- 1 Lesson 3 – From Abraham to Isaac (Genesis 12 to 24)
- 1.1 Abraham
- 1.2 God promises Abraham a progeny and a land (Genesis 12,6-7)
- 1.3 Melchizedek (Genesis 14,17-20)
- 1.4 The Covenant of the Halves (Genesis 15,7-17)
- 1.5 Ishmael (Genesis 16)
- 1.6 Isaac (Genesis 17 & 18)
- 1.7 Circumcision (Genesis 17,9-14)
- 1.8 Revelation of the Holy Trinity (Genesis 18)
- 1.9 Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19)
- 1.10 Isaac’s birth and the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21)
- 1.11 The sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
- 1.12 Isaac’s marriage (Genesis 24)
Lesson 3 – From Abraham to Isaac (Genesis 12 to 24)
Abraham came to earth twenty centuries BC, 4000 years ago. At that time, God was not known. Each country had its gods, where one was superior to the others, polytheism and mythology were everywhere with gods that changed names depending on the country. Idolatry reigned everywhere under the form of statues made of wood or stone for the Assyrian, Babylonian, Canaanite gods, etc… The idols of Greek mythology still proliferated 1500 years after Abraham. The idolatrous empires (Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman) opposed the nascent monotheism with outright refusal. They fought it ferociously and persecuted the first believers. We find an echo of this resistance to monotheism in modern atheist regimes.
At Abraham’s time there were neither Jews nor Hebrews. Contrary to what some claim, Abraham is a Syrian from Haran, not a Hebrew. The scribes, for racist purposes, tried to convince their co-religionists of a historical error by claiming that the Jews existed before Abraham as a Hebrew people. He is said to be descended from one of the sons of Shem, Eber, hence the Hebrew name. Some present this people as the “race” of Eber.
The sons of Shem, according to the writers of Genesis, are: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud and Aram. We should note that these sons of Shem are the names of countries: Elam was found in the south of Iran and its capital was Suse; Ashur was Assyria (current Iraq), Lud is probably in Palestine (the airport of Lod in Israel), and Aram is Syria. This comes back to say that all these regions, having belonged to the sons of Shem, are the property of the Hebrews by heritage and form “Greater Israel”, the empire that the Israelis aspire to today. These limits appear on the current Israeli currency.
The biblical scribes, seeking to justify their sentiments of being the “chosen people”, introduce Abraham as already a Hebrew at the time of his calling, being “son of Eber” descendant of Arpachshad (Genesis 11,10-26), son of Shem. This “Eber” would have given his name to the Hebrews (Genesis 11,14). This whole genealogical build-up aims at presenting the Hebrews as chosen by God, all together, in the person of Abraham. And so, the whole world should understand that all Jews, of all times and of all places form the one “chosen people”, the only race chosen and placed by God above all other races.
This is why the scribes insert with finesse in Genesis 14,13: “Abram the Hebrew”. This qualification is slipped surreptitiously “by the lying pen of the scribes!” (Jeremiah 8,8) to acquire racial and socio-political privileges. Moses, to combat this fanatic tendency reminds the Jews that their father Abraham, “was a wandering a Syrian (Syrian) …” (Deuteronomy 26,5), not a Hebrew. It suffices to read Genesis to be convinced that all Abraham’s family, his sons and their wives were Syrian. Nowhere does the Bible speak of a Hebrew people pre-existent to Abraham… Nor does History!
God thus chose a man and not a people, a Syrian (Aramaic) and not a Hebrew. The Hebrews still did not exist at the time.
God blessed Abraham and then said to him: “All the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12,3) The rabbis interpret this verse as follows: “By you will be blessed the Jews of all nations of the earth”. This restrictive interpretation is not God’s intention.
God’s call was done to Abraham when he was 75 years old and his wife Sarah 65. At that time, he was in Haran in the north of Syria. God said to him: “Leave your country, your kindred… for a country which I shall show you; and I shall make you a great people…” (Genesis 12,1-2) The rabbis translate “a great nation” as giving a political, Israeli nuance to the divine choice.
Later, God changed the name of Abram into Abraham (Ab=father), “for, he tells him, I am making you father of many nations” (Genesis 17,5). Here emerges the universal plan of God: it encompasses all men and is not for the exclusive benefit of a particular group. The fanatical Jews see in this multitude no one else but the Jews dispersed among the nations to rule the world. These nations are the descendants of Japheth, the non-Jews “from whom came the dispersal (of the non-Jews) to the islands of the nations… each of their languages, according to their tribes and their nations.” (Genesis 10,1-5) The “islands of the nations” represent the Mediterranean islands and countries, as well as the non-Jewish world.
Jesus denounced the racism of the scribes and Pharisees. His disciples understood that God had never chosen a “people”, but wanted to form a community of believers from which the Messiah was to be born. This community’s mission was to prepare men, all men, for this grand divine plan, instead of guarding this design of universal salvation for itself. The Apostles understood that all who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, this filiation being spiritual, not carnal. St Paul says indeed: “By being Christ’s, you are that progeny of Abraham” (Galatians 3,29). This blessed lineage is thus universal, comprising all nations and all races as announced to Abraham.
