Sign 3 of Ibrahim: Sacrifice

The great prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had been promised a son in the previous Sign. And Allah had kept his promise. In fact the Taurat continues the account of Ibrahim (PBUH) to describe how he got two sons. In Genesis 16 the Taurat tells how he got his son Ishmael with Hagar and then later Genesis 21 tells how he got his son Isaac with Sarai about 14 years later. Unfortunately for his household, this resulted in a great rivalry between the two women, Hagar and Sarai, and ended with Ibrahim sending Hagar and her son away. You can read here how this happened and how Allah blessed Hagar and Ishmael in another way.

The sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim: Basis for Eid al-adha

So with only one son left in his household Ibrahim (PBUH) encounters his greatest test but it is one that opens for us a greater understanding of the Straight Way. Please read the account from Taurat and Qur’an concerning the test of the sacrifice of his son here.  This story from the Books is the reason why the Eid al-adha is celebrated.  But this is not just a historical event.  It is more.

We can see from the account in the Books that this is a test for Ibrahim (PBUH), but it is more than just that. Since Ibrahim is a prophet this test is also a sign for us, so we could learn more about God’s care for us. In what way is this a sign? Please note the name that Ibrahim gave to the place where his son was to be sacrificed. This part of the Taurat is shown here so you can read it directly.

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The LORD Will Provide’. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:13-14)

Allah had provided a ram so that his son would not have to be sacrificed.  But notice the name that Ibrahim (‘Abraham’ in the Taurat) gave to that place. He named it ‘The LORD will provide’. Is that name in the past tense, present tense or future tense? It is clearly in the future tense. And to be even more clear the comment which follows (which Musa – PBUH – inserted when he compiled this account into the Taurat about 500 years later) it repeats “…it will be provided”. Again this is in the future tense and looking to the future. Most people think that Ibrahim is referring to the ram (a male sheep) which was caught in the thicket and was sacrificed in place of his son. But when Ibrahim names the place the ram is already dead, sacrificed and burnt. If Ibrahim is thinking of the ram – already dead, sacrificed and burnt – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’, i.e. in the past tense. And Musa (pbuh), if he was thinking of the ram that took the place of Ibrahim’s son would have commented ‘And to this day it is said “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’. But both Ibrahim and Musa clearly give it a name in future tense and therefore are not thinking of the already dead and sacrificed ram.

So what are they thinking about then? If we look for a clue we see that the place where Allah told Ibrahim to go at the beginning of this Sign was:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (v.2)

This happened in ‘Moriah’. And where is that? Though it was a wilderness area in Ibrahim’s day (2000 BC), a thousand years later (1000 BC) the famous King Dawood (David) established the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Suleiman (Solomon) built the Temple there. We read in the Zabur about this that:

Then Solomon (Suleiman) began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David (Dawood) 2Chronicles 3:1

In other words, ‘Mount Moriah’ in the time of Ibrahim (and later Musa) was an isolated mountain top in the wilderness but 1000 years later with Dawood and Suleiman it became Jerusalem (Al Quds), the central and capital city of the Israelites where they built the Temple to the LORD. And to this very day it is a holy place for the Jewish people.

Isa al Masih and the sacrifice on Mount Moriah

And here we find a direct connection to Isa al Masih (PBUH) and the Injil. We see this connection when we know about one of the titles of Isa. Isa had many titles given to him. Perhaps the most well-known is the title ‘Masih’ (which is also ‘Christ’). But there is another title given to him that is very important. We see this in the Injil when the prophet Yahya (John the Baptist in the Injil) says:

The next day John (i.e. Yahya) saw Jesus (i.e. Isa) coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’”. (John 1:29-30)

An important, but lesser known title of Isa (PBUH), given to him by Yahya was ‘The Lamb of God”. Now consider the end of Isa’s life. Where was he arrested and sentenced for execution?  It was in Jerusalem (which as we saw is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clear stated during his arrest that:

When he [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at the time.’ (Luke 23:7)

In other words, the arrest, trial and sentencing of Isa happened in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).

