I laughed when God promised a baby – laughed right to his face. Sarah laughed too, but privately, snooping on us from inside her tent. Once, we would have wept with joy, but that dream died a long time ago. We are old now. Very old, and the idea of us having a baby would make anyone laugh. Anyone but God.
The baby came, and we called him Laughter.
There was much laughter in those days. Sarah seemed young again, so in love with the child and even, sometimes, with me. Her bitterness had been great – years of frustration and humiliation – but all that was forgotten when she held the child to her breast; rocking and humming, her eyes closed and her heart full.
I am remembering those days because God came to me again last night. I tell Sarah part, but not all he has told me to do. We will journey to Moriah, I stammer, and I will take the boy. Her eyes narrow. Yes, to worship. Of course, I will protect him from hunger and thirst and sun. And I will take two strong men, that none will attack us on the way.
I tell her all this, unable to pry my eyes from the knife on the table.
In the morning, we load the donkey and set out at donkey pace, leaving me too much time to think. Three days, we will journey. Three days, my mind will lurch and strain, trying to make sense of this. Why did the Almighty give us Laughter in our old age? And why will he take him from us now?
And take him by my hand, no less. I had buried the knife at the bottom of my pack so I would not see it, but tonight, by the campfire, I change my mind. A fine edge will hurt him less, so I hone it, test it on my skin, sharpen and smooth it as no blade before.
Issac eyes me curiously, pulls out the knife I gave him for practice.
“No, my son! Do not touch the edge!”
“Never mind that. Here, try it on this leather.”
He trusts me, but he wants to understand. He obeys, but he wants to do what I do. “And so,” I whisper to the stars when I lay down. “So it is with you, Almighty, and with me. I trust you, but my mind is numb with confusion. I obey, but… Well, I don’t know what you are doing. You created this Laughter in us, and now you will drown it in sorrow? Turn our only beauty to ashes? How will I tell Sarah that her darling is no more?” I stare, but the stars do not answer.
The next day as we travel, a small hill appears and rises slowly above the horizon. I do not want to see it, but steadily it grows into a mountain that fills the sky before us. My hand trembles on the rein, and my voice is hoarse.
“We will stop here,” I tell the men. “Stay with the donkey until we return.”
I strap the firewood over the boy’s shoulders, tuck the sheath into my belt, and pick up the pot of live coals.
“Father?” the boy says when we have walked a few minutes.
“Yes, my son.”
“Where is the lamb for our sacrifice?”
“Do not worry,” I say. “God will provide a lamb.” My voice cracks, and my heart pounds. I feel the boy’s eyes upon me, wonder for the thousandth time if somehow I misunderstood, but still, I hear the Almighty’s voice in my ears. “Take your son whom you love… Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.”
We reach the top of the hill and gather stones to make an altar. I place them slowly, carefully, as tears run down my face. I lay the wood gently upon the stones, forming as smooth a bed as I can. Isaac watches silently, a question on his face that I don’t know how to answer.
When I have finished, I sink to my knees. “My son…,” I sob, shaking my head. “My precious son…”
He weeps, too, and nods, then holds out his hands, wrists together, somehow knowing what comes next. I tie him tenderly, lift him to the altar as if in a dream. His eyes are closed now, his lips moving. I caress the hair from his eyes, kiss his forehead, pull the knife from its sheath and stare at the gleaming blade.
With a groan, I look up and slowly raise the knife…
“Abraham!” a voice thunders above me. “Stop! Do not harm him! Because you do not withhold even your son – the beloved son I have given to you – through him, you will have many children, and every nation on earth will be blessed.”
The voice stops, and I hear a scrabbling sound, jerk around to see a ram caught by his horns in a thicket.
Arms and legs shaking, I drop the knife, rest my pounding head on Isaac’s throbbing chest. “Open your eyes, my son. Our God has provided a lamb.”
In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we receive a picture of what God himself endured, preparing his beloved son for sacrifice.
Unlike Abraham, God was not spared this grief. Unlike Isaac, Jesus was not spared injury and death. “He was pierced for our offenses. He was crushed for our wrongdoings. The punishment that brought our peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53)
There are two points to this story. The first is Abraham’s remarkable confidence in God’s goodness and wisdom, even when God’s intentions seemed neither good nor wise. Through his obedience – honoring God even above his beloved son – Abraham was able to see God’s real plan, which secured for him and his son a rich promise that is remembered and active to this day.
The second point is that Isaac was safe in either case. Whether Abraham refused God’s frightening instruction or followed it to the point where God would step in, Isaac was not in danger. In fact, God absolutely forbids violence against the innocent – particularly children – as we are reminded in this horrifying passage from Jeremiah: “…they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I (God) did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah 19)
Forces like Baal really exist. They welcome and even celebrate violence against children, but God’s view is quite different. He creates each life with love and purpose. As Jesus demonstrated, he welcomes children with joy and blessing. He endured unspeakable pain to secure for each of us forgiveness and friendship that will continue into eternity.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
This story is a dramatization of an event recorded in Genesis 22. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2022)