Abraham was called 2000 years BC; so Christ is exactly between him and us, people of the 21st century. Some wonder why God has waited so long to manifest himself to men. So many centuries had passed before Abraham! The answer is as follows: original sin made man lose his spiritual and psychological faculties. It took a long time for him to recover, along the centuries, a minimal capacity making him apt for reflection. So he was able to reach a certain degree of intellectual maturity to understand that God is Spirit, that he is unique, that he should not be sought after in material objects (the sun, etc…), nor in idols. Still today, many are unable to grasp the spiritual realities and existence of a unique God. In the so-called civilized societies, fetishism and superstition reign supreme. There are still polytheist tribes in Africa, Asia, America, and Australia. You will realize how difficult it is to reveal God to the people of our century: they must have a minimal spiritual interest and reached a certain moral maturity to accept God… or to refuse Him, preferring personal interests even after having known Him.
Therefore, André Gide, after having repented of his homosexual disorders and having declared his love to God, addresses himself to Him, saying:
“Forgive me Lord! Yes, I know I’m lying. The truth is that, this flesh that I hate, I love even more than You”. (Translated from the French book “André Gide par lui-même”, Ecrivains de toujours, Editeurs du Seuil. Claude Martin, 1963.)
There are legions who think in this way.
Abraham was invited by God to leave his country, Syria, his family and his father’s house. It was necessary to draw him away from his idolatrous and polytheist environment, to isolate him and keep him away from any spiritual contamination and opposing attacks. God sent him to a place where he was unknown in order to safeguard his plan and guarantee its healthy evolution. Abraham had to detach himself from the society that knew him, from his parents and friends who represented a danger to his new faith. It is the case of any person who begins to discover God and spiritual life; it arouses the animosity of materialistic people. Did not Jesus say: “A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10,36) Anyone who hears God’s call and wants to let himself be attracted by the life of the soul, must know how to de-condition himself, to detach his mentality, to liberate it from links that may hinder their inner momentum. This is explained in the “Preliminary” and “Awareness” parts of our study. We must have the courage to break with any person who prevents us from evolving, including members of the family. The Psalm (45,10-11) says to a believing soul: “Listen daughter, pay careful attention: forget your nation and your ancestral home (de-condition yourself!), then the King (God) will fall in love with your beauty. He is your master now, bow down to him.” And Christ also says regarding this: “No one who prefers father or mother to me is worthy of me” (Matthew 10,37).
The following are the most important points of this lesson:
God promises Abraham a progeny and a land (Genesis 12,6-7)
After asking Abraham to leave his country, Syria, God announces to him that he will protect him and reward him: “Have no fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.” This declaration does not satisfy the Called: “My Lord Yahweh, what do you intend to give me? I go childless…” And God, to comfort him, promises him descendants as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15,1-6).
Mesopotamian and Near Eastern sites of Antiquity related to the history of the patriarchs
To this promise God added that of giving him and his descendants a land of welcome in compensation for the one he had left: “I shall give this country to your progeny” (Genesis 12,7). The scribes abruptly pass from the descendants claimed by Abraham to an unclaimed and unspecified land. A land not designated until later: the land of Canaan, Palestine.
This geographical gift to Abraham’s descendants is at the origin of the notion of a “Promised Land”, which the Hebrews, all along the centuries and wrongly, have attributed exclusively to themselves. To rectify this false interpretation, we must understand what, for God, this land and Abraham’s true descendants are.
The land God promises is not a geographical location; it is the symbol of a higher and eternal reality. It is about divine happiness, that which Adam enjoyed before his expulsion from Paradise. This “Promised Land” symbolizes God himself, solely capable of fully satisfying thirsty souls for life and happiness; the Creator is the only stable and certain Homeland. For eternity.
St Paul confirms this spiritual fact of the Promised Land by saying: “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants… By faith he arrived, as a foreigner, in the Promised Land, and lived there as if in a strange country… He looked forward to a city founded, designed and built by God…” (Hebrews 11,8-10) This non-terrestrial City is God himself, for, as Paul also explains, “there is no eternal city for us in this life but we look for one in the life to come.” (Hebrews 13,14).
As for the descendants of Abraham, they are the disciples of Jesus. Paul signals this fact by saying this: “Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs (of the Heavenly Land) he was promised.” (Galatians 3,29).
God invited Abraham to settle in Canaan in order to live in peace with the inhabitants of the country. The divine intention was that this first monotheistic community would spread with fraternity and wisdom the light of the One God around it. God’s aim was not to “drive out the local inhabitants before you…” as the scribes shamelessly confess in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 33,55). It is such verses that Jeremiah denounces as untrue (Jeremiah 8,8). God’s aim by the calling of Abraham was never political or nationalistic, but spiritual and universal.
When the Jews infiltrated Palestine in the XIIIth century BC after their exodus from Egypt with Moses, they settled there and wanted to create an Israeli kingdom. This politicization of Judaism was condemned by God and the prophets.
