There are many vivid Old Testament narratives that refer to the passion and death of Jesus Christ and one among them is the story of Abraham going up on to the Mount of Moriah to sacrifice Isaac. We read the unfolding of a touching account of a father climbing upon the Mountain to sacrifice his only son in Genesis 22.
God told Abraham one day to sacrifice his only begotten son Isaac. The place was specified as the top of the Mount Moriah. It was somewhat three days away from where Abraham lived. Third watch of Tuesday night vigil has a very detailed description of this event, which includes the promion and sedra. We attempt here to have a close look at the event on the background of the above mentioned prayer to better understand salvation effected by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Abraham means ‘merciful father’. Isaac means ‘he laughed’. Moriyah means ‘my Lord is Yahweh’ or otherwise ‘considered or ordained by the Lord’. Yahweh Yireh means ‘Lord is the provider or the Lord will provide’. However Yahweh Yireh in Hebrew has other derived meanings as well, like ‘the Lord will look after or the Lord will take care of or the Lord will foresee the goodness’ etc.
The Event in a Nutshell
After the Lord took care of Abraham and proved that He is the Lord to him, He wanted to test Abraham to make sure of his commitment. The Lord said to him to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering at the top of a Mountain at the land of Moriah. Next day, Abraham saddled his donkey and set out early in the morning with his only son Isaac, some young men as servants with wood for burnt offering, fire and a knife to kill the animal to offer.
Abraham saw the place at a distance and he said to his servant men to remain there with the donkey. Once he worshipped, he would come back, he said to them. He took the wood, laid it on his son Isaac and he himself took the fire and knife.
Isaac asked his father, “Father, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
When they came to the place that God had shown them for the offering, Abraham made the wood in order on the altar that he maid, caught hold on his son, laid him on the wood and tied strongly thereupon. Took his knife and swung it to cut his son before the burnt offering. At once, an Angel of the Lord appeared and told Abraham to not to kill his son. “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 son form me”, said the Lord.
Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. He went, took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place Yahweh Yireh or ‘the Lord will provide’.
The Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said; “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for them, because you have obeyed my voice.”
Thereafter Abraham and the young men went back.
Jesus Christ was called ‘Son of David, who was Son of Abraham’ (Mt 1:1). The same Jesus said to the Jews that being God He was God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Ex 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5; Mt 22:32; Mk 12:26; Lk 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32). Abraham wished to see His day and has seen to be happy, and before Abraham I was (Jn 8:40, 52, 57, 58). Jesus, therefore, was surely the God of Abraham. Yet, in the above mentioned event Abraham stands for God the Father. The name Abraham means merciful father and Isaac stood for Jesus. Just as the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is the Only begotten Son of God the Father, Isaac was the only begotten son of Abraham, the Patriarch.
Isaac was seated gloriously on the donkey until the Land of Moriah and Jesus was seated on the donkey until Jerusalem. The young servants took care of Isaac until he reached the land of Moriah and the people of Judah, especially young ones, shouted Hosanna to the Son of David, Son of Abraham until Jerusalem. Just as Jesus carried the wood of the cross, Isaac carried the firewood, the wood for the burnt offering upon him. Just as Jesus said to the Father, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want”; Isaac inquired about the animal for burnt offering to his father. Just as the Son laid foundations to the earth in complete accordance with the Father, Isaac made the altar for the offering with his father Abraham. While binding him on to the wood Isaac was quiet and silent, Jesus did not resist his crucifixion. Just as a ram was miraculously made visible from a thicket, Jesus was born from the virgin in a fashion only known to God. Just as the ram saved Isaac from destruction, Jesus saved the whole humanity from destruction and dissolution. Just as Sarah was pleased to see Isaac again, the virgin was pleased at the resurrection. Just as Isaac means ‘he will laugh’, the humanity was happy and content at the final result of Jesus offering on the cross. It is also a proof that the Lord will provide, will look after or will take care or will foresee the goodness for the humanity, Yahweh Yireh.
Some notes on Mount Moriah
In the course of time the mountain had acquired an aura of sanctity and the subject of many traditions. Indeed, its sacred status may date back to the early Canaanite period, when it perhaps was the cultic center of ‘El Elyon,’ god of Melchizedek, king of Salem: “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High (El Elyon). He blessed him, saying, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth” (Gen 14:18).
The tradition of ‘Jacob’s Dream’ is also identified with Mount Moriah: “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing beside him… Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God and that is the gateway to heaven” (Gen 28:10-18).
This is perhaps the most colorful representation of the essential nature of the site which some would later claim was the ‘navel of the world’. At the summit of Mount Moriah, traditionally, is the ‘Foundation Stone,’ the symbolic fundament of the world’s creation, and reputedly the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies, the supreme embodiment of the relationship between God and the people of Israel.
The northern area of Mount Moriah’s summit lay desolate for long after Zion’s capture by David. It was in fact still the private property of Araunah, the city’s former Jebusite king. For various reasons David did not confiscate the site but preferred to buy it from Auranah for full value: “So David paid Ornan (Auranah) for the site 600 shekels’ worth of gold. And David built there an altar to the Lord and sacrificed burn offerings and offerings of well-being” (1 Chr 21:25, and a slightly different version at 2 Sam 24:18-25). Traditions say that Abraham wanted to offer Isaac exactly on the same place, where David built the city of Jerusalem.
Upon the completion of King Solomon’s Temple, famed for its sumptuous splendor, the Ark of the Covenant was placed within its confines. The sanctity of the site is reflected in the graphic description provided by the Book of Kings: “the priests came out of the sanctuary for the cloud had filled the House of the Lord and the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord…” (1 Kg 8:11).
Solomon built his palace in the ‘miloh’ (infill) area which separated the summit of the mountain and the Temple from the city below. This was also a concrete expression of the divine inspiration that was attributed to his kingship. Other palaces were also built nearby, such as the “House of the Forest of Lebanon” and the House of Pharaoh’s Daughter. Solomon used dirt to fill in this east-west lateral rift, hence the area’s name: ‘miloh’ (infill), or Ophel, from a Hebrew word referring to the road that ascended to the Temple from the city which at that time was topographically lower.