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Sacrificing Isaac

[God said to Abraham], “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.” Genesis 22:2

I have a hard time imagining what Abraham must have felt when God told him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. The biblical text simply says that he responded with obedience, taking Isaac to the mountains and offering him up to the Lord. But between those terse lines of Torah dwells all the depth of human emotion that accompany the loss of that which is most dear in life. Left unspoken is the dreadful courage it must have taken to say under such circumstances, thy will be done.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is an archetype of total surrender to God. Isaac meant the world to Abraham. He represented God’s past faithfulness: his solemn promise to be with Abraham and make his family a great nation. Isaac was the future: the bearer of the promise, the father of generations to come.

Perhaps most important of all, this young boy was infinitely precious in that present moment. Abraham loved Isaac as only a father can love his son. When Abraham said yes to God, he said no to all his hopes, dreams and loves. He gave up everything for the sake of obedience.

We know now, of course, that God did not ultimately require Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt offering on the mountainside. But Abraham had no idea. He chose to be obedient, expecting that it really would mean the loss of Isaac. If God hadn’t stayed his hand, he would have gone through with it.

What is the purpose of this story? Why is this gut-wrenching incident so central to the faith of billions? What is the lesson here?

This story is meant to be shocking. Why in the world would God ask a father to kill his own child? It simply blows my mind that God would even request such a thing. Yet even as I find myself bewildered by the horror of the story, I am invited to imagine myself in Abraham’s place. What are those things that seem impossible to surrender to God? Where am I holding back? Who or what is my Isaac?

  • Micheal McEvoy

    I agree with your post, but I also read this story as a lesson in how the new People of YHWH are to behave. It was standard practice to sacrifice people, especially children, to local gods for fertility and security. YHWH taught Abraham that the way of YHWH’s People was not the way of the world.