Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Tale Of Two Sons

Abraham and Isaac
Jews and Christians alike are familiar with the story in Gen 22 where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Much has been written about it, and it even is referred to simply as the Binding or Akedah in Hebrew. It is a famous story. "It is one of the most widely read passages of Scripture in the Jewish liturgy, recited during every morning service and also during Rosh Hashanah" - The Akedah - the Binding of Isaac [1]. And believers know that the Binding is a foreshadow of God the Father sacrificing his Son Jesus Christ. Searching for parallels between Isaac and Jesus yields at least 30 Similarities [2], including these, you can easily find other lists.

  • Each son is called the only son of his father.
  • The sons had been born with divine intervention.
  • Both were named by God before birth
  • The son was laid upon the wood/cross, which they carried.
  • Both were obedient unto death.
  • The sacrifices take place near each other (Mt. Moriah OT, Mt. Calvary NT).

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

But "Abraham had TWO sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman" - Galatians 4:22. In the Gen 22 account, Isaac is referred to as Abraham's only son "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." There are several explanations of this seeming contradiction - Yahoo Answers [3].
  • "Abram" was the father of Ishmael and "Abraham" was the father of Isaac: thus "Abraham" had only one son.
  • Ishmael was the son of a concubine and not an heir.
  • Ishmael and Hagar had been disowned by and legally removed from the family.
  • Isaac is the only son of the promise, the covenant.

Ishmael was 13 years older than Isaac
Paul uses the two sons of Abraham to talk about the two covenants. But there is another, older connection between the boys. While Genesis 22 gets read frequently, Genesis 21 is not so widely known. Genesis 21 is the account of Ishmael and Hagar being banished from the family of Abraham. Where else have we seen this - one sacrificed, one sent away?

Like Cain and Abel [4], the story of Isaac and Ishmael foreshadows a ceremony at the Tabernacle hundreds of years later. Consider this, one was (almost) sacrificed, one was sent away. This is exactly what happens during Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement in English. Two goats were selected, one goat sacrificed for the Lord, and one goat (Azazel) to be removed, Azazel in Hebrew is often translated scapegoat in English. The Azazel goat bore the guilt of the nation of Israel. This has been brought out by Julia Blum in her book Abraham Had Two Sons [5].

Consider these very specific parallels

The High Priest lays hands on the live goat
and puts the sins of Israel on its head
Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering -  Lev 16:15
Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son (Isaac). - Gen 22:10

Send it (Azazel) away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. - Lev 16:21
He (Abraham) gave it and the boy (Ishmael) to Hagar, and sent her away. - Gen 21:14

He shall release the goat in the wilderness. - Lev 16:22
Ishmael grew and dwelt in the wilderness. Gen 21:20

The supernatural son Isaac represents righteousness, and he was (almost) sacrificed. The natural son Ishmael represents sin and was sent away. It is not a perfect parallel with Leviticus 16 because the order is backwards. Ishmael was sent away before Isaac was sacrificed. And of course Isaac wasn't actually killed like the goat. And unlike the Azazel, Ishmael must have stayed in contact because we read in Genesis 25:7 that both Isaac and Ishmael buried their father Abraham.

But like Cain and Abel [4], the parallel between Isaac and Ishmael with the two goats of Leviticus 16 is there.

But God Had Two Sons

We realize that Isaac (and the first goat) represent Jesus the Messiah as we discussed above. But what about Ishmael and the Azazel goat? Who do they represent?

The Churches of God teach that Satan is represented by the Azazel goat. See how this will play out in the future.
Rev 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

God: the most popular
scapegoat for our sins
The dragon is Satan, the Azazel who "shall bear on itself all their iniquities" because he "deceived the nations". The angel is the "man who stands in readiness" some translations say "a fit man", the abyss is the wilderness. You can read more about The Day of Atonement at United Church of God God's Holy Day Plan - Atonement [6].

Others disagree with this interpretation, and teach that Jesus fulfills the symbolism of of the both goats. As best I can tell, because Jesus is righteous, He does not fit the symbolism associated with Azazel.

But we just saw other lesser types of the two goats, like Cain and Abel, and like Isaac and Ishmael, perhaps there is another type that fulfills the two goats. That is, maybe there is an Old Testament fulfillment of the two goats. Julia Blum makes that argument in Abraham Had Two Sons [5].

Christians are used to the phrase "son of God". Plenty of verses show that believers are considered sons of God even in this life, like this one, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" -  Romans 8:14. But there are only two that God calls "My Son" and "firstborn" in the Bible. Most will guess Jesus as one of them, "Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son (Jesus), My Chosen One; listen to Him!” - Luke 9:35. And  "He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead so that he himself may become first in all things." - Col 1:18.

