Biblical Period 2
Lesson #5

Beloved Father,
It is painful to bear heavenly silence.  We are such over anxious and demanding children that we want an immediate response to our prayers and petitions, and we grow anxious and frightened when our prayers are followed by Your patient silence.  We become like Your prophet John the Baptist locked in the silence of Herod's dark dungeon or like Abraham's anxious wife Sarah, fretful in waiting on Your promise to give her children.  It is in those times that we forget that silence is not inaction'that Your plan for our lives is unfolding in Your time and within Your grand design.  Give us the patience, the perseverance, Father, and the will to trust in Your plan for our lives, even in those dark and silent dungeons let us see the light of Your love as we await Your divine will.  We pray in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.


The Birth of Ishmael

Please read Genesis 16: 1-15
Abraham's beautiful wife Sarai knew of God's promise to her husband that he would be the father of a nation and in her younger years she was probably confident that she would be the means by which God's promise would be fulfilled.  But as the years passed and she grew older Sarai decided God needed some help.  It was not uncommon in ancient times for infertile women to offer their husbands a personal slave to bear a child; since the slave belonged to the wife, the child born of the slave would also belong to her.  In desperation Sarai decides take personal control of God's promise of children by having children by Abram through her Egyptian slave girl Hagar.

Question: How is it that everything does not turn out as Sarai had planned?  What is her sin?  What does she do?
Answer: Sarai has not waited patiently and obediently on the will of God; instead she has usurped His power and authority and her sin brings suffering to her family.  Hagar becomes disrespectful when she finds she has succeeded where her mistress has failed. In Hagar's view now that she has conceived she should become the "first wife"!  Abram returns Hagar to Sarai's control and in her frustration Sarai abuses Hagar and the girl runs away.

Question: Will God blame either Hagar or Ishmael for Sarai and Abram's sin?
Answer: No, God protects Hagar.  She is to name her son Ishmael which means "may God hear" or "God hears"[in Hebrew "shama", pronounced shah-mah means "to hear"].

Question: What does the prophecy in Genesis 16:11-12 tell us about Ishmael? 
Answer: He will be a violent man who goes his own way and who is as intractable and vagrant as the wild donkeys of the desert.  This son of Abraham still impacts the Holy Land today. Ishmael's descendants are the desert peoples.  Arab Moslems claim they are the descendants of Ishmael, the "firstborn" son of Abraham and as descendants of the "firstborn" son the inheritance of the Holy Land should be theirs. According to Scripture, however, Ishmael, the son of the Egyptian slave, is not the line of the "promise seed" of Adam.  That line of promise and covenant will come from the son of Sarai, the legitimate wife.  This has always been God's plan and Sarai and Abram cannot usurp that plan.

It is interesting that God, or the "Angel of God", does not reveal a divine name to Hagar.  His interaction with her is only intervention'it does not develop into a personal relationship.  Instead Hagar gives Yahweh a name. 

Question What is the name Hagar gives Yahweh and what does it mean? See Genesis 16:13
Answer: Hagar gives Yahweh the name "El Roi" which means "God [El] who sees" or "God of Vision". 

Hagar's encounter takes place near a well, which Genesis 16:14 tells us will be called "Lahai Roi".  Biblical scholars debate the meaning but Lahai Roi may mean the well "of the Living One who sees me."  Ironically, Ishmael's half-brother Isaac will be drawn to this place again and again in Genesis 24:62 and 25:11.

Question: How old is Abram when Ishmael is born? See Genesis 16:16
Answer: 86 years old.

Abram becomes Abraham / part 2 of Abraham's Covenant
Genesis 17: 1-27

In Genesis 17:1 when Abram is 99 years old God again appears to him. Exodus 6:3 will refer to this meeting with Abram, linking the Yahweh the God of Moses to the El Shaddai, the God of the fathers [patriarchs]: "God spoke to Moses and said to him, 'I am Yahweh.  To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai but I did not make my name Yahweh known to them.'"

This dialogue with Abram, which initiates the second part of the 3-fold Covenant, begins with the revelation of Yahweh's ancient divine name of the patriarchal period: El Shaddai [see Genesis 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25].  El Shaddai is usually translated "God Almighty" but the entomology is so ancient most scholars admit the literal meaning is unknown. 

Question: What is Abram's response to El Shaddai's demand to "Live in my presence, be perfect, and I shall grant a covenant between myself and you, and make you very numerous." See Genesis 17:3.
Answer: Abram bowed down, prostrate before his God.

Question: What are the blessings of this covenant = God's part? See Genesis 17:4-8.  Can you list 5 blessings?
Answer: God's part of the covenant consists of two major themes: abundant descendants [verses 4-6] and eternal faithfulness [verses 7-8].  The particulars include:

  1. Abram will become the father of many nations
  2. His name is changed to Abraham
  3. Kings will come from his line [Matthew will elaborate on this theme in the toledoth of Matthew chapter 1: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham."]
  4. It is to be a perpetual covenant.  God will continue the covenant with Abraham's descendants
  5. The entire land of Canaan is to belong to Abraham's descendants forever

Question: What are the obligations of the covenant = Abraham's part?  See Genesis 17:9-14
Answer: Abraham's obligation can be summed up as obedience: The sign of this obedience to the covenant will be that Abraham and his descendants after him must keep the covenant through the blood sacrifice of circumcision.  Every male child must enter the covenant by circumcision on the 8th day of his life.  It is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.  This covenant obligation included any slaves or foreigners living with Abraham. 

Question: What was the penalty for refusing to circumcise?
Answer: to be literally/ physically cut off from the community.

Question: What was the covenant sign of Adam's Covenant? Of Noah's Covenant? Of Abram's Covenant?
Answer: Adam = the Tree of Life; Noah = the Rainbow; Abram = circumcision

The substance of the sign of circumcision as part of the covenant is the promise of abundant descendants.  The purpose of this stipulation of the Covenant with Abram is probably the birth of Ishmael.  There is a need to reestablish the previously made covenant with Abram after the attempt by Abram and Sarai to take the promise of descendants into their own hands through the sin of using Hagar to the birth of Ishmael to usurp God's promise of a son through Sarai.  A similar restating of the covenant will take place at Mt. Sinai.  There the covenant is first established in Exodus chapter 24 and then again in Exodus 34.  Between these two accounts is the sin of the Golden Calf [Exodus 19:16; 32:1-35] which is also a failure on Israel's part in trying to take control of the covenant and to usurp Yahweh's sovereignty.  These episodes in the narrative remind the reader that these are the works of God not the works of man.

It is interesting that in changing Abram's name to Abraham in Hebrew required the addition of only one letter, the Hebrew letter "hey" which had the value of 5.  5 is the number of grace.  God added "grace" to Abram so that he could "Live in my presence, be perfect...". Without grace this was impossible--for Abraham and for us to live lives of holiness. Now the "exalted father" became the "father of a multitude".  This name change reflected a new direction in life, a change in destiny.  Sarai also receives a new name.  Sarai's name "my princess" or "my queen" is changed to Sarah "princess", or "queen" with the elimination of one letter and the addition of a "hey" = 5.  Her name reflects her promised status, not just as Abraham's queen or princess but as the mother of kings of future generations!

