No Other Way
The burnt orange clouds reflected the first light of day.
The morning sun added brilliance to the green grass in the valley
and vivid shade of blue to the nearby pond.
Abraham walked quietly to the top of the hill
overlooking the rocky enclosures that corralled his livestock.
A few servants offered feed to the cattle while others milked the goats.
As he often did,
Abraham reflected on God’s manifold gifts.
God’s fulfilled promises.
Abraham felt blessed in every way.
In that quiet moment of reflection,
Abraham offered a heartfelt prayer of gratitude
to the One True God whom he had followed obediently
since the days of his spiritual awakening in the land of Haran.
Always receptive to God’s call,
Abraham heard a familiar voice in his heart.
The same voice that called him from his father’s land.
The same voice that told him to settle in Canaan.
The same voice that said his descendants
would outnumber the grains of sand.
The same voice that told him
he would have a son long after he had reason to hope.
A voice he trusted explicitly.
“Here I am,” answered the nomad.
“Take your son.”
“Which one?” thought Abraham.
“Ishmael or Isaac?”
“Your only son.”
“I don’t understand,” wondered Abraham.
“There is no ‘only’.”
“The one you love.”
“Ah, Isaac,” realized Abraham with a gleam in his eye.
God’s miraculous gift in his old age.
“Take him to Moriah”
“An odd request,” thought Abraham.
“Why must we go so far north?”
“Sacrifice him as a burnt offering.”
Then, the Voice went Silent.
A voice he trusted asking the unthinkable.
All the color drained from his world.
No orange sun. No green grass. No blue water.
“Sacrifice him as a burnt offering.”
No amount of faith prepared him for that command.
“Pick up your family. Go to a land I will show you.”
“Settle here in the land of Canaan.”
“Build an altar and worship.”
Abraham always obeyed.
“Kill your beloved child.”
How could any father obey that directive?
Keeping the still, quiet, disturbing conversation to himself,
Abraham walked as a man condemned.
All day long,
Abraham agonized within his heart.
All day long,
he called for God to explain.
All day long,
all her heard was the inner conflict of his soul.
Lying in his tent late into the evening,
He begged for clarity.
Lying in his tent, still awake in the early morning,
He fought with his soul.
Early in the morning,
Abraham always obeyed.
Quietly slipping from his tent,
careful to avoid waking Sarah, his wife.
Abraham entered Isaac’s tent, shook him awake.
With two servants and a donkey loaded with wood,
Abraham set out on a mindless journey of unsettled obedience.
Abraham walked on autopilot for three days.
A broken man going through the motions.
He refused to speak again to God.
Lost in his twisted hell,
spoke only to answer basic questions.
Journey of three days.
How could it be?
His God, his Protector,
His God, his Promise Keeper,
His God, his Partner,
violated the covenant He made.
Required obedience at the cost of life…
Not his own (that he would gladly give)…
but that of his beloved son.
The one who brought laughter to a humorless household.
God’s ultimate betrayal.
Abraham camped at the base of Mt. Moriah,
A rocky outcrop covered in stunted brush.
Steeling his nerves,
Abraham looked to the heavens.
God promised Isaac would be the beginning
of an eternal and everlasting family.
If He promised
Abraham must believe.
Abraham turned to his servants
telling them to remain behind.
“We will go up,” said Abraham.
“We will return.”
Without understanding fully,
Abraham trusted the only acceptable outcome.
Packing the wood on Isaac’s broad shoulders,
and carrying the torch and knife himself,
father and son climbed the mountain.
Absent of reason,
Abraham responded with
firm faith, fixing his eyes on the summit.
Object of his father’s devotion and love.
For almost 30 years,
he had sat as his father’s feet.
Worked side by side.
Walked in private conversations.
Listened and learned.
Grown in deep faith and understanding of
his father’s God.
An odd journey.
Like no other in his life.
Something troubled his father.
The normal light-hearted, continuous banter
between father and son
grew stilted and silent.
Every question elicited a grunt and grimace.
Isaac’s attempts at humor…
greeted with silence and a stare.
Isaac respected his father too much
to push for an explanation.
The climb up the mountain seemed to take a toll on his father,
every step a laborious effort.
All the provisions of sacrifice
but no lamb.
Curiosity broke the silence at last.
“Father,” asked Isaac quietly.
“Where is the lamb?”
The very question Abraham dreaded.
Abraham looked away for a moment.
When he turned to face his son
his eyes filled with tears.
A whisper and a wish,
“God will provide.”
A darker cloud settled in Isaac’s heart.
Each beat a little faster.
Every breath a little shorter.
Something definitely wrong.
Abraham stooped to pick up two stones.
