C.S. Lewis — 'I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.'
Following this, we also ought to be able to see the rays of truth, reflected in and bouncing off, enlightening realities all around us, until we see the central Son as the source of all truth and beauty and benefit. Whatever truth anywhere ought deepen our conviction of the solidity and pervasiveness of the the central Truth Himself. And so also in the case of what has been called "religious tradition". Knowing the truth helps us better also in knowing what is false or incomplete.
Arabs and Jews both look to Abraham as their father. Christian do too, not according to the flesh and blood, but according to the quality of faith that he and they possess. Thus, Abraham is the father of us all. But Arabs and Jews also trace their flesh and blood relationship to Abraham through two different sons of Abraham. The Jews through Isaac and the Arabs through Ishmael. Aside from the importance of the truth of this lineage, its perceived truth is far reaching in its effect for the almost entire Islamic world of Araby and the preponderant world of observant Jewry. As Isaac vied with Ishmael and Ishmael with Isaac, so Arabs and Jews vie with each other. But where are the Christians in all this?
To understand where, we go back to the central figure of Abraham's son, Isaac.
And we go back to yes, the Bible, that is, the 22nd Chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. And we go also to the Jewish literature, straddling the milleniums, called the Midrash.
Though finally redacted in the 6th century, and containing material from earlier centuries, including the first two centuries' rabbinic understanding of the Scriptural problems or questions remaining unanswered, the Midrash "fills in" what has been left unsaid in the Scriptures. It does this supplying conversations, or even thoughts, that were occurring at the times of a biblical event in order to enhance the understanding of the biblical event itself.
The Akedah (the Binding)
A good example is the treatment of Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac (Aqedah) found in the Midrash called "The Great(er) Genesis" (Midrash Rabba). Because the Bible says nothing about what was going on in Isaac's head, the Midrash, then jumps in and supplies the lack by posing an argument between Isaac and Ishmael.
Ishmael: "I am more beloved than thou, because I was circumcised at the age of thirteen."
Isaac: "I am more beloved than thou because I was circumcised at eight days."
Ishmael: "I am more beloved because I could have protested, yet I did not." (he was old enough to object, but did not)
Isaac: "O that God would appear to me and bid me cut off one of my limbs! Then I would not refuse."
(Isaac regrets that he was not old enough to choose for God)
God then speaks, "Even if I bid thee sacrifice thyself, thou wilt not refuse." (Here God assures Isaac that it was only that the time was not yet and the impossibility of circumstance that prevented the sacrifice, not the willingness or the heart)
Here, then, is another feature of the Midrash, God speaks and becomes a partner in the conversation. (The direct speaking of God appears in the early Aramaic Christian literature and in the New Testament). Here we see the thoughts of Isaac that also prepare us for his part in the saga of the Aqedah.
But first, let us see another discussion in the Midrash on this same biblical story.
Ishmael: "I am more beloved than thou art since I was circumcised at the age of thirteen, but thou wast circumcised as a baby and couldst not refuse."
Isaac: "All that thou didst lend to the Holy One, blessed be He, was three drops of blood, But lo, I am, now thirty seven years old*, yet if God desired of me that I be slaughtered, I would not refuse!"
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, " This is the moment!" ( God has heard the inner commitment of Issac, and has declared that the time has come for inner commitment to become reality)
But what about Abraham's thoughts? Did he come to faith and obedience easily or was there also an inner struggle about which the Bible is silent? After all Abraham had three days for reflection!
God said "TAKE, I PRAY THEE, THY SON.", and the reader knows already for what purpose. Abraham: "Which son?". Here the midrash separates the words of the Biblical words to interject Abraham's thoughts - and his hopes, though he begins to dread, that it would not be Isaac that God would demand.
God: "THINE ONLY SON"
Abraham: "But each is the "only son" of his mother!"
God:"WHOM THOU LOVEST"
Abraham: "Is there a limit to the affections?!" (don't I love both of my sons?)
God, making it absolutely clear so that Abraham cannot wiggle out,: "EVEN ISAAC"
Sarah was 90 years old at Isaac's birth. and 127 years at her death, which, according to the Rabbis, was caused by shock when she was wrongly informed that Isaac had been sacrificed.
The Midrash sees Abraham being further tempted. Samael (a wicked angel) comes to Abraham.
Samael: "What means this, old man, You are going to slay a son granted to you at the age of 100?"
Abraham: "Even this I will do."
Samael "And if He should set before you an even harder task, could you stand it?"
Abraham: "As this one and even more so."
Samael: "Tomorrow, then, He will say to you, 'You are a murderer, and you are guilty!'"
(The Devil presents a dilemma to Abraham to make him waver. He tells Abraham, That is what your God is like. One day He promises you children and generations like the stars int heavens and the sand on the shore, the next He says, kill the son through whom all this is to come. And the day after, He will call you "murderer!") What a devil the Devil is!
And the Midrash sees father and son somehow both participating in the sacrifice to be, even by implication and hint.
This in the Bible, Isaac: "BEHOLD, THE FIRE AND THE WOOD, BUT WHERE IS THE LAMB OF SACRIFICE?" (the Hebrew word for "lamb is 'seh')
Abraham: "GOD WILL SEE TO THE LAMB OF SACRIFICE, MY SON." (here, be it noted that the Greek word for "you" is "se"(accusative case) sounding exactly like the Hebrew word for "lamb"). So the Midrash adds in the mind of Abraham "And if God will not provide a lamb (Hebrew - seh) for the sacrifice, then it is you(Greek - se), Thou are that sacrifice, my son!"