Abraham’s mission was not to establish a nation “like all nations”, but to form a monotheist community made up of all nations. This mission was to reveal the One God and prepare humanity in welcoming the Messiah. The Jews deviated from the universal plan of God by transforming Judaism into political Zionism.
When the scribes wrote the Bible in the Xth century BC, the Israeli kingdom was already founded. Putting it into writing in the Bible was therefore done in an already politicized Zionist spirit. Divine Revelation passed through the Zionist prism and the scribes tried hard to insert in the texts a tone and insinuations favorable to their policy. The prophets did not fail to denounce this “dishonest” practice (Jeremiah 7,22 / 8,8).
To create an Israeli State, in the past as well as today, unspeakable crimes were committed and continue to be committed. The prophets Micah and Isaiah, eight centuries BC, had already denounced “the princes of the house of Israel who loathe justice and pervert all that is right, who build Zion (Zionism) with blood, Jerusalem (capital of Israel) with iniquity!” (Micah 3,9-10) “Woe to who add house to house and join field to field until everywhere belongs to them and they are the sole inhabitants of the land.” (Isaiah 5,8).
Thus, according to the prophets themselves, Jewish nationalism could only be built on injustice.
In the XIIth century BC Gideon understood this. At the Israelite’s request of proclaiming him king of Israel, he categorically refused: “It is not I who shall rule over you, nor my son; Yahweh must be your lord.” (Judges 8,22-23) The prophet Samuel also refused to yield to the request of the Israeli chiefs who asked him: “… ‘give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.’ It displeased Samuel that they should say so…” The prophet tried to dissuade them, “The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel. They said, ‘No! We want a king, so that we in our turn can be like the other nations…” (1 Samuel 8,4-21) The people realized later on that in founding a kingdom they had gravely sinned and acknowledged to Samuel: “… for we have added to all our sins this evil of asking to have a king.” (1 Samuel 12,19)
Jesus, in his turn, rejected such a terrestrial kingdom. Here is why, seeing that the Jewish nationalists, dazzled by his miracles “were about to come and take him by force and make him king (political), escaped back to the hills by himself.” (John 6,15) In front of Pilate who asked him: “’So, then you are a king then?‘, He declared: ’It is you who say it… Mine is not a kingdom of this world” (John 18,36-37).
Consequently, any Christian who recognizes the right of the Jews to consider Palestine as their promised land, demonstrate that they understood nothing of Jesus’ message. A Christian who favors the creation of an Israeli state ceases to be a witness of Jesus.
Finally, notice how the specified borders of this “promised” land vary in the Bible according to the ambitions and cravings of the different scribes along the centuries: in Genesis 15,18, they extend from the Nile to the Euphrates, in Numbers 34,1-12, the Eastern border stops at the Jordan and the Dead Sea, quite far from Euphrates… In Joshua 1,4 it extends again to the Euphrates, but the western border retracts up till the Sinai and dares not to extend up till the Nile. If God had been the inspirer of Israeli borders, they would not have been so far-fetched. God does not contradict himself.
Melchizedek (Genesis 14,17-20)
It is very important to get to know Melchizedek because he symbolizes the Messiah as Paul explains in Hebrews 7,1-3: “Melchizedek, king of Salem… he has no father, no mother or (known) ancestry, and his life has no beginning or ending; he is like the Son of God (Jesus)…”
Now read chapters 12 to 50 of Genesis in a row. You will encounter some obscure points, foreign to our mentality and the customs of the 21st century. Do not stop there, but read on until the end. When you come back to this biblical course, you will have all the necessary clarifications. Notice throughout your reading how God formed a monotheistic society through Abraham amidst the pagan nations of the time. Notice his spiritual, non-political role. God formed this community from a Syrian man, and absolutely did not choose a Hebrew people, this being nonexistent at the time.
Chapter 14 recounts Abraham’s battle to save Lot, his nephew. I explained to you why verse 13 mentions Abram “the Hebrew”, a word slipped in by the scribes to give the impression that the Hebrews existed since the beginning of the world. Always remind yourself that the Ray of Divine Revelation was passed through the distorting prism of racist Zionist politics. To recover this Ray in its purity and in its limpidity, it is necessary, as I already told you, to exorcise the Bible from its politico-Zionist content, just as gold is purified from mud by fire, and as wheat is separated from the chaff.
After Abraham’s victory, Melchizedek arrives to congratulate him and bless him. Who is Melchizedek? He is unknown in History. Genesis only reveals his symbolic aspects, traits, as Paul explains it, who “is like the Son of God”, Jesus (Hebrews 7,1-3). Genesis reveals that he is king and priest at the same time. He is king of “Salem” (Jerusalem) while being a priest of “El-Elohim”, Aramaic for “God Most High” or “Supreme God”, higher and greater in power than all the other gods of Middle-Eastern mythology. Note that it is this Supreme God who is the “creator of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14,19). The God whom Melchizedek adored is therefore, without his knowledge, the only God Creator we know, the One Who revealed himself to Abraham, then to Moses and who was incarnated in His Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
So Melchizedek symbolizes Christ who, like him, is Priest and King at the same time. Jesus is a priest because he offered Himself in sacrifice to God -not through another priest– on the altar of the Cross in Jerusalem, the city of Melchizedek. Jesus is also the spiritual king, sovereign of hearts, his reign is not political and englobes men of all races and languages. Jesus reigns over his believers from the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21,2), symbolized by the terrestrial Jerusalem, the “Salem” of Melchizedek. It is from Jerusalem therefore, that Melchizedek and Jesus reign and offer their sacrifices. By introducing Melchizedek as king and priest of “Salem”, God points out to another King and Priest who will emerge 2000 years later from this same city: Jesus, who also offers the Eucharistic Bread and Wine to his own every day.
