The Fear of Isaac

Why didn’t Abraham stab to death Isaac?



Here is a quote from the Torah, in which for the first time in human history the word “Hebrew” is written:


יד,יג וַיָּבֹא הַפָּלִיט וַיַּגֵּד לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי וְהוּא שֹׁכֵן בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא הָאֱמֹרִי אֲחִי אֶשְׁכֹּל וַאֲחִי עָנֵר וְהֵם בַּעֲלֵי בְרִית אַבְרָם.


Torah, book 1 Genesis

14,13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew – now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram.

The English word “Hebrew” originated from the Hebrew word העִבְרִי [haebri] in the meaning “passed to”, “crossed over”. The implication is the Abraham and Sarah’s movement from Haran to Canaan in 1839 BC. The reasons for this moving are mentioned in the article “Who are you, Pharaoh?

Figure 01

 Fear of Isaac 01 En

Abraham is Hebrew man No. 1,

Sarah is Hebrew woman No. 1.



Hebrew man No. 1 got the given name אַבְרָם [avram] = אַבְ + רָם = the great father. After concluding an alliance with God (Torah, book 1 Genesis, chapter 17, verse 5), the hebrew letter ה [hey] was added to this name, so it slightly changed the sounding – אַבְרָהָם [avraham].

Hebrew woman No. 1 got the given name (Heb.) שָׂרָי [sarai], the root of which is the hebrew word שר [sar] = governor, minister. Upon concluding an alliance with God (Torah, book 1 Genesis, chapter 17, verse 15), the hebrew letter י [yud] in this name was substituted by the letter ה [hey], so it also slightly changed the sounding – שָׂרָה [sara].



Citation from Torah:


כ,ב וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל-שָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ, אֲחֹתִי הִוא; וַיִּשְׁלַח אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ גְּרָר וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שָׂרָה כ,ג וַיָּבֹא אֱלֹהִים אֶל אֲבִימֶלֶךְ בַּחֲלוֹם הַלָּיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ . . . כ,יד וַיִּקַּח אֲבִימֶלֶךְ צֹאן וּבָקָר וַעֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחֹת וַיִּתֵּן לְאַבְרָהָם וַיָּשֶׁב לוֹ אֵת שָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ  כ,טו וַיֹּאמֶר אֲבִימֶלֶךְ הִנֵּה אַרְצִי לְפָנֶיךָבַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֶיךָ שֵׁב  כ,טז וּלְשָׂרָה אָמַר הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי אֶלֶף כֶּסֶף לְאָחִיךְ הִנֵּה הוּא לָךְ כְּסוּת עֵינַיִם לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר אִתָּךְ וְאֵת כֹּל וְנֹכָחַת  . . . כא,א וַיהוָה פָּקַד אֶת שָׂרָה כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמָר וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה לְשָׂרָה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר  כא,ב וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד שָׂרָה לְאַבְרָהָם בֵּן לִזְקֻנָיו לַמּוֹעֵד אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים  כא,ג וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם אֶת שֶׁם בְּנוֹ הַנּוֹלַד לוֹ אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לּוֹ שָׂרָה יִצְחָק  כא,ד וַיָּמָל אַבְרָהָם אֶת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ בֶּן שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים  כא,ה וְאַבְרָהָם, בֶּן מְאַת שָׁנָה בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ אֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ

Torah, book 1 Genesis

20,2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife: ‘She is my sister.’ And Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. 20,3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him: . . . 20,14 And Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and men-servants and women-servants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. 20,15 And Abimelech said: ‘Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.’ 20,16 And unto Sarah he said: ‘Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is compensation to you from the views of your people and all and the inherent.’  . . .  21,1 And the LORD remembered Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken. 21,2 And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 21,3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 21,4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 21,5 And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.

This citation results at least in two conclusions:

1.   Sarah spent no less than one night in Abimelech’s house.

2.   Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac.

What really happened between Abimelech and Sarah that night? If nothing, then why did Abimelech give Abraham “sheep and oxen and men-servants and women-servants” and a thousand pieces of silver? Isn’t it too much for “nothing”? Whose son is Isaac: Abraham’s or Abimelech’s?

It was this doubt floating around that gave Ishmael a sense of superiority and the right to scoff at Isaac.

Sarah, upholding her honor and that of Isaac, demanded from Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael.


כא,ט וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת בֶּן הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית אֲשֶׁר יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם מְצַחֵק  כא,י וַתֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָהָם גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת בְּנָהּ  כִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת עִם בְּנִי עִם יִצְחָק  כא,יא וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּעֵינֵי אַבְרָהָם עַל אוֹדֹת בְּנוֹ

Torah, book 1 Genesis

21,9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making jeer. 21,10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham: ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.’ 21,11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son.

 Sarah left Abraham no other option with this uncompromising demand – Abraham’s refusal would be considered by people as mistrust of her. Abraham ousted Hagar and Ishmael, and thus he showed to everyone his confidence that Isaak was his son by birth.

Nevertheless, the demonstration of confidence and the confidence are two totally different things. For several years, Abraham suffered from humiliated doubts, and it was these sorrows that forced him to seek a solution to the problem with a knife blow.



According to Torah, at the time of the sacrifice Isaac was aged 6 – 13 years. Most likely 6 years old – Abraham would not have been able to bind an older boy.


