The Sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac
Part 1: The Long Journey
Jack M. LanePart One of this series is written as a short story. We will follow Abraham and Isaac to a lonely hilltop in the Promised Land, and watch the compelling saga of one of the greatest sacrifices in the history of Godís work. In Part Two, we will examine many of the dynamics of Abrahamís sacrifice, and see how it applies to us today!
Abraham was stunned. He didnít want to believe what he had just heard.
Sacrifice Isaac? Cut him up and burn him like a lamb or a goat? How could he bring himself to do it? And why? God had never required human sacrifice before!
He knew it was the voice of God that spoke to him. He was very familiar with the voice of El Shaddai, the God Who is Sufficient, the Creator of heaven and earth. There was no deception; it was El Shaddai who had made this unthinkable demand. But why?
"What of the promise?", Abraham thought. He had been told that his descendants would be blessed, and that they would be uncountable for very number. Abraham had waited, in faith, for over twenty years to see a child born of his elderly wife, Sarah. This child, El Shaddai had assured him, would be the one through whom the dynasty of Abraham would grow great and encircle the earth. This very child. But now --
"El Shaddai?", Abraham called out. There was no answer. He raised his voice. "Yahweh?" There was only the stirring of a slight wind across the open plain. Abraham gazed out over the land of Canaan he knew and loved so well, his robes gently flowing in the breeze. He waited. The Voice said no more. There was no point in staying here any longer, he thought. Abraham often came to this spot to be alone with his God, but now he didnít want to stay.
He knew he must obey. Delay would only weaken his resolve. Many years had taught him that the Voice he would sometimes hear was indeed the God of all creation, and Abraham had grown to trust Him, respect Him, and revere Him. Abraham would eagerly long to speak with God, and looked forward to each opportunity. Until now.
Abraham knew God as no one else on earth did, well enough to know that whatever God said would come true, and that whatever God commanded needed to be carried out. It was the only course of action Abraham could take.
The old man turned and slowly trudged back to the camp. His walk, already slowed by age, was slower still as he contemplated this thing he was to do. Deep in thought, he didnít take notice of the active life of the camp, the camels braying, the children running gleefully through the open yard, the dust and sand stirred up everywhere by the thousands of animals and hundreds of people in Abrahamís own sheikdom. He was scarcely aware of his herdsmen and servants and their families. Large families with many children.
He dreaded to enter Sarahís tent. How could he tell her what he must do? Of course he couldnít. He mustnít. He would simply go and do this awful thing without discussing it. She would never forgive him; he knew that. But he would face that later.
Sarah rose as Abraham entered the tent. He knew she was waiting to hear what El Shaddai had said to him. She had always felt a thrill to think that God Himself had chosen her husband, out of all men, to befriend, to speak with directly. Why, had He not come personally with His angels to visit and tell them that they would have this wonderful son? Sarah couldnít help feeling proud of her husband, and her son. Very proud.
Abraham did not speak. "My lord," she asked, "what did our God say today?"
For a long moment, Abraham looked at her. He had never hesitated to tell her everything. "I must go sacrifice to our God," he said at last, his voice somewhat husky and thick. "He told me to make a sacrifice to Him."
"Yes, my lord, of course," she replied. "I shall have the servants keep your dinner for when you return."
"No," he said, his eyes downcast. "I must go to Moriah." He looked up and continued, "To a mountain He will show me. This is to be -- a special sacrifice. A very special sacrifice." He looked away. "We will be gone for a few days." Almost as an afterthought, he added quietly, "Then I will return."
Sarah wanted to ask something, but she was not sure what to ask. Instead, she busied herself immediately. "I will have food prepared for your journey, then." She also had learned long ago not to question unusual circumstances, but to obey cheerfully. "You will take Isaac? He loves to help you with the sacrifices."
"Yes," Abraham sighed. "Isaac will go with me."
Sarah began to assemble things for Abraham to take, chatting nervously as she moved about the spacious tent. "Iím so glad Isaac loves God as much as we do," she said. "Iím so proud of him. He loves to serve God and help with the sacrifices."
Abrahamís heart sank. He opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. "She will be heartbroken," he thought. "So will I. But God knows much better than I what is best. I donít understand now; I wish I did. But I will obey so that I will understand later. I hope I will."
SETTING OUT FOR MORIAH
Early the next morning, Abraham, riding his donkey, left the camp with Isaac and two other young men walking alongside. They carried a stack of wood, and a wisp of smoke curled up from the torch one of the servants carried.
For three days they traveled. Isaac wondered about the special sacrifice they were going such a great distance to offer.
Abraham didnít say much during the journey. He spent much of the time thinking about his son. He remembered the day the boy was born. They named him "Laughter" because, after almost a century, there was at last a son to bring endless joy and happiness to his aged parents. Abraham reminisced about events from Isaacís childhood. Now this boy, so recently a young man, was to be cut off, at the hands of his own father. Yet, God had commanded it, so it would be done.
Abraham thought, "If Isaac is to be sacrificed, God will have to raise him up again, else how could I become the father of many nations through him if he is not? That must be it. God does not lie. He will raise up Isaac again, and keep His promise to me and my descendants." Abraham attempted to comfort himself with that thought.
On the third day, Abraham saw the mountain in the distance. He had the servants make camp where they were, while he and Isaac walked on to the mountain, carrying the wood, the ceremonial knife, and the torch.
