After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 that I shall show you.”
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. Genesis 22:1-8
This is really a tough passage. Yesterday in worship I asked if anyone present had heard this story before. Virtually every hand went up. It isn’t the kind of story that one forgets once one has heard it. I have no doubt it was even more known among Jesus’ contemporaries. Perhaps the biggest difference today is how we hear it.
As a Christian, the symbolism of this story is obvious. Abraham is God and Isaac is Jesus. They have a donkey. Isaac carries the wood on his back. They head to a mountain. We see the connections.
But that isn’t all we see. We also hear this text as parents, as children, and as followers of God. It is not a comfortable story.
It is an abhorrent story when viewed through the eyes of parents. I can’t imagine that any sane parent would take one step toward the ritual sacrifice of their child, no matter who told them to do it. Even Abraham’s evasive answer to Isaac’s question – where is the lamb for a burnt offering? – comes to us as cruel rather than comforting.
We see the story through Isaac’s eyes and we remember the day when our parents could do no wrong, when we trusted completely. Those days ended at some point for us as the innocence of childhood passed by under our feet. But still we cling to the fading memory. How can our hearts not break at the thought that Isaac’s joy at being included by his father in such a trip had such a dark purpose?
And then we see God, making this request. As a test. God looks cruel, manipulative. I once heard Rabbi Harold Kushner, when asked to describe God, say, “We know God by what He asks us to do.” I doubt he was thinking of this story.
This story is troubling. Let it trouble us. We’ll hear more of this journey tomorrow.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, this is a hard passage for us to hear. It attacks us. It seems so heartless, so cruel, so dark. How could you ever ask a father to sacrifice his own son? We pray this line aloud and then we know…for it is exactly what we asked of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.