Abraham (Genesis 22:3-8)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Patriarchs

  • Early the next morning, Abraham rose and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants and his son, Isaac. When he had cut the wood, he arose, and set off for the place God had told him about. 
  • All of these are action words—suggesting a flurry of activity. 
  • Abraham was doing one thing right after another. But nothing is said about his feelings. 
  • By concentrating on Abraham's actions, the words of the text stressed his obedience. He did not delay.
  • On a very human level, perhaps, this flurry of activity also hints at the difficulty of the hour. How many times do we keep busy so we don't have to think about the problem that confronts us? 
  • The bottom line, however, is that he did exactly as he was told.
  • It was common for eminent people to travel with two young attendants. And Isaac, of course, had to be there so Abraham could fulfill his mission. 
  • They traveled for three days. It has been suggested that this delay may only have made the ordeal more painful. 
  • He had three days to mull it over and to come to terms with it. Perhaps his initial response had been impulsive and without proper consideration. 
  • Now he has had time to reflect upon it and to compose himself. And he continued to go forward. 
  • Finally, he looked up and saw the place in the distance. 
  • As soon as he saw it, he began to make the arrangements. 
  • He told the young men to stay with the donkey. Perhaps the way was too steep; perhaps he didn't want anyone near them. So he told them to wait there. 
  • Abraham and the lad would go up to worship, and then they would return. Notice that, for the first time, Abraham referred to Isaac as a lad, not as a son. 
  • Perhaps he was trying to detach—perhaps mentally he had already turned Isaac over to God. But then why would he say, "we will return unto you." Is this a little white lie? 
  • We know that Abraham is capable of lying. He has done it before. 
  • Did he want to protect Isaac from what was actually happening? Did he not intend to go through with it? Or was it a way of saying that despite the way things looked, despite the evidence at hand, he was, in fact, affirming his faith? 
  • And even though he had been told to sacrifice Isaac, he trusted that somehow God's promise of many descendants would not be thwarted. While it is true that we cannot know the mind of Abraham, the latter is the most probable.
  • Tension in the text heightens as Abraham deliberately made further preparations for the last phase of their journey. 
  • He took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac, while he took the fire and the knife. Many commentators have pointed out the tenderness of this action in that Abraham held what was most dangerous. 
  • Yet ironies abound in that Isaac carried the wood that was to ignite him. And in this one line, Isaac, the son, is surrounded by the wood, the fire, and the knife. These are all elements of his destruction. 
  • Yet, in this one small way, Abraham is trying to protect him and keep him safe. And the two of them go off together. 
  • The silence must have continued for some time when, suddenly, Isaac exclaimed, "My father!" 
  • Abraham responded, "Here am I," (the same response he made to God). And he added, "my son." Father and son together. 
  • The relationship couldn't be more specific or more intimate.
  • It was Isaac who broke the silence. "Father, the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 
  • The simple question is penetrating. The question seems rather self-evident in light of the situation. Has the awful truth begun to dawn on him? 
  • Abraham answered, but his answer seemed evasive, ambiguous. "God himself will provide a lamb for a burnt offering," and he added again, "my son." 
  • Is this a hope, a prophecy, a prayer, or an expression of faith? 
  • Again, we cannot know the mind of Abraham, but again, it is the latter that is most likely. 
  • And once again, the two walked off together, in perfect rapport, in mutual solitariness. 
  • Abraham is trusting the providence of God; Isaac is trusting the intentions of his father. 
  • Just as Abraham does not argue with God, Isaac does not argue with Abraham. The silence is profound.

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