Tuesday of Lent I – Genesis 22:1-18 

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

I must have been about middle school or the first years of high school when I first meaningfully encountered this text. We were sitting in the balcony of church. That is where the youth bible study took place. Our curriculum included a rather dramatic picture of this scene. A young Isaac, he looked to be about my age, was lying bound on the altar. A very hearty and strong Abraham stood over him with a knife poised above his neck. An angel reached down from a cloud to stay his hand at the last moment.

About the same time as I was looking at this picture, on a cold January day, a jet skidded off the runway at the Washington National Airport. It slid into the frozen Potomac killing all but six passengers who managed to escape into the river. A helicopter arrived to pluck them out of the water. As they lowered the rig to hoist the individuals up to safety, the crew noticed one man in the group, Arland Williams, who would grab the ring and hand it to someone else. He did this five times until he was the only one left. Before they could get him, however, he succumbed and slid into the icy water. I remember watching footage of him helping others to safety on TV at the time. 

According to a Jewish tradition, Isaac was 30 years old when the events of Genesis 22 happened. Abraham would have been a 130, an old man hardly able to wrestle an unwilling young man in his prime onto an altar. Think about what means. Is the real hero of this story Isaac? Did he realize when they got to the top of that mountain, carrying a load of wood, that God has asked for a terrible sacrifice. Did he hold out his hands in trust and confidence of God’s power to save and ask his father to tie him? Did he crawl willingly onto that altar and the wood he had carried?

The picture in my Sunday school curriculum wanted me to look at Abraham, but my youthful eyes were glued on Isaac, wondering what was going through his mind in that moment. What was he feeling? I cannot interview Arland Williams to know what went through his mind, but clearly, he was not afraid of death, for he handed that life preserver off five times while he grew colder and colder. God has placed an awesome faith into our hearts. It empowers us to do amazing, even shocking things.

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