One of the highlights of my trip to Israel in 1999 was to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It sits upon the Temple Mount and is a sacred site for Muslims, Christians and Jews. For Muslims, it is the site said to be where Mohammed ascended to heaven. For Jews & Christians, the rock is the site where Abraham brought his son Isaac to be sacrificed. It was awesome to experience the site, to see the rock and see a site connected with a specific story in the bible even if it is mere tradition that tells us that.
But that story called the binding of Isaac or Akedah in Hebrew, the near sacrifice of Isaac, is important for us as we understand what it means to live a life by trust and faith. As we have walked with Abraham and Sarah the last few Sundays, we have gotten a sense of his faith, his compassion, his longing for a son, and his relationship with Sarah and God.
Today it is put to a test. The story tells us that God is testing Abraham, nothing tells Abraham that it is a test. God said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." It begins like so many of their conversations…
God said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you."
It would seem like an outrageous request. God wants you to take your son, your only son, the one that God has blessed you with, the one promised to you, and offer him as brunt offering. But some of the words here are familiar… Just like the first time that Abraham hears God’s words (back in chapter 12); God sends him and his family into an unknown land, but Abraham goes because he believes in God and what God promises him and his family. Fearful, fraught with so many things left undone, leaving everything they know behind them, they venture forth. Here Abraham again goes forth trusting in God, taking Isaac, who is old enough to understand…
Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
Isaac is aware of the offering, and he asks Dad where the lamb is. And Abraham tells him that God will provide it. There is trust between them. They walk on together, prepare the wood and fire and then Isaac is bound. The text tells us that Abraham intended to kill Isaac. And then the angel steps in and tells Abraham to not do it.
The angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
It surely is a test but there is a lot of trust in this story…
1. Abraham trusts that God will provide a lamb for the offering (and not his son)
2. Isaac trusts that Abraham will not kill him and that God will provide
3. God trusts that Abraham will follow God’s directions as he had done before, that his fear of God (this reverence and awe) will lead him.
And in our story today, Abraham responds three times, “here I am.” Ready for God’s word, ready for Isaac, ready again for God’ intervention, Abraham responds in trust and faith: Here I am. I have often seen this near sacrifice of Isaac, with him as a young boy, but the text does not give us his age, and some scholars using dates further on in the chapter suggest that Isaac may have been much older, teenager even an adult. And if this is so, then Isaac allowed himself to be bound, trusting his dad.
And there is something about journey in this narrative about Abraham and trust, and living with that faith. As one author put it, “What is suggested in [God’s] ‘go forth’ [to Abraham] is that two journeys are about to take place, an external journey and an internal journey. All external journeys, as every tourist knows, are infinitely richer if the traveler also fully recognizes the internal journey that is happening simultaneously.” (Jo Milgrom) And that journey of trust and faith is something we all have to learn.
One of my kid’s favorite shows (and mine too) is Disney’s Finding Nemo, about a clown fish named Marlin who has to undergo a long journey to save his son Nemo who was taken by a scuba diver for his tank at his office. But Marlin’s journey is much more than just saving his son, it is a journey that is as much about trust and faith. Something he has so little of at the beginning of the story and slowly through the journey with a little blue fish named Doree, he learns to trust in others and have faith and by the end trusts his son Nemo as they help fish free themselves from a fishermen’s net.
Abraham shows us that trust and faith in God can help us on our journeys…
Sadly, sometimes, we forget that trust and faith.
As I was looking at images for Abraham and Isaac, I found a contemporary sculpture by George Segal who made Isaac a young man in his work from 1978. "There is a strong connection in my mind between the image of Abraham and Isaac and the killings at Kent State" Segal explains. "It's an attempt to introduce difficult moral and ethical questions as to how older people should behave toward their children." Segal sees the May 4 incident as a "genuine tragedy in that both sides were well meaning, each convinced of its own point of view and unable to see the other's." (from http://speccoll.library.kent.edu/4may70/exhibit/memorials/segal.html)
So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
On our journeys, may we remember Abraham and Isaac, the trust and faith they had in each other and in God. May we trust in God, find faith in the promises made to us by God through his son Jesus and learn to trust in one another. The Journey we make both external and internal, like so many have in ages past, is to learn to trust that God will provide as we have heard in the biblical story, and as we have seen with our lives. Amen.