The practice of circumcise was not unknown in the ancient world.  Jeremiah 9:24- 25 records, "Look, the days are coming, Yahweh declares, when I shall punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh: Egypt, Judah, Edom, the Ammonites, Moab, and all the men with shaven temples who live in the desert.  For all those nations and the whole house of Israel too, are uncircumcised at heart." Western Semitic peoples, including some Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Arameans all practiced circumcision.  However, there is no evidence that the Eastern Semitic peoples of Mesopotamia such as the Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians were circumcised.  The Biblical Hivites living in central Canaan were, according to the Bible also uncircumcised [see Genesis 34] as were most but not all of the Sea Peoples, of whom the Philistines are included as uncircumcised.  In all these cases of ancient peoples who became neighbors of the descendants of Abraham the practice of circumcision became a rite of passage into manhood at about age 13 and as preparation for marriage [see Genesis 34:9-25].  The oldest depiction of circumcision is from a relief from the tomb of Ankhmahor, vizier of Pharaoh Teti who ruled Egypt circa 2345-2333 BC.   In the Jeremiah 9:24-25 passage Yahweh lists the circumcised peoples of the region and the term "uncircumcised" became for the Hebrews a title of contempt [the Philistines were, for example, the contemptuous-- "the uncircumcised"].  The rite of infant circumcision was, however, unique to the Hebrews

Question: Why did God require circumcision as a condition of the covenant?

  1. It was a blood sacrifice that was a sign of obedience to God in all matters
  2. Sign of belonging to a Covenant people.
  3. Symbolically circumcision also represented the "cutting off of the sinful old life.  It was an external sign that represented an internal condition.  To be "circumcised of heart" is to be obedient to Yahweh [see Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4].  Foreigners who were both uncircumcised of heart and flesh could not be admitted to the Israelite Temple [Ezekiel 44:7]. Also see Deuteronomy 30: 1-2, 6; Romans 2:25; Leviticus 26:41; Colossians 2: 9-13; Philippians 3:3; 1Corinthians 7:18-19.

From this time forward in the community of the children of God infants are brought into the Covenant with Yahweh through circumcision on the 8th day of their lives.  [Today medical science has discovered that an infant's blood does not clot properly until after an infant is 7 days old.]   The designation for circumcision on the 8th day is significant.  8 people were saved in the ark from the great Flood.  In Scripture 8 is the number of salvation, regeneration and redemption.  It will be on the 8th day, the day after the 7th day Sabbath, that Jesus will be raised from the dead.

2000 years later another boy child would be circumcised on the 8th day of His life [Luke 2:21].  The sign of New Covenant initiation would be baptism, which was a sign of rebirth into divine son-ship in God's family through God the Holy Spirit and what St Paul called a "circumcision of the heart".  Since it was a tradition that infants entered the Old Covenant shortly after birth, it became the standard for the New Covenant Church that baptism be given to infants as soon after birth as possible so that they, like Jesus, would start their lives as part of the Covenant people.  "The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the church.  There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole "households" received baptism, infants may also have been baptized." CCC# 1252 [also see CCC# 1250; Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16].

Question: When God announces Sarai's name change to "princess" or "queen" what other news does Abraham receive that reflects this name change?  See Genesis 17:15-19
Answer: There will be a miracle.  Sarai's destiny is to be changed.  In her old age Sarah is to become a mother, "the mother of kings", and the boy of this royal lineage is to be named Isaac.  Abraham's laughter in Genesis 17:16-17 will be echoed by Sarah's laughter in Genesis 18:12.  Their laughter is an allusion to the name Isaac. Abraham's laughter is not so much a sign of unbelief as it is of amazement at the extraordinary announcement [notice God does not rebuke him for his laughter].

Question: But Abraham is concerned for his son Ishmael.  What does God tell him concerning Ishmael? See Genesis 17:18-22
Answer: God will honor Abraham's request and bless Ishmael but the Covenant and the holy line of descent will continue through Isaac, whose name means "laughter".

Question: How old is Ishmael when he is circumcised?
Answer: He is 13 years old.  In the Quran [Koran] the Arabs trace their descent from Ishmael, and 13 years is the age Muslim boys are circumcised.

St Paul writes about Abraham's faith in Romans 4:9-12.  Paul writes that "...circumcision was given to him later, as a sign and a guarantee that the faith which he had while still uncircumcised was reckoned to him as uprightness.  In this way, Abraham was to be the ancestor of all believers who are uncircumcised, so that they might be reckoned as upright; as well as the ancestor of those of circumcision who not only have their circumcision but who also follow our ancestor Abraham along the path of faith that he trod before he was circumcised."  Paul is saying that what matters is faith expressing itself in love.  Where circumcision was a symbol of our need for a new birth in the Holy Spirit--baptism is the new birth.  Where animal sacrifice symbolized the need for a sacrificial offering for our sins--the sacrifice of Christ was that offering. 

The Theophany at Mamre

Please read Genesis 18: 1-15
In Genesis chapter 18 Yahweh visits Abraham at a place near Hebron called "the oak at Mamre".  The word "mamre" is so ancient that its meaning and etymology is uncertain, however, it does appear in Genesis 14:13 and 24 as the personal name of an Amorite ally of Abraham: "The Oak of the Amorite Mamre..". The site of the oak is identified as "opposite Machpelah", the cave in which Abraham will bury Sarah; a cave that becomes the tomb of the patriarchs and their wives in Genesis 23:17, 19; 25:9; 49: 30; and 50:13. Abraham's "son of promise", Isaac, will also take up residence at this site. 

Note: The city of Hebron has been known by several names down through the centuries.  By the end of the Late Bronze Age the site of Mamre had become a Canaanite city known by the name Kiriath-Arba ["town of the four (giants)].  The Bible records the place name Kiriath-Arba six times in Genesis 23:2, 35:27; Joshua 14:15; 15:13; 20:7; and Judges 1:10.  In Joshua 14:15 and in Judges 1:10, the Biblical account records that "Hebron in olden days was called Kiriath-Arba" and Genesis 35:27 records "Jacob came home to his father Isaac at Mamre, at Kiriath-Arba'now Hebron'where Abraham and Isaac had stayed." With the exception of the city of Jerusalem, no other ancient city is more important in Bible history than Hebron.  At 3,000 feet above sea level and located at the summit of Judah's hill country, Hebron sits higher than any other Biblical city in the Land of ancient Israel.  During Bible times Hebron was a whole day's walk from Salem [Jerusalem], home of the "King of Righteousness" = Melchizedek [Genesis 14:18], along trail known as the "Way of the Patriarchs," a timeless route which winds along the spine of ancient Israel's central mountain range.  Archaeologist Philip Hammon of Princeton Theological Seminary and later of Brandeis University excavated Hebron from 1964-66 and uncovered significant remains of settlements from the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Age Periods.  Hammon discovered a massive city wall over 20 feet thick dating to the Early Bronze Age III period, between 26-2300BC, and a later Middle Bronze Age gateway and tower that may have been mentioned in Genesis 23:10 and which would have been in use from Abraham's time until the end of Iron Age II in the 6th century BC.  In the American excavations which ended in 1966 and in the Israeli excavations, which began after the '67 War placed Hebron under Israeli control, everything excavated by archaeologists at Hebron supports the Biblical tradition  [see Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 31 #5 "Discovering Hebron"]. Today, Hebron is no longer in Israeli control but is a Palestinian city. 

Question: Who is it who comes to visit Abraham at Mamre?  What is their appearance? See Genesis 18:1-2
Answer: It is Yahweh accompanied by two others; all have the appearance of men.

