God had promised *large swathes of land to Abraham and his descendants.* Later, though, God began to reconsider His decision.
“Was I over-hasty in thinking Abraham the best man to give this land to?” thought God. “Perhaps I should test him to see whether he’s really Up To It.”
“Abraham!!” called out God.
“I want you to take your son Isaac, whom I know you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a sacrifice on one of the hills which I will show you.”
“What do You mean by ‘sacrifice’?” said Abraham.
“What I mean” said God, “is that you must set fire to Isaac, so that you make of him a burned offering to Me.”
“Sire, if You don’t mind my asking: Are You in Your right mind? Or perhaps You’re joking? Yes, of course, You’re joking…ha ha ha ha ha. You had me worried for a moment, let me tell You, Sire.”
“I’m not joking” said God, “I’m serious.”
“But Sire, if I sacrifice Isaac as You say I must, how am I to have all those countless descendants which You said I was going to have?”
“Don’t answer back. I’ve ordered you to sacrifice Isaac. Just do it.”
“I know there’s something very wrong here, Sire” said Abraham, “for I distinctly remember You once saying to me, *’I’m….going to make your descendants as countless as the dust of the earth, so that if a man counts all the particles of dust which cover the earth, he will also know the number of your descendants.’*. And on another occasion You told me, and these were Your very words, *’however many stars there are, this will be how many descendants you will have’*.”
“When I told you this” said God, “I meant that you would have these descendants through Ishmael, your son by Hagar.”
“I beg to disagree Sire, for You also said to me, *‘It is through Isaac that I will fulfill my everlasting promises to you and your descendants’*. Another time You told me, *‘you will have descendants through Isaac’*. You’ll have to admit, Sire, that I’ve caught You out in Your words.”
“Don’t become captious with me, Abraham” said God, who was by now extremely angry. “All that need concern you is that you will have descendants, and lots of them. But, as I said a moment ago, they’ll be through Ishmael. You remember when Sarah wanted you to expel Hagar and Ishmael from your home, and you were getting all emotional, and I said to you in these very words, *‘You will have descendants through Ishmael’*. You remember that?”
“I do Sire. But You appear to forget that You added ‘too’ at the end of this sentence. Hence You said, ‘You will have descendants through Ishmael too‘. This clearly implies that I will also have descendants through a son other than Ishmael. Who could that other son be but Isaac?”
“Not only are you being captious, Abraham” said God, “you’re also being Clintonian. I’ll not stand for this. You will sacrifice Isaac. That’s an order.”
What else, then, could poor Abraham do but rise early next morning, load firewood onto his donkey, summon two of his servants plus Isaac, and set out for the place of sacrifice which God had specified. On the third day of the journey Abraham saw in the distance the place of their destination.
Abraham said to his two servants, “Stay here with the donkey while Isaac and I walk to where we’ll worship. I’ll be back soon.”
Abraham took the firewood off the donkey and put it all on Isaac’s shoulders, thinking Isaac would be as strong as the donkey. Abraham, though, carried the flame and his knife.
While walking with Abraham to the place of sacrifice, young Isaac kept feeling there was something amiss.
“Father,” said Isaac.
“What is it son?” said Abraham.
“You’re carrying a flame, and I wood. But where’s the beast for sacrifice?”
“I’m glad you asked that question, son, for it’s an intelligent one. God, in fact, will provide the beast to be sacrificed when we get to where we’re going.”
When they arrived at the place of sacrifice, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood.
“I still don’t see the beast for sacrifice?” said Isaac.
“It’ll arrive” said Abraham. “Be patient.”
“It does feel odd here, father ” said Isaac. “There’s just plants and birds and rocks and things, and sand and hills and rings. The heat is hot and the ground is dry, but the air is full of sound. You’re sure God said he would supply a beast for sacrifice here?”
“I’m quite sure” said Abraham. “Listen, son, why not lie down and get some shut-eye. It may be a while before God arrives with a beast.”
Isaac lay down as Abraham suggested. Soon he was asleep.
Abraham saw a large rock, picked it up, went over to the sleeping Isaac, and brought the rock down heavily on Isaac’s head. Abraham looked to see if his unconscious son was still breathing. He was. Abraham’s heart sank, for he knew he would now have to sacrifice Isaac in the way God had ordered.
Abraham bound Isaac with twine, and laid him on the altar atop the wood. He took out his knife and prepared to plunge it into the chest of the boy. Then he heard the voice of God calling down from heaven.
“Abraham, Abraham!!” shouted God.
“I’m in no mood to talk Sire. Can’t You see what I’m about to do in obedience to Your barbaric orders?”
“Do nothing to the boy” said God. “I was only testing you to see if my faith in you had been justified. I see now it was. That you would sacrifice your son because I said so, shows you are a man I can trust absolutely. I would of course have preferred that you hadn’t argued with Me in the way you did. On the other hand, what I ordered was rather extreme. So, all things considered, you acted reasonably in the circumstances.”
Such was the strain which Abraham had been under, that when God told him it had all been a joke, he collapsed on the ground and sobbed loudly.
“How could You have done this, Sire?” wailed Abraham, “I might easily have killed Isaac with the rock I dropped on him. This isn’t a joke to me.”
“I understand your anger” said God. “Were I you, I’d be angry too. Now, let bygones be bygones.”
Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He killed the ram and burned it on the altar as a sacrifice to God. At the same time he named this place Jehovah-jireh. Then God called down again to Abraham.
“Abraham!!” shouted God.
“What now Sire?” said Abraham, who, emotionally, was feeling as hollowed-out as an empty avocado skin.
“Because you were prepared to sacrifice your son on my behalf” said God, “you will abundantly and greatly multiply your descendants until they are as many as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the sea-shore. Your descendants shall possess the cities of their enemies. All nations on earth shall pray to be blessed as your descendants are blessed, and this because you have obeyed me.”
“I’ve heard all this from You before, Sire” said Abraham, “But how can I know that you mean what you say? You have played too many games with me. There’s this recent cruel joke involving Isaac. Then there was Sodom and Gomorrah which you promised me you wouldn’t destroy *if you found ten good men in them*. The next thing I knew, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in an apocalyptic way which only You, Sire, could have done. My faith in You has been sorely taxed. I don’t now know what to think.”
Giving voice to his anger against so powerful a force as God, was emotionally so draining for Abraham that his legs gave way. He collapsed on the ground as he’d done before, and wept the rest of the day and night.
Source: Genesis 22