By the time Abraham's son Isaac was born, Abraham was an old man. For many years he and his wife Sarah had waited for God to keep His promise that they would have a son. And, when it seemed that there was no hope they’d ever have a child, God visited Abraham and Sarah and promised they’d have a son within a year. And sure enough, a year later their precious son Isaac was born.
Abraham and Sarah loved Isaac with all their hearts. Through Him God had said He would keep His other promises to Abraham ... to make a great nation from his children's children, to bless all nations through his descendants ... to one day deal with the problem of evil and death once and for all. Isaac was the child through whom these promises would be passed on. And he was very precious to his parents. (P)
Over the years Abraham had learnt to trust God whatever happened. When, in the past, he’d not listened to God and tried to deal with problems in his own way, it’d led to disaster. But when he obeyed God, even when it was hard, things worked out. So, Abraham learned from his mistakes and became the friend of God.
Isaac was growing up to be a fine young man and God saw how much Abraham loved him. So God decided He would test Abraham to see if he loved God most of all. He was going to ask Abraham to do something very difficult. If Abraham obeyed God and did it, He’d know Abraham loved Him more than anything else. But if Abraham didn't do it, He’d know Abraham didn't really love Him as much as he should.
'Abraham.' God's voice was like that of an old friend.
'Yes, my Lord.'
'Abraham, take your son Isaac whom you love so very much...’
Abraham listened even more closely now because God was talking about Isaac. 'Take your son Isaac to the land of Moriah.' (Moriah was a 3 day walk away.) 'When you get there I will show you a mountain. On that mountain I want you to sacrifice Isaac. Kill him and burn his body as an offering to me.'
Kill his son? Kill Isaac through whom God had said He was going to keep His promises? How could this be? Surely Abraham wasn't going to do such a horrible and evil thing. How could he live with himself? ... What about God’s promises? ... It simply didn't make any sense.
As these thoughts rushed through Abraham's mind, he also knew he couldn't stop trusting God. Through all these years God had faithfully looked after him and his family. It hadn't always been easy, but God had never let them down. Abraham knew that even though he couldn't understand why God wanted this, he could still trust Him. God had spoken, and Abraham was going to obey.
Early the next morning, Abraham woke Isaac. 'God’s asked us to go and offer Him a sacrifice. We have to travel to Moriah so we need an early start. Come on, let’s get some wood.'
The journey to Moriah was long and slow. Abraham traveled much of the way in silence, and with each step he offered a silent prayer to God, trying to understand why God should ask him to kill his son. God had said that the promises He’d given Abraham would be passed on through Isaac. But how could they if Isaac was dead? Round and round the questions went in Abraham's head. He pleaded with God to let him understand, but God remained silent as Abraham took each painful step of the journey, with the knife dangling at his side as a constant reminder of what was to come.
After three days traveling they saw the mountain Isaac was to be sacrificed on. The small party stopped and Abraham took some wood and put it on Isaac's back.
'Stay here,' Abraham said to the servants who’d come with them. 'The boy and I are going to go on to worship God. When we've finished we'll come back to you here.'
What was Abraham saying? How could he and the boy 'come back' when he was going to sacrifice Isaac? What was going through the old man's mind?
After they’d walked a while in silence, Isaac asked, 'Dad, I've brought the wood, and you've got the knife, but where's the lamb we're going to sacrifice?'
The old man, who's heart felt so heavy that he struggled to take each step, looked across at his dear son. (P) 'Don't worry Isaac,' he said, 'God’ll provide.'
When they got to the mountain they looked for a suitable place to make the sacrifice. 'How about here Dad?' Isaac had found the right place.
'It looks fine to me son.' Abraham was so proud of his son. 'Let’s get some stones to make the altar.' The two of them collected some rocks to make a small platform, and then Abraham took the wood and placed it on top.
What they talked about as they made the altar and arranged the wood, I don't know. Isaac was no longer a small child, but a young man. And Abraham was no longer a young man, being well over 100.
Isaac must have seen it coming. He could’ve struggled or run away, but he didn't. When Abraham came to tie him up and lay him on the altar, Isaac trusted his father. Somehow he must have known, like his father, that God was in control. (P)
In the quietness of that mountain clearing a young lad lay, bound and unable to move, on a small pile of sticks, heaped on top of a small pile of rocks. Beside him, his father, tears rolling down his face, started to kneel as he forced himself on, to obey God's terrible request. Both looked at each other - a father asked to do the impossible - a son, trusting beyond what he could see or even understand. Both knew it was what God had asked and both trusted that God would still keep His promises even though it looked as if it was about to become impossible.
The old man ran his trembling hand lovingly through his son's hair. He felt so old now, so old and alone. – But even though he felt alone, he knew that God was with him.
Abraham's hand reached for the knife, his eyes never leaving those of his son. With an almost superhuman effort he pulled the knife up. Then, tearing his eyes away from Isaac's, his body tensed - and with a deep breath...
'Abraham -Abraham.' God's voice boomed out across the mountain breaking Abraham's concentration.
'Yes ... I'm - I'm listening.'
'Stop, don't hurt the boy! Put the knife down because now I know that above anything else you love me. When I asked, you didn't hold back what was more precious to you than anything else ... your only son Isaac.'
Quickly the old man untied the ropes and hugged his son, the two of them laughing and crying with joy. - Even though the boy hadn't actually died, it was just as if Abraham had received him back from the dead.
Then, looking over behind the small altar they'd made, Abraham saw a sheep caught by its horns in a bush. (P) God had supplied the sacrifice after all.