Question: What is the purpose of Yahweh's visit to Abraham and his wife?
Answer: The principle purpose for the visitation to Abraham at Mamre is to announce that at this time next year the child that was promised in chapter 17 will be born to Sarah.  The text notes that Yahweh is accompanied by two "messengers".  What makes this passage so unique is the use of the singular and plural in addressing the three visitors.  In this passage Abraham addresses the 3 "men" in the singular and yet they reply in the plural.  For example:

In these 3 men, whom Abraham addresses in the singular, many of the Fathers of the Church saw a foreshadowing of the mystery of the Trinity.  The representation of the Trinity as three angels sitting around a table with the Oak of Mamre, a foreshadowing of the cross, in the background is seen frequently in Eastern Rite Catholic iconography.  That there is more in this passage than mere words suggests is also evident in the preparations to feed the visitors. 

Question: What are the instructions Abraham gives to Sarah?
Answer: Sarah is instructed to knead 3 measures of the best flour and make loaves while Abraham makes arrangements for a calf to be slaughtered.

Question: What is curious is the amount of flour?
Answer: Three measures would feed about 100 people!  Notice the repetition of the number 3 indicating that something theologically significant is about to happen.  This inflated number in the amount of flour is our clue that all is not what it seems in this encounter.

With the announcement of the future miraculous birth of a son to Sarah the key phrase is when Yahweh replies to Abraham's amazement over the announcement that "Nothing is impossible for Yahweh" in Genesis 18:13-14

There is also a humorous exchange between God and Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:12-15.  Upon hearing the announcement of the birth of a son in a year's time Sarah laughs to herself, repeating her husband's laughter in Genesis 17:16.  When Yahweh asks Abraham "Why did Sarah laugh" she tries to deny laughing because she is afraid.  But He is the God who knows everything from our most intimate thoughts to the hidden motives behind our actions.  In this passage Yahweh is not only reading Sarah's thoughts, He is interpreting her statements by restating her thoughts in His exchange with Abraham.  First He restates Sarah's thoughts in verse 12 "Now that I am past to age of childbearing, and my husband is an old man is pleasure to come my way again?" as "Am I really going to have a child now that I am old?" in verse 13. Notice that Yahweh interprets Sarah's thoughts about her husband's age and reshapes it into a statement about her age which is the physical hindrance to the birth of a child.  Finally He goes beyond her actual thoughts to the intent of those thoughts in His rhetorical question: "Is anything impossible for Yahweh?" Yahweh has overcome the physical impossibility of the fulfillment of the promise through Sarah.

Yahweh's reply to Sarah's denial is "Oh, yes you did!"  If Sarah had any doubts about the identity of their visitor she is now convinced.  With Abraham and Sarah God has a holy couple who will become the parents of a holy people, a holy people who will be called to be the Old Covenant Church, Israel, whose mission will be to become witness to the world of the One True God and through whom God will bring forth the Messiah.

Abraham intercedes for Sodom
Genesis 18:16-33

Question: Having accomplished the first part of their mission what is the destination of the 3 visitors and why?
Answer: They are going to judge the city of Sodom.

 The key verse that will point the way to the next narrative is found in Genesis 18:16 "From there the men set out and arrived within sight of Sodom, with Abraham accompanying them..."

Question: Why does Yahweh include Abraham in the process of deciding the fate of this city?
Answer: Yahweh is not an arbitrary deity.  He is just in His judgments and He allows human intercession. Yahweh has given Abraham and his descendants this land as their possession and now Abraham is allowed to exercise his compassion and concern for the innocent who would suffer along with the guilty. Abraham also has another cause for concern.  His nephew Lot and his family reside in Sodom.

Question: Yahweh is moved by Abraham's intercession to spare the city but on what condition?
Answer: That 10 righteous men can be found.  10 is the number of perfection of order, and is will be the least number required under the Law of Sinai to form a prayer group.  A prayer group of 10 people is called a "minyon."

Abraham's intercession and Yahweh's answer is evidence of the importance of intercessory prayer offered by the Church militant = saints on earth [Genesis 18:22-32; 20:17; 2 Maccabees 12:40-45; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Philippians 1:3-5] and requested of the Church glorified = saints in heaven [Revelation 6:9-11].  In intercessory prayed we offer a petition, which leads us to pray as Jesus did.  He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, the righteous and sinners alike: 

Please read Genesis 19:1-38
The "two men" traveled to Sodom to judge the sins of the community.  In response to Abraham's intercession the 2 men proceed to find Abraham's nephew Lot.  The 3rd "man" stayed a time with Abraham before he departs.  But some scholars see the mention of only two going to investigate the "outcry" against Sodom to infer that the third man went to investigate the "outcry" of the city of Gomorrah. Just as Abraham addressed his visitors in the singular Lot will address the two men as "Lord" in Genesis 19:18 suggesting his visitation is also from God.

Question: What does Lot serve the visitors?
Answer: He serves them unleavened bread. Later in Scripture leaven will become a symbol of sin.  The "Bread of the Presence" placed on Yahweh's golden table in the Holy Place of the desert Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Jerusalem had to be unleavened bread. Serving the holy visitors unleavened bread may be a sign of their divinity or holiness of both.  [see Exodus 12:15-39; 13:3, 7; 29:2-23; Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 6:17; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 etc.]. 

Question: In Genesis 19:12-14 what do the visitors state is their 2-fold purpose?
Answer: They have been sent to destroy the city and to rescue Lot and his family.

Question: What is the outcome of events in this chapter?
Answer: The two cities are destroyed.  The visitors physically pull Lot and his wife and daughters out of the city when they hesitate. Lot and his daughters are saved but his wife does not heed the warning not to turn and look at the domed city.  She forfeits her life for her disobedience.

These narratives are a contrast between the two men, Abraham and Lot.  In 13:12 Lot chose to live in association with sinners and the close association with sin yields disastrous results. 

Question: What is ironic about Lot's callous suggestion to the riotous crowd concerning his own daughters in Genesis 19:7-8 and the events of Genesis 19:31-38.
Answer: It is ironic that Lot's suggestion that the men of Sodom "take his own daughters" in sexual intercourse is in fact what Lot himself inadvertently carries out in Genesis 19:30-38.   At the close of the narrative Lot is pictured as the father of the Moabites and Ammonites [Genesis 19:38].  These sons of Lot, cut off from the promised line will live on the border of the Promised Land but they will never enjoy its blessings [Numbers 24:17].

The Birth of Isaac and the banishment of Ishmael
Genesis 21:1-21

The birth of the promised son has come about just as "God had said [spoken]", a phrase stressed three times in the first 2 verses in the Hebrew text.

Abraham was 99 when he was told to circumcise all the males in his household in Genesis 17.  He is 100 years old and Sarah is 90 when Isaac [Yitzchak] is born and circumcised 8 days later.

Sarah's cry of joy in 21:6 "God has given me cause to laugh!  All who hear about this will laugh with me!"  Is another allusion to Isaac's name, which means "laughter".

Question: How old is Ishmael when Isaac is born?  See Genesis 17:25
Answer: He is approximately 14 years old.

Approximately three years later when Isaac is weaned and Ishmael is about 17 years old Sarah witnesses a disturbing incident involving her son and the son of Hagar. 

