Belated Weekend Reading: Horror and Salvation

The schedule for weekend readings has been interrupted several times. As I re-visit the series, I notice that the story had just seen the birth of a promised son for Abraham.

The narrative takes a surprising turn.

God Almighty, the giver of promises and protector of Abraham, asks Abraham to sacrifice his son* as a burnt offering.

In all the story so far, all the offerings have been of animals.

God had given gifts, protected some people, visited harsh judgement on other people, and given amazing promises. But there has been no such request.

Abraham attempts to follow the command. However, he has to travel three days, with at least a few servants, to do so.

Then he leaves the servants behind, not willing to let them take part in the horrifying sacrifice. Isaac asks where the animal for sacrifice will come from, and Abraham says that God will provide.

On the mountain, Isaac is bound and prepared for the sacrifice. As he reaches for the knife, Abraham hears a messenger of God give a contrary command.

The sacrifice is halted, and Abraham sees a substitute (a ram) trapped in a thicket nearby.

Isaac is spared. Abraham names the mountain as a memorial of God's provision.

(Shortly before, the concubine Hagar had received provision from God, and spoken of "God who sees me". Here, Abraham recognizes "the LORD who provides".)

The underlying story, of obedience even to the point of killing the son-of-promise, is horrifying to the mind. This isn't the cataclysmic judgement that was visited on the evildoers of a nearby city, this is the knowledge that the Creator, the God of great provision and protection, can ask His followers to give up anything and everything that they hold dear.

It is also a story of a son being saved from certain death, of a substitute offered. And it is a reminder that the Divine perspective is utterly different from the perspective of humans.

Christian tradition has long held this to be a precursor, and reminder, of the work that Jesus Christ would eventually do a couple of millennia later. Except in that case, Jesus was the substitute for something that all humanity ought to have gone through.

* Arab and Islamic tradition has long told the same story, but with Ishmael instead of Isaac in the supporting role.

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