The unity of father and son in the sacrifice is shown by Midrashic statement on the biblical verse, "And so they went both of them together (Yachdav)" - One to slaughter and one to be slaughtered'.
They were hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, Yachdav!
Christians can see Christ in the Akeda
Christians often see Christ portrayed in the Binding of Isaac. This comes about both because of the parallels in the story of Abraham's sacrifice-to-be with the actual giving by the Heavenly Father of His Son, Jesus as a sacrifice, and by the knowledge of what the sacrifices for sin meant in the Hebrew Bible. But Christ is also portrayed when one peers at the Akeda through the eyes of the Midrash.
The message of the New Testament and of Paul's teaching of the sacrifice of Christ was first of all nothing alien to comprehensibility to the Jewish mindset and expectation.
1. "AND HE TOOK IN HIS HAND THE FIRE AND THE KNIFE (Ma'akelet - the word for knife is derived from the root Alef, Kaf, Lamed, which means "eating"). The Midrash continues : The rabbis said, "All eating ('akilot') which Israel enjoy in this world, they enjoy only in the merit of that knife".
Here, the New Testament teaching that the benefits imputed or given to many, who otherwise would not receive it not meriting it, is given them by a meritorious act outside of themselves and of another somehow related (eating/knife) to them.
2. Rabbi Isaac said: "When Abraham wished to sacrifice his son Isaac, he (Isaac) said to him, 'Father, I am a young man and am afraid that my body may tremble through fear of the knife and I will grieve thee, whereby the slaughter may be rendered unfit, and this will not count as a real sacrifice; Therefore, bind me very firmly'. Forthwith, "HE BOUND ISAAC."
Here the willingness of Jesus to sacrifice Himself is portayed by Isaac's own willingness, and the Midrash clearly understands that the slaying of the son as a sacrifice is for an indispensable, beneficial purpose.
Jesus - "No man takes My life from Me. but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment I have received from My Father."
3. "LAY NOT THY HAND UPON THE LAD" (The Scripture has suddenly swiched from "knife" to "hand") the Midrash- Where was the knife? Tears had fallen from the angels upon, so the Midrash, it and dissolved it. "Then I will strangle him", said he (Abraham) to Him.
"LAY NOT THY HAND UPON THE LAD", was the reply.
"Let us bring forth a drop of blood from him", Abraham pleaded. "NEITHER DO THOU ANYTHING TO HIM", says the Father in Heaven.
Here, it is precisely the contrast of the unwillingness of the Heavenly Father, despite the willingness of the earthly father, to sacrifice Isaac, with the willingness of the Heavenly Father to offer His own Son Jesus, that causes us to wonder and look forward to some resolution both in literature and in life. "He was pleased to bruise Him".
4. And here the solution is offered - in the biblical passage before us, in the eyes of the midrash, and looking forward to completion in Christ - to the eyes of the Christian. "AND ABRAHAM WENT AND TOOK THE RAM, AND OFFERED HIM UP FOR A BURNT-OFFERING IN THE STEAD OF HIS SON," The Midrash: He (Abraham) prayed to Him, "Sovereign of the Universe! Look upon the blood of this ram as though it were the blood of my son Isaac". When a man declares: This animal be instead of this one, in exchange for that, or a substitute for this, it is a valid exchange - so the Midrash. *
"Think not that I have come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many" ..."...the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God."
The formula above of the Midrash finds expression in the ceremony of Redemption of the First Born son, based on Exodus 13:13 and Numbers 18:16. The father gives a symbolic payment of "5 shekels" to a Cohen, the descendant of Levi so that his first born son not die and says "This instead of that, this in exchange for that, this is given up in behalf of that."
5. "AND ABRAHAM LIFTED UP HIS EYES, AND LOOKED, AND BEHOLD BEHIND (AHAR) HIM A RAM. In this biblical passage, the Midrash saw the both meanings in the word "AHAR". It means "behind" and it means "after". The Midrash continues, ..."AFTER all that happened, Israel still fell into the clutches of sin and [in consequence] became the victims of persecution; yet they will ultimately be redeemed by the ram's horn, as it says, 'AND THE LORD GOD WILL BLOW THE HORN...'Zech. 9:14"
"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the Horn of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first" 1 Thess. 4:16
The Akedah: The Binding of Isaac
In Judaism, on the judgment day of Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of the year, God is entreated to show mercy to His people in the merit of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. A prayer of the day reads:
"Remember unto us, O Lord our God, the covenant and the loving-kindness and the oath which Thou swore unto Abraham our father on Mount Moriah; and consider the binding with which Abraham our father bound his son Isaac on the altar, how he suppressed his compassion in order to perform Thy will with a perfect heart."
But the understanding of the Akedah does not stop with the Bible and the Mishna. It carries on today in the ability to see in this act. something more than the almost slaying by an old man of the son he loves. As Jews and Arabs look on from their vantage point, and as Christians look through to see their Lord, so we look on to see something, to catch glimpse, to hear something unheard till now....
Isaac "bound", the Jews and the Arabs, and Jesus Christ.
Here is the most beautiful
Bilvavi - In my Heart.
Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh l'hadar k'vodo, uv'mishkan mizbeach asim l'karnei hodo, ulner tamid ekach li es esh ha'akeidah, ulkorban akriv lo es nafshi, es nafshi hayechida.
בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו, ובמשכן מזבח אשים לקרני הודו, ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקידה, ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי, את נפשי היחידה.
In my heart I will build a temple for his glory, and in that temple I will place an altar to his splendor. and as an eternal light I will take the flame of Isaac's binding, and as an offering I will offer my only soul.
Often Sung at Seudah Shlisheet.
Lyrics: Rabbi Eliezer Azikri, Sefer Haredim