Jesus is priest, but his priesthood is not like that of the pagans, limited to the slaughter of animals for God. Christ’s priesthood is similar to that of Melchizedek who “brought bread and wine” because “he was a priest of God Most High”, explains Genesis 14,18. Jesus clarified the real sense of the bread and the wine during his last Passover Supper with his Apostles: the bread is his torn Body and the wine is his blood spilled on the cross (Matthew 26,26-29). The bread and wine of Jesus thus make his sacrifice present. It is the sacrifice of the new sacerdotal order instituted by Him for the salvation of all believers. He dwarfed the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Torah, incapable of touching God’s Heart: “Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins”, says Paul (Hebrews 10,4). That will become clear later.
Melchizedek, as king-priest, blesses Abraham, the holder of the Holy Covenant: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High (El-Elohim), creator of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14,19). Notice in verse 14,22 that Abraham, in his turn, swears before the king of Sodom by “YHVH, God Most High, creator of heaven and earth”. He thus reveals that there is save one God creator, and that his name is not “El-Elohim”, the “god” of mythology, abstract and unknown, but “YHVH” (word meaning “The One Who Is”), the God of Revelation, who manifested himself personally to man, through him, Abraham.
Melchizedek suddenly appears, like a scene out of context, interrupting the narrative of the meeting between the king of Sodom and Abraham, which resumes immediately after. This is also symbolic: the spiritual storms into our temporal life, it interrupts the course of the profane narrative to reveal itself to man, to grab his attention. Then, the narrative of the king of Sodom resumes its course: he continues his meeting with Abraham. This means that man must resume the normal course of life after having encountered the spiritual, but must strive never to forget this spiritual world which has revealed itself to him.
The astonishing thing in this narrative is that Abraham, he, holder of the Holy Covenant, gives Melchizedek “a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14,20). It is also this latter who blesses Abraham: “Now think how great this man must have been, if the patriarch Abraham paid him a tenth of the finest treasure he had captured… and he gave his blessing to the holder of the promises. Now it is indisputable that a blessing is given by a superior to an inferior (Abraham) …”, says St Paul (Hebrews 7,4-7). Melchizedek’s grandeur is that he prefigures the Messiah’s priesthood. King David explained this prefiguration in a Psalm (inspired canticle) 800 years later. He addresses himself to the Messiah to come in these terms: “You are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110,4).
So Melchizedek prefigures Christ because his priesthood represents that which God approves of, an adoration “in spirit and truth” as Jesus explains (John 4,23), not a human priesthood with its money trafficking and ritual worship (priestly clothing, incense, ornaments, specific gestures, etc…) God does not allow himself to be swayed by such a theatrical priesthood: He intervened in human history to reveal to us that Melchizedek’s priesthood, pagan as it was, was more valuable to Him than the pseudo-religious cults. It is why He revealed that His Messiah’s priesthood will not be according to the order of Aaron, a Hebrew -though an issue of Abraham, as you will later see- but according to an order foreign to this blood lineage. This was fulfilled through Jesus who instituted, by his crucifixion, a priesthood alien to the Jews. Jesus is priest; He is even The High Priest of a new priesthood, while not being from the tribe of Levi, as Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews, chapters 5-7. For the Jews, only the Levite descendants of Aaron can be priests and sacrifice animals (Numbers 18). Through Jesus, God overturned this whole human conception of the priesthood by annulling, through the Cross, animal sacrifice.
With the Book of Revelation (you will see that later), God turns the ritualistic concept of the Christian priesthood upside down, by instituting a new priesthood. It is formed by all who believe in the one interpretation of the Book of Revelation revealed by Jesus Himself on May 13, 1970 (see text “The Key of the Apocalypse”).
Therefore, although Melchizedek’s apparition was brief and it is only mentioned one more time in the Old Testament (Psalm 110,4), the reference to this enigmatic character holds a very precious lesson. It permits courageous believers to liberate themselves from the traditional worships, filled with superstition and fanaticism. They thus reach the highest degrees of spiritual union with God by a priesthood of the heart, according to “the order of Melchizedek”, not according to any order of theatrical worship, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever else… Jesus had said: “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshiper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4,23-24)
This is the lesson to be retained from Melchizedek.
It would be good at this point to read chapters 5-10 of the letter to the Hebrews. St Paul comments marvelously on the role of Melchizedek, and exposes the importance of the new Priesthood of Jesus for the salvation of humanity. It is the salvation promised to Adam and Eve.