The other is the nation of Israel, "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn." - Exodus 4:22. Both points in one verse. We don't normally think of an entire nation as a son, but that's what it says.

It's straightforward to see that Jesus fulfills the type of the sacrificed goat. How does the nation of Israel fulfill the type of the Azazel? Julia Blum:

Every Christian and Messianic believer knows that Genesis 22 symbolizes the Sacrifice of Yeshua and that Isaac going to the altar in Genesis 22 is a type of Yeshua. However, if we follow this logic, then we realize that Genesis 21 symbolizes the part of the sacrifice that was sent–alive–to bear the sins and iniquities of the peoples. Thus, Ishmael, the son who was sent into the wilderness, is a type of… Israel, the scapegoat!

Possible migration of the ten "lost" tribes
Consider what happened to the nation of Israel, it was one kingdom under Kings Saul, David and Solomon. Then in the days of Solomon's son, it split in two, the Southern kingdom dominated by the tribe of Judah, the Northern kingdom dominated by the tribe of Ephraim, but also called Samaria. The Northern kingdom fell away from God more quickly than the Southern kingdom, and it was exiled first, becoming known as the Ten Lost Tribes. Read a more thorough history at The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy [7].

2 Kings 7:23 The LORD removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.
The Southern kingdom were more righteous, but their sins caught up with them and were also taken captive.

Like the Assyrians, the Babylonians deported vanquished peoples to maintain tighter control over conquered territories.
As their cousins in the northern kingdom of Israel fell into captivity by Assyria more than a century earlier, Judah's inhabitants now were taken to Babylon. The Downfall of Judah—Exile to Babylon [8]

Both kingdoms were exiled due to idolatry, exile being likened to the wilderness. The Jews never lost their national identity like the rest of the tribes of Israel.

That is the parallel with the Azazel goat, Israel the firstborn son was exiled, sent away. Jesus, also called the firstborn son, parallels the first goat, sacrificed for sin.  And in a counter-intuitive twist, in this instance Ishmael represents Israel. Israel was sent away before Jesus was sacrificed like Ishmael was sent away before Isaac was (almost) sacrificed. In a sense, the second goat was a prophecy that Israel would be exiled to the wilderness of this world. Judah returned to Jerusalem, but was exiled again after the destruction of the second Temple in 70AD, miraculously returning to their homeland in the 20th century. That is, Judah was sent away after Jesus' sacrifice.

Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, one was sacrificed, one was sent away.

God had two sons, Jesus and the nation of Israel, one was sacrificed, one was sent away.


1. http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Prayers/Daily_Prayers/Akedah/akedah.html
2. https://derekspain.com/2014/03/10/the-answers-30-similarities/
3. https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071211132625AACGfxt
4. http://jlfreeman-1.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-tale-of-two-siblings.html
5. https://www.amazon.com/Abraham-Had-Sons-Julia-Blum/dp/1517737966
6. https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/gods-holy-day-plan-the-promise-of-hope-for-all-mankind/atonement-removal
7. https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/the-united-states-and-britain-in-bible-prophecy
8. http://www.ucg.ca/booklets/bible-and-archaeology-part-2/downfall-judah-exile-babylon

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Work Versus Work

I am a Sabbath keeper, but I'm not Jewish. Most people have some idea of what Sabbath means, many can probably recite the commandment "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy". And many can tell when the Sabbath occurs whether they themselves keep it or not. But even in a small congregation, people will differ on HOW to keep it holy. For instance,
  • Is it OK to watch TV?
  • Read a book?
  • Do household chores?
  • Eat in a restaurant?
  • Drive a car?
  • Turn on lights?
  • Cook a meal?
There are two Hebrew words translated as work, avodah and melacha, both used in the Sabbath commandment. "Six days shall you avodah, and do all your melacha." - Exodus 20:8. And in Genesis 2:2-3, it says that God rested from HIS melacha in creating the Sabbath day. Well, I thought it would be easy and helpful to understand the difference between the two words for work, so that I too could rest from my avodah and my melacha on the Sabbath. Not as easy as I thought.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Avodah seems to be the easier word to define. It generally means the labor we do, especially to earn a living, or the kind of work that makes one tired, also described as obligatory work. When God gave the Ten Commandments [1], the first thing He says is "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." - Exodus 20:2. That word slavery, also translated bondage, is avodah. Do avodah type work, then rest. The word avodah is also translated worship in the context of the work done in the Tabernacle.

