The famous story of the Binding of Isaac begins with God telling Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac “to the land of Moriah” however, nowhere else in Genesis is Moriah mentioned. So where is the land of Moriah?
We do have some clues in the text. Genesis 21:33 places Abraham at the time in Be’er Sheva and 22:4 says that he travelled on his donkey for three days before encountering Moriah. With a little Google research, I discovered that a donkey can travel approximately 20 miles per day and so, Abraham’s destination must be around 60 miles from Be’er Sheva. There are no other clues in the text, so how are we to know where Abraham took his son Isaac for the monumental test of faith??
The Bible is not meant to be read in a vacuum, and we must be familiar with it deeply in order to grasp a basic understanding. There is only one other place in the Bible that mentions Moriah, and that is the second book of Chronicles:
Then Shlomo began to build the House of Hashem in Yerushalayim on Mount Moriah, where [Hashem] had appeared to his father David, at the place which David had designated, at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (II Chronicles 3:1)
The Book of Chronicles tells us precisely that Moriah is in Jerusalem, the site of the Temple (See ancient map of Israel)! Sure enough, Jerusalem is exactly 60 miles from Beer Sheva, a 3-day donkey trek just as the Bible describes!
Now that we know the location of Mount Moriah, what does Moriah mean in Hebrew?
There are several explanations by Jewish sages as to the meaning of Moriah, that illuminate different aspects of the significance of this very holy site.
One opinion is that Moriah is related to the word Hora’a, meaning ‘teaching’, very similar to the word ‘Torah.’ After all, Mount Moriah was where the Temple stood, where the Sanhedrin court ruled from, where the Tablets rested in the Holy Ark, and where Torah spread to the rest of the world.
Another opinion connects Moriah to Yir’ah which means “fear” since it is the place that fear of heaven emanates to the world. Through his willingness to sacrifice his son, Abraham demonstrated unparalleled fear of God as attested in the text itself:
Then an angel of Hashem called to him from heaven: “Avraham! Avraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear (yi’reh) Hashem, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” (Genesis 22:11,12)
At that moment Abraham passed the ultimate test of faith when he showed that he was willing to listen to God, no matter what. On Mount Moriah, Abraham demonstrated utmost fear of God.
Learning the geography of the Land of Israel, and understanding the Hebrew meaning of the Bible can lead to a much greater appreciation for God’s word. Now that we know the precise location and meaning of Mount Moriah, may we be inspired with both the teaching and the fear of Heaven that emanates from the heart of Jerusalem!