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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Genesis

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22.1–19 :

Abraham's last and greatest test. This magnificently told story, known in Judaism as the “‘Akedah” (“binding”), is one of the gems of biblical narrative. It also comes to occupy a central role in rabbinic theology and eventually to be incorporated into the daily liturgy. Jewish tradition regards the ‘Akedah as the tenth and climactic test of Abraham, the first Jew.

1 :

There is no good English equivalent for the Heb “hineni,” translated in this verse as Here I am. The term indicates readiness, alertness, attentiveness, receptivity, and responsiveness to instructions. It serves as a kind of refrain throughout the ‘Akedah. Abraham employs it in answer to God here, to Isaac in v. 7 (where it is rendered as “Yes”), and to the angel of the LORD in v. 11 .

2 :

The order of the Heb is “your son, your favored one, the one whom you love, Isaac” and indicates increasing tension. Not only is Isaac the son upon whom Abraham's life has centered; he also loves him. If Abraham did not love Isaac, the commandment to sacrifice him would not have constituted much of a test. The expression go to (“lekh‐lekha”), which otherwise occurs only in 12.1 , the initial command to Abraham, ties this narrative to the beginning of Abraham's dealings with God. Note also the parallel of on one of the heights that I will point out to you with “to the land that I will show you” ( 12.1 ). The location of Moriah (here the name of a land, not a mountain) is unknown. The late biblical book of Chronicles calls the Temple Mount in Jerusalem “Moriah” (2 Chronicles 3.1 ), perhaps on the understanding that the ‘Akedah is the foundation legend for the service of God that took place there.

3 :

The verse resembles 21.14 . The expulsion of Ishmael in the pre‐ceding chapter and the ‘Akedah have much in common, but the latter is the more wrenching, since Abraham is directly commanded to sacrifice his son, and the angelic intervention (vv. 11–12 ) is thus more surprising. Some have wondered why Abraham, who protested God's apparent decision to destroy the innocent with the guilty in Sodom ( 18.22–32 ), here obeys without objection. The essence of the answer is that the context in ch 18 is forensic, whereas the context of the ‘Akedah is sacrificial. A sacrifice is not an execution, and in a sacrificial context the unblemished condition of the one offered does not detract from, but rather commends, the act.

5 :

Abraham may be concealing the truth from his servants (lest they prevent him from carrying out God's will), from Isaac (lest he flee), and from himself (lest the frank acknowledgement of his real intention cause his resolve to break). Alternately, he may be expressing his profound trust in God's promise, casting his faith and hope as a prediction.

6 :

The image of Isaac's carrying the wood on which he is to be burned adds enormous power to the story. A midrash relates this to a Roman (not Jewish) method of execution that was sometimes used on Jewish martyrs: “It is like a person who carries his cross on his own shoulder” (Gen. Rab. 56.3 ).

7 :

Our ignorance of Isaac's age makes it difficult to interpret his poignant question. Most rabbinic commentators see him as an adult and thus a willing participant in his own sacrifice—the prototype, that is, of the Jewish martyr.

8 :

The same possibilities that we outlined for v. 5 apply here as well. The verse ends with the same Heb words with which v. 6 ends. Even after their exchange, father and son still have a single resolve: “the one to bind, and the other to be bound; the one to sacrifice, and the other to be sacrificed” (Gen. Rab. 56.3 ).

12 :

In the Tanakh, the “fear of God” denotes an active obedience to the divine will. Godis now able to call the last trial of Abraham off because Abraham has demonstrated that this obedience is uppermost for him, surpassing even his paternal love for Isaac.

13 :

The substitu‐ tion of a male sheep for the first‐born son has parallels in the ancient Near East and foreshadows the story of the paschal lamb (Exod. 12.1–42 ). Contrary to a widespread misperception, however, the story is not about the superiority of animal to human sacrifice, nor is it a polemic against human sacrifice. Note that God commands the sacrifice of Isaac at the beginning of the story (v. 22.2 ) and commends and rewards Abraham for being willing to carry it through at the end (vv. 12, 15–18 ). A midrash has Abraham praying that God “see the blood of this ram as if it were the blood of my son Isaac, the entrails of this ram as if they were the entrails of my son Isaac” (Gen. Rab. 56.9 ).

14 :

The name of the otherwise un‐attested site plays on Abraham's words in v. 8 . This enigmatic verse may connect the site of the ‘Akedah to the Temple mount (see v. 2 n. ).

15–18 :

The second angelic address conveys the LORD's final blessing on Abraham, picking up the language of several earlier addresses (cf. 12.3; 13.16; 15.5 ). Only this time, the earlier promises are reinterpreted as a consequence of the ‘Akedah. Much Jewish prayer calls upon God to remember the ‘Akedah for the benefit of Abraham's descendants.

19 :

Too much should not be made of the omission of Isaac. The story closes where it opened (v. 1 ): with the focus on Abraham alone.

22.20–24 :

The children of Nahor. Like Abraham's as yet unborn grandson, Jacob/Israel ( 35.22b–26 ), his brother Nahor becomes the patriarch of eight children by his primary wife and four by his secondary wife. Rebekah, who will marry Isaac and thus become the second matriarch of Israel, is the only person of her generation mentioned here (v. 23 ). One senses that the promise of descendants reiterated and reinterpreted in v. 17 is already on its way to fulfillment. Note the near‐identity of v. 17b with the blessing on Rebekah in 24.60 .

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