Back to Ibrahim. Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’? He was a prophet and knew that something would be ‘provided’ there. When he is tested, the son of Ibrahim is saved from death at the last moment because a lamb dies in his place. Two thousand years later, Isa is called ‘Lamb of God’ and is arrested and sentenced to death on the same spot!

The Sacrifice ransomed Ibrahim: from death

Is this important to us? I note how this sign of Ibrahim ends. In ayah 107 from the Qur’an it says of Ibrahim (PBUH) that

And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice

What does it mean to be ‘ransomed’?  To pay a ransom is to make a payment for someone who is held as a prisoner to set the prisoner free.  For Ibrahim (PBUH) to be ‘ransomed’ means that he was a prisoner of something (Yes even a great prophet!).  What was he a prisoner of?  The scene with his son tells us.  He was a prisoner of death.  Even though he was a prophet, death held him as a prisoner.  We saw from the Sign of Adam that Allah had made Adam and his Children (everyone – including the prophets) mortal – they were now prisoners of death.  But somehow in this drama of the sacrificed lamb Ibrahim (PBUH) was ‘ransomed’ from this.  If you review the sequence of signs (Adam, Cain&Abel, Noah, Ibrahim 1) thus far you will see that animal sacrifice was almost always practiced by the prophets.  They knew something about this that maybe escapes us.  And we can see that because this act also points forward into the future to Isa ‘the Lamb of God’ that it has something to do with him.

The Sacrifice: A Blessing for us

And the sacrifice of the lamb on Mount Moriah is important for us as well.  At the end of the exchange Allah declares to Ibrahim that

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ (and you do!) this has to concern you because the promise is that you then can get a ‘blessing’ from Allah himself! Is that not worthwhile?! How does this connection of Ibrahim’s story with Isa make a blessing to us? And why? We note that Ibrahim (PBUH) was ‘ransomed’ and this is a clue for us, but apart from that the answer is not readily apparent here so we will continue with the Signs of Musa (he has two) and they will clarify these questions for us.

But here I just want to point out that the word ‘offspring’ here is in the singular. It is not ‘offsprings’ as in many descendants or peoples. The promise of a blessing was through an ‘offspring’ from Ibrahim in the singular – singular as in a ‘he’, not through many people or a group of people as in ‘they’.  The Passover Sign of Musa will now help us understand further.

Sign 2 of Ibrahim: Right-ness

What is it we all need from Allah? There are several answers to that question, but the Sign of Adam reminds us that our first and greatest need is righteousness. There we found Words addressed directly to us (The children of Adam).

O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness – that is the best. Such are among the signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition. (Surat 7:26)

So what is ‘righteousness’? The Taurat (in Deuteronomy 32:4) tells us about Allah that

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.

This is the picture of the Righteousness of Allah given in the Taurat. Righteousness means that one is perfect; that all (not just some or most but all) one’s ways are just, that one does no (not even a little) wrong; that one is upright. This is righteousness and this is how the Taurat describes Allah. But why do we need righteousness? We jump ahead to a passage in the Zabur to give the answer. In Psalm 15 (written by Dawood) we read:

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent…

When it is asked who may live on Allah’s ‘Holy Mountain’, that is another way of asking who may be with Allah in Paradise. And we can see from the answer that the one who is blameless and ‘righteous’ (v2) – that person can enter Paradise to be with Allah. This is why we need righteousness. Righteousness is required to be with Allah since He is perfect.

Now consider the second sign of Ibrahim (PBUH). Click here to open the passage from the Books. We see in the reading from the Taurat and Qur’an that Ibraham (PBUH) followed ‘his Way’ (Surat 37:83) and in so doing he obtained ‘righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6) – the very thing that the Sign of Adam told us we need. So the important question for us is: How did he get it?

