My book club is currently reading Søren Kirkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, which is an extended meditation on Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac in Genesis 22. It’s a surprising and troubling account that demands further reflection. Beyond its value as a fascinating story about a famous Biblical hero, it has much to say about faith, humanity, and our relationship to God.
After these things God tested Abraham’s faith. God said to him, “Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.”
Then God said, “Take your only son, Isaac, the son you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Kill him there and offer him as a whole burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took Isaac and two servants with him. After he cut the wood for the sacrifice, they went to the place God had told them to go. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. My son and I will go over there and worship, and then we will come back to you.”
Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and gave it to his son to carry, but he himself took the knife and the fire. So he and his son went on together.
Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!”
Abraham answered, “Yes, my son.”
Isaac said, “We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb we will burn as a sacrifice?”
Abraham answered, “God will give us the lamb for the sacrifice, my son.”
So Abraham and his son went on together and came to the place God had told him about. Abraham built an altar there. He laid the wood on it and then tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the wood on the altar. Then Abraham took his knife and was about to kill his son.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”
Abraham answered, “Yes.”
The angel said, “Don’t kill your son or hurt him in any way. Now I can see that you trust God and that you have not kept your son, your only son, from me.”
Then Abraham looked up and saw a male sheep caught in a bush by its horns. So Abraham went and took the sheep and killed it. He offered it as a whole burnt offering to God, and his son was saved. So Abraham named that place The Lord Provides. Even today people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “The Lord says, ‘Because you did not keep back your son, your only son, from me, I make you this promise by my own name: I will surely bless you and give you many descendants. They will be as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and they will capture the cities of their enemies. Through your descendants all the nations on the earth will be blessed, because you obeyed me.’ ”
Then Abraham returned to his servants. They all traveled back to Beersheba, and Abraham stayed there. — Genesis 22:1-19 (NCV)
Questions to Ponder
1. In Fear and Trembling, Kirkegaard writes about the difference between how we experience this story and how Abraham experienced it:
“One mounts a winged horse, the same instant one is at Mount Moriah, the same instant one sees the ram: one forgets that Abraham rode only upon an ass, which walks slowly along the road, that he had a journey of three days, that he needed some time to cleave the wood, to bind Isaac, and to sharpen the knife.”
Imagine yourself in the shoes of Abraham and Isaac, thinking about what was to come with each step of their long journey. How do you think you might have reacted to God’s command?
2. If Abraham had listed what was most important to him in his life, Isaac would have been at the very top. What’s at the top of your list? Would you be willing to completely give it up to God?
3. Have you seen the pattern of this story play out in your own life? Have you ever been called to give something up, only to have God give it back to you in a surprising way?