Question: What is it that so distresses Sarah that she demands the banishment of Ishmael and his mother?  See Genesis 21:
Answer: The text is not clear about what happened but only mentions that Ishmael was "playing with her son."  The Hebrew verb can be translated to "play" or to "laugh".  "To laugh" or "to play" with someone can be a Hebrew idiom for sexual activity.  Some scholars have suggested that Ishmael was exercising sexual power over Isaac in an attempt to usurp Isaac's position as the "firstborn" heir.  Whatever Ishmael's action might have been it is obvious from the text that it is serious enough for Abraham to send away Ishmael, who he loves, and Hagar, Ishmael's mother. 

Genesis 22:1-19 The Binding of Isaac / Part 3 of Abraham's Covenant
This episode in Hebrew is known as the akeidah or aqida, "the binding of Isaac".  It is a Covenant Ordeal.

The Covenant ordeal: "It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test." Genesis 22:1.  The importance of this opening statement allays any doubt of God's purpose in this covenant ordeal and that the purpose does not intend an actual human sacrifice.  This is a test of Abraham's faith and obedience.  [Note: human sacrifice was a practice in parts of the Near East at this time].

Question: God's address to Abraham in Genesis 22:2 consists of 3 simple commands.  What are they?

  1. "Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and"
  2. "Go to the land of Moriah where you are to.."
  3. "Offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you."

Question: Where is the land of Moriah?  See Genesis 22:4 and 2 Chronicles 3:1
Answer: Genesis 22:4 identifies the site as a significant 3 day journey from Abraham's camp.  2 Chronicles 3:1 identifies the Land of Moriah with the mountain range on which Jerusalem is located and the Temple of Yahweh would be built a thousand years after Abraham during the reign of King Solomon.  A lower part of the mountain just below the peak where the Temple will be built will be the sight of Jesus' crucifixion.

In the ordeal of the sacrifice of Isaac, the Fathers of the Church saw a prefiguring of the Passion of Jesus, God's only begotten and beloved Son. Some Bible scholars suggest the place designated for the sacrifice of Isaac was actually the hill below the crest of Mt. Moriah, a hill called Golgotha, "the place of the skull", where God's only beloved Son would be crucified almost 2,000 years later.  Most Jewish scholars identify the sight of the "offering of Isaac" as the future site of God's sacrificial altar in the Temple court on top of Mt. Moriah.

Question: In Genesis 22:7-8 Isaac notices that his father has the wood for the sacrifice as well as the knife and the fire but what does Isaac notice is missing and what is his father's response?
Answer: Isaac sees that the lamb for the sacrifice is missing and asks his father "where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"  His father replies "God [Elohim] himself will provide the lamb.." [The Hebrew word "yireh' [also spelled jireh] can be translated in the future tense.

Question: What is the major difference in the outcome of the intended sacrifice?
Answer: Yahweh spares Abraham's son by providing a lamb for the sacrifice.  Question: Does Isaac struggle against his father when he is being placed on the altar?  Why is Abraham prepared to go through with Yahweh's command to sacrifice his son?  See Hebrews 11:17-18.

Answer: Abraham believed God would give him descendants through this son with whom the covenant was to continue.  He believed if he offered up his son that God had the power to raise him from the dead: "It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac.  He offered to sacrifice his only son even though he had yet to receive what had been promised, and he had been told: Isaac is the one through whom your name will be carried on.  He was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he was given back Isaac from the dead." Hebrews 11:17-18

Question: When the angel of the Lord stops Abraham and shows him a ram "caught up" [sebeck in Greek and achaz in Hebrew] in a tree to offer up in sacrifice in place of the boy Abraham realizes that Yahweh has indeed provided the sacrifice.  From then on what did Abraham call this place? Genesis 22: 14
Answer: He called it Yahweh "provides"; in Hebrew = yireh [jireh] which can also be translated: "will provide".  According to Jewish tradition the village of Salem near Mt. Moriah will now be called not just "peace" but Yahweh "will provide peace" = Yireh-salem or Jerusalem.  It will be at Jerusalem approximately 2,000 years later in the year 30AD that God's righteous Son will provide the sacrifice that will conquer death and heal the world of sin. Through the binding of Isaac, righteous son of Abraham, Yahweh foreshadowed the act that He "will provide" the true perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world'Jesus the Lamb of God.

Question: Can you think of some Biblical passages that might parallel Jesus' sacrifice on the cross as well as the image of the lamb of sacrifice being "caught up" in the tree or bush in Genesis 22:16?

The notation at the end of Genesis 22:14 states that this is why there is the saying "On the mountain Yahweh provides [will provide]."  This mountain will become the site of the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem where sacrifice will be provided until the coming of the Messiah and its destruction of 70AD by the Romans.  

In Genesis 22:15 God "swears by himself "; God swears an oath in part 3 of Abraham's covenant.  An oath is based on God's name as keeper of the covenant not on the other party's name as in a contract.  God swears by his own name: "You shall not take the Lord's name in vain."   The Latin word for "oath" is "sacrumentum" from which we get our word "sacrament."  Our sacraments are our active participation, or our oath-swearing in our participation in the New Covenant in Christ. The Greek word for oath is "horckia". Ex- horckia, from which we get the word "exorcism", means "to cast out by oath ".

Question: Why did God "swear and oath" by himself? What did He swear?  See Genesis 22:15-18 and Hebrews 6:13-20
Answer: God swore an oath that Abraham would have many, many, descendants who would have power and dominion and through whom a world-wide blessing would flow.  When we swear an oath we "swear to God", meaning we evoke God as keeper of what we have sworn.  If we break our oath we are answerable to God.  But since there is no one greater than God, He swears on Himself to keep the promise of the oath. 

Hebrews 6:13-20 "When God made the promise to Abraham, he swore by his own self, since there was no one greater he could swear by: 'I will shower blessings on you and give you many descendants.'  Because of that, Abraham preserved and received fulfillment of the promise.  Human beings, of course, swear an oath by something greater than themselves, and between them, confirmation by an oath puts and end to all dispute.  In the same way, when God wanted to show the heirs of the promise even more clearly how unalterable his plan was, he conveyed it by an oath so that through two unalterable factors in which God could not be lying, we who have fled to him might have a vigorous encouragement to grasp the hope held out to us.  This is the anchor our souls have as sure as it is firm, reaching right through inside the curtain* where Jesus has entered as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever, of the order of Melchizedek."  [*Note: the "curtain" in this passage refers to the great curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.  This curtain kept the community separate from the presence of God in the sacred place known as the Holy of Holies.  Only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies once a year at the Feast of Atonement.  Christ has taken His place as both High Priest and perfect Sacrifice and has opened the way for us to the presence of God.]

Genesis 22:18 "All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants because you have obeyed my command."

Question: When was the promise of this world-wide blessing fulfilled?
Answer: This international blessing is being fulfilled now in the Age of the New Covenant Church in which Abraham has "children" across the face of the earth who exercise dominion through the kingdom established by Jesus, whose Hebrew name Yehosua means "Yahweh saves" or even more literally, "I SAVE".  [Also see Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 3:25-26; Galatians 3:7-9]

 [Note: Most Biblical scholars see Abraham's covenant with God as 1 covenant in 3 parts instead of 3 covenants because there is only 1 covenant ordeal].

The importance of the Abrahamic 3-fold Covenant is that it is foundational to all the other Biblical Covenants between Yahweh and His people.

