made the journey all the more suspenseful, requiring much faith. God kept His word and Avram prospered. He prospered to the point where he and his nephew had to part company.
Now with Lot out of the picture, Avram is now totally severed from his father’s house. God once again reaffirms His promises in
Genesis 13:14-18. It is believed that God had Avram stand on the highest point in central Israel, which is Gebel-el-Asur, which is five miles northeast of Bethel. There he could see the Mediterranean, the hills of Hebron, and even the Transjordan. God tells Avram to raise his eyes and look out from where he was. In Ancient Rome, the transfer of property was done by sight. This is not yet proven for the ancient Middle East, but certainly walking about the land was. This was a symbolic act, which is called hazakah in Hebrew. Joshua 24:3 records this, “Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.” In Nuzi (an ancient Mesopotamian city), the former owner would lift his foot from the property, and the new owner would set his foot on it, symbolizing the transfer of ownership. The Egyptians and the Hittites had a practice where periodically the king would tour his kingdom to renew his sovereignty over the land. Ruth 4:7-9, Deuteronomy 11:24, and Joshua 1:3 all have a form of this tradition. God now has promised Avram the land.
Avram moves to Hebron and erects his third altar to God. It was quite customary in the Ancient Middle East to set up sacred sites. Hebron has occupied a place of extraordinary importance in Jewish tradition as one of the four holy cities along with Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias. Hebron was the first city Avram settled in, the first he bought land in, and the burial site of three patriarchs and their wives. For seven years, it was the capital of Judah and Israel under King David.
The Scripture narrative now reveals to us a side of Avram that we do not usually think about when we think of him, but this theme has carried throughout Scripture for anyone who is redeemed of the Lord. A war broke out amongst the kings of the area, and they took Avram’s nephew Lot captive (Genesis 14:12-20). When Avram heard of this, he immediately gathered his servants and went to rescue Lot. The Scriptures tell us that Avram, against all odds, rescues Lot and all the other people with him plus all of their possessions. Here Avram is depicted as a “mighty warrior,” one who is “more than a conqueror.” In this narrative, Avram is, for the first time, called a Hebrew, possibly meaning “one who is from the other side,” or “one who is on the opposite side of the rest,” alluding to his religious nonconformity. Certainly it shows that God was continuing His promises to Avram by giving him this great victory and elevating his name throughout the land.
What happens to Avram next is something he would remember and ponder for the rest of his life. As Avram is returning home from the battle, he meets a man who blesses him. Avram realizes this is not just a man, but a heavenly representative named Melchizedek. The narrative tells us that He is the King of Righteousness from the City of Peace and that He is a priest to the Most High God. The Hebrew phrase that he uses is El Elyon in order to distinguish from the Canaanite gods, who were also called El. What is interesting here is that Melchizedek is from the City of Peace. The Canaanite area was a hostile area without peace. The city of Salem at that time was a Canaanite city, so how could this be?
Avram was getting a glimpse of the Messiah, the Priestly King who would come. Melchizedek was a foreshadowing of Messiah, the City of Peace was the city of Jerusalem where this Priestly King would rule and reign forever. One thousand years later, King David sat on the throne in Jerusalem and wrote Psalm 110, “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:1-4) Again looking toward the day of the coming of the mighty, victorious Priestly King Melchizedek (Yeshua). Two thousand years later, the writer of Hebrews also talks about this Priestly King Melchizedek Hebrews 7:1-3.” “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” Yeshua Himself talks about Avram looking forward to His day and seeing it (John 8:56). So Avram, recognizing who this heavenly being was, gave Him a tenth of all the spoil of the battle. This is the first revelation to Avram about the coming Messiah; the second is yet to come.
Once again God speaks to Avram, but this time Avram speaks back the words, “I have no heir.” Avram addresses God in a rarely used term: “O Lord God.” Avram brings his request before God as one who wants to still trust and believe, but “Lord, help my unbelief!”
