February 7, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Abraham’s test, and Isaac marries

John F. Fink(Fifth in a series of columns)

Chapter 22 of Genesis tells us the story of God’s testing of Abraham, ordering him to kill his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to prove the firmness of Abraham’s faith. It should be noted that the Muslims, too, have this story. However, the Muslims believe that Abraham was ordered to sacrifice Ishmael.

Abraham, Isaac and two servants traveled for three days to Mount Mariah, which is in what became Jerusalem. Abraham and Isaac then climbed to the summit, with the wood for the holocaust on Isaac’s shoulders. At one point, Isaac asked where the sheep for the holocaust was and Abraham replied that God would provide.

When they reached the summit, Abraham bound Isaac and put him on a large rock that served as the altar. We aren’t told if Isaac resisted. Then Abraham took his knife and was about to slaughter his son when an angel called from heaven and told him to stop. He had passed the test.

The Jews and Muslims alike believe that the rock upon which Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael) is in the magnificent Tomb of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Solomon built his Temple over the rock and the Second Temple was there during the time of Christ. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Muslims also believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from the rock. The present Dome of the Rock was built by Caliph Abd al-Malik from 687 to 691.

Chapter 23 begins with Sarah’s death when she was 127. Abraham purchased a cave for her tomb. When Abraham died at age 175, Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave. That tomb is in modern Hebron, and I’ve visited it several times, although pilgrims seldom go there these days because of the political unrest. Besides Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah are also buried there.

When it was time for Isaac to marry, Abraham didn’t want him to marry a Canaanite woman. So he sent his senior servant back to his land in Mesopatamia (modern Iraq) to find a suitable wife for Isaac. Chapter 24 tells the story.

The servant traveled back. As he stopped at a well, he prayed for a sign from God: If a young woman came to draw water and he asked her for a drink, and if she replied that she would water his camels, too, that would be the woman he was seeking.

Of course, that happened. Rebekah, described as very beautiful, who turned out to be Abraham’s grandniece, did exactly that. Rebekah’s brother, Laban, then made the servant welcome, and the servant told Laban about his mission. Rebekah agreed to go to Canaan and become Isaac’s wife.

Chapter 25 reveals that Abraham wasn’t monogamous. Besides Sarah and Hagar, he also had had children by a concubine named Keturah. However, when he died, he deeded everything to Isaac. For his sons by concubinage, he made grants while he was still living but then sent them away from Isaac. †

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