The Covenant of the Halves (Genesis 15,7-17)
God promised Abraham, whose wife was barren and elderly, descendants and a welcoming land. This long-awaited son did not arrive. Abraham, aged over 80, complained to God that a stranger to his house would be his heir: “‘My Lord Yahweh… you have given me no descendants; some man of my household will be my heir.’ But God says to him: ‘He shall not be your heir; your heir shall be of your own flesh and blood.’” Abraham then asked to be reassured about the country that he was to live in after leaving Harân: “How am I to know that I shall inherit it?” He needed a tangible sign to believe, especially at that time, in a miracle. He understood the difficulty of his mission and of the pact with God and wanted God’s “signature” affixed at the bottom of the “contract” between them. So God said to him: “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, etc…” Abraham “brought him all these, cut them in half (after having slaughtered them) and put half on one side and half facing it on the other…” (Genesis 15,1-11).
To understand this text, we must know that men of Abraham’s time were superstitious. Also, it was customary that a contract was made in the following manner: an animal (or several animals, depending on the importance of the contract) was sacrificed to this end, then cut into two halves in between which the contractors passed. This passage between the two pieces of the animal meant that the pact was concluded and that the party who breaks the terms of the contract would suffer the fate of that animal (or animals), and would be torn apart by the gods. This custom was even practiced by the Jews well after Abraham; it is mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah in the VIth century BC, 1500 years after Abraham, who denounced the Hebrews’ infidelity in these terms: “And these men who have infringed my covenant, who have not observed the terms of the covenant made in my presence, I will treat these men like the calf they cut in two to pass between the parts of it. As for the nobles of Judah and of Jerusalem, the eunuchs and the priests, and all the people of the country who have passed between the parts of the calf, I will put them into the power of their enemies…” (Jeremiah 34,18-20)
To denote that He would fulfill His promise to Abraham, God, in the form “of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” passed between the cut pieces. Genesis explains why “that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15,17-18). God thus “signed” the contract with his chosen one. This vision was the tangible sign requested by Abraham.
It was a belief at that time that if carnivorous birds managed to devour the sacrificed animals’ flesh, it would be a bad omen for the pact. This is why the Bible says: “Birds of prey came down on the carcasses but Abram drove them off.” (Genesis 15,11) Yet another sign that this covenant will succeed. Abraham will therefore have his “land” and his descendants from Sarah, his old and barren wife. Despite the human impossibility of fulfilling the terms of the pact, “Abram put his faith in Yahweh, who counted this as making him justified (because of his faith).” (Genesis 15,6) Abraham’s faith is a light for all believers. It incited the Apostles and St Paul, often referring to it and presenting it as an example: “Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. Don’t you see that it is those who rely on faith (in Jesus) are the sons of Abraham?” (Galatians 3,6-7).
This vision leads us to two very important conclusions that we must retain to understand the spirit of the Bible:
1) God is pedagogue: He employs the language of man and respects his mentality. He lowers himself to the level of man, speaks to him in human language to make himself understood, then He gradually elevates him to the divine mentality, which is the Holy Spirit. Also, in passing through the halves, He gives Abraham a sign that he could understand.
2) To understand a prophet, we should place him in his historical and social context. This is valid, not only for the two Covenants (the Old through the Torah, and the New by the Gospels), but also, today, for the Apocalyptic Covenant, that of the End of times, which is the Last Covenant, the final chance given to men to amend themselves. The apocalyptic messenger should be seen with a pair of new eyes and, in order to be understood, he should be placed in the historical and social contexts of his time: the XXth and XXIst centuries.
Ishmael (Genesis 16)
Abraham and Sarah, unaware of God’s Omnipotence, did not understand how God would give them a son, given their old age and Sarah’s sterility. Miracles were not yet known.
At that time, a law of king Hammurabi stipulated that, in the case of sterility, a legitimate wife could have children considered legitimate by permitting her husband to sleep with her servant. The child born of this extra-marital relation was nevertheless considered that of the married couple, provided he or she is received, at birth, in the arms of the legitimate wife to signify her full consent (today there are “surrogate mothers”).
Sarah, whose faith seems to be less solid than that of her husband, seeing that a son would not come from her, pushed Abraham towards Hagar, her Egyptian servant, because she knew herself sterile: “‘Go to my slave-girl. Perhaps I shall get children through her.’ Abram took to what Sarai had said.” (Genesis 16,2) This act will be reproduced later with Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, who coupled with the two maidservants of his wives, Rachel (Genesis 30,1-6) and Lea (Genesis 30,9-13).
Ishmael was born from the union between Abraham and Hagar. Abraham was 86 years old then (Genesis 16,16). You notice that God was not pressed to fulfill his promise of giving Abraham a son from Sarah; it is His way of making man grow up in divine stature through patience.
So Sarah took the initiative of having a son in her own way. But God had a plan of his own which He will not modify. The birth of Ishmael did not prevent Him from appearing again to Abraham to reveal His miraculous plan to him: “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah. I will bless her and moreover give you a son by her”. That seemed too marvelous to the old man: “Is a child to be born to a man one hundred years old, and will Sarah have a child at the age of ninety? Oh, let Ishmael live in your presence!” Abraham said to God, who “bowed to the ground and laughed to himself”, before such an incredible announcement. But God insisted: “Yes, your wife Sarah will bear you a son whom you must name Isaac. And I shall maintain my covenant with him” (Genesis 17,15-19). That was the announcement of the first miracle in human history. The Covenant meant that it was from Isaac’s lineage that the Messiah will come.