TWO MEN ALONE
They walked along for some time. "Father," Isaac said. "Here I am," Abraham responded, still looking forward. Isaac continued, "Father, I am carrying the wood for the fire. You have the knife and the torch. God supplies us with rocks to pile up for the altar. But Father, we have brought no animal to sacrifice. Where is the lamb to sacrifice?"
Where is the sacrifice? Abrahamís heart tore in his bosom. Sacrifice? He choked back a sob. Who would be making the larger sacrifice? Once the deed was done, unless God brought Isaac back to life and restored him, Abraham would go back and live with the horrible memory of having slaughtered and burned his own son, the boy in whom he and Sarah had placed their hopes. Sarah. Who, indeed, would be making the largest sacrifice?
Abraham came out of his deep thought. "My son," he began. For a long moment, it became difficult to see, and Abraham needed to stop. He looked at Isaac. "My son, God will provide Himself with a little lamb for the sacrifice." They walked on in silence. The meaning was becoming clear to Isaac.
Isaac had been brought up from his earliest days with a strong assurance in the God of his father and mother. All his life he had heard of the mighty deeds of El Shaddai, the great God who had created everything. He knew, as his father Abraham knew, that El Shaddai was the wisest, gentlest, most merciful God that could be, unlike the false gods of wood, stone, and imagination the surrounding nations had always worshipped. Isaac knew, as did his father, to trust El Shaddai implicitly.
Neither spoke as they reached the summit. Together they began to assemble large rocks for an altar, as they had done hundreds of times before. Abraham arranged the stones, stacked the firewood on top of the makeshift altar, then turned to his son.
When their eyes met, there was understanding, and trust. Isaac made no move as Abraham bound his wrists together with a leather thong. Isaac watched as Abraham squatted down to bind his ankles. Isaac offered no resistance as his father leaned him over his shoulder and hoisted him up like a sack of barley -- or an animal -- and lay him on the wood.
Isaac knew, from helping with many sacrifices, what would happen next. His father would use the ceremonial knife to open a deep wound in Isaacís neck, allowing the blood to rush out of his body, resulting in a quick, painless death.
Isaac was not afraid. He knew the promises as well, for his parents had taught him thoroughly from his youth. Isaac had the same abiding faith in God that his father had, and he trusted his father and God equally. Isaac actually felt sorry for his father, who had to do the task he was now doing.
Abrahamís head was spinning as he forced himself to do this thing so very much alien to him. There was a loud buzzing in his ears, and his face was white. A tear trickled down his cheek and disappeared into his beard. In Abrahamís mind, Isaac was already dead, so set was he on doing this thing El Shaddai had required of him.
He picked up the knife and wordlessly approached Isaac. How strange it felt to be doing this. This was the same ritual he had done thousands of times before, but every nerve screamed at him to stop. With one hand, Abraham exposed the side of Isaacís neck. With the other hand, he reached for the knife to bring it near Sarahís only son, hesitating for just a moment. He must do this quickly.
The Voice called out, "Abraham! Abraham!" He was so intent on finishing the sacrifice that he almost didnít stop. Yet he responded to the urgency in the Voice.
Without looking up, he wearily replied, "Here I am."
The Voice sounded happy, almost jubilant, oddly out of place at that moment. "Donít harm the lad," He said. "Donít do anything! Now I know that you truly worship and obey God, because you havenít even kept your own son from Me!"
Abraham, numbed with grief over what he had purposed to do, was slow to react and to understand. El Shaddai repeated, "Abraham, let Isaac go. You passed the test. You are a servant who pleases Me well!"
Abraham dared to look into Isaacís face. Isaac was beaming with delight, both over his own release and from knowing that God had taken still more pleasure in his father; for Isaac, too, had heard the Voice from heaven.
Quickly, Abraham released Isaac, tears flowing freely. A sudden feeling of weakness came over him.
A rustling in the bushes nearby attracted their attention. There was a ram, caught in the bushes by his horns! Indeed, as Abraham had said, God had provided a sacrifice for Himself. The two men looked at each other in astonishment, for they had not seen the ram earlier. Abraham strode purposefully to where the ram was held, grabbed hold of the animal, and sacrificed it on the altar which had so recently held Isaac. Isaac eagerly assisted in the offering of this substitute sacrifice, with a vigor and enthusiasm born of a new understanding of the purpose of burnt offerings. When the torch was applied to the wood, and a small flame began to rise from the altar, the experience felt different to both men than it ever had before.
After the offering had been consumed, Abraham and Isaac stood, arms around each other, watching the fire die down and the smoke rise to heaven. As they stood, El Shaddai spoke again in the hearing of them both. Abraham was told that, because of his unswerving loyalty and obedience, great blessings were now assured, unconditionally, and the entire world would be blessed through Abrahamís seed, simply because he obeyed. Now Abraham had a better understanding of why God had commanded such a difficult thing.
Once the fire had died out, Abraham and Isaac began the long descent back to where the two others were waiting. They couldnít help smiling as they walked, and occasionally grinned at each other. Once in awhile they stopped and hugged each other. All the while they spoke excitedly of the things El Shaddai had told them, about the influence Abraham and Isaac and their seed would have over the entire world.
Both men felt elated, on a spiritual and emotional plane neither had experienced before. Both of them had grown immeasurably from this experience on a hilltop in Canaan where, in one moment, two men had proven themselves to God, and God had proven Himself to them.