Often I think that I get righteousness in one of two ways. In the first way (in my thinking) I get righteousness by believing in or acknowledging the existence of Allah. I ‘believe’ in Allah. And in support of this thinking, didn’t Ibrahim (PBUH) ‘believe the LORD’ in Genesis 15:6? But with more reflection I realized that this did not mean he only believed in the existence of one God. No Allah had given him a firm promise – that he would receive a son. And it was that promise that Ibrahim (PBUH) had to choose whether to believe or not. Think about it further, the devil (also known as Shaytan or Iblis) believes in the existence of Allah – and he certainly does not have righteousness. So simply believing in the existence of Allah is not what ‘the Way’ is about. That is not enough.

The second way I often think I can get righteousness is that I merit it or earn it from Allah by the good and religious things I do. Doing more good things than bad things, prayers, fasts, or doing a certain kind or amount of religious work allows me to deserve, earn or merit righteousness. But notice that is not what the Taurat says at all.

Abram believed the LORD, and he [i.e. Allah] credited it to him [i.e. Ibrahim] as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Ibrahim did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. So what is the difference? Well, if something is ‘earned’ you worked for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited.

Ibrahim (PBUH) was a man who believed deeply in the existence of one Allah. And he was a man of prayer, devotion, and helping people (like helping and praying for his nephew Lut/Lot). It is not that we are to discard these things.  But ‘the Way’ described of Ibrahim here is so simple that we can almost miss it. The Taurat tells us that Ibrahim (PBUH) was given righteousness because he believed in a Promise given to him by Allah. This overturns the common understandings that we have about obtaining righteousness either by thinking that belief in Allah’s existence is enough, or by doing enough good and religious activities (prayers, fastings etc.) that I can earn or merit righteousness. This is not the way that Ibrahim took. He simply chose to believe the promise.

Now choosing to believe in this promise of a son was perhaps simple but it definitely was not easy.  Ibrahim (PBUH) could easily have disregarded the promise by reasoning that if Allah really had the desire as well as the power to grant him a son then He should have done so by now. Because at this point in his life, Ibrahim and Sarai (his wife) were old – well past the age of getting children. In the first Sign of Ibrahim that he was already 75 years old when he left his home country and went to Canaan. At that time Allah had promised him that he would get a ‘great nation’. And many years have passed since then so Ibrahim and his wife Sarai are now old indeed and have already waited a long time. And they still do not even have one child – and certainly not a ‘nation’. “Why has not Allah already given us a son if he could have done so”?, he would have wondered. In other words, he believed the promise of a coming son even though he probably had unanswered questions about the promise. He believed the promise because he trusted Allah who gave the promise – even though he did not understand everything about the promise. And to believe in that promise (a son coming past the age of child-bearing) would require believing that Allah would do a miracle for him and his wife.

Believing the promise would also demand active waiting. His whole life was, in a sense, interrupted while he was living in tents in the Promised Land of Canaan waiting (still many years) for the coming of the promised son. It would have been much easier to disregard the promise and return home to civilization in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier where his brother and family still lived. So Ibrahim had to live with the difficulties of continuing to believe the promise – each and every day – for the many years while he waited for the promise to be given. His trust in the promise was so great that it took priority over normal goals for life – comfort and well-being. In a real sense, living in anticipation of the promise meant dying to normal goals of life. Believing the promise showed both his trust in and love for Allah.

Thus ‘believing’ the promise went far beyond just mental agreement to it. Ibrahim had to stake his life, reputation, safety, actions in the present and hopes for the future on this promise. Because he believed he actively and obediently waited.

This Sign is how Ibrahim (PBUH) believed the promise from Allah of a son, and in so doing he was also given, or credited, righteousness. In a real sense Ibrahim submitted himself to this promise. He could have chosen not to believe and returned back to the land he came from (modern-day Iraq). And he could have disregarded the promise while still believing in the existence of Allah and still continuing in his prayers,fastings, and helping other people. But then he would have only maintained his religion but not been credited ‘righteousness’. And as the Qur’an tells all us children of Adam – “the raiment of righteousness – that is the best”. This was the Way of Ibrahim.

We have learned much. Righteousness, the very thing we need for Paradise is not earned but credited to us.  And it is credited to us by trusting the Promise of Allah.  But who then pays for righteousness? We continue with Sign 3.

