One particularly hot and dry afternoon, Abraham, bent over his well, lowered the bucket and pulled up its cool refreshing water. After grabbing the cup to ladle it out and drink, he transferred the rest to his other bucket and carried his water to the tamarisk tree in whose shade he sat to pray and think. Abraham wondered how Ishmael was getting along; he wanted to give thanks again for his well, and he marveled again that Sarah gave birth to Isaac. As he was busy thinking about himself and his desires and concerns he suddenly and unexpectedly heard in his heart God call him.
"Here I am." he replied.
God said, "Take 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."
"WHAT?!" thought Abraham. Had he heard correctly? What an impossible request. Why would God wait all those years to finally grant elderly and barren Sarah a son, which in itself was a miracle, perhaps the greatest miracle the world had ever known; only to ask him to sacrifice this child?! How could there ever be another, how could he ever become the Father of a multitude, if he was not allowed to keep the one son who could ignite the succession?
Abraham instinctively fought this request. Could it be from the devil trying to take away the covenant promise? No. Abraham recognized the voice of God. But what good would killing young Isaac do? The angel of the Lord whispered in his broken heart, "God is not asking you to kill, as much as to sacrifice. What God gave you is His. He wants you to acknowledge that and give Isaac back to him. Would you deny the Lord what is His own?"
Ishmael's departure then began to make sense. Letting go of Ishmael, as hard as it was, was practice for letting go of Isaac. Abraham thought to himself that he could find the strength to sacrifice Isaac from the strength he had mustered to release Ishmael. What was the difference between death and Ishmael's absence? He had to trust God. Perhaps it will be through Ishmael after all that his children will come.
Abraham didn't know why, but he knew only one thing, that he had no choice but to accept the shocking command and obey God. As the master of men and animals, he knew the importance of obedience. And he knew that the Voice he had heard from time to time was wiser than he could ever be. To ignore this or any request from God was worse than suicide; it was to deny his own sensibilities. To deny it now would be to destroy all the altars he had built in his journeys through life and throughout the land.
Even as Abraham was deep in gut-wrenching thought, he slowly fell into a deeper sleep. Sleep was the only way Abraham could cope with the shock of this horrific request. In his sleep Abraham was given a vision of the place he was to take his son. It was high atop the mountain belonging to Moriah. He looked around and memorized every bush and rattle. He looked down at his surroundings and took in every feature of the place. Slowly this vision melted into total darkness and an empty healing sleep kept Abraham under the tamarisk tree all night long.
He rose earlier than usual the next morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, one to carry the flame and the rope, the other to carry the wood, and he took his son Isaac, and his knife. The troupe set out to go to the place that God had shown him in the vision.
On the third day of the solemn journey Abraham looked up in the distance and recognized the place he had seen in his vision. So he said to his men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over to that hill. We will worship there and I will come back to you."
Abraham took the flame from his servant and gave it to Isaac and then took the rope and wood and off they went, Abraham and his precious son began the hike up Mount Moriah to worship and obey his God.
Over rocks and between sagebrush Abraham walked in silence contemplating the meaning and purpose of sacrifice. Isaac startled him when he shouted over to him, "Father,"
"Here I am, my son."
"The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham replied, "God himself will provide the lamb my son." Isaac said no more. Father and son spoke as they continued their trek up the mount, while innocent Isaac looked around for a ram to capture.
A mile later, Abraham saw in the distance the place he had seen in his vision. The flame flickered with fear and awe as if aware of its dreadful mission.
"There it is!" exclaimed Abraham to himself." Isaac struggled to keep up with his father, rushing over to him to see what Abraham recognized, still looking for the ram.
When they arrived at the site, Abraham dropped his load of wood and took the flame from his son's little hand. He then carefully planted the flame in the ground and piled small rocks around to hold it up while Isaac looked on curiously.
"Isaac, help me gather stones about this size to build the altar."
The child obediently and solemnly walked the site back and forth carrying grapefruit sized rocks to the spot of sacrifice. Abraham, holding back tears brought in the larger rocks, working as slowly as he could. He was thinking of all the lambs he had sacrificed with young Isaac watching.
