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Parashat Vayera - Midrash of the White Ram

Midrash of the White Ram

Further thoughts on Parashat Vayera

by John J. Parsons

Here's an amazing midrash concerning the mystical "white ram" that volunteered to be substituted for Isaac during Abraham's greatest test:

    On the last day of creation, in the twilight of the first Sabbath, God made a beautiful white ram. God put the ram in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and said, "Wait here until I call you." And there the ram waited and waited.

    Meanwhile, Adam and Eve disobeyed the LORD and were exiled from the garden. They left the beauty of paradise, yet the ram stayed and waited.

    The ages passed, and the other animals left the garden.  Still the ram patiently waited.

    Then one day God woke the ram and said, "Today is the day."  The ram jumped up and began to run. He knew what he had to do.

    The evil one appeared and said, "Stop! Don't leave this beautiful garden. It will mean your death!" But the ram said, "I must save the child!" and he ran out of Eden. He ran over rocks and boulders, he leapt over stony crags. He knew exactly where he was going.

    The evil one next appeared disguised as a field of fresh green grass. "Stop here!" he cajoled. "Eat and rest.  There's no need to hurry." But the ram replied, "I must save the child!" and ran even faster through the dusty desert.  The evil one waited and then appeared as a sparkling fountain of water in the waste places. He cried out, "Ho, all who are thirsty, stop and drink!  Rest -- there is no hurry!" But once again the ram replied, "I cannot stop! I must save the child!" Further still along the way, the evil one appeared as a hungry lion and roared, "Stop! Or I will rend you to pieces and devour you!" But the ram stoutly replied, "I must save the child" and leapt over the ferocious lion.

    Finally the ram arrived at the sacred mountain (Moriah). At the top he saw a child tied and bound to an altar and a weeping man.  "Wait!" cried the ram, running with all his strength. "I am here! Take me!" But the evil one, disguised as a bush of brambles, caught the ram's horns and said, "You shall go no further!" The ram struggled to get free, crying out, "Abraham! Here I am!  Take me!" but Abraham did not hear.

    The ram then heard the voice of God saying to Abraham, "Stop! I asked you to sacrifice your only son, Isaac, to test your love and trust in me. Now, instead of Isaac, sacrifice this ram. I made him in the twilight of the last day of creation for this very moment -- to take Isaac's place on the altar."  Abraham then saw the ram and untied his son.  After he freed the ram from the thicket of brambles, the ram bounded upon the altar.

    "Abraham," said the ram, "when you blow through one of my horns, God will hear the sound and remember Isaac and me -- the white ram that took his place. And He will forgive the sins of Isaac, and the sins of his children, and his children's children, and so on, always, until the end of time."

    Then the ram lay down on the altar and his soul flew away into God's hands. And from the ram's ashes the mortar for the altar of the Temple was said to be made; from his bones, the foundations of Jerusalem were laid, from his bowels, the strings of David's harp, and from his hide, the prophet Elijah made a cloak. And from his two horns were made two shofars: one was blown when Moses received the Ten Commandments, and the other will call the children of Israel home. And now, when we hear the sound of the shofar, we remember the sacrifice of the white ram for Isaac and his children. 

    (Adapted from Mordicai Gerstein's retelling of the famous midrash in his children's book, The White Ram, Holiday House, 2006)

The beautiful midrash has it partly right. Yeshua is indeed called the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8), though He was not created on the eve of the last day of creation, but rather is the Creator Himself -- the One whose glory is so expansive that it reaches both to the top of the highest heavens and to the lowest depths of Hell.  His sacrificial love was not embodied in a mythical ram but rather with the frailty of real human flesh in order to suffer and die for our sins... His descent was for our ascent; his death was given for our life.

Consider how the sacrifice of Isaac (the Akedah) provides a prophetic picture of Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" (Seh haElohim) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Both Isaac and Yeshua were born miraculously; both were "only begotten sons"; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Mount Moriah; both were to be resurrected on the third day (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:17-19); both willingly took up the means of his execution; and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another – the ram for Isaac, and Yeshua for all of mankind.  Indeed, the first occurrence of the word "love" in the Scriptures (ahavah) refers to a father's love for his "only" son who was offered as a sacrifice on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua, a clear reference to the gospel message itself (Gen. 22:2; John 3:16).

As believers in Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the Ram of Ordination -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better covenant! And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). May the LORD be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth.

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