When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” Genesis 22:9-14
My little boy isn’t so little anymore. I can just close my eyes and see him when he was. Bright eyed, eager, curious, energetic, stubborn. Nothing is said in this story about Isaac’s age or his reactions as his father builds an altar and sets him upon it. So we fill in the blanks with our imagination. We too see our little boys and girls and we see how much seems wrong with this picture.
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
Up to this point the entire story is but a prelude to this moment. Until now, Abraham has taken Isaac camping. Until now, following God’s commands has been easy. Maybe a little inconvenient if Abraham had other plans, but taking a little trip is no big deal. Until the moment he picks up the knife to do the unthinkable. That is the test.
In the nick of time, an angel intervenes and saves the day. For Isaac if not for the ram. Abraham has proven his faithfulness. Finally the story is revealed for what it is – a legend carrying a closely held value. Abraham on the mountain with Isaac is about God’s providential care as much as it is about Abraham’s faithfulness, willingness, obedience, and reverence. This story takes its place beside David proving his courage in protecting his sheep or battling Goliath; Solomon exhibiting great wisdom in handling the question of “which woman is the mother?”; or Elijah challenging the prophets to a fiery duel.
We breathe a sigh of relief as Abraham heads for home (and yes, I know it says that Abraham meets the young men who came with him without mentioning Isaac…Isaac came too.)
But then, after that sigh, we look back again. This is a powerful story. It isn’t one that simply slips out of our minds.
It works on us. It invites us to look at our own conception of God – do we trust God or not? Even when God feels remote, uncaring, disconnected, even cruel – do we trust God? What is of such great value to us that we shrink from the thought of letting it go? What do we hold back? How can we let go?
This story is serious business. It attacks our self centeredness. It challenges our apathy. And most of all, more than anything else, it reminds us of the heart of our faith – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we believe, help us in our unbelief. Help us let go of anything that prevents us from holding tightly to you. Thank you for inviting us into a life of following the One who gave his life for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.