Thursday, July 05, 2007

Did Isaac struggle?

Today's first reading is the kind that practically demands a visual meditation:

Gen 22:1b-19

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering
on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey,
took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well,
and with the wood that he had cut for the burnt offering,
set out for the place of which God had told him.

On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar.
Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey,
while the boy and I go on over yonder.
We will worship and then come back to you.”
Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering
and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders,
while he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham:
“Father!” he said.
“Yes, son,” he replied.
Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“Son,” Abraham answered,
“God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.”
Then the two continued going forward.

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Next he tied up his son Isaac,
and put him on top of the wood on the altar.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.
Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh;
hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”
Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing(all this because you obeyed my command.”

Abraham then returned to his servants,
and they set out together for Beer-sheba,
where Abraham made his home.

Note that Abraham didn't tell his son what he was commanded to do, perhaps in faith hoping God would call it off, or not trusting his son not to hightail it out of there when he heard that he was going to be the sacrificial offering. Or, most likely, he didn't want his son to suffer the mental torment during those three days of travel, of this awful thing coming.

But there is that moment of truth: Abraham tied up his son and laid him on the wood and advanced with the knife.

Did Isaac shout, and struggle, and cry, and beg for the reason for this monstrous surprise? Or did he have the faith to trust his father's actions? Or did he resign himself to be the sacrifice?

We aren't told explicitly and that's okay. We can broaden out the image and get a glimpse of Jesus, the only son of the Father, being sacrificed for our sins. He was silent and did not struggle, but He did cry out "Take this from me, if it be Thy Will!" and "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" His divinity and His humanity remain ever-present, ever-balanced.

We can meditate on this passage from the point of view of Abraham AND of Isaac.

(I read a wag somewhere who pointed out that Isaac trusted his father on the mount of Moriah, but we can bet that he never took any long walks with Abraham again!)


Henry Dieterich said...

Kierkegaard has an interesting meditation on this topic. I believe it's in Fear and Trembling.



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