Together, father and son built an altar.
Isaac noticed each stone his father placed upon the pile glistened with his tears.
Finally, Isaac piled the wood on the altar,
turning to his father with a questioning look.
Tears flowed freely.
Abraham, beside himself with grief,
hugged his son tightly to his chest.
After a long moment,
he pushed Isaac to arm’s length.
With a weak and trembling voice,
Abraham shared the horror that God required.
Three days of inner struggle
convinced Abraham of God’s faithfulness.
What God promised, He delivered.
If God promised a long line of descendants through Isaac,
God would make it so.
Trusting in a God who asked the unfathomable,
Abraham asked Isaac to trust him
and to trust his God.
Isaac searched his father’s eyes
for any sign of insanity.
He saw only a father he adored,
a father whose faith had never failed,
a father in whom he believed,
asking him to trust a God in whom he believed.
Isaac could have overpowered his elderly father.
He could have fled and never looked back,
But, in time,
in an act of absolute submission,
Isaac held out his wrists to be bound together.
Abraham wrapped the leather straps around his son’s wrists,
whispered prayers on his lips,
tied tightly together the hands he had held as a child.
With a kiss on his father’s cheek,
Isaac laid himself on the altar,
a willing and obedient sacrifice.
Abraham recited the identical prayer
he had offered every time a lamb was slain…
A prayer seeking forgiveness and atonement…
A prayer of adoration and worship.
Abraham raised the knife above his head
to slay his beloved son.
the Voice called to him.
“Hear I am,” choked Abraham.
The same Voice that called for sacrifice
now offered reprieve.
Nothing withheld by Abraham.
Everything restored by the Father.
A ram, caught in the thicket,
substituted for Isaac upon the altar.
Together father and son worshiped
in full knowledge that
God provided the lamb.
A promise reaffirmed.
Abraham’s blessing reaffirmed.
Little more than pious platitudes
unless tested in the crucible of conviction.
When God whispered Abraham’s name in Haran,
the shepherd left his ties behind and journeyed to a distant land.
When the Voice grew silent,
he stopped in his tracks and waited upon the Lord.
When the Voice called again, he moved again.
When the Voice called, he acted….every time.
He obediently placed his life in God’s hands.
He endured childlessness until God provided his legacy
in the form of a son,
born to parents long past childbearing years.
Through every twist and turn,
Abraham responded obediently to the Voice in his heart,
fully aware of the blessed life he lived.
God had no right, yet He had every right,
to redeem the gift He had given to Abraham and Sarah.
When He called in the debt,
the cost of faithfulness was astronomical.
“Kill the son you love.
Offer him as a sacrifice in My Name.”
We sit in the comfort of our century
wondering how God could ask such a thing of anyone,
astonished that Abraham could consider such a thing.
Trying to make sense of senselessness, we reason…
Maybe Abraham loved Isaac too much,
placing family above God.
Maybe his worship of God took second place
to his love for his son.
Maybe he became enamored with the idea of Isaac,
as the one through whom Abraham’s descendants
would become a mighty nation…God’s people.
Heady stuff for a simple nomad.
Maybe God had to teach Abraham a lesson in humility
by claiming what he loved most in this world.
We long to justify God’s actions.
Such explanations fail to look deeply enough into
God’s character and heart.
The One who made the promise to the shepherd of Haran
never intended Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
To do so would contradict God’s nature and
thwart the commandments He one day set in stone.
To allow us to grasp the unfathomable,
God acted out a play.
A visual testimony to the extreme to which
God would go to redeem a fallen world.
His love deep enough to compel the Creator of all things
to offer His own Son as a sacrifice…
for our sins.
Abraham could have refused,
could have walked away.
In a mind-bending act of trust,
in the face of enormous doubt in his heart,
Abraham made the walk.
Only in this purposeful and deliberate act of obedience
would we even minutely understand
the Gift God offered us through His Son.
If Abraham was a knowing partner in God’s intent,
an actor who knew in advance the climax of the story,
it would require no faith.
The offer of sacrifice meaningless.
What God asked of Abraham
God was willing to do Himself.
He placed His beloved Son on a wooden cross.
Though mystifying by human standards,
Abraham’s obedience rises as a metaphor
of the complete and voluntary sacrifice
that God would one day employ.
For the first time in human history,
God tipped His hand in answer
to mankind’s betrayal…
a new path to an eternal Eden.
There was no other way for God to
reclaim His creation.
No other way.
“For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only Son,
that whosoever believes in Him
should not perish,
but have everlasting life.”
(Abraham’s name is synonymous with faith and obedience,
Yet there was another actor in God’s play whose response
to circumstances provides the rest of the story.
His name is Isaac.)