Abraham, a man of imperfect character and imperfect faith, in yielding himself in faithful obedience to God has received the promises made to him in the form of a perpetual covenant that will affect the lives of his descendants for generations and generations to come. 

Questions for group discussion: The Father's of the Church saw Abraham's beloved son Isaac as well as the lamb provided for the sacrifice in place of Isaac as  "types" of Christ.

Question: What similarities do you see between the offering up of Isaac in sacrifice and the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth?  Why did the Fathers of the Church see Isaac as a "type" of Christ?  Can you think of 7 different similarities?

Comparisons between the "offering up" of Isaac in sacrifice found in Genesis 22:1-18, know in Hebrew as the "akeidah" [the binding] and the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ:

M. Hunt, copyright 2000, revised April 2007

Question: How is it that as a result of Abraham's obedience in offering up Isaac for sacrifice that Abraham fills a special role in the lives of all believers?
Answer: It is a teaching of the Church that in offering up his physical son Isaac Abraham becomes the spiritual father of all St Paul writes in Romans 4:16-17 "That is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and is secure for all the descendants, not only those who rely on the Law but all those others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of us all as Scripture says: 'I have made you the father of many nations'.  Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into existence what does not yet exist." Now both Jews and gentiles come to God through one Lord, Jesus Christ and are incorporated into one holy covenant family.  See CCC# 2570-72

Question: Has God asked you to make sacrifices in your journey of faith?  How have you responded with faith and courage to your tests of obedience?  Did you willingly take up your cross and follow Christ or did you wine and complain that God must not hear your prayers?

Question: Did God spare His son suffering or did He spare His Son's mother?  Do you expect as a Christian that your Christianity is some kind of lucky rabbit's foot that will protect you from all that is hurtful in this world?  If that is so you are bound to not have the strength to persevere in faith. What can we expect from Christ when we experience suffering?

Question: If you saw the wonderful film, "The Passion of the Christ", how is the character of Simon of Cyrene representative of each of us on our individual journeys of faith?

Remember, God's view is from all eternity while our view is like viewing the cosmos through a pin prick.  The Patriarchs in their trials and sufferings and even their triumphs could not have seen nor could they have understood what would transpire approximately 2,000 years later in the birth of Jesus the Messiah. They could never have envisioned that we would read their stories and would take instruction and comfort from the events recorded of their lives.

Resources and recommended reading:

  1. Many Religions--One Covenant: Israel, the Church and the World, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, [Ignatius Press, 1999].
  2. Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating, [Ignatius Press, 1988].
  3. Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J.,[Bruce Publishing Company, 1965].
  4. Tanach, edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman,  [Mesorah Publications, Ltd,, 1998].
  5. Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, [William Morrow, Inc., 1991, 2001].
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  7. The Navarre Commentary: The Pentateuch, [Four Courts Press, 2001].
  8. Swear To God, Scott Hahn, [Doubleday, 2004].
  9. Genesis, St. Augustine, [New York City Press, 2002].      

New material to insert:


That day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram in these terms: 'To your descendants I give this country, from the River of Egypt to the Great River [Nile to Euphrates].  Genesis 15:18 This covenant promise is repeated in Genesis 17:6-8, and 22:17.

"I shall bless you and make your name [shem] famous": In Genesis 12: 2 Yahweh promises Abram: "I shall make you a great nation. I shall bless you and make your name famous; you are to be a blessing!" This is a promise that will be repeated in Genesis chapter 15 and in again in chapter 17:2 Yahweh promises Abram: "And I shall grant a covenant between myself and you, and make you very numerous..." (verses 6-7) "I shall make you exceedingly fertile. I shall make you into nations, and your issue will be kings.  And I shall maintain my covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, as a covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you..."  This promise is repeated a third time in Genesis 22:17. In this three-fold promise Abram is promised

  1. descendants
  2. land/ kingdom
  3. world-wide blessing

"You are to be a blessing!" : Genesis 22:18 "All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command." Abram's obedience will result in a world-wide blessing'a destiny reflected in his name change from Abram, "exhaled father" to Abraham, "father of a multitude."  These 3 foundational promises will become the 3-fold Covenant with Abram and his "seed" in Genesis chapters 15, 17 and 22, a period that covers approximately 40 years. 

Numerous descendants, dominion over the land, nations, and kings, will be partially fulfilled after Abraham's death in the formation of the nation of Israel and the conquest of the Promised Land, but all three blessings/ covenant promises will only be completely fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, a physical descendant of Abraham through Jesus' mother Mary.

  1. Numerous descendants: All New Covenant believers, through the blood of Christ our Savior, have become Abraham's children and these children come from every nation on the earth: St Paul in his letter to the gentiles and Jews of the New Covenant Church in Roman wrote about God's covenant promises to Abraham in Romans 4:16 "That is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and is secure for all the descendants, not only those who rely on the Law but all those others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of us all (as Scriptures says: 'I have made you the father of many nations').  Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into existence what does not yet exist."  In Romans 9:6-8 Paul refers to God's instructions to Abraham in Genesis 21:12 that spiritual descent takes precedence over physical descent:: "It is not that God's promise has failed.  Not all born Israelites belong to Israel, and not all the descendants of Abraham count as his children, for Isaac is the one through whom your Name ["shem" in Hebrew] will be carried on.  That is, it is not by being children through physical descent that people become children of God; it is the children of the promise that are counted as the heirs."
  2. Land: Jesus established the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, a kingdom we, as his heirs, have inherited as a royal priesthood of believers in the New Covenant.  We took possession of this covenant promise on Pentecost Sunday ca. 30 AD when God the Holy Spirit came down in fire on the New Covenant Church praying in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.  Today, all nations of the earth have Christians living in them.
  3. Worldwide blessing: In Galatians 3:6-9 and verse 29 Paul writes about the fulfillment of both the promises of descendants and worldwide blessing:" Abraham, you remember. Put his faith in God, and this was reckoned to him as uprightness.  Be sure, then, that it is people of faith who are the children of Abraham.  And it was because Scripture foresaw that God would give saving justice to the gentiles through faith, that it announced the future gospel to Abraham in the words: 'All nations will be blessed in you.  So it is people of faith who receive the same blessings as Abraham, the man of faith." And simply by being Christ's, you are that progeny of Abraham, the heirs named in the promise."  And continuing in verse 29 Paul writes: And simply by being Christ's you are that progeny of Abraham, the heirs named in the promise."  In this last verse Paul is referring to the 3-fold promise of the Covenant with Abraham.

[footnote]: Something to think about: The promises of Abraham's 3-part Covenant would not be perfectly fulfilled until the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, approximately 2,000 years after Abraham.  If it took 2,000 years for the promise of Abraham's Covenant to be fulfilled does it seem so strange that we have been waiting almost 2,000 years for the promise of the Messiah's return?

In the first blessing God promises Abram that He will make your name (shem) famous.  It was the boast of the people who built the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 that they would "make their name famous"'a boast they failed to fulfill except to make their name infamous as rebels opposed to the rule of God.  Real success in life is based not on our own achievements and in "making a name for ourselves" but on those works that come from allowing the works of God to work through us.  The builders of the Tower of Babel are only known for their failure but Abraham's name is known down through salvation history as the father of a holy nation, the nation of Israel and the Old Covenant Church from which the Messiah will come.  With Abram and his legal wife Sarai God has selected another "holy couple," and this holy couple in their faithfulness will parent a holy nation.