God quickly reassures him and promises him a child. That’s all Avram needed to hear, and once again he believed God. God goes one step further this time and He cuts a covenant with Avram. Later in the study, we will look at this covenant much closer, but for now we will say that God puts His promises into a legally binding agreement that still stands today. God opens the dialogue with, “I AM the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans.” This royal proclamation will also be used in another famous treaty with Moses. Both times God says He was giving His people the land.
Avram now enters a time that will surely test his faith. After not having the fulfillment of an heir, Sarai offers Avram her servant. This was a very common practice in the Near East. What seems to be ironic is that Hagar is an Egyptian, and her name is a play on words in Hebrew, meaning, “stranger” and “harsh treatment.” Remember, God has revealed to Avram that his people would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13); but for now, it’s Hagar who is getting the harsh treatment. The sin of Avram now multiplies. Their attempt to help God keep His word fails, and Hagar gets the fallout of the failure. She runs away and an angel of the Lord visits her and tells her to go back, but not before giving her a promise that her offspring would be too many to count (we see the fulfillment of this in Genesis 25:12-18). Right or wrong, Hagar was going to bless Avram with a child, and so God was going to bless her. God’s revelation to Hagar certainly fulfills God’s promise to Avram that through him the families of the earth would be blessed and that whoever blesses Avram shall be blessed. God names the child Ishmael, meaning “God hears.” Some would think that this was given in response to Avram and Sarai’s prayer for a child, but this is not so; Hagar reveals to us another side of God. She calls Him El-Roi, “the God who sees,” or “all-seeing God.” It was Hagar who cried against the injustice, and God heard her. He says to her, “For the Lord has paid heed to your suffering” (Genesis 16:11). It is worth noting that the offspring of Ishmael were not always enemies to Israel. The Bible records different marriages to Ishmaelites (Genesis 25:13, 1 Chronicles 2:17). They are not listed as people who were conquered by David, but rather even as friends (1 Chronicles 27:30).
We have seen Avram, who believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3) as a mighty man of war, blessed of God, and a friend of God, but also one who has many faults and weaknesses. Avram is ninety-nine years old and God appears to him once again reaffirming his promises.
He changes Avram’s name to Avraham, meaning “Father of a multitude of nations,” for Avraham would be the father not only to the Jews and the Ishmaelites, but also the Edomites and Midianites (Genesis 25 & 36) and to all who would live by faith (Galatians 3:7). He gives the land of Canaan as an everlasting covenant and says that He will be their God. Each time, God goes one step further, and to prove it, He gives Avraham a sign of this covenant: circumcision. (Romans 4:10-11).
Paul believed that being Jewish (i.e., circumcised) could not be a prerequisite for salvation, but he needed evidence from the Torah. He did not have the authority to arbitrarily make rulings or declarations as if he was God’s voice on earth. Everything needed to be established and proven by Torah. Observant Jews like Paul, trained in rabbinic logic, view life through the lens of Torah. Any new idea or ruling must be weighed and measured on the basis of “Where do we find this in the Torah?”
Paul found justification for his gospel of Gentile inclusion (without circumcision) in Genesis 15:5-6. “And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abraham righteous on the basis of faith prior to his circumcision.
Nevertheless, Paul’s letters contain “some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). In the days of the apostles, some people misused Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 15:6 to claim that “faith alone,” independent of producing good works or a righteous life, was adequate for salvation. James the Righteous, brother of Yeshua, addressed this error directly in his epistle to the Diaspora:
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says [in Genesis 15:6],
“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God [in 2 Chronicles 20:7]. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:18-24)
Paul also recognized that some people had misunderstood his message.
He attempted to bring a correction in his epistle to the Romans:
Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah. (Romans 3:31)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Then God said, “As for your wife Sarai, she shall be called Sarah.” The Hebrew meaning of the name Sarah is not clear, but it could possibly mean “prince” or “ruler” and is often paired with the word melekh, meaning “king.” God promises Avraham that the promised child would come from Sarah and that she would give rise to nations, and rulers of people would come from her. The name Sarah certainly was a reference to Israel, for the name Israel is from the Hebrew verb stem s-r-h. As we see in Genesis 32:28 God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Avraham immediately asked about his son Ishmael; what would become of him? God puts things in order: He first addresses His covenant. “This time next year, you shall have a son.” God names the promised child Isaac, Yis’chak, meaning “He laughs,” and God tells Avraham that through this child He would continue His everlasting covenant with him. God, who is faithful to His promises, does tell Avraham that Ishmael would be a nation of twelve and God would bless him. Avraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety. Avraham then took every male in his household, including Ishmael, and circumcised them. Ishmael was thirteen years old at the time. The apostle Paul uses Hagar and Sarah to show the two covenants that were made between Avraham and Moses (Galatians 4:21-31).
