Was Isaac angry that Abraham tried to kill him?

Many people are convinced that Isaac was angry with his father Abraham because he lied to him when he said that the two were going on a trip to offer a sacrifice to God, implying that the sacrifice would be an animal, and that Abraham tied him up on top of a stone altar, planned to kill him, and only stopped when he heard a voice from heaven telling him to desist.

They assume that Isaac ran off from his father when he was untied and did not return home with him. They base their view on the wording of Genesis 22:19, “Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba, and Abraham dwelt in Beersheba.” Isaac is not mentioned with Abraham when he “returned to his young men.” Nor is he included with his father as dwelling in Beersheba.

Solution

This negative reading of 22:19 that Isaac left his father very angry is at odds with later events in Genesis which show that Abraham and Isaac had a good relationship. Genesis 24, which describes an event after the Akedah (the name given to the near sacrifice of Isaac, meaning “binding [of Isaac]”) tells that Abraham sent his most loyal servant to his relatives in his former homeland to bring back a wife for Isaac. This chapter suggests that father and son were friendly and that Abraham was trying to help Isaac.

The last sentence of chapter 24 reinforces this conclusion. It states that Isaac lived with his new wife in his now deceased mother Sara’s tent, which we can safely assume was near Abraham’s tent. So, we see father and son living together.

Genesis 25, which follows 24 tells about Abraham’s death and in verse 9, it states that Isaac and his half-brother Ishmael buried Abraham in the Cave of Machpelah, which, again, seems to indicate that Isaac had no conflict with his father.

We have no way of reading what were Isaac’s emotional reactions to his father obeying what he understood as a divine command in the Torah verses. But we are able to see that there are no indications in any verse other than what is read into 22:19 that Isaac harbored ill will against his father, and when Isaac is mentioned after the Akedah, we see him interacting with Abraham in a positive manner.

How do the midrashim treat Isaac’s behavior after the Akedah?

The Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a states “the Holy One, blessed be he, comforted mourners, for it is written, ‘And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son,’ so do thou also comfort mourners.” (Isidore Epstein, Editor, The Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nashim in four volumes, volume III, The Soncino Press, 1936, commenting on Genesis 25:11.) It is clear that the Talmudic rabbis felt that Isaac loved his father and needed comfort.

Midrash Rabbah Genesis states: When Isaac saw that his father was about to sacrifice him, he said to him that since he was young, he feared he might tremble when he sees the knife “and I will grieve thee, whereby the slaughter may be rendered unfit and this will not count as a real sacrifice; therefore bind me very firmly.” This midrash states that Isaac agreed to be sacrificed and even to be bound, and was not angry that his father wanted to kill him.

The Midrash asks our question, “Where was Isaac?” It answers, “R. Berekiah said in the name of the rabbis of the other place [Babylon]: He [Abraham] sent him to Shem [Noah’s son] to study Torah… R. Jose b. R. Hanina said: He sent him [home] at night, for fear of the [evil] eye.”  These rabbis agree that Isaac did not go home with his father, but it was not because he hated his dad.

Thus, we see that rabbis were convinced that the interpretation that Isaac hated his father is incorrect.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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