Melacha is a little harder to define. It says God rested from melacha, not avodah. I think it is safe to say that God does not tire out like man, and didn't need rest like us. It says three times in Genesis 2 that He rested from His melacha, which was His work of creating - not like creating the heavens and the earth, which He created out of nothing, but taking that creation, specifically earth,  and fashioning it into something new. He fashioned the dry land, created plants and animals and mankind. He created the heavens and the earth, He made the plants, animals, and man. Mankind has a limited ability to fashion the world into new things too, that is, we make stuff according to our will. "Melacha is transforming into a higher state, through intelligent intervention." - Big Creator, Little Creator [2]. It sounds like entropy [3] to me, something else I don't understand.

Is the Sabbath a prohibition on creating, ie. a prohibition on making stuff? In some ways, we can't help but transform things into a higher state. Even making a cup of tea, or toasting a slice of bread transform the universe a little.

Not My 39 Rules

Jewish rabbis define melacha as any activity which would have been necessary to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness - What is the Shabbath? [4] They list 39 such activities. At first, it seems like a good idea to simply list what can and can't be done, no more struggling to figure it out. But the 39 rules become contradictory and impossible to observe in their own right. For example, it is forbidden to turn on a light switch, except by an automatic timer. Even the light bulb in your refrigerator must be unscrewed on Friday lest it come on when you open the door. The original rule this is based on was not to kindle a fire on the Sabbath. I see their sincerity, but can't agree with their conclusion - as best I understand it, electricity is not fire. It seems that the 39 rules violate the Torah itself, ""You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." - Deut 4:2. And they kind of admit the 39 are added, "The Torah specifically mentions two melachot, kindling a fire and carrying." - Melacha - A Unique Definition of Work [5], two, not 39.

As another example, some Jewish people employ a Sabbath goy, goy not guy. This is a non Jew who does the things the Jew "can't" do, like light candles, turn on lights, etc. My problem with that is the Sabbath command is for everyone in your household, "but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you." - Exodus 20:10. That is, it forbids your servants from working too, meaning others doing work on your behalf - The Shabbat Goy [6].

Nor are all Jews in agreement on melacha however. A sect of Jews call Karaites don't accept the 39 rules of the Rabbis. Neither do they agree about kindling a fire. "The Sages forbid both lighting a fire on Shabbat and leaving a fire burning on Shabbat that was lit before Shabbat" - Mikdash Me'at [7], meaning no hot meals. (At the other end of the spectrum, the United Church of God teaches "God, it appears, was telling them to not kindle industrial fires on the Sabbath" - No Fire on the Sabbath? [8]). The Karaites also interpret the prohibition on carrying differently too - Mikdash Me'at [7].

I do admire the Jewish people. Of all the sons of Jacob, they are the only tribe to preserve the Hebrew language, the scrolls, the history, and the culture of ancient Israel. And I have learned much about the Bible from Jewish sources.

Christians in general don't even care about the Sabbath question because they believe the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath, were done away with. They weren't. Or they believe Sunday is the Sabbath and apply some of the Biblical prohibitions to Sunday, but not as strictly as the Jews.

But doesn't this all seem too hard? (And I haven't shown the half of it) Especially for the Sabbath commandment since "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" - Mark 2:27. And don't forget "call the Sabbath a delight" - Isaiah 58:13. I had sought an easy way to help me decide if an activity should be embraced or avoided on the Sabbath, and I found no easy way. It is tempting to make a list of do's and don'ts, but the lists I've seen don't work. They were written before the light bulb, and couldn't have anticipated it. Or the toaster, or the electric oven, or the microwave oven. Or plumbing.

After all the articles I've read and the research I've done, I don't feel I have the answer to "what is melacha?". The best I can summarize it is this, avodah is repetitive work, melacha is creative work. Presumably, the people who heard the command at Sinai knew what it meant. The only real guide is the Bible itself, but we sometimes need some help interpreting and understanding the text. Unfortunately, it seems there is not a verse in the Bible that people, even believers in the same congregation, don't disagree about. An old joke goes, "if you have two Jews, you have three opinions". I think that's people in general, not just Jews.

So let me examine the two melachot we do have from the Bible and give my uncredentialed opinions. I don't believe we can treat interpretations like a smorgasbord, picking whichever meaning we find most convenient, we need a Biblical basis.

