During the High Holiday season, the story of the binding of Isaac—known as the Akedah—is read in the synagogue service. This account, found in Genesis 22:1-18, is considered by many to be the pinnacle event of he Jewish faith, a perfect example of one man’s devotion to God. We agree, yet we affirm that this story is but a foreshadowing of another sacrifice—a time when a father would have to give up his only begotten son.
Abraham approached his still-sleeping son. How young the boy looked! Too young for what lay ahead.
Awake, Isaac, come with me. The mountain is high and the day is short. Here, I’ll carry the knife—you bring the wood for the fire.”
Isaac tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. Fire? Why was his father going to sacrifice so early in the day? But there was something in his father’s eyes, something different…
“Yes, father, but why so early? What calls us here today? So seldom have we climbed that mount, and so stern is the look on your face. Father, I’m frightened; please, let me stay behind.”
Abraham’s own fright fought to reveal itself, but he pushed it back with the voice of authority.
“My son, we are called, would you not obey? When our God speaks, shall we say no? We may not understand his ways yet, son, but come, the time is at hand.”
God! Adonai! Isaac leaped from his bed at the mention of the Almighty’s name. God had always brought good to him and his family. Isaac quickly dressed and followed his father. He did not have to understand. It was enough that his father had heard from God.
But after the first few days of walking, Isaac’s legs grew tired. His stomach seemed to rumble constantly, for the hurried meals were small and simple. His back was stiff from carrying the wood for the fire.
“Father, how much further must we go? My back cries out beneath this heavy load.”
“Climb on, you who were begotten in a dry place. I must do what God commands. I listen, son, and I obey. More than that you should not know; more than that you must not ask.”
“If God commands, then willingly I come, for he has made us and we are his. But your gaze is so distant, and your face so cold. Have I angered you in some way, father, that you should look so?”
Abraham smiled. “Son, you are my heart, my life’s blood, my own flesh, my very soul. You are a son of promise, a miracle! Here, let us stop now and build the fire. It is time—the sun has begun to set.”
Isaac looked around him. This was scarcely the sort of place to which he’d envisioned their God would lead them. It was so barren, so empty. Why this place?
“But father, why build a fire in this desolate place? And with what do we make our sacrifice? For is it not through sacrifice that we show our obedience to God?”
Abraham slowly took his son’s hands in his own. He swallowed hard. The words he was about to say were already like a knife, piercing into the deepest part of his heart.
“Isaac, my son, we have climbed this mountain today because the Lord has required you of me. He will take you from me on this very altar we have built. Isaac, my child, life of my life. My child, forgive me, but I must do what God commands.”
Isaac’s eyes grew wide. He struggled to free himself from his father’s grasp, pleading, pulling, as if he could run from the very fate that had suddenly made itself known.
“But father, I’m young and strong, and my time has not yet come. What of your promise, what of God’s promise, that the seed of Abraham would be uncountable as the sand and the stars?”
“I would be your sacrifice, Isaac, if it were so ordained. If only your hand held this knife and I could die in your place.” Abraham’s eyes searched the heavens. “Lord, take this weapon from me! How can a father spill the blood of his only son? Yet, if obedience requires it…”
“Father, must I die? Abba, abba, father, why have you forsaken me?”
Abraham drew back the knife. “Lord, with this death I die also. Dear God, Can you know what it is to lose an only son? Even so, may your will be done, may your name be glorified…”
And then God spoke: “Abraham! Wait, stay your hand, untie your son. Your God provides another sacrifice, a ram which you will find in the thicket. Bow down, Abraham, rejoice and praise your God. You are blessed among men, for you have loved the Lord your God more than your own life, or the life of your son. Rise up, Isaac, you are saved by the mercies of your God, who provides another sacrifice in your place.”
“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.” John 3:16