Isaac (Genesis 17 & 18)
Abraham had to wait a long time for this son who was announced at the covenant “of the halves”. Indeed, Isaac was born only fifteen years after this vision.
At the announcement of his birth, both his father and mother “laughed to themselves” (Genesis 17,17 / 18,12). Their laughing was the reason behind the name Isaac (Yitzhak), which means “to laugh” in Hebrew, like the Arabic “Yidhac”: “God has given me cause to laugh; all those who hear of it will laugh with me. Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children! Yet I have borne him a child in his old age”, the old man’s wife comments joyfully who, at Isaac’s birth, was 90 years old and her husband 100 (Genesis 21,6-7). Only God could announce such a surprise to Abraham and fulfill it. For the old couple, there was truly reason to laugh. We would have done the same. Many would laugha before a pregnant nonagenarian.
Isaac is important because he comes to concretely materialize the sign requested by Abraham from God: this son is the fulfillment of the pact “of the halves”. This sign, unexplainable by science of all times, is a formidable witness for men of all ages. It thus does not only concern Abraham: it challenges us all because the Covenant that was to perpetuate Isaac was through the Messiah; He had to come from the line of this son of Abraham, not of another, because God says: “For Ishmael too I grant you your request. I bless him… But my covenant I will establish with Isaac…” (Genesis 17,20-21).
This miracle consolidated Abraham’s faith; it must also strengthen ours. This is the purpose which God intended.
The plan of salvation announced to Adam and Eve is therefore accomplished by Abraham. It must appear as a divine initiative and intervention, irrefutable proof of the existence and Omnipotence of God, and of a divine plan that men must respect and follow. Only men of good faith will see and understand.
You may have remarked God’s patience: it is but 13 years after the birth of Ishmael that the Creator specifies his plan to Abraham. He no longer thought of having other sons, nor did his wife. They were satisfied with Ishmael. But God had his plan, and to bring it to fruition, he had to overturn the human perspective. This is his Wisdom. Creatures must constantly learn to adapt to the will of the Creator; they will discover God’s profound wisdom in yielding to his will without resistance, and will never regret abandoning themselves to God.
With Isaac, God demonstrated his Omnipotence, He thus prepared humanity for another miracle, even more wonderful, that of the Messiah’s birth 2000 years after Abraham: Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary by direct divine action, without even the intervention of a man: “The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin… Mary… and said to her: ‘You are to conceive and bear a son… He will be called Son of the Most High… The Holy Spirit will come upon you… And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God…’” (Luke 1,26-38)
Isaac therefore comes to prepare man for the welcoming of the Messiah. They are no longer justifiable if they do not believe in the miraculous birth of Jesus.
Circumcision (Genesis 17,9-14)
Circumcision is a pre-biblical custom; it existed before Abraham, often practiced by the Pagans for various reasons. In war, the vanquished were subject to “the humiliation” of circumcision by the victors. This fact is reported by the Bible itself: king Saul demands David “one hundred Philistine foreskins, in vengeance on the king’s enemies” (1 Samuel 18,25). This practice then, does not necessarily signify a covenant with God, even if the scribes of the Old Testament present it as “a sign of the Covenant” with God (Genesis 17,11).
Since Antiquity, circumcision was practiced throughout the world. Till today, some Australian, African and American tribes consider it as a sign of virility: a man refuses to give his daughter in marriage to an uncircumcised. Some even perform this operation on girls (ablation of the clitoris).
Abraham, seeing that the Pagans practiced circumcision for their gods, thought that he should, a fortiori, submit to this operation for the one true God. But with time, the prophets understood the symbolic valor of this act, and Moses already demanded that the heart be circumcised (Deuteronomy 10,16). Jeremy too, insisted on the purification of the soul through circumcision of the heart (Jeremiah 4,4). This great prophet never stopped inviting believers to introspection and to the “cleansing” of the conscience, denouncing the illusion and superficiality of the foreskin’s circumcision, and stressing it is even practiced among the Pagans: “See, the days are coming—it is Yahweh who speaks—when I am going to punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh: Egypt, Judah, Edom… For all these nations, and the whole House of Israel too, are uncircumcised at heart” (Jeremiah 9,24-25). Note that Judah (the Jews) is placed in the same ranks as the Pagans then (Egypt, Edom) despite the circumcision, and that this custom was practiced outside the borders of Palestine.
Circumcision must be compared to modern cults inspired by paganism: priestly clothing, incense, kneeling, etc… All these forms of adoration are only illusions, a superficial religiosity incapable of pleasing God or aiding spiritual evolution. They are material obstacles to the true elevation of the soul. We can say the same for baptism by water; it is only a symbol. The only valid worship is that of knowledge and love, the worship of God in “spirit and truth” as already mentioned (John 4,23-24).
