Last week we found ourselves journeying with Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. We know that so often our lives have so many distractions that it is difficult to hear the voice of the Father claiming us as his own precious children. Abraham is invited today to once again leave and go – to the place that I will show you. It seems he is finally learning after making so many mistakes – to this great test he replies: “Here I am / hineni (Hebrew)”
The lectionary reading (Genesis 22:1-18) skips over some of the details, so it is well worth reading the full passage to see all the details – and especially the poignant exchange between Isaac – now carrying the wood that would be used to burn the sacrifice and his father, as in innocence Isaac looks up at his father and asks the powerful question: ‘here is the flint/fire and the wood – but where is the lamb of sacrifice?’ With the faith and obedient trust that has become Abraham’s greatest mark and honour, he answers with powerful prophetic insight: ‘The Lord himself, will provide the lamb – my son.’ We are left to wonder whether ‘the son’ is meant to be ironic – a hint from Abraham to Isaac of the darker purposes that he is being forced to embark upon. When they reach the summit of the mountain, there Abraham binds his son – an act that provides the title for this sacrifice – the Akedah of Isaac. We are not told how old Isaac is at this point – at the end of Genesis 21 we are simply told that ‘a long time passed’ so Isaac could be a youngish boy (yet old enough to carry a pile of branches), or a young man. Whatever his age, it seems that Isaac, who now knows that he is to be the lamb of sacrifice, allows himself to be bound and so offered to the Lord. He also seems to be the stronger one in the pair – since he is the one assigned to carry the wood for the fire of sacrifice.
It is only after Isaac, now bound, and placed upon the newly constructed altar, and as Abraham – presumably racked in grief and tears – reaches out with the knife/cleaver to lunge it into the neck of his beloved son. As he begins to bring the knife down, it is then that the angel of the Lord intervenes to prevent this heinous crime of human sacrifice from taking place. Then we are informed that a short distance away, a ram is caught up in the bushes, and so is available to take the place of Isaac and be sacrificed. Note it is a ram – not the lamb that Abraham prophesied. After this passage, any careful reader of scripture should be looking for this lamb – when will God come through and answer this promise? When will God finally provide the lamb of sacrifice?
Lent, Sunday 2, Year B.
Genesis 22:1-18; Mark 9:2-10.