Abraham had taught his son that God is perfect and demands perfection from people. Because Abraham had no law, and no example (i.e. Jesus) to follow all he had to do was to trust and obey God, exactly what Adam and Eve, and Noah had to do.
Abraham knew how he fell short from trusting God. He fell short when he gave his wife to Pharaoh, when he received Hagar into his bed, and on numerous lesser occasions. Abraham taught his son that animal sacrifice helped man to see the real tangible difference between life (trusting God) and death (mistrusting and therefore disobeying God).
Abraham had shown Isaac that life is the frolicking lamb nuzzling its mother to drink her nourishing milk and breathe in her sweet smelling sweat, while death was being restricted by rope, stabbed and burned to ashes.
Once the stone altar was built, Isaac watched his father carefully arrange the wood to lay a mighty fire, just the right proportion of solid to air. Abraham intended to build a fire so big that it would quickly consume its lunch of flesh and wood.
"Now, go get me the flame Isaac."
The obedient little boy hesitantly went over to dig out the precious flame and carried it to his elderly father. Not a breeze had blown to threaten the life of the flame since they had left home three days earlier. Keeping the flame alive when they slept required a rotating night watchman. Every time he transferred the flame, Abraham thought about what it meant, every time the old short candle kissed the new one, Abraham, pondered the life and death of his only son, and then he thought about mighty God who is without beginning or end.
After the flame was safely replanted closer to the altar, Abraham, with his knife waiting patiently in its holster, went over to the rope he had set down and approached his precious son. With tears filling his eyes he said, "My son, come to me."
Isaac lovingly and obediently approached his father, shivering with the sense of doom.
"You know why we must sacrifice the lamb, don't you?"
"Isn't it unfair to the lamb who was innocent to suffer the punishment of death?"
"Then isn't that the most noble creature of all?"
"We must be obedient to God or our lives are as ignorant as the lamb who neither speaks nor understands, and yet is punished for our sins. How much more just for an innocent human to be sacrificed for human sin. God has commanded me to give Him you, my precious son of the promise. You know how long I waited for you, all my life till I was an hundred years old I waited and longed to have this son that is you."
Tears began streaming down Isaacs young eyes. He sensed what was coming, but he didn't run away.
Isaac my precious son, our God has told me to give you to Him, as the sacrificial lamb."
"But father!" cried Isaac. "What did I do wrong?! I am sorry. PLEASE father forgive me! Mommy! Mommy!"
"My son, my son. You are innocent, as innocent as the lambs we have sacrificed together. But God asked me to give you back to Him in this way. You did nothing to deserve this, I promise you."
Abraham hugged his sobbing child. Isaac smelled love in his father's bosom. Swallowing down his tears, he tried to muster the courage he needed to accept his fate. Immediately, child as he was, Isaac knew that he, a human being, could not be compared to an ignorant lamb whose fate, sooner or later would be to be slaughtered and consumed. These thoughts started the tears flowing again. Did the God he heard his father speak of from his earliest conscious moments truly demand his life or could his elderly father be mistaken? Either way, Isaac knew that he was doomed to obey, and that the sooner he accepted death, the sooner his torment would end. Isaac bravely turned sobs into whimpers followed by a gentle silence. Still sitting in his father's lap the child rested.
Abraham consoled his precious son, "You and I will obey Him together. Giving the Lord your life is giving Him my own. I believe Isaac that in a flash like lightening you are going to see the face of God, to live with Him as a precious son, and I will remain to mourn you until with God's blessing, we will meet again at his throne. You, not I, have the best part."
These words helped to strengthen Isaac. He felt brave. His young life had meaning well beyond any other human he knew. His father from birth had taught Isaac to revere and worship God, now here was his test, and Abraham's test of that lesson.
Abraham solemnly released his son from his lap, and rose to fetch the rope. Both father and son were ready to get the sacrifice over with so that each could go his separate way, one to heaven, one to earth but together safe and sound in the Will of an omnipotent and mysterious God.
Soon, the rope replaced the strong arms of Abraham cradling his promise child. As Isaac sat tied up like a little lamb he pretended that the ropes were the arms of God holding him tight.