Abraham was just minding his own business one day when God popped up again. The God of Abraham had been doing that a lot lately.
But this time God didn't come to give Sara and Abraham great news about the future of their descendants. This was God on a whole new level. Abraham might have asked God to repeat Himself, thinking that he had misheard. But the message was clear enough. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
The story doesn't tell us what went through Abraham's mind. The next verses simply tell how Abraham and Isaac packed up and left for the wilderness with two servants, some wood and a donkey.
At what point does a man question his own religion and god? At what point do a wife and son question the judgement of their husband and father? Abraham was doing exactly what God told him to do. At what point does a man question his own sanity?
Human sacrifice has occurred in virtually every corner of this globe, which means it happened in southeastern Mesopotamia. Specifically, it occurred in Chaldea. Chaldea was the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers on the north end of the Persian Gulf. The city of Ur was the capital and Abraham lived in Ur. An archeologist by the name of Sir Charles Leonard Wooley (1880-1960) did some excavating in Ur and discovered the widespread practice of human sacrifice. So, God helped Abraham feel right at home by utilizing a familiar, religious practice.
Let's walk through the specifics of this story one more time.
A deity, unknown to virtually everyone else in the world, repeatedly appears to an old man named Abraham and promises him many descendants. During one such appearance, the deity commands Abraham to take his son into the wilderness, put him on a pile of firewood, slit his throat with a knife and burn his body as a sacrifice to the deity making the demand.
There are actually six characters to consider. Seven if you count the donkey. Abraham, Isaac, Abraham's wife Sara, two servants and, of course, the deity. Oh yes, and the donkey.
The two servants. In the story, when it came time for the sacrifice, they were left behind. Why? On a purely human level witnesses could be detrimental. Witnesses could also try to persuade Abraham to not go through with the plan. They could also attempt to physically prevent Abraham from cutting his son's throat and burning the evidence … I mean body. Or maybe it was reverence which God required. Only his man Abraham and the boy, Isaac, were allowed at the altar. It reminds me of a time later in Israel's history when only the priests could enter the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle/Temple. So here, it is only Abraham — the "Priest" — and Isaac — the sacrifice — who are allowed into the presence of the Almighty.
Sara. She waited a long time for the birth of her son. She was barren till very late in life. Did she know of Abraham's plan to kill Isaac? Would she have been as "faithful" as Abraham? She did not go along. Maybe she was sent on a vacation to a relative's house for the weekend.
Isaac. He only has one speaking part in the whole ordeal. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham's response is interesting. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” He says this as he raises the knife over his son's bound and prostrate body. This is what is strange about the story to me. God asks this outlandish, absurd thing of Abraham in order to test his faithfulness as the first leader of a budding nation. But Abraham's willing response should have disqualified him for any position, especially that of "Father of Many Nations".
Abraham. This is a scary man. A deity no one else has heard of, tells him to do something which in any modern society would be criminal, and Abraham sets out in unquestioning obedience toward the sacrificial mountain. So now let's do what must be done in order to understand this story fully. Abraham is your neighbor. You can hear him talking over the high wooden fence that separates your back yards. The "conversation" goes something like this:
"Take my son into the forest outside of town, God? But why?" "A sacrifice? I see. Why do I need a knife?…oh…and then Burn him? My son? But I love him, I don't want to kill him. Yes God, I trust you. I believe in you. This weekend? But what about my wife, the boy's mother? A little trip for her? Yes, I can arrange that."
Well, what did you think the "conversation" would sound like? And we still have an even more important question to answer. After overhearing the "conversation" over the back yard fence, what would you do?
What would you do if you overheard your neighbor talking to God about killing his son?
- Say "Praise God, my neighbor's faith is being tested"
- Forget you heard anything and go on grilling your steaks
- Check the locks on your doors.
- Call the police and Child Protective Services.
- 5. 3 and 4 and immediately move across town.
I know what I would do and I really think I know what you would do as well. There is no one reading this who would believe a god had commanded their neighbor to cut his son's throat and burn the body. But you would believe that your neighbor was crazy.
The deity. What kind of god would test a man in this way? Would any man who is willing to go through with this plan, actually be an asset to the deity's agenda? Would a deity, willing to ask this of a man, be the kind of god anyone would desire to follow? Really? Would you, if it was you he asked to do this?.
Why this is such a popular story among Muslims, Christians and Jews? Is it something to be proud of that the founder of your religion was almost a child murderer?
And why is this is a popular children's story? After seeing his father standing over him with a raised knife in one hand and a burning torch in the other, I wonder what Isaac's therapy bill amounted to over the next several years?
The donkey is, without question, the most intelligent character in the whole story.