Reflection on Genesis 22:1-14 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig
“God tested Abraham.” I can’t remember ever hearing this story without having some kind of reaction or response, without wondering somewhere inside me just how God could ask this of him, and how Abraham could simply pack up his men and his son and saddle up his donkeys and head off for the place God had directed him to. What, I have always wondered what in his mind and in his heart as they journeyed those three long days. Did they talk, the four of them? Isaac must have known something of what they were about. They had wood for an offering fire, but nothing to offer. As an observant Jewish boy he knew this made no sense. Did this concern him? When he finally asked the question, was it simply an innocent query, or did he sense it might be him? Had there been something about his father all along, in his face, his eyes as they travelled. Did Abraham’s answer comfort or alarm him.
The story is frustratingly short on detail here…”Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.” Did Isaac go willingly to the pyre like a lamb to the slaughter? Was he willing to be sacrificed because he wished to please his own father? Because it was God’s will? Was he shocked and stunned to silence, or did he fight or plead for his life? Perhaps the writers of this Old Testament story do not share these details because, in this case they do not matter, since he is not the offering after all. As I suspect Abraham believed all along he would not be
God tested Abraham. Tested the nature and the depth and the strength of the covenant between them. In essence he was asking Abraham, “Who do you think I am?”
In previous encounters with God, when Abraham needed to, he argued with God, he pushed back against God. But this time, with the stakes as high as they could ever be, with not only the child of his old age but the hope of all Israel riding on this, he is meek and obedient. How, we ask, could God ever expect such a thing? Perhaps Abraham asked this question, too. Perhaps in his hearts of hearts he knew that he could carry forward in this task because the God he knew, the God he was in relationship with would make it somehow right with him, would see him through it, no matter what happened. While we cannot imagine that any other ending than the one we are given in the story could be acceptable, and that certainly is the best and easiest, Abraham trusted that his relationship, his connection with Yahweh would make whatever came of that moment on the mountain right. Because that was the faith he had, that was the relationship he had, that was who he knew God to be.
The story does not always have a happy ending. The child does not always live. The job does come. The marriage does not last. But the covenant of God with God’s beloved…made, promised and kept…renewed and fulfilled in the Incarnation …God with us on that mountain and ours…providing.