How Old Was Isaac?

In Wednesday night’s class, in review, the question was asked: “How old was Isaac when Abraham nearly sacrified him?”

I don’t expect to come up with a firm answer to this question, because I didn’t see any reference points in the text that would help direct me towards an absolute answer. Here’s what I’ve found…please leave a comment on this message if you have any ideas…
The Sacrifice of Isaac: 1590 painting by Empoli.

  • Isaac had been weaned. He was old enough to take off on a journey with his father and carry enough firewood to roast himself. His reasoning had developed enough to deduce the realization that there was wood and knife, but no sacrificial lamb. In my mind, that’d rule out anything below 8-10ish?
  • One author estimates Abaham’s age at ~125 here, putting Isaac at ~25. The histories of Josephus agree with this aging in “The Antiquities of the Jews” Book 1, Chapter 13, Paragraphs 3-4 In fact, Josephus recods a traditional rendeing of what Abraham said when Isaac questioned him further:

    As soon as the altar was prepared, and Abraham had laid on the wood, and all things were entirely ready, he said to his son, “O son, I poured out a vast number of prayers that I might have thee for my son; when thou wast come into the world, there was nothing that could contribute to thy support for which I was not greatly solicitous, nor any thing wherein I thought myself happier than to see thee grown up to man’s estate, and that I might leave thee at my death the successor to my dominion; but since it was by God’s will that I became thy father, and it is now his will that I relinquish thee, bear this consecration to God with a generous mind; for I resign thee up to God who has thought fit now to require this testimony of honor to himself, on account of the favors he hath conferred on me, in being to me a supporter and defender. Accordingly thou, my son, wilt now die, not in any common way of going out of the world, but sent to God, the Father of all men, beforehand, by thy own father, in the nature of a sacrifice. I suppose he thinks thee worthy to get clear of this world neither by disease, neither by war, nor by any other severe way, by which death usually comes upon men, but so that he will receive thy soul with prayers and holy offices of religion, and will place thee near to himself, and thou wilt there be to me a succorer and supporter in my old age; on which account I principally brought thee up, and thou wilt thereby procure me God for my Comforter instead of thyself.”

    4. Now Isaac was of such a generous disposition as became the son of such a father, and was pleased with this discourse; and said, “That he was not worthy to be born at first, if he should reject the determination of God and of his father, and should not resign himself up readily to both their pleasures; since it would have been unjust if he had not obeyed, even if his father alone had so resolved.” So he went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed.

    I don’t know if this story is entirely accurate, but it sure gives pause for thought!

  • Another blogger cites Talmud writings in support of age 37.

    Though the text does not state Isaac age at the sacrifice, Jewish tradition (ie: Talmudic scholars) teach that Isaac was 37 years old.

    Wikipedia suggests this is because the next recorded story (Genesis 22-23) is the death of Sarah, at 127. She was 90 at his birth, so the oldest he could have been would be 37. The Talmud adds a bit of (likely exaggerated) detail to the story as well: dialogue between Abraham and Isaac on this journey:

    “By the life of God, my father, I know no evil, I am conscious of no regret. Blessed be the Lord who has desired me this day.”

Talk about trust! Yikes!

This is the exact opposite of the story of the young man Jesus met (Matthew 19:22). He asked what to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said he’d done well so far in his keeping of the commandments, even from his childhood, but he lacked one thing: sell all he had, and give it to the poor.

Jesus wants every bit of me. I’m truly blessed when I learn to give him what he asks. See Hebrews 11:17-19.