With the Gospels, we finally pass from the physical concept of circumcision to the spiritual concept, which renders this custom obsolete: “Because to be circumcised or uncircumcised means nothing: what does matter is to keep the commandments of God”, says Paul (1 Corinthians 7,19). And: “Since in Christ Jesus whether you are circumcised or not makes no difference—what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love” (Galatians 5,6), “In him (Jesus) you have been circumcised, with a circumcision not performed by human hand, but by the complete stripping of your body of flesh. This is circumcision according to Christ”, adds Paul (Colossians 2,11).
“The worship they offer me is worthless”, says Jesus of the Pharisees and the scribes despite their circumcision (Matthew 15,9). Isaiah too, like most of the prophets, had denounced these cults: “The Lord has said: Because this people approaches me only in words, honors me only with lip-service while their hearts are far from me, and my religion, as far as it is concerned, is nothing but human commandment, a lesson memorized!” (Isaiah 29,13) We are astonished that “disciples” of Jesus still insist today on worshiping according to cults and rites denounced by Jesus and the prophets: “Hypocrites! It was you Isaiah meant when he so rightly prophesied: This people honors me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless; the doctrines they teach are only human regulations”, repeats again Jesus (Matthew 15,7-9).
Revelation of the Holy Trinity (Genesis 18)
Chapter 18 repeats the annunciation made by God to Abraham concerning the birth of Isaac, but this time with Sarah’s presence. In the first narrative, it is Abraham who “laughed to himself” (Genesis 17,17), but in the second, it was Sarah who, “was listening at the entrance of the tent behind Abraham”… she who “had ceased to have her monthly periods… laughed to herself, thinking, ‘Now that I am past the age of childbearing, and my husband is an old man, is pleasure to come my way again?’” (Genesis 18,11-12).
The two accounts are recognized by the repetition of the mention that Isaac will be born “at this time next year” (Genesis 17,21 / 18,14). There are two oral traditions, the second being respectful of the dignity of the Patriarch: it is not he who laughed and doubted, but Sarah whose faith is weaker than that of her husband, considered irreproachable. The first story is told according to the elohist tradition: “God (Elohim) said to Abraham…” (Genesis 17,9-22), and the second according to the yahwist tradition: “Yahweh appeared to him at the Oak of Mamre…” (Genesis 18,1-14).
God, who sees the hearts, grasps Sarah’s inner laughter, He asked her why she had laughed, not to overwhelm her, but to make her realize his Omnipotence. She, feeling discovered, was afraid and denied saying: “I did not laugh”. But God, good and understanding, replied paternally: “Oh yes, you did laugh”. He did not consider as untruthful, the intimidated attitude of his “little” creature (Genesis 18,15).
The most important point in this second account is the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, God appeared to Abraham in the form of Three Persons: “He looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him.” (Genesis 18,2).
The dialogue between God and Abraham is in itself revealing: the Patriarch addresses himself to these three Persons in the singular at times, and sometimes in the plural. He seems unable to understand whether he should address himself to one or three: “‘My Lord, I beg you, if I find favor with you… A little water shall be brought; you shall wash your feet…’ They replied: ‘Do as you say.’” (Genesis 18,2-5) It is God-Trinity who storms into the world of men and reveals himself, already 2000 years before Christ, without being grasped by human intelligence, still opaque.
Reread chapter 18 attentively and reflect therein. What do you think of these three persons who appeared to Abraham? Why does the dialogue vary between the singular and the plural? Give your explanations.
Meditate on the manner this narrative is reported: everything is said simply, with freshness and with no false modesty, especially from Sarah. Abraham is quick to welcome his host with spontaneous enthusiasm and offers him the best of his herd (contrary to Cain’s greed). And Sarah, withered with age, who “had ceased to have her monthly periods”, wonders with her hidden laughter: “Now that I am old, is pleasure to come my way again” … with a husband now an “an old man!” …
These traits reveal to us Abraham’s physiognomy: A simple man, upright and whole, with a generous heart, spontaneous and flexible enough to let himself be modeled by God. This explains why God chooses him. Do not forget that the divine choice fell on this man, a Syrian, and never a Hebrew “people”, with a hardened heart and rebellious to God, as the prophets revealed (Isaiah 1,2-4 / Jeremiah 7,25-28, etc…)
Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19)
After announcing Isaac’s birth, God revealed to Abraham His determination to strike down Sodom and Gomorrah because of their perversities. These two cities, located south of the Dead Sea, were reputed for their debauchery, notably homosexuality, hence the expression “sodomy”. God decided to punish them, as he had done before at Noah’s period, with a dissolute civilization. This was to serve as a lesson for future generations and serve as an example of the punishment that will befall on the wicked world in the end times (Luke 17,26-30).
Lot and his wife were invited to leave Sodom with their two daughters because they had not been contaminated by the sodomites. The vice of the latter was clearly homosexuality (Genesis 19,4-11). It was recommended to Lot’s family not to look back while leaving (Genesis 19,17), ie to leave this past without regret, without leaving their hearts there because of possessions, homes, etc… but to look forward to the future, trusting in God. Lot’s wife did not take this divine recommendation into account and was transformed into “a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19,26).