When looking at the allegory of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31, we must first understand the concept of an allegory. Allegories were used by the apostles to represent ideas or principles in a story. Its meaning points to other things which are mystical, spiritual, or even literal. These stories are called Midrashes in Jewish teachings. It’s like a fictitious way of speaking to point to things that are real. It equates them to real life situations and people to show “types and symbols” of past things or things to come.
In the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, Paul does just this; he uses Hagar to show that she represents the covenant given at Mount Sinai. He says that her children are in bondage, but Sarah represents the new covenant and her children are free like Isaac, who was the promise. The promise of what? In this case, salvation.
Paul in no way was saying that we should no longer live by the Torah; if he was, then he was saying that we should never love God and our neighbor as ourself, for this sums up the Torah. If he was saying we are not under the law, then it is legal for us to murder and steal and covet, for this is all in the Torah. Yeshua Himself expanded the Torah in Matthew 5:17-48. He said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (verse 17). Paul never teaches that the Torah is bad, but that it is holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12). Our salvation is only in Yeshua and we serve God now out of love. Yeshua tells us that if we love Him then we will keep His commandments. Where are those commandments recorded? In Exodus 20. What Paul was saying is that for salvation, we are free. Free to sin? No! Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Paul gives us the meaning to his allegory. Hagar represents the works of the flesh, the law written on stone tablets, and Sarah represents the works of the Spirit, the law now written on our hearts. Galatians 5 is all about walking in the spirit verses walking by the flesh. He tells us what those deeds of the flesh are in Galatians 5:19-21, “ Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And the fruit of the Spirit are But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. verses 22-24. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God.” We are now free to be slaves to the one true God out of love and the fear of the Lord. We are children of the promise—the promise of salvation. But oh, how we need to live by God’s ways for life, for Yeshua said that He was the way, the truth, and the life.
So we see Sarah and Hagar: an allegory, a midrash, on how to live life.
Once again God pays a visit to Avraham. As Avraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looked up and saw three men approaching him. He quickly gets up and offers these men his hospitality. The writer of Hebrews knew the importance of entertaining strangers, as it tells us in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Avraham is our example; at least four times in the New Testament it says that we believers are to be hospitable. The Talmud says, “Hospitality to strangers is greater than welcoming the divine Presence.” Avraham offers his hospitality in the way it should be shown with a meal as Genesis 18:5-6 tells us, “ I will bring a piece of bread, so that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it, and make bread cakes.” Regarding Genesis 18:5-6, the Talmud says, “Such is the way of the righteous; they promise little but perform much.” Avraham’s hospitality was fit for angels. He had Sarah use the finest of wheat flour, the type that was used later for meal offerings. He selected a calf which was a rare delicacy and a sign of princely hospitality. He provides curds (the fatty part of the milk which was like yogurt). Milk was highly esteemed in the ancient Near East and was offered to gods. It was a source of vitality and possessor of curative powers. Early exegesis as represented by Josephus, Targum Jonathan, and the Talmud would not accept the notion of angels partaking of food, so they understood the phrase to mean that they only gave the appearance of eating. But Avraham must have known that, that was not true and that is why he offered it to them. Avraham’s hospitality pays off when Sarah is told that she will have a son.
