This title of the very popular Mercy Me song is what came to my mind as I again read this familiar story in Genesis when God told Abraham to take his promised son, Isaac, and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. (It actually might be more accurate to instead title this…I Cannot Even Begin to Imagine!)
What would have caused God to test Abraham in what seems to be such a cruel way? After all, God had promised Abraham this son; and, he and Sarah had waited 25 years after the initial promise until Isaac was born. God had told him he would build a nation through Isaac. Had Abraham possibly started focusing too much on Isaac rather than God and God’s plan for their lives? I wonder this because when in verse 12b God stops him from sacrificing Isaac he says “’…Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God.’” [Emphasis mine]
As a parent I cannot wrap my mind around this event. I can only imagine the total shock Abraham must have felt when God told him to do this! But Abraham not only obeyed – he obeyed quickly. In verse 2 “…God said ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’” Then we see in verse 3 where “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey.” That was immediate obedience – no delay or procrastination. No begging God to change his mind. No thinking that God was just kidding around and would change his mind before they actually left on the journey. [Emphasis mine]
This story is such a bold example of the strong faith of Abraham. We not only see the quick response to what he was told to do, but then in verses 4-5 it says “On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’” He had full confidence and declared his faith by stating that they would both be returning to them. [Emphasis mine]
Then as Abraham and Isaac are going to the site, Isaac questions his father about the required animal necessary for the sacrifice. In verse 8 it says “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’” This was another expression by Abraham of full faith in God’s ability to provide.
What did Abraham tell his son once they got to the place to prepare for that sacrifice? Did he tell Isaac they were going to play a game, then gag and blindfold him so he would not see what was about to transpire? Or, did he just move forward in a matter-of-fact way? We have no idea about how this was handled. We are only told in verses 9-14 about how Abraham bound Isaac and placed him on the wood, then took out his knife and prepared to kill his son before the angel of the Lord stopped him and a ram was miraculously provided for the sacrifice.
All I can say about this is “WOW!” I like to believe that I have a fairly strong faith. But I just do not believe that I would be strong enough to do what Abraham did. Even the thought of doing such a thing is beyond my comprehension.
I never read this story without also wondering what Abraham told Sarah. Did he tell her the truth about what he had been told to do? If he did, can you imagine the distress she felt – the panic that would set in on her heart? Or, did he hide it from her because his faith was strong enough that he believed he would return home with their son alive and well?
Then there is poor young Isaac if he indeed saw what his father was preparing to do. Can you imagine the sheer horror and fear that he must have felt when his own father bound him, laid him up on that wood, then drew out a knife and prepared to kill him? I would imagine that his terror-filled screams would have echoed in those hills and reached the ears of the servants Abraham left behind to wait. Think about their confusion if they heard Isaac’s screams of fear. They probably wondered if they should stay put as their master told them to do; or, should they run to them to see if they needed help?
For me, this is one of those Bible stories that reads like a horror movie. But praises be to God, it has a happy ending.
Still…I Can Only Imagine!
Written by Karran Martin – March 17, 2019