Kindle a Fire

Exodus 35:3 “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.”. Billions of people live in cold climates where a heating fire is a necessity, not a luxury. So it can't be talking about a heating fire. At the other extreme, is it forbidding the lighting of a candle? The rabbis make a rule that you must burn Sabbath candles, then forbid you to light them. While we have electric lights today, in the before time, candles were light. We all know the perils of getting up in the dark without light. "It can hardly be thought that this is to be taken in the strictest sense, as an entire prohibition of kindling a fire and the use of it on that day, which is so absolutely useful, and needful" -  Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible [9]. Gill continues "and even for the preparation of food, which must be had on that day as on others, the sabbath being not a fast, but rather a festival." I like what Susan Hooge [10] wrote about kindling a fire on the Sabbath, "The whole focus is on the kindle part… it is not on the cooking or heating aspect of a fire." That is, in those days, there was a difference between starting a fire from last night's ember and kindling a fire from scratch.

What about cooking on the Sabbath? This generates lots of strong opinions. Even people who teach against it admit to making coffee or toast, cooking in the strictest sense. Their objection is based on transforming the ingredients from raw to cooked, so to them reheating leftovers is OK, but cooking is not. Remember that melacha involves transforming the universe according to our will. The only verse in the Bible about cooking on the Sabbath concerns manna, at best I find it ambiguous.

Exodus 16: 23 Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field.
Some interpret the bake and boil to mean baking and boiling for two days worth, that is cooking ahead and the "left over" refers to leftover cooked manna. Some interpret the bake and boil to mean baking and boiling for that day (Friday), and the raw manna was left to be baked and boiled on the Sabbath. Otherwise why would it mention the manna not growing worms as on other days? Or that you will not find "it" in the field? I favor baking and boiling each day (option 2). As for making an elaborate meal from scratch, is that not already forbidden as avodah? The rule of thumb that I like is similar to preparing food for a camping trip - "ready to eat" or "ready to heat".


Jeremiah 17:21-22 "Thus says the LORD, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work (melacha), but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers."

Load, also translated burden, is the Hebrew masa. "It is a fact that every instance of the word masa throughout the entire Tanach implies a "heavy load" or a "heavy burden" -  What Is The Sabbath? [4]. Carrying a pen, a key or a Bible may be forbidden by Jewish rabbis, but is not a heavy load.

What is Jeremiah 17:21-22 talking about then? The same thing that Nehemiah saw taking place in Nehemiah 13:15-18. He saw the people carry loads (masa) for the purpose of buying and selling on the Sabbath. Melacha must have a goal or purpose. Buying and selling on the Sabbath was already prohibited (v18 did not your fathers do the same?). Buying food, whether from a store, a merchant, (or a restaurant?*) is what Nehemiah is talking about here. As for carrying heavy loads, is that not also already forbidden as avodah?
15 In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads (masa), and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. 16 Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. 17 Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the sabbath day? 18 “Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.”

*Restaurants on the Sabbath are a controversy of their own. It sounds very much like the Sabbath goy, paying someone to do something for you. Of course the day is less work for you if someone else cooks and serves your dinner. Not for them though. That cook, that server, that dishwasher, are all working like a Sabbath goy for you. What will you do when everyone keeps the Sabbath and there are no goyim left? The complication that I see is when traveling, your options are few.

And In The End

I had hoped that understanding avodah and melacha would help me better understand Sabbath keeping, after all, it's right in the commandment "Six days shall you avodah, and do all your melacha." It is referring to two types of work, but I can't tease out the subtleties of the terms, especially melacha. I've given my opinion on a few matters, I differ with the Jews on some things, with Christianity on some things. And they are MY opinions, I don't speak for any church. But they are opinions based on reading the Bible and reading lots of other points of view. And in the end, everyone should decide their practices based on the Bible. Maybe the point is that it isn't supposed to be all THAT easy. It has to be mindful. We need to think about what we are doing on the Sabbath using the Bible as our guide, not a list, and not convenience.


1. http://jlfreeman-1.blogspot.com/2015/12/ten-little-known-facts-about-ten.html
2. http://www.aish.com/sh/t/e/Big_Creator_Little_Creator.html
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_thermodynamics
4. https://www.karaiteinsights.com/article/shabbat.html
6. http://peshat.com/index.php?itemid=10
7. http://www.karaites.org/uploads/7/4/1/3/7413835/mikdash_meat_section_3_shabbat.pdf
8. http://bible.ucg.org/bible-commentary/Exodus/Sabbath-regulations;-Offerings-for-the-tabernacle;-Artisans-called/
9. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/exodus/35.htm
10. https://bewellwithyou.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/making-fire-and-cooking-on-the-sabbath/