Genesis does not describe Isaac’s rising from the altar, but another Rembrandt depiction of the scene shows Abraham and Isaac with their arms around each other – “embracing,” says Elie Wiesel, “with a tenderness that must have moved the Creator and his angels.”
Al-Tabari reports that Abraham “kissed his son, saying, O my son! Today you have been given to me.” Another Islamic tradition relates that when Abraham went to untie Isaac, he found the bonds had already been miraculously loosed. It was a another echo of what had happened when Abraham himself had been rescued on the altar in Ur.
The rabbis observed that Isaac’s rising from the altar was as one rising from the dead: “Then his father unbound him, and Isaac rose, knowing that in this way the dead would come back to life in the future.” The New Testament also considers Isaac’s experience a kind of resurrection. In offering up Isaac, according to the letter to the Hebrews, Abraham “considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type” (NASB Hebrews 11:19).
Looking around, Abraham saw what he had not seen before: a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, a sign, God now explained to Abraham, that his descendants would likewise be “trapped through their sins and entangled by foreign powers,” but would in the end be redeemed when God would blow the horn – a ram’s horn, according to Israel’s prophets – and gather them home.
Then, as Genesis tells, “Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham named that site Yahweh-yireh,” meaning the Lord will (or does) provide, or the Lord will (or does) see.
Accordingly, says Genesis, “it is said to this day” that “In the mountain of the LORD it was provided” (REB Gen. 22:14), or “On the mountain Yahweh provides” (NJB Gen. 22:14), or “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (NRSV Gen. 22:14).
The Hebrew words have a broad range of meaning, and can also be read, “In the mount the Lord was seen,” or “On the mountain Yahweh makes himself seen,” or “In the mountain of the LORD he may be seen,” or “In the mount (where) the Lord is seen,” or “In the mount will the Lord be seen,” or “On the mountain the LORD will see.” Or, “On YHWH’s mountain (it) is seen” (FBM Gen. 22:14), or “On the mount of the LORD there is sight,” or “On the mount of the LORD there is vision” (JPST Gen. 22:14).
What vision? According to the Midrash Rabbah, as Abraham offered up the ram, “the Holy One … showed [Abraham] the Temple built, destroyed and rebuilt” and yet again “rebuilt and firmly established in the Messianic era, as in the verse [from Psalms], When the Lord hath built up Zion, when He hath been seen in His glory.” Thereby Abraham saw the significance of the place where he was standing: “It is Mount Zion,” says Jubilees.
Only then could Abraham have known why God had asked him to come all this way to this particular mountain, and why He had capped it with a cloud of glory to indicate the site of the sacrifice. For as has happened throughout history on various occasions, and as yet will happen again, the glory of God rests on Zion visibly.
The Targums tell that Abraham proceeded to dedicate the site for the future temple to be built and maintained by his posterity: “Abraham worshipped and prayed there, in that place, and he said, Here, before the Lord, shall future generations worship,'” and they would exclaim: “On the Mount of the Holy Temple of the Lord, Abraham offered up his son Isaac.”
Abraham saw, apparently even in greater detail than what he had seen before, the distress his posterity would undergo, and again prayed for mercy on their behalf, asking the Lord to forgive their sins and deliver them from oppression. And again the Lord promised to do so. “Was ever a father so compassionate as Abraham?” asks a Jewish text.
The Lord spoke a second time from heaven, again through his angel:
By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee [or I will greatly bless you’ (GTC Gen. 22:17), or I shall bless you abundantly’ (REB Gen. 22:17) or I will shower blessings on you’ (NJB Gen. 22:17)], and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen. 22:15-18)
Only now did the reason for the terrible trial become apparent: It was God’s design to bless Abraham. “Whereby a man suffers,” said the rabbis, “he is also exalted. Abraham suffered greatly” through various trials, the most severe of which was when he “bound his son upon the altar … Yet thereby was he also exalted.”
The New Testament letter by the Savior’s brother James states that it was through the offering of Isaac that Abraham’s faith became perfect (James 2:21-22), a statement that takes on added significance when read in light of God’s command years earlier to Abraham: “Walk with me” and “be perfect.”
Abraham’s three-day walk to Moriah in the depths of agony and loneliness turned out to be his closest walk yet with God, bringing the perfection and exaltation that God desired for him. Thereby, according to James, Abraham “was called the Friend of God” (James 2:23), a statement similar to that found in the Damascus Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls: “Abraham .
.. was accounted a friend of God because he kept the commandments of God.”