Abram has been called by God to be the future father of a holy people but Abram is far from the image of a "perfect" man.  During a severe famine Abram seeks refuge in Egypt [Genesis 12:10-13:4].  In a repeat of Adam's fear to protect his bride Abram allows his beautiful wife/half-sister [Genesis 20:12] Sarai to be taken into Pharaoh's harem. Even though God's promise in Genesis 12:1-3 seems to be threatened by human weakness God always remains faithful to His word.  God intervenes and safeguards the promise.  In a dream Pharaoh receives the information that he has unknowingly taken another man's wife and being a good man, the Egyptian pharaoh returns Sarai to Abram along with numerous material possessions.  But we should not think that Abram has benefited from his sin; it is obvious that the gift of the Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, will be a gift both Abram and Sarai will come to deeply regret.  Abram will repeat this cowardliness with King Abimelech of the Philistines with the same results [Genesis chapter 20].  God will again intervene to preserve the "promised seed" and Sarai will be returned.  Later Abram will fail a third time when in his attempt to produce an heir he forces the fulfillment God's promise of descendants by having a child with Sarai's Egyptian slave girl.  It is a covenant failure that will reverberate down through centuries to the present day tensions between the descendants of the son of the slave, Ishmael, father of the Arabs and the descendants of the child of promise, Isaac, the father of the Jews.  It is a painful truth that old sins cast long shadows.

In covenant with Yahweh Abram is blessed and becomes the most powerful ruler in Canaan.  In Genesis chapter 14 four Kings from the east invade and conquer the cities of five kings of Canaan.  The Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah are defeated and Abram's nephew Lot is captured [Genesis 14:10-12].  Abram and his 318 fighting men defeat the armies of the 4 Kings, rescue Lot and free the other captives [Genesis 14:13-16].  Abram is now the most powerful ruler in the region and after his return from battle he is met by two kings [Genesis 14:17-24], Melchizedek Priest-King of Salem in covenant with the "Most High God" and the King of Sodom.  Abram meets these kings in the Valley of Shaveh, literally in Hebrew, the "valley of the oath".  This valley is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 18:18 and according to the 1st century AD historian Flavius Josephus it lay within a quarter mile of the holy city of Jerusalem. Melchizedek is the Priest-King of Salem.  If he is indeed Shem, as Jewish tradition records, then he is Yahweh's covenant representative.  The place name "Salem", which means "peace" in Hebrew, is identified in ancient Jewish tradition and by many of the Fathers of the Church as the ancient name for Jeru-salem, a city located on Mt. Moriah in central Canaan. Psalms 76:1-2 also seems to make this connection: God is acknowledged in Judah, his name is great in Israel, his tent [dwelling place] is pitched in Salem, his dwelling is in Zion...[footnote

Melchizedek is not a name but is instead a title or King's throne-name meaning "King of Righteousness" [melech = king; zedek = righteousness].  

There is a significant contrast in Abram's response to these kings.  Abram humbles himself before the King of Salem who offers Abram bread and wine as a priestly act [Genesis 14:18] and in blessing Abram acknowledges that it was the "Most High God", in Hebrew "El-Elyon, creator of heaven and earth" who delivered the enemy into Abram's hand [Genesis 14:19]. El-Elyon, in Hebrew, "God Most High, is the God Abram worships [Genesis 14:22-23].(footnote)  This is the same God Melchizedek serves as priest-king. In response Abram acknowledges the King of Salem's priestly and kingly authority by paying a tithe of one-tenth of all his wealth accumulated during the conflict.  But Abram rejects the powerful king of Sodom's offer of friendship and alliance.  A man cannot serve two masters.

Melchizedek is the king of the same Jerusalem where Yahweh will choose to dwell in covenant with His chosen people in His Holy Temple, but at this time Melchizedek is a priest of the Most High before the Levitical priesthood of the Sinai Covenant was established.  Psalms 110:1-4 represents Melchizedek as a figure of the future King David: "Yahweh declared to my Lord, 'Take your seat at my right hand, till I have made your enemies your footstool.'  Yahweh will stretch out the scepter of your power; from Zion you will rule your foes all around you.  Royal dignity has been yours from the day of your birth, sacred honor from the womb, from the dawn of your youth.  Yahweh has sworn an oath he will never retract, you are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek."  Melchizedek's priesthood was superior to the Sinai covenant's Aaronic priesthood.  Instead of being a hereditary office Melchizedek was appointed a priest-king by God to worldwide sovereignty and perpetual priesthood, prerogatives of the promised anointed Redeemer who the people of God will call the "Messiah", in Hebrew, "the anointed one".    This Psalms passage is the most frequently quoted and referenced Psalms in the New Testament.  Jesus quotes this Psalms in Matthew 22:44 and St. Peter will quote this Psalms and apply it to Jesus in his homily on Pentecost Sunday in Acts of Apostles 2: 34-35 [also see Hebrews 1:13].  The sacred writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote that the passage in Psalms 110 was a prophetic passage about the Messiah who would come to serve as both the covenant people's King and High Priest [see Hebrews chapter 7:1-3, 11-19] in Yahweh's Sanctuary. The Fathers of the Church also taught that Melchizedek is himself a figure or "type" of the Messiah whose priesthood comes directly from God and not by virtue of heredity.

The symbolic significance of the gift of bread and wine that God's righteous priest-king brings to Abram is an event that has its fulfillment in Jesus' priestly offering.  This liturgical offering of the "king of righteousness" can be seen as a foreshadowing of the gift of the Eucharist.  As God's priestly representative the King of Salem brings this symbol of the Eucharist to the man that God has selected to be the father of a nation that will bring forth the Messiah.  It is from the Messiah that we will receive the liturgy of divine worship centered on the nourishment bread and wine that are transformed through the miracle of transubstantiation into His very Body and Blood in the gift of the Eucharist. 

According to Jewish tradition Shem, the ancestor of Abraham and God's covenant representative who succeeded his father Noah, was Melchizedech, the righteous priest-king of Salem (Genesis 14:17-20; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:1-17). The modern Jewish Tanach (Hebrew Old Testament) includes a notation of this tradition in the footnotes.  A record of this tradition is also found in the 1st century AD Targums, the Aramaic commentaries that accompanied the Old Testament text and in the writings of the Jewish-Christian theologian, St. Nicholas of Lira.  Shem holds a unique role in salvation history in that he is the first man identified in Scripture as "God's man," and is also the righteous "firstborn" son of Noah with whom God's Covenant with Noah continues. Genesis 11:10 records:When Shem was a hundred years old he fathered Arpachshad, two years after the flood.  After the birth of Arpachshad, Shem lived 500 years..   Shem lived to be 600 years old.  If you calculate the age of Shem from the toledoth of Genesis chapter 11 you will discover that Shem was 390 years old when Abram was born.  Genesis 17:24 records that Abraham (his name is changed by then) is 99 years old when Ishmael is circumcised at age 13.  At that time Shem would be a healthy 489 years old-- still alive after the events of Genesis chapter 14.  If Shem is Yahweh's Covenant representative it makes perfect sense for Abram to acknowledge his leadership and to pay a tithe to God's representative as he did in Genesis 14:17-20.  Abraham died when he was 175 years old (Genesis 25:7).  At that time Shem would have been a venerable 565 years old, outliving his "son" Abraham and dying in his 600th year!