We now get a glimpse of Avraham the intercessor. Amos 3:7 says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” We found this to be true with Noah ten generations earlier, and now we see it also with Avraham. This sets up a dialogue that is not seen again till Moses. Avraham was truly a friend of God. Yeshua said in John 15:15 that “We are now called friends of God.” Avraham walked with God as a redeemed person. When Avraham hears of the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he pleads with God for these people’s lives. Maybe it was because of his nephew Lot, or maybe it was because he himself had recently gone to battle for these people to free them from their captors. Avraham, though, does not plead for the wicked, but for the righteous. The Psalmist wrote the same plea: “Do not take me away with the wicked” in (Psalm 28:3).
The Talmud makes the comment, “Whoever is merciful to his fellow beings is, without doubt, of the children of our father Avraham; whoever is unmerciful to his fellow beings certainly cannot be of the children of Avraham our father.” As we see in James 5:16, “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Avraham’s prayer did avail much. God spared Lot and his family, the only righteous in the land (2 Peter 2:7-9). Avraham now journeys to the region of the Negev to learn a lesson in lying. King Abimelech of Gerar had Sarah brought to himself after he learned that she is Avraham’s sister. Why would Abimelech want Sarah, who is nearly ninety years old? According to rabbinic fancy, “Her flesh was rejuvenated, her wrinkles smoothed out, and her original beauty restored.” This is, no doubt, consistent with the miraculous renewal of her vitality by divine grace so she may bear a child. God quickly intervenes in a dream to Abimelech. God calls Avraham a prophet (Genesis 20:7). This is the first time the Hebrew word navi is used. It’s origin is uncertain, but it is believed to be connected with the Akkadian word nabu, meaning “to call.” The Assyrian kings were entitled “the one who called,” that is, called by the gods. The form navi in Hebrew could either signify the one who receives the divine call or one who proclaims, a spokesman. The prophet is the spokesman for God to man, but intercession before God in favor of man is also an indispensable aspect of his function. We see this with Moses, Samuel, Amos, and Jeremiah. We had previously seen Avraham take this intercessory role, so now God deems him a prophet. Avraham learns that deception is not of God. We have seen Avraham as the friend of God, the intercessor whose prayers avail much, and once again weak and human. Now twenty-five years later, Avraham and Sarah receive their reward in answering God’s initial call to “go forth:” they are in the land, though as strangers. They have prospered beyond belief and now they have a son, an heir to all of the promises that God has made to them. Time to celebrate!
Eight days come, and now it’s time to circumcise. Isaac is the first to be circumcised on the eighth day, thus fulfilling the covenant of God. When Isaac was weaned, which could have been anywhere from age twenty-four months to even four or five years old, Avraham had another celebration. This was quite common since weaning marked the first significant stage in the life cycle. But Abraham finds out quickly that the celebration turns into sorrow. According to rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew word metsahek in Genesis 21:9, Ishmael was ridiculing the fuss made over Isaac and asserting his own claim to being the firstborn with the right to a double portion of the estate. Ishmael was right.
Sarah knew the law of the land. She tells Avraham to “cast out the slave-woman and her son.” The laws of Hammurabi and of the still earlier Lipit-Ishtar implicitly make inheritance rights a legal consequence of the father’s acceptance of the infant as his legitimate son. The key to Sarah’s demand lies in a clause in the laws of Lipit-Ishtar where it is stipulated that the father may grant freedom to the slave woman and the children she had borne him, in which case they forfeit their share of the inheritance.
We see this in Judges 11:1-3, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. And Gilead had fathered Jephthah. Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless men gathered around Jephthah, and they went wherever he did.” By giving Hagar and Ishmael their freedom, they no longer have the right to the inheritance, and Sarah finally would be rid of this terrible mistake that confronted her each day. God tosses His vote toward Sarah. He speaks to Avraham in a night vision and tells him once again that Isaac would be his legal heir. But God is a compassionate God, and He has already told Hagar and Avraham of the future of Ishmael. Ishmael is now sixteen years old. Avraham, putting his faith in God once again, sends them away with a container of water and some bread. The Hebrew word for “sent her away” is shillah. It is used in the context of divorce as well as the emancipation of slaves. Apparently Hagar lost her way, because Avraham would not have sent them out without enough provisions. But just as with the last time, God heard Hagar. Once again God promised He would be with Ishmael. We will now see that Isaac, just like Ishmael, was saved at a critical moment by an angelic voice from heaven. The time has now come for Avraham’s final testing of faith. In Hebrew it is called the Akedah, meaning “to bind.” Avraham has lost one son, and he is about to lose another. The narrative tells us that it is some time afterward that God calls out to Avraham. God tells Avraham to take his favored son Isaac, whom he loves, and to “go forth,” lekh lekha. This is the same phrase that God used when He first called Avraham to leave his father. God tells him to go to the land of Moriah and offer a burnt offering on the mount that He would show him. Just as in the beginning, Avraham found himself on a journey to a place he was not sure of, again to build an altar and a sacrifice. This mighty warrior and great intercessor now has no one to come to his rescue. He makes no plea, but carries out God’s command, trusting Him every step of the way (Genesis 22).
