In keeping with the theme of another reading this week, the one about when a child asks for bread you don’t give him a stone, todays reading from Genesis also deals with a child. It’s Abraham’s kid Isaac. To emphasize the importance of this first born of Abraham and Sarah the writer underscores it by writing “…your son Isaac, your only one (son), whom you love…” then adds in so many words, “kill him.” One scratches his head and says, “come again?” since the command is so starkly plain. Isaac was actually Abraham’s second son. He had a previous son by the Egyptian “slave” girl, Hagar. There’s a whole back story about Ishmael and Hagar and is worth reading. It is not a compassionate story and Hagar and Ishmael are brutally tossed out of the family when Isaac becomes of age. (Check out Genesis 16 and following – it’s a great story)
“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 holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22)
But these are brutal times. Human sacrifice was not unheard of and was practiced at the time of Abraham. Now after all this work and the joy of having a son to carry on the name, God wants the father to kill his son. Oh, we can say, well God was just testing his faith…by killing his son? What’s the story here? Trying to make sense out of this is not an easy task let alone one with logic. After all God had told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation numbering as the stars in the heavens and so forth. The question is, how would this happen if the first born, and only son of Abraham and Isaac was to offered as a sacrifice? I don’t know either. Unless it has to do with God’s ways and human ways. It’s like us planning for stuff only to have that stuff not turn out the way we planned. If it was a faith test, it was a completely dramatic faith-test. Maybe what God was asking of Abraham is to demonstrate to us, the reader, the depth and length one should go in faith. In any case it is an extraordinary request, one with devastating consequences. I can only imagine the pain that Abraham felt we he understood fully the command. It was as if he, at that very moment of raising the knife to snuff out the life of his only son, let go of his physical attachment to him. As a parent there comes a time when we have to let go of our kids, to let them follow their own plan and path. Maybe that is what this story is about. The precious gifts of children aren’t really ours to begin with. We care for them when they are young, but need to let them go when they are older. It is a tough story and one that needs careful reflection.
and so it goes…