We’re exploring a tough story today. The Bible even warns us:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
The story helps us prepare for what’s ahead. This is a test, and it comes from God.
He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
This may be a test, but it’s a horrifying one. No children will be harmed in the making of this story…at least not physically, although I can only imagine the psychological trauma on everyone involved. There is no question Isaac will live. It’s a question of whether Abraham will pass the test.
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
This is a heartbreaking story to read. God even acknowledges this is a painful thing to ask of Abraham, describing Isaac as “your son whom you love.”
Isaac is the child Abraham and Sarah were promised by God. Abraham waited for years for the child to happen, and finally gave up on God’s plan and had a baby with another woman. Now God tells him this gut-wrenching command to take Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him. Abraham does exactly what he’s told. He takes Isaac with two servants and says they’re heading up the mountain to make a sacrifice to God. Now, a sacrifice would not be unusual, it was a way of showing a man like Abraham was giving himself wholly to God, and to “atone” or pay the price for his sin. Since the consequence of sin was our death, humans could substitute the death of some other living thing in a sacrifice like this.
Now, Isaac’s a smart kid. He’s probably not as young as you think…he might even be in his early twenties. So, he knows something’s wrong. Maybe it’s his father’s distress, or eerie quiet, but he knows something’s up and that his father brought everything for a sacrifice – wood, a knife, a way to light a fire – but he forgot the animal to sacrifice.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.
Question: How do you react to this story so far? With horror? With doubt? With acceptance? What past experiences or presuppositions do you think are part of this?