Isaac and the Akedah

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” -Genesis 22:1-2

The Talmudic rabbis were fascinated by the Akedah (The Binding of Isaac) and analyzed so many aspects of the story seeking to understand motivations and ethics of God and Abraham. St. Paul utilized the story to support the argument that “the just shall live by faith”— even Abraham was declared righteous by his faith. Kierkegaard, in “Fear and Trembling” took the story to point to a “leap of faith.” I can’t argue against the importance of the story. Abraham agrees to do the unthinkable because God told him to. We like to know why Abraham agreed. The writer of Hebrews gives an answer— but a rational justification doesn’t quite give the full picture I think.

But I am more interested with Isaac. Commentators differ, but it is pretty clear that Isaac was most likely a teenager or a young adult. And Abraham? Well, he was old. Really old. In the story in Genesis 22 it states that Abraham left his servants behind and went up the mountain with Isaac alone.

Isaac almost certainly was a willing party. It became clear to him, eventually, that there was no sacrifice except for himself. Isaac could have run, easily outrunning his father. He could have fought back, easily overpowering Abraham. But he didn’t. He allowed himself to be tied up. He may have even helped his dad place himself on the altar.

Why would he do that? I don’t think he did it as an act of obedience to God. It could be, but Isaac is not used as the ultimate example of faith and devotion to God, Abraham is.

Abraham was devoted to God, but Isaac was devoted to his dad. That has a beauty to it, but a weighty thought for a dad.

As a parent involved in missions, I recall back in 2004 when my wife and I acted on our calling and got on a plane to go to the Philippines. We brought our three children with me. Our two youngest— ages 7 and 5— had no idea where we were going. They just went willingly where we went. In a three month period, we went from a very nice house in the suburbs, to sharing one room in a relatives house in the US, to sharing a tiny place in the international dorm of a seminary in the Philippines. Over the next few years, our children were bullied by kids who saw our children as “foreign.” They grew up to feel like outsiders wherever they live. All three of them had atopic dermatitis— possibly triggered by the air pollution problems here. None have died, praise God. Two of three are over their physical problems.

Maybe their living in a different country helped them. Maybe they are better for the experience. I would like to think so, but I don’t know. We are not privy to the results of paths not taken.

But that is not the point. We came here because of God… but they didn’t. They came because of us.

That is a burden. Abraham in the end did not sacrifice Isaac. I do wonder how that affected their relationship. Did it strengthen it? Did it weaken it? I don’t know, but it certainly changed it.

To me, the most interesting thing regarding the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, was that he was a willing party. He did it not for God but for his dad. More than interesting, though— as a dad, it is scary.

One thought on “Isaac and the Akedah

  1. Pingback: Midrash Aggadah – Adventures in Pastoral Theology

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