Sign 1 of Ibrahim: Blessing

Ibrahim! He is also known as Abraham and Abram (PBUH).  All three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam view him as model to follow. Arabs and Jews today trace their physical ancestry from him through his sons Ishmael and Isaac. He is also important in the line of the prophets because the later prophets build on him.  So we will look at the sign of Ibraham (PBUH) in several parts. Click here to read his first sign in the Qur’an and in the Taurat.

We see in the ayat from the Qur’an that Ibrahim (PBUH) was to have ‘tribes’ of people coming from him. These people were then to have a ‘great Kingdom’. But a man must have at least one son before he can have ‘Tribes’ of people, and he must also have a place before these people can have a ‘Great Kingdom’.

Promise to Ibrahim (PBUH)

The passage from the Taurat (Genesis 12:1-7) shows how Allah was going to unfold this double fulfillment of ‘tribes’ and a ‘Great Kingdom’ coming from Ibrahim (PBUH). Allah gave him a promise that was a foundation for the future. Let us review it further in detail. We see that Allah says to Ibrahim:

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

 

Greatness of Ibrahim

Many people today where I live wonder if there is a God and how one can know if He really revealed himself through the Taurat.  Here before us is a promise, parts of which we can verify.  The end of this revelation records that Allah directly promised to Ibrahim (PBUH) that ‘I will make your name great‘.  We sit in the 21st century and the name of Ibrahim/Abraham/Abram is one of the most globally recognized names in history.  This promise has literally and historically come true.  The earliest copy of the Taurat that exists today is from the Dead Sea Scrolls which date to 200-100 B.C.  This means that this promise has, at the very least, been in writing since that time.  At that time the person and name of Ibrahim was not well-known – only to the minority of Jews who followed the Taurat.  But today his name is great, so we can verify a fulfillment that has only come about after it was written down, not before.

This part of the promise to Ibrahim has definitely happened, as should be obvious even to unbelievers, and this gives us even greater confidence to understand the remaining part of this promise of Allah to Ibrahim.  Let’s continue to study it.

Blessing to us

Again, we can see the promise of a ‘great nation’ from Ibrahim and a ‘blessing’ to Ibrahim. But there is something else as well, the blessing is not only for Ibrahim because it says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (i.e. through Ibrahim). This should make you and I sit up and take notice. Because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’ – no matter what our religion, ethnic background, where we live, our social status, or what language we speak. This promise is for everybody alive today.  This is a promise for you.  Though our different religions, ethnic backgrounds and languages often divide people and cause conflict, this is a promise that looks to overcome these things that usually divide us. How? When? What kind of blessing? This was not clearly revealed at this point, but this Sign birthed a promise that is for you and me through Ibrahim (PBUH).  Since we know that one part of this promise has come true, we can have confidence that this other part that applies to us will also have a clear and literal fulfillment – we just need to find the key to unlock it.

We can notice that when Ibrahim received this promise he obeyed Allah and…

“So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4)

Map of Ibrahim’s journey

How long was this journey to the Promised Land? The map here shows his journey. He lived originally in Ur (Southern Iraq today) and moved to Haran (Northern Iraq). Ibrahim (PBUH) then journeyed to what was called Canaan in his day. You can see that this was a long journey. He would have traveled on camel, horse or donkey so it would have taken many months. Ibrahim left his family, his comfortable life (Mesopotamia at this time was the center of civilization), his security and all that was familiar to travel to a land that was foreign to him. And this, the Taurat tells us, when he was 75 years old!

Animal sacrifices like previous Prophets

The Taurat also tells us that when Ibrahim (PBUH) arrived in Canaan safely:

“So he built an altar there to the LORD “ (v. 7)

An altar would be where, like Qabil and Noah before him, he offered blood sacrifices of animals to Allah. We see that this is a pattern of how the prophets worshiped Allah.

Ibrahim (PBUH) had risked so much so late in his life to travel to this new land. But in so doing he submitted himself to the Promise of Allah to both be blessed and to be a blessing to all Peoples. And that is why he is so important to us. We continue with the Sign 2 of Ibrahim next.