כב,ט וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לוֹ הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּבֶן שָׁם אַבְרָהָם אֶת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וַיַּעֲרֹךְ אֶת הָעֵצִים וַיַּעֲקֹד אֶת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתוֹ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ מִמַּעַל לָעֵצִים  כב,י וַיִּשְׁלַח אַבְרָהָם אֶת יָדוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת הַמַּאֲכֶלֶת לִשְׁחֹט אֶת בְּנוֹ

 Torah, Book 1 Genesis

22,9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 22,10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

How did Isaac feel when his father, having bound him, laid him upon the wood and stretched forth a knife over him? What did he see in his father’s eyes at that moment? What did he feel for his father when this nightmare was over? Probably for the rest of his life distrust and fear of the unpredictability of the madman settled in his heart.

Why didn’t Abraham slay Isaac?



Abraham lived in a cruel time, when death caused by starvation and death in the battle for food happened in front of everybody every day – see “Who are you, Pharaoh?

Recall an episode from Abraham’s life, which occurred at the end of the war of nine kings (see “The Very First World War”). In this episode, Abraham behaved like the head of a mafia group. Another group stood in his way and he liquidated it, as befits the crime lord. Only the merciless survived – Abraham was one of them.

There were humiliating rumors and gossip around the circumstances of Isaac’s birth. The crime lord’s logic suggested that his prestige was in danger and he had to get rid of the reason for these gossip – Isaac.

Why didn’t Abraham slay Isaac?

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is the first documented case in the history of mankind of the victory of humanity over pragmatism. For this very reason it is described in the Torah. Abraham is a special person – the first person to pass the exam in humanity.



 Time went by. Isaac lived in his father and his mother’s house. Relationship with his father left much to be desired. Sarah maintained the family balance.

Sarah died in 1777 BC. Abraham buried her in the cave of Machpelah, around which the city of Hebron subsequently grew.

Isaac, who was 37 years old, left his father’s house and settled near the spring (Heb.) בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי [beer lahai roi] = (Eng.) The Well of One Observing Life, just steps from Paran, where Ishmael dwelt.

 Figure 02

 Fear of Isaac 02 En

The sense of solidarity of the rejected sons reconciled Isaac and Ishmael and they became friends.

Abraham sent a faithful man to relatives in Haran and in 1774 BC he brought Isaak his wife by name (Heb.) רִבְקָה [rivka] = (Eng.) Rebekah.


כד,סז וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַיֶּאֱהָבֶהָ וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק אַחֲרֵי אִמּוֹ

 Torah, book 1 Genesis

24,67 And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for his mother.

Rebekah is Hebrew woman No. 2.

And Abraham took another woman named Keturah, and she bore 6 sons.

Feeling the closeness to the end of life, Abraham asked himself the question – who is to be appointed an heir?

Abraham had 8 sons. Ishmael the son of Hagar and 6 sons of Keturah were without a doubt his flesh and blood, and he doubted only in Isaac. Why did he choose Isaac as an heir?


כה,ה וַיִּתֵּן אַבְרָהָם אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ לְיִצְחָק  כה,ו וְלִבְנֵי הַפִּילַגְשִׁים אֲשֶׁר לְאַבְרָהָם נָתַן אַבְרָהָם מַתָּנֹת וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם מֵעַל יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ בְּעוֹדֶנּוּ חַי קֵדְמָה אֶל אֶרֶץ קֶדֶם

 Torah, book 1 Genesis

25,5 And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. 25,6 But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

 Any of Abraham’s sons could be not of him – there could be no absolute guarantee. However, there was something that was indisputable – Isaac was the only one of his sons, whose MOTHER was a Hebrew woman!

Was that the most crucial thing?

Unequivocally, yes! That was why Abraham brought Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, from Haran. That was why later Rebekah sent her son Jacob to Haran to search wife to himself.



Isaac became Hebrew man No. 2.

Ishmael became Arab man No. 1.

Isaac and Ishmael remained friends:


כה,ז וְאֵלֶּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אַבְרָהָם אֲשֶׁר חָי מְאַת שָׁנָה וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה וְחָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים  כה,ח וַיִּגְוַע וַיָּמָת אַבְרָהָם בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה זָקֵן וְשָׂבֵעַ וַיֵּאָסֶף אֶל עַמָּיו  כה,ט וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אֹתוֹ יִצְחָק וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל בָּנָיו אֶל מְעָרַת הַמַּכְפֵּלָה אֶל שְׂדֵה עֶפְרֹן בֶּן צֹחַר הַחִתִּי אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי מַמְרֵא  כה,י הַשָּׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר קָנָה אַבְרָהָם מֵאֵת בְּנֵי חֵת שָׁמָּה קֻבַּר אַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתּוֹ

Torah, book 1 Genesis

25,7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, a hundred threescore and fifteen years. 25,8 And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 25,9 And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 25,10 the field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

 Abraham died in 1739 BC. A lot of time has passed since then – almost 38 centuries. However, to this day Arabs and Hebrews pray side by side in the Cave of Machpelah.

Figure 03 – a building for worship built over the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron

 Fear of Isaac 03

Isaac had two sons: (Heb) עֵשָׂו [esav] = (Eng) Esau and (Heb) יַעֲקֹב [yakov] = (Eng) Jacob.

The Edomites are descendants of Esau. See “The Road to … is paved with Incense” about them.

Jacob brought his wives from Haran – thanks to them, Jacob’s descendants are Hebrews.

12 of 13 children of Jacob were born in Haran. See “Exodus: Behind the Scenes” as for their future.


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