Abraham turned to his son, the rope stretched between trembling hands. Isaac looked at his father, and a hoarse whisper escaped his lips, “Father … .”
There could be only one reason why his father would do this terrible thing. What he did not know was why God would ask him to do it. He knew the stories — God’s promise, the journey, the waiting. His very life was a promise, an inheritance from God, and in that moment Isaac could see it all reflected in his father’s eyes— a familiar light of hope in surrender.
Isaac bowed his head, and time stood still as father and son leaned against each other in a final embrace, yielded to a power greater than themselves.
And although Isaac could have overpowered his father, he did not. Abraham worked silently, tying his son’s hands and feet. It would be better this way — for both of them. It was done, and now he must be accurate and swift. Abraham took a step back and looked down at his only son, his body bound against the rough wood. Mercifully, Isaac’s eyes were closed. Abraham drew out his knife, aiming its sharp point at his son’s heart.
But a loud voice from heaven said suddenly, “Abraham, Abraham!”
Abraham answered, his knife poised in mid-air and his voice barely audible, “Here I am.”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy,” said the angel of the Lord.
Cautiously, Isaac opened his eyes. He had heard the stories of how God had come to his father, but he had never seen.
The angel continued, “Now I know that you fear God, because you haven’t kept your son, your only son, from me.”
Abraham looked up, and through his tears saw a ram caught in a nearby thicket. God had provided the sacrifice.
Abraham quickly untied his son and put his arms around his shoulders, as Isaac sobbed into his chest. Then together they freed the ram and offered it as a sacrifice to the Lord. So Abraham called that place, “The Lord will provide.”
A voice came from heaven a second time, “Because you have obeyed me and haven’t held onto your son, your only son, I swear by my own name, that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — all because you have obeyed me.”
Abraham and Isaac made their way down the mountain. The two servants saw them in the distance, the old man and his son, two men walking together, shoulder to shoulder.
The Bible reveals very little of what actually happened between father and son on Mount Moriah. We’re told that Abraham built the altar, that he bound Isaac and laid him there. We’re given details that we don’t care about — Abraham’s arranging the wood and the placement of Isaac “on top” of the wood (as if there could have been some other configuration).
But we’re not told anything about what we really want to know: How did Abraham bring himself to do this? What went through his head? How did Isaac respond? Did they scuffle, shout, cry, or yell? How did Abraham subdue his son? Did he trick him, give him an explanation or an apology? If so, what did he say?
I had always assumed Isaac was a young boy at the time, but prevailing scholarship puts him well into manhood, at about 30 years old. Some Jewish scholars believe Isaac offered himself willingly. As long as Isaac was past adolescence, Isaac must have cooperated to some degree, unless Abraham deceived him or knocked him out.
Because Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son echoes the Father’s offering of Jesus, I believe Isaac was neither deceived nor taken against his will. How or why he chose to submit, we don’t know, and although I’ve hinted at divine intervention, which I believe was necessary, I’ve chosen to leave the details of that sacred work shrouded in its mystery.
In the Biblical account, we hear nothing from Isaac after he asks about the lamb for the burnt offering. It’s as if he’s not there at all. The Bible tells us “Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together … .” Where is Isaac? We can only assume he is with them.
As for the aftermath, we are left guessing. Did Isaac tell his mother? How did it affect his relationship with his father? Today, we would assume he was scarred for life, but the Bible says nothing to indicate any such thing. No doubt the experience, especially the exchange between the Lord and his father had a profound impact that stayed with him the rest of his days. But these are twenty first century, first world concerns.
It’s strange, too, that we’re given precious little detail about Abraham’s emotions, his struggle as he surrenders his son in obedience. Perhaps that’s because even the most vivid and passionate portrait could not come close to expressing the depths of the Father’s heart in offering his son, Jesus, as the sacrificial lamb for the sin of the world.
I encourage you to read the original story: Genesis 22
WHAT CAME BEFORE
The Empty Altar | The Sacrifice of Isaac: Part 3