Shem's age Descendants
100 years Birth of Arpachshad
135 years Birth of Shelah
165 years Birth of Eber
199 years Birth of Peleg
229 years Birth of Reu
261 years Birth of Serug
291 years Birth of Nahor
320 years Birth of Terah
390 years Birth of Abraham
490 years Birth of Isaac
565 years old Death of Abraham
600 years old Death of Shem

Shem outlived Abraham

The Fathers of the Church saw Melchizedek as a "type of Christ".  Both Melchizedek and Jesus serve Yahweh as:

  1. A righteous firstborn son. 
  2. Serves Yahweh as priest and king.
  3. Melchizedek rules in Salem /Jerusalem, and Jesus rules in the heavenly Jerusalem 
  4. Priestly offering of bread and wine; Jesus = Eucharist 
  5. Receives tithes & offerings 
  6. Higher order of priesthood than the Sinai Covenant Levitical priesthood: Melchizedek's priesthood, like Jesus' priesthood, is based on his firstborn son-ship not on heredity through the line of Levi as will be the Levitical priesthood of the Sinai Covenant.

Yahweh seals the covenant promise with Abram in a very bizarre ritualistic ceremony in 

Genesis chapter 15:1-22, in which Abram will sacrifice his wealth in animals.  He is to bring 5 different animals: cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons, and turtle-doves. These animals will be the only kinds of animals that will be offered up in blood sacrifice to Yahweh, here in this passage and in the sacrificial system of the Sinai Covenant.  The Hebrew word translated in most English translations as "a three-year old" is meshuleshet [may-shu-lay-shet] in Genesis 15:9, can be translated as "the third born", or "three years old", or "part of a triplet" meaning 3 of a kind, or of triple-A quality.  Whatever the original intention of the word, the significance of the 3ness indicates fullness, importance, and perfection, and to Christians suggests a connection to the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity in the New Covenant.(footnote)

Three of the kinds of sacrificed animals [the calves, sheep, and goats] Abram is commanded to split down the middle and place each half opposite the other.  He guards the sacrifice until sundown.  Sundown is the beginning of the next day. As Abram falls into a deep sleep, reminiscent of Adam's deep sleep on the sixth day of Creation, Yahweh gives Abram a prophecy in Genesis 15:12-16.  The prophecy will be fulfilled in two phases.  The first phase in the 3rd generation at the time of Joseph son of Jacob [Israel], son of Isaac, son of Abraham, and the second phase during the Exodus experience:

In this covenant ritual sacrifice both parties, Abram and God, will pass between the parts of the sacrificed animals and call down on themselves the fate of the victim should the covenant be violated.  Yahweh's presence in this ritual is manifested in the smoking fire-pot passing between the animal pieces.  This is in essence Yahweh Himself swearing an oath of fidelity to the covenant. The word used in Hebrew for "firepot" is "tannur" which is an archaic term in Hebrew for "oven".  It is an oven in the sense of a brazier of the sort used for burning incense in a Catholic Mass. The smoking firepot represents Yahweh's presence in the same way the burning bush represent Yahweh's presence for Moses [Exodus 3:2] and the pillar of fire for the children of Israel in the Exodus experience [Exodus 13:21], and the smoke of Mt. Sinai [Exodus 19:18] in the covenant rendezvous at Sinai. The purpose of the "cut" animals becomes clear in the words used in Genesis 15:18: "Yahweh [concluded] made a covenant with Abram..."  The Hebrew verb "krt" [translated "made" or "concluded"] means "to cut". A covenant with Abram was literally and symbolically "cut"-- a covenant sworn and sealed in blood:

Psalm 105:9
Deuteronomy 4:31: "For Yahweh your God is a merciful God and will not desert or destroy you or forget the covenant which he made on oath with your ancestors."
Deuteronomy 7:12: "Listen to these ordinances, be true to them and observe them, and in return Yahweh your God will be true to the covenant and love which he promised on oath to your ancestors."
Hebrews 7:22
2 Kings 11:4

In Genesis 15:8, referring to God's promise concerning the inheritance of the land, Abram asks God "How can I know that I shall possess it?" In Genesis 15:18-21 God answers the question with His assurance that this covenant will have a human historical continuity and a cultural tradition that is to be transmitted from generation to generation of Abram's descendants.  Yahweh promise to Abram is that He is establishing a covenant relationship formed in ritual and sacrifice not just with Abram the individual but with Abram the father of a nation!  It is an inheritance that is promised to extend from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River, with dominion over all the people who live between these two rivers.  This will become the area conquered by King David and ruled over by his son Solomon in the 10th century BC period of the United Monarchy, the golden age of the nation of Israel.

Abram in covenant with Yahweh had become the most powerful ruler in the Land of Canaan but in perfect obedience to the promises of God he did not subdue all the other Canaanite kingdoms and take the promised land of Canaan for himself.  In this aspect of God's promised blessings, at least, Abraham submitted to God's plan. In the case of God's promise of descendants, however, Abram and Sarai will not be so obedient.  It is another case of God taking imperfect men and women and molding them to His purpose through the gift of faith exercised and strengthened in the covenant-family bond, in liturgical worship, in the exercise of covenantal oath swearing in the practice of sacraments and in sacrifice, transforming men and women into tools by which to shape the destiny of mankind. 

To signify a change in his destiny God will change Abram's name, which means "exalted father", to Abraham "father of a multitude", and Sarai's name, which means "my princess" to Sarah, "queen or princess."  It is interesting that in changing Abram's name to Abraham in Hebrew required the addition of only one letter, the Hebrew letter "hey" which had the value of 5.  The number five in the significance of numbers in Scripture has the symbolic value of power or grace.  God added "grace" to Abram so that he could "Live in my presence, and be perfect...". Without grace this call to covenantal perfection was impossible. Abraham's name change reflected a new direction in life as one who was promised to be the father of descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens and Sarai's name change from "my princess" or "my queen" to Sarah, "princess" or "queen" with the addition of a "hey" = 5, reflects a name indicating her promised status, not just as Abraham's queen or princess but as the mother of kings of future generations!

The sacrament of circumcision would become the sign of the 3-fold Abrahamic covenant:  "You for your part must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you, generation after generation.  This is my Covenant which you must keep between myself and you, and  your descendants after you: every one of your males must be circumcised.  You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that will be the sign of the covenant between myself and you.  As soon as he is eight days old, every one of your males, generation after generation, must be circumcised, including the slaves born within the household or brought from a foreigner not of y our descent.  Whether born within the household or brought, they must be circumcised.  My covenant must be marked in your flesh as a covenant in perpetuity.  The uncircumcised male, whose foreskin has not been circumcised'that person must be cut off from his people:  he has broken my covenant." Genesis 17:9-14.  Every male child would enter the covenant 8 days after birth.  The entrance of infants into covenant would become an established practice in the covenant family relationship with Yahweh.  Circumcision is a blood sacrifice sealing the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham and Abraham's descendants. (footnote)

Why did God require the disfigurement of genital circumcision as a condition of the covenantal union with Abraham and his line?