Mount Moriah is a stretch of land between Mount Zion to the west and the Mount of Olives to the east. The name MarYah is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew name for God, YHWH. In fact, the name MarYah literally means “Master YHWH.” In the Aramaic translation of the New Testament, this term is used 239 times in various quotations of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Other translations of the name are “land of worship” or “high land.”
The most well-known tradition related to Mount Moriah is the binding of Isaac by his father Avraham in Genesis 22. We see that according to the Aramaic English Standard Version, Abraham called that place “Mar-Yah Will Provide” after the provision of a sacrificial ram (Genesis 22:14).
This site was later bought by David for 600 shekels of gold from Orna (Araunah), the former king of the Jebusites, who had a threshing floor at this location. It was there that David built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed to God (1 Chronicles 21:25, 2 Samuel 24:18-25, 2 Chronicles 3:1). Thus the Temple Mount was purchased and so legally belongs to Israel.
In King Solomon’s temple, it was here over Araunah’s threshing floor at the peak of Moriah that the ark of the covenant sat. Let stop to take a closer look at Mount Moriah before moving on.
Legend has it that Melchizedek—the King of Salem and priest of God Most High—brought out bread and wine on Mount Moriah. “And he blessed Avram, saying, ‘Blessed be Avram of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth‘” (Genesis 14:19).
The location of Jacob’s dream is traditionally identified as Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:10-18) although it is not explicitly stated in the text where the dream took place. It is also traditionally believed that the summit of Mount Moriah is the “Foundation Stone”—the symbolic fundament of the world’s creation—and reputedly the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies.
The Samaritans did not believe that Mount Moriah was the place of Isaac’s binding, thus not the correct place of worship as some scholars reference the conversation Yeshua had with the Samaritan woman at the well, where He stated that the Samaritans were inaccurate in their knowledge of the worship of God (John 4:20-24).
Acknowledging the intended similarity between the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Yeshua they make the connection that Moriah would be the same location where Jews made sacrifices at the Temple of Solomon. Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrificial fire as Yeshua carried the cross; the reference in Hebrews 11:17-19 to Abraham believing God would raise Isaac from the dead; Isaac being Abraham’s “only” son and Yeshua being God’s only begotten Son; all make the correlation between the two events point to Moriah being the Temple site.
Mount Moriah is also a central location in Islam. Muslims know this mount as Mount Marwah and they believe it to be located near the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia instead of the location accepted in Judaism and Christianity. There has been a historical account of rams’ horns preserved in the Kaaba until the year 683, which are believed to be the remains of the sacrifice of Ishmael. From a Muslim point of view, the well-known site of Mount Marwah, the hill just outside the perimeter of the Kaaba in Mecca, may be identified with the biblical Moriah.
The Quran states that Abraham saw a vision of himself sacrificing his son. Among early Muslim scholars, however, there was a dispute over the identity of this son. The argument of those early scholars who believed it was Isaac rather than Ishmael was that “God’s perfecting his mercy on Abraham and Isaac” referred to His making Abraham His friend and saving him from the burning bush, and to his rescuing Isaac. On the contrary, the other parties held that the promise to Sarah was of a son, Isaac, and a grandson, Jacob, excluded the possibility of a premature death of Isaac. Muslims considered that visions experienced by prophets are revelations from God, and as such it was a divine order to Abraham. The entire episode of the sacrifice is regarded as a trial of God for Abraham and his son, and both are seen as having passed the test by submitting to God and showing their awareness that God is the Owner and Giver of all that we have and cherish, including life and offspring. The submission of Abraham and his son is celebrated and commemorated by Muslims on the days of Eid al-Adha. During the festival, those who can afford and the ones in the pilgrimage sacrifice a ram, cow, sheep or a camel. Part of the sacrifice meat is eaten by the household and what remains is distributed to the neighbors and the needy.