We must understand the symbolic meaning of this story: We must never hesitate to give up a life without God. Whoever desires to raise himself must free himself from worldly attractions to leap towards spiritual life without looking back, without entertaining our nostalgia of past pleasures: “Once the hand is laid on the plow (spiritual life), no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”, said Jesus (Luke 9,62).
Isaac’s birth and the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21)
After Isaac’s birth, “Sarah watched the son that Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. ‘Drive away that slave-girl and her son,’ she said to Abraham, ‘this slave-girl’s son is not to share the inheritance with my son Isaac.’” (Genesis 21,9-10) Sarah thus disavows Ishmael as her son and rejects him, exiling him with his mother… after having been herself the instigator of her husband’s union with Hagar.
Sarah’s attitude “greatly distressed Abraham because of his son, but God said to him, ‘Do not distress yourself on account of the boy and your slave-girl. Grant Sarah all she asks of you, for it is through Isaac that your name will be carried on.’” (Genesis 21,9-12).
God allows this female jealousy to be present; He consented to the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael, not to discredit them and approve Sarah, as the rabbis interpret it, but to accomplish his Messianic plan through Isaac. It was necessary that peace reigned in the family without any quarrels. This is why God asked Abraham not to be sad because of this dismissal. God confirms His blessing, already given to Ishmael (Genesis 17,20), recalling that from “the slave-girl’s son I shall also make him into a great nation, for he too is your child” (Genesis 21,13).
Sites and peoples of Canaan related in the history of the patriarchs
This divine blessing contradicts the attitude of many fanatic Jews towards Ishmael and the Arabs, on the pretext that their ancestor, Ishmael, was “driven out” by Abraham. It is not in this racist mindset that Ishmael’s remoteness is presented in Genesis, which also considers him of Abraham’s lineage. After the expulsion of Hagar and her son, an Angel appeared to them to support and comfort the distraught mother: “‘Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s cry where he lies… for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well, so she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy…” (Genesis 21,14-21)
God never abandoned Ishmael, but his Messianic plan was to be fulfilled through Isaac.
The sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
The Pagans of the time had a custom of offering their children in sacrifice to the idols. This was even practiced by some Jewish kings after Abraham and was condemned by the prophets (Jeremiah 7,31). Abraham, under the weight of a crisis of conscience, wanted to offer his son to God like the Pagans offered their children to their gods, believing he was honoring God in this way. But the latter intervened on time to prevent him from doing so, and to signify to him that He is not like the pagan “gods” who demand human sacrifices: an Angel said to him: “‘Do not raise your hand against the boy, do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram… and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.” (Genesis 22,9-13)
Later, God explained through the prophets that the only sacrifice that pleased him was repentance, justice and love. The prophet Micah exclaimed: “‘With what gift shall I come into Yahweh’s presence…? Must I give my first-born for what I have done wrong, the fruit of my own body for my own sin?’—What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6,6-8)
With the Advent of Jesus, a new light was given to us. Not only does God not require men to sacrifice their children, but it is He, God, who offers His only begotten Son to mankind in sacrifice for their salvation: “Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life”, said Jesus (John 3,16); and also: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you.” (John 15,13-14) Through his intervention in human history, God changed, with wisdom and pedagogy, the mentality of man concerning sacrifice and, with the coming of Jesus, the upheaval was total. The dictator gods of mythology gave way to the one Creator who revealed Himself as good, compassionate and merciful.
Isaac’s marriage (Genesis 24)
Abraham wanted a wife from “his native land and his own kinsfolk” for his son Isaac (Genesis 24,1-4). He therefore sent his servant to Syria, “Aram Naharaim”, ie “Syria of the rivers” (North of the Tigris and the Euphrates), where the city of Haran is located where he came from (Genesis 24,10-15). It was from there that the servant brought back Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. She is none other than the granddaughter of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother (Genesis 11,27-29). She is therefore Isaac’s cousin from his father’s side. It is also from there that Rebekah will later want a wife for her son Jacob (Genesis 27,46 / 28,5). This demonstrates the Syrian origins of Abraham’s family.
God reassured Abraham by blessing Ishmael. He also announced to him that the latter “will be the father of 12 Princes” (Genesis 17,20) whose names are mentioned in Genesis 25,12-16. This figure is symbolic and must be compared to the 12 tribes of Israel in parallel (see further down the 12 sons of Jacob in Genesis 35,22-26). The 12 “nobles”, descendants of Ishmael are precious in the eyes of God, and thus worthy of esteem. Like all men of good faith, they are entitled to the same spiritual heritage as the bona fide descendants of Isaac.
A writer favorable to Hagar and Ishmael would have written: “Sarah, after having had Isaac, abandoned Ishmael who felt the blow. She eventually moves him away, forgetting that she had ardently wished for and adopted him. Now, she ends up, out of jealousy, even refusing him the legitimate right to inherit like Isaac, his brother”. Sarah’s attitude “greatly distressed Abraham” (Genesis 21,9-11). Ever since, fanatics have adopted Sarah’s chauvinistic mentality, instead of following Abraham’s kindness and justice.