Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Easter Story: To sacrifice a son


They had been travelling for days. Now, on the top of this mountain, they had built an altar. On top of the altar was wood, ready to be burnt.

It was just the two of them: an elderly father and a young son. They had left the servants and the donkeys some way back and had walked the rest of the way together. They had carried the wood and they had built the altar together. Now it was time to sacrifice the burnt offering.

Isaac, the son, had thought it strange that they had not bought a sheep for the offering with them. When he asked, his father Abraham replied, "The Lord will provide."

Isaac saw his father's faith. Abraham was certain that the Lord would meet his needs. Hadn't the Lord always fulfilled his promises? Indeed, Isaac was born as the Lord said he would be, even though both his mother and father were late in their years. Abraham had no reason to doubt the Lord and that he would provided. Isaac looked around in order to see the sheep the Lord had provided for them. But, he could not find one.

Then his father did something very strange. Abraham bound Isaac's hands and feet and lifted his son onto the altar. For Abraham knew what the Lord had asked of him. Before they had set out, the Lord had asked Abraham to do the impossible.

Abraham loved his son very much. The Lord knew this. Isaac, after all, was the son God had given him. And yet, the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. Abraham was obedient and did as the Lord had asked. The Lord was always faithful; surely he would be faithful now. The Lord had given him Isaac; he would provide once again.

And so, Abraham was ready to kill his son on an altar atop a mountain. He took his knife, ready to bring down a fatal blow to his only boy.

"Abraham!" a voice cried. "Abraham! Do not lay a hand on your son. Do not hurt him in any way."

Abraham looked up and saw a ram with his horns caught in a thicket. The Lord, indeed, provides.

(Genesis 22)

This is one of the Bible passages that people often have difficulties in understanding. Abraham is heralded as a great ancestor, yet was depraved enough to kill his only son. And what is to be said of the God that asked Abraham to do this?

Abraham trusted in the Lord to provide for him. He had enough faith to believe that whatever the outcome of this event, God would not rescind his promises to him. Isaac was given to him by the Lord and Abraham was confident of this. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that if Isaac did die, Abraham believed God would bring him back to life.

This story does not only provide reassurance of God's enduring faithfulness, but also provides interesting parallels with events yet to come. There is a father willing to sacrifice a son: a son that is innocent. There is also a substitute sacrifice; the ram takes the place of Isaac and dies in his place. There is also the son that is brought from death.

However, there are many ways where this story is different from the one it foretells. There is no cruel death and there is no separation from father and child. There is no scorn, false accusations, or torture. The story of Abraham and Isaac is light compared to the other.

And yet, in both, we see the love and faithfulness of God the Father.

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