Let’s continue on with Avraham and Issac. The length of the travel caused the testing of Avraham to become even more intense. He had plenty of time to think about what was going to happen; by the time they arrived, Avraham could truly carry out God’s will freely. On the third day of the journey, Avraham looked up and saw the place from afar. The land of Moriah would become the future city of Jerusalem, and the mount that the Lord pointed out to Avraham would become the future site of the Temple. According to rabbinic legend, Avraham and Isaac could see a cloud hovering over one of the hills, but the two attendants with them could not. So now they knew the spot that they were to go to. Avraham takes the wood and places it on Isaac. We know that Isaac is old enough to carry this wood and old enough to understand what is happening here. Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice just as later down in the centuries Jesus, the greater Isaac, would carry the wood for His own sacrifice. Isaac asked Avraham, “Where is the sacrifice?” Avraham responds in faith, “God will provide.” The word for “provide” in Hebrew is also a common way to say “see.” So Avraham could have been saying, “We shall see,” or “God will see to it.” Whichever way it was, Avraham was trusting God, something he had learned to do so well. Avraham begins to bind Isaac. The Hebrew word is aqad, the stem of which is -k-d. It is a technical term for the tying together of the forefoot and the hind-foot, the two forefeet, or of the two hind-feet of an animal.
The moment has now come and I’m sure many things flashed through Avraham’s mind as he lifted up that knife. “Avraham, Avraham!” What words of endearment on God’s part! Because Avraham and God shared a special friendship. Avraham was right; he knew that God would provide. A ram lies stuck in a thicket, which becomes the sacrifice, but there is more to this. Avraham names the place Adonai Yireh, meaning “on this mountain the Lord will be seen.” Avraham once again receives insight into the coming Messiah, that one day He would be sacrificed in this place and that He too would be resurrected just like his son Isaac. God once more blessed Avraham. All the nations will be blessed through his descendants. The Kingly Priest in Melchizedek and the replaced sacrificial lamb have now shown Avraham the complete message of the Messiah. The Messiah would speak of this day when He said, “Avraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it, and was glad.” Yeshua here uses that word for “seeing” (John 8:56).
(We have placed a handout that compares Yeshua and Issac in our transcript. If you like, after the recording you can read it, or you can print out the whole transcript.)
The Comparison of Yeshua and Isaac
Son of Abraham
Only beloved son
Named by God
Messages of birth delivered by angels
Three days very significant
Three day journey—Genesis 22:4
Three days in grave—Luke 24:13-21
Two men went with them
Carried the wood for their own sacrifice
Offered as a sacrifice
John 1:29, Matthew 27:35
Both offered on a hill of a Mount
Both were bound
Both willingly allowed themselves to be offered as sacrifices
Both received back from the dead
Servant gets bride for son
Ephesians 5:22-32, Revelation 21:2,9
Servant offered ten gifts
Romans 6:23, 12; 1 Corinthians 12
When Sarah hears about Avraham sacrificing Isaac, she dies from the shock (Genesis 23:1-2). Avraham buys the Cave of Machpelah (that is, Hebron) for a burial site, which still stands today and in which the three patriarchs and their wives are buried. After her death, Avraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. Many scholars and sages believe this was Hagar. She bore him six more children (Genesis 25:1-6). Paul addresses this in Romans 9:6-7 to clarify that only Isaac continued the covenant.
This is where we leave Avraham. Scripture says that God has given each person a measure of faith. I believe our father Avraham planted his seed of faith and it became a tree of righteousness.
This is our heritage of faith.
Avraham: the Pillar of Faith