Isaac and the Thicket

Thicket, Ramat HanadivRead Genesis 21:1-7 and Genesis 22:1-19.

Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah – the son through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 17:15-19, 22:17-18). Isaac was born in 2066 B.C.  when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah about 90 years-of-age.  When Isaac was about 16, God gave Abraham the command to take Isaac to the region of Mount Moriah and there sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.  Abraham did not question God’s command. Early the next morning Abraham cut wood for the burnt offering and saddled his donkey. With two servants and Isaac, Abraham started off to Mount Moriah.  Three days later, Abraham saw the place where God wanted him to make the burnt offering. Telling his servants to remain behind, Abraham and Isaac went forward together.  Isaac carried the wood for the burnt offering while Abraham carried the fire.

As Abraham and Isaac walked on the final leg of the journey, Isaac asked his father< where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7).  Abraham assured Isaac that God himself would provide the lamb. When Abraham and Isaac reached the God-ordained place on Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Abraham laid Isaac on top of the wood and bound Isaac there.  Abraham picked up his knife and prepared to slay Isaac.  At the last minute, the angel of the Lord called to Abraham and told Abraham not to lay a hand on Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for fearing God enough to give his only son, Isaac, to God.

Abraham looked up and in a thicket saw a ram caught by the horns.  The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him on the altar. Just as Isaac did not struggling against his bindings, the ram did not struggling to loosen its horns from the thicket. The ram was simply there waiting for Abraham to see it. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of Isaac.

Thickets on Mount Moriah

Abraham, Isaac, and the ram played major parts in this Bible episode; but the role of the ticket was also important.  What is a thicket and how did its being there contribute to the successful outcome of the story?  The Hebrew word for thicket is çᵉbâk, derived from the Hebrew word çâbak, which means to entwine in the sense of interwoven branches.  A thicket is a group of wild shrubs and occasional small trees which grow together to form impenetrable branches. At times vines entangle with the shrubs and small trees. Thickets are not merely shrubs planted near each other; rather branches and roots join or entangle as if the shrub was a single plant. Often shrubs have thorns.  In thickets rarely are shrubs and small trees taller than 10 – 20 feet. Abraham’s planned sacrifice on Mount Mariah was in approximately 2050 B. C.  At that time, much of the Judean Mountains including Mount Moriah was tree covered; however, approximately 30 – 40 years before this story a natural or manmade disaster (earthquake, flood or fire) must have occurred locally. Thickets grow in response to natural disturbances in which large trees are destroyed.  Some shrubs that may have participated in thicket formation on ancient Mount Moriah are in Table 1.

Symbolism of the Thicket: Entanglements

In the story of the Isaac and the burnt offering, the ram was entangled in the interwoven branches of the thicket. Entangle means to wrap or twist together, to interweave, and to ensnare (Merriam-Webster, 2005). An entanglement is a condition of being confused.  In contrast to the ram in the thicket, Abraham was not entangled or confused. Abraham understood that God had first priority in his life. Imagine the thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three day walk to Mount Moriah. Some of these thoughts could have been: “Surely God did not tell you to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering? You must have misunderstood. If you sacrifice Isaac then you will have no son alive to be the father of all nations. A God that really loved and cared about would never put you through the pain of killing your beloved son. How can a god who is demanding this sacrifice be a just god that you want to follow and obey?”

Abraham did not become entangled in Satan’s lies or confused by the limitations of his own understanding of God and this situation. Abraham believed God would keep his promises: God promised that Isaac would be the father of all nations and all the world would be blessed through Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19).  Abraham did not understand how God would work out this situation; yet, Abraham believed that even if he offered Isaac as a burnt offering, God would ensure that Isaac was the father of all nations.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews directed readers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).  Many times we get entangled and confused by Satan’s arguments when he tempts us to do something that the Bible defines as a sin. Satan tries to make us doubt God’s word or he redefines the situation so that we think God is being unfair to us. When we become entangled and confused by Satan’s temptations and arguments, we need to remember the thicket.

For wilderness hikers, the most difficult landscape to traverse is often a thicket. In many cases when a thicket is encountered, hikers do not attempt to cut through them; rather they go around the thicket.  Hikers know that if they try to go through a tangled, thorn-infested thicket, they will get hurt. They may even lose their direction. When Satan tries to draw us into a thicket of confusion or doubt, like hikers facing a thicket, we need to circumvent his ploys. An alternative to heading straight through masses of interwoven branches is to calmly rest in God’s care and go around the thicket.

Reflection: What lies and arguments has Satan tried to entangle you in lately?  Are you listening to his arguments or are you remembering God’s promises?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at

Copyright July 29, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

Table 1 Shrubs and small trees in a thicket in the area of Mount Moriah

Names Characteristic
Prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) Evergreen dioecious tree that can grow up to 46 feet tall but more often a shrub. Needles display in groups of three; needles are sharp and up to ¾ inches long.  Fruit (cone) berry-like, red, spherical. Grows in mountain elevations up to 4,593 feet.
Myrtle (Myrtus communis) In ancient Canaan and even when the Children of Israel entered the land, wild myrtle thickets were abundant. Evergreen; grows up to 18 feet tall; purplish black berries.
Strange vine (Vitis orientalis) Bushy shrub; sometimes climbing, deciduous vine. Smooth and sometimes slightly ribbed shoots. Leaves have serrated edges. Round fruit similar in appearance to currents. Prolific in mountains of Israel, can grow at elevations as high as 5000 feet.
Buckthorn orPalestine buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides, orRhamnus palaestinus)  Used for centuries as hedges (Walker, 1979). Evergreen bush or small tree; up to 6 feet in height. Grows on hillsides of much of Israel. Rhamnus comes from “ram” meaning branching; branches are intertwined.




4 responses to “Isaac and the Thicket

  1. Thank you for the Revelation May the Lord continue to Bless you

  2. Valuable information. Fortunate me I discovered your web site by chance, and
    I am shocked why this twist of fate did not took place in advance!
    I bookmarked it.

  3. What do you think the derivation of Gopherwood, used in the making of Noah’s Ark?

    • Bill, I am not positive I understand your question; but here is a stab at answering. The Hebrew word gopher (which has a caret above the “o”), means “to house in,” or a “kind of tree or wood used for building.” Likely the gopher tree was the cypress tree or cypress resin. The connection is that the cypress tree was used to make the ark which housed Noah, his wive, three sons and their wives, and the numerous animals. Hope this is helpful. Also, I use The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (2010) as my reference to understand the derivation and meaning of Hebrew and Greek words. Blessings, Carolyn

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