That obedience would be memorialized among Abraham’s Jewish descendants, who still in the orthodox traditional morning synagogue service read the account of the binding of Isaac not only to “emphasize the theme of covenant and everlasting loyalty” but also “as a reminder of the ancient standards of obedience to God’s commandments.”
Thus when God now announced the blessings, it was not just by promise but by oath, as emphasized by the letter to the Hebrews: “When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by Himself … And so, after [Abraham] had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (Heb. 6:13, 15).
So what did it mean for the Almighty to swear by himself? God was really saying, according to the Midrash, “Even as I live and endure for ever and to all eternity, so will My oath endure for ever and to all eternity.”
It was the unconditional promise of eternal life, his calling and election made sure, which, says Joseph Smith, comes to a man after “the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards.” Accordingly, explained Joseph Smith, it was “the power of an endless life … which … Abraham obtained by the offering of his son Isaac,” an event that “shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life, he must sacrifice all things.”
The rabbis stated that at the beginning of the great trial when God had first called Abraham’s name and he had answered, “Here am I,” the real meaning was: “Here am I – ready for priesthood, ready for kingship, and he attained priesthood and kingship.” Similarly Joseph Smith stated that by the “oath of God unto our Father Abraham,” his children were “secured [to him] by the seal wherewith [Abraham had] been sealed.”
In the greatest irony of Abraham’s life, only by binding Isaac for the sacrifice had Abraham bound him to himself in the eternal bonds of priesthood sealing.
And not just Isaac, but through that same oath Abraham had secured all of his future righteous posterity, who would be as numerous as the stars and the sand. But the difference between stars and sand even served to symbolize the righteousness necessary to claim the blessings of Abraham. “When they do the will of the Holy One,” says an ancient Jewish source, “they are as the stars of the heaven, and no kingdom or people can wield dominion over them. But when they flaunt His will, they are as the sand of the sea, trampled by every imperious foot.”
Even so, the sand also demonstrates, even more than the stars, the utter vastness of Abraham’s posterity. “The sand on the seashore is innumerable to us,” commented Orson Pratt, and “if we take a handful, it numbers its tens of thousands of grains.” Hence “if Abraham’s seed are to become as numerous as the sands on the seashore they will fill a great many worlds … There is to be no end to the increase of the old Patriarch.”
It is nothing less than, as latter-day revelation indicates, the promise of “eternal lives” (D&C 132:24), even “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19), “both in the world and out of the world” (D&C 132:30). The Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer similarly explains that at the end of Abraham’s trial on Mount Moriah, God “swore to bless him in this world and in the world to come,” saying, “I will surely bless you in this world, and greatly multiply you in the world to come.”
All this is of more than historical interest to latter-day Zion, whose Saints are heirs to the same promise, says a latter-day revelation, “because [they] are of Abraham” (D&C 132:31). According to Bruce R. McConkie:
When he is married in the temple for time and for all eternity, each worthy member of the Church enters personally into the same covenant the Lord made with Abraham. This is the occasion when the promises of eternal increase are made, and it is then specified that those who keep the covenants made there shall be inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In the words of Orson Hyde, “may not we, if faithful to our God and to our covenants, be as Abraham? Shall there be any end to our posterity? May they not be as numerous as the stars in the firmament, and as the sands upon the sea shore?”
7.See, for example, translations of Genesis 22:14 in NRSV: “So Abraham called that place The LORD will provide'”; NIV: “So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide'”; REB: “Abraham named that shrine The LORD will provide'”; NJB: “Abraham called this place Yahweh provides'”; Living Bible: “Abraham named the place Jehovah provides'” (Living Bible, 17); and Mitchell’s translation: “And he named that place YHVH-yireh, The Lord Provides” (Mitchell, Genesis, 43).
See also, for example, translations of Genesis 22:14 in Septuagint (Greek): “And Abraam called the name of that place, The Lord hath seen” (Brenton, Septuagint, 25); Vulgate (Jerome’s translation into Latin): “And he called the name of that place, The Lord seeth” (The Holy Bible: Translated from the Latin Vulgate, 25); Fox’s translation: “Avraham called the name of that place: YHWH sees” (Fox, Five Books of Moses, 95); Westermann’s translation: “And Abraham gave this place the name Yahweh sees'” (Westermann, Genesis 12-36, 353); and Tyndale’s translation: “And Abraham called the name of the place, the Lord will see” (Tyndale, Tyndale’s Old Testament, 38).