Abraham, Isaac, Fire, and Love

We have longings for things not known to man. The things we see and smell fade out when we allow ourselves the cursory glance toward what is inconceivable, beyond our wildest dreams and wildest fears.

God called a father to face a longing he didn’t want and couldn’t see when he 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 . . .”

This craziness is a real thing. It’s in the Bible. Genesis 22.

Whenever some sweet soul has asked me what the deal is, what kind of a God would say something like this, I’ve artfully feigned ignorance, looked out the window, put an expression on my face hinting that the passage is really, well, according to Biblical Scholars um . . . I look the other way, try again; well, it’s not that important, particularly, and there was the context of the thing, like, you know, their culture was different, and it wasn’t that we know, Abraham, was a, faith, and then of course, and God wasn’t so concerned, because, Mt Moriah, and then Isaac, well, we know now that, and there’s a passage, the passage in, well, love, right and, can I interest you in another chocolate chip cookie?”

Genesis 22 is out of this world intense, and us Christians tend to avoid it. We tiptoe around the whole scene like it’s not something we’re really supposed to pay much attention to, like so many impossible to pronounce biblical names, and yet in light of the heartache the passage produces, if we dare to read each sentence like it happened—really happened—it becomes clear that it’s there for a reason, and perhaps the very reason it’s there is to make us feel just that; heartache. 

“Abraham bound his son, his only son, and ‘went up to a mountain.’”

Yes, God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac up Mount Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering. We are allowed access to almost everything. Abraham gives Isaac the wood to carry, and takes the fire and the knife and leads his son up the mountain. And then this:

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 difficult thing to read. And while we see Abraham’s faith in his response, we also understand that if God doesn’t come through for him he is fully prepared to sacrifice his only son on an altar.

But here’s the thing, and this is something I just thought about recently; even though God commands Abraham to do this, he seems even more sorrowful and heartbroken than Abraham does. What caught my attention as I was reading it is that each time God refers to Abraham’s son, he doesn’t stop at “your son,” he goes on to say, “your only son.” “Take your son, your only son.”

There is a unique sorrow God seems to feel when he tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, as though it is his own son. It’s mournful the way God says over and over “your only son.” Abraham doesn’t say this, God says this. He seems to be experiencing the day ahead, when he will essentially say “my son, my only son” as he sends Jesus to the cross. The heartache. The heartache God must have felt watching his beloved Abraham lead his son up Mount Moriah. The heartache God must have felt watching his son, his only son Jesus, led to the cross.

Abraham raises the knife, even still trusting God, if not to stop the knife, then to raise Isaac from the dead. Then God does stop him. As though a mighty hand grabs Abraham’s wrist mid-plunge, the act is halted and a ram appears. God’s only son appears in the form of a ram. Isaac is saved and Abraham is saved from heartache.

How can a God who would do this be a horrible God? Read it again. See love not hate. It is incomprehensible, this love.

Jesus did a mighty thing when he went to the cross. “My Father!” he said, then his hands were pierced and he hung naked before the world.

“Here I am, my son.” And his father mourned.