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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Only One Son

Genesis 22 provides the account of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. In just nineteen short verses we are given the simple outline of a story that leaves us with a multitude of unanswered questions about such a profound event.

Still, despite the scant detail provided, some things can be discerned:

The Anticipation

Abraham loved his son Isaac deeply and the journey to Moriah that would apparently end with the sacrifice of Isaac must have been filled with sorrow that was most uncommonly deep.

Scripture doesn’t give us much insight into Abraham’s mindset on the trip but I don’t think we have to guess at this — Abraham had named his son “laughter” and it was through Isaac that Abraham knew all the great promises of God would have to be channeled. Isaac’s presence was a joy to Abraham and portended a bright future; Isaac’s impending death was an undesirable and unwanted finish to both joy and promise, and Abraham’s heart would have been heavy indeed on the journey to the altar.

The moment of sacrifice — Isaac bound to the altar, the knife raised — must rank as the most dramatic deus ex machina moment in all of literature. We might imagine it, I suppose, but we do not read of a hesitation in Abraham’s hand; the Genesis account provides for us a sterling example of unflinching obedience, even at great cost. While the hand of Abraham didn’t appear to hesitate, the heart of a father certainly must have.

All of this sorrow is capped by a wonderful denouement — God intervenes, Abraham’s hand is stayed and Isaac is spared. Now, though again we do not read the details, the same hand that would have administered the fatal blow instead takes the knife and cuts the ropes that bound Isaac. Isaac, who would have died, instead rises from the altar and is re-united with his father. The tears of loss become instead tears of relief and euphoria. The promises for which Abraham longed are secured, the joy of Abraham is restored, laughter lives.

The Aftermath

Now at last — again, unrecorded — the journey of father and son away from the altar and the place of sacrifice. Abraham’s strides surely no longer drag with the heaviness of the trip to Moriah; instead he must have fairly sprung from step to step. The unrecorded conversation between father and son is not filled with questions or sorrow or doubt, instead it is filled with exultation and rejoicing at the provision and wisdom of God and the prospect of what the days ahead will bring and how the promises of God will now certainly unfold.

The shared experience of Abraham and Isaac forever changed their relationship. Despite Abraham’s stunning prophetic proclamation that God would provide a sacrifice, Abraham and Isaac must have looked back at the events on Moriah as a largely inexplicable and perhaps confusing interlude; the true significance of Isaac’s near sacrifice would remain unclear until a greater Son and a greater Father would make a similar journey to a mountain of sacrifice many years later.

The Real Father and Son Moment

What are we to make of that far greater moment at Calvary when the proverbial knife truly did descend?

What can be said about the moment when the Father’s heart was riven but his hand was not stayed and the final shock as the Son, the Lord Jesus, who was the very delight of the Father’s soul, dies on the altar? What too of the moment when darkness fell across not only the land itself but over all the promises and joys of God himself? We cannot linger long on such loss — scripture doesn’t allow us to intrude and offers little detail of the most somber moments that have ever been or indeed ever could be imagined.

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