  1. It was a blood sacrifice that was a sign of obedience to God in all matters
  2. It was the sign of belonging to a Covenant people.
  3. It was an external sign that represented an internal condition. Symbolically circumcision represented the "cutting off of the sinful old life.   The generations fathered by the instrument of these covenant sons were to be "circumcised of heart" as well as by flesh, to be obedient to Yahweh [see Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4] and to the covenant family bond.  Foreigners who were both uncircumcised of heart and flesh could not be admitted to the Israelite Temple [Ezekiel 44:7; also see Deuteronomy 30: 1-2, 6; Romans 2:25; Leviticus 26:41; Colossians 2:9-13; Philippians 3:3; 1Corinthians 7:18-19]. From this time forward in the community of the children of God infants are brought into the Covenant with Yahweh through circumcision on the 8th day of their lives.  [Today medical science has discovered that an infant's blood does not clot properly until after an infant is 7 days old.]   The designation for circumcision on the 8th day is significant.  8 people were saved in the ark from the great Flood.  In Scripture 8 is the number of salvation, regeneration and redemption.  It will be on the 8th day, the day after the 7th day Sabbath, that Jesus the promised Redeemer will be raised from the dead. 

2000 years later another boy child would be circumcised on the 8th day of His life [Luke 2:21].  The sign of New Covenant initiation would be baptism, which was a sign of rebirth into divine son-ship in God's family through God the Holy Spirit and what St Paul called a "circumcision of the heart".  Since it was a tradition that infants entered the Old Covenant shortly after birth, it became the standard for the New Covenant Church that baptism be given to infants as soon after birth as possible so that they, like Jesus, would start their lives as part of the Covenant people.  "The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the church.  There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole "households" received baptism, infants may also have been baptized." CCC# 1252 [also see CCC# 1250; Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16].

Yahweh promises this holy couple that the covenant will not end with them but gives the promise of a miraculous birth of a son in their old age in Genesis 17:15-19. Sarai's destiny has changed and in her old age, well past her child-bearing years, this old and barren woman is to become a mother, "the mother of kings", and the boy of this royal lineage is to be named Isaac. Abraham's laughter in Genesis 17:16-17 will be echoed by Sarah's laughter in Genesis 18:22.  Their laughter is an allusion to the child's name'Isaac means "laughter."  Abraham's laughter is not so much a sign of unbelief as it is of amazement at the extraordinary way Yahweh shapes the destiny of men and woman who come in Him in the obedience of faith.


God has promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars of the heaven, a nation for his descendants to rule, and a world-wide blessing.  All of these covenantal blessings revolve around the life of one boy, the "son of promise", the legitimate son, Isaac, the "firstborn" from Sarah's womb.  Abraham's obedience of faith has already cost him one son.  Ishmael the son of the slave Hagar joined the ranks of the dispossessed firstborn sons and was expelled from the community which forms Abraham's covenant family [Genesis 21:8-21].  The only son left to Abraham is Sarah's son Isaac.

The "covenant ordeal" is a test of faith that provides the opportunity for spiritual growth.  It is an ordeal that requires obedience and personal sacrifice.  Adam's covenant ordeal was the test of obedience concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and his willingness to sacrifice himself for his bride.  Abraham's test will require obedience to God's command to sacrifice that which is most dear to him, the life of his beloved only son, Isaac: "It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he called.  'Here I am,' he replied.  God said, 'Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you'" [Genesis 22:1-2].

Why would a loving God demand such a precious and horrendous sacrifice?  Does the demand of selfless sacrifice of his son from this promised "father of a multitude" reflect the nature of a selfish and arbitrary God?  Does God give generously with one hand only to destroy that blessing with the other hand?  If God is indeed omnificent and already knows the outcome of a test, why does He test us?  St. James in his epistle to the universal Church will write to encourage the faithful in times of trial: "...for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way" [James 1:2-4].   If we believe that sacred Scripture is inspired by God and if Scripture tells us that God is defined as love manifested in mercy, compassion, and justice [1 John 4:8, 16;  Exodus 34:6-7], then to assume that God's motives do not spring from love, mercy, compassion and justice is unthinkable.  What seems to be most difficult for man to accept is that God's justice often requires God's judgment as well as God's mercy.  In the case of Adam and Eve, God's judgment in expelling them from the Garden sanctuary resulted in freeing man from eternal bondage to sin and giving man the opportunity to come to redemption in the exercise of his free will to choose God and His covenant over his own selfish and disordered desires.

Every detail in the account of Abraham's Covenant Ordeal is significant.  The place, the time, and the participants are details that will be replayed two thousand years later in another man's covenant ordeal which is displayed in a vision of self-sacrificial love:

Abraham's covenant ordeal is one of several defining moments in salvation history'it is the mirrored spoke of the wheel upon which future tumultuous events will turn and reflect back a deeper understanding of sacrifice, free will, and visions of the divine.  In Jewish tradition this momentous test of both Abraham and Isaac is called the Aqedah, the "binding" of Isaac.  It is a defining moment in the lives of both the father and the son.  The father in obedience to God offers up his beloved only son and the son in obedience to his father submits: "Then the two of them set out together.  Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father?' he said.  'Yes, my son,' he replied.  'Look,' he said, 'here are the fire and the wood but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'  Abraham replied, 'My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.' And the two of them went on together" [Genesis 22:7-8].  The beloved son carried the wood for his own sacrifice to the place of execution and when he reached the destination he must have understood that he was to be the lamb of sacrifice.  What     torturous sorrow the loving father must have felt as he prepared to offer his son but in the last moment as he prepared to plunge the knife into his boy's chest an angel called to Abraham from heaven: "Do not raise your hand against the boy,' the angel said. 'Do not harm him, for now I know you dear God.  You have not refused me your own beloved son.'  Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught (suspended) by its horn in a bush.  Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham called this place, Yahweh provides (will provide), and hence the saying today: On the mountain Yahweh provides (will provide)" [Genesis 22:11-14]. (footnote)

God knew the choice Abraham and Isaac would make'the choice of obedient faith, but Abraham and his son had to know the depth of their own faith'faith exercised through obedience that is active, living faith.  Both St. James of Jerusalem in his letter to the universal Church and the inspired writer of the letter to the Hebrews write of Abraham's faith:

In essence from the time God pronounced Abraham's covenant ordeal his son was "dead" but on the 3rd day, because of his faith and God's mercy, his son was given back to him.  But the day would come when another Son would carry the wood for his own Sacrifice and God would not send an angel to halt the execution for this Son was Himself the Lamb of sacrifice offered outside the town of Jerusalem below the peak of Mt. Moriah.  Isaac's ordeal is a typological Old Testament event that points to the sacrifice of the Fathers beloved firstborn Son for the sins of mankind.

The covenant established with Abraham would be the covenant from which all future covenants would be formed.  The Abrahamic Covenant would continue through Sarah's son Isaac and Isaac's son Jacob who Yahweh would rename "Israel".  It would be through the descendants of Jacob/Israel that the Abrahamic covenant and the promised line would continue in a people selected by God from all the peoples of the earth to be the unified nation from which the promised seed would produce the Woman and her son'the Messiah Redeemer who would defeat sin and death.  It would be through this nation that a formalized liturgical sacrificial system would be established in code, creed and cult in the Law of Moses at the great event of the formation and ratification of the Sinai Covenant.  In the Sinai Covenant Yahweh will take Israel to be His prized possession, His covenant Bride from whom the promised Messiah would be born and His holy people, set aside to witness to the nations of the earth that Yahweh desired all men of all nations to come into His covenant family and a unified people of God.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.