As strange as it may seem, the story of the binding of Isaac, Abraham being told to take the son he loves and offer him as a sacrifice, is a story about the future. If Abraham is to sacrifice the son he was promised for so long, the son that became a delight to him, what kind of future would he have? It’s only the intervention by a messenger of God that Abraham sees the ram caught in the thicket, which becomes the substitute for Isaac as the sacrifice. What kind of future is that?
There are constant threats, constant potential disruptions to our future and Genesis acknowledges that many of them may come from us. Regardless of what God may have intended, this difficult story forces us to look at the ways we are complicit or even eager to consent to beliefs and actions which threaten our own future. Being able to see, to see the place to go, to see the solution in the nick of time, are important components of this story.
Abraham lived on the idea of a promise, a promise repeated many times, with many confusing twists and turns, but a promise that seemed to be hanging by a thread in one bizarre moment. I wonder what Isaac must have thought, and what their relationship must have been like after this experience. I wonder if Sarah ever knew; it’s perhaps telling that her disappearance from the Genesis narrative after this point might be telling (the only other mention of Sarah in Genesis is the recording of her death at age 127). Silence, as we know, says something after all.
Modern Jewish prayer calls upon God to remember the binding of Isaac for the benefit of Abraham’s descendants. But what is it we’re to remember? Disaster averted, thanks to God? The attentiveness and devotion of Abraham? That the promise was fulfilled and the descendants of Abraham are a great people? The story begins with Abraham and it ends with Abraham; but the story isn’t as much about Abraham as it is about God and God’s future, which we call the kingdom. And with eyes to see then God’s future becomes our future too.
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