And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.” Genesis 22:2 (JPS commentary on Genesis)
Go – The test of Abraham concludes the journey of faith that began when God called Abram out of Ur. The text deliberately sets the frame of this journey with a repetition of the Hebrew phrase lekh lakha (go forth). This phrase occurs only two times in Scripture, at the beginning of the story of Abram and at the last test of Abraham. With this deliberate linguistic technique, the writer encapsulates the life of Abraham. We are meant to see these markers and reflect on Abraham’s journey.
Abraham has already lost one son. Now it appears that he will lose the other. When God called Abram from Ur, he had to leave behind his family, his city and his culture. Abram became a wanderer for God, led only by divine intervention and guidance. Abraham was schooled in the discipline of dependence for nearly 100 years. During that time, we see Abraham’s failures and triumphs. Now, at the end of the saga, Abraham is faced with the last, and perhaps the most difficult test. God asks (He does not demand) Abraham to voluntarily give up his beloved son (here is a typology of what will come thousands of years later) as a test of devotion and loyalty. To truly understand the magnitude of this request, we must enter into the story of Abram-Abraham. We must become this man, stripped of his past, a stranger to his surroundings, seeking to please a God who only occasionally speaks with him. We must read into the lines of the text the panoramic colors of his emotional struggles, his doubts, his collapsed marriage, his angst over his two sons. Imagine his faith walk. Strip yourself of the Scriptures. Tear yourself away from everything familiar. Break loose of your community. Follow only the voice of the Lord. After all that, are we prepared to burn to ashes the last earthly treasure we have?
This great story of faith (the Akedah – binding) is the hallmark of true discipleship. Until we stand with Abraham at the altar, looking down upon what we love most dearly, slaughtering knife in hand, we are not ready. We will fail this test. Perhaps that’s why God waited 100 years to put it to Abraham. Perhaps that’s why God asked but did not command. Perhaps that’s why God framed this story as the final step of Abraham’s journey. God knows when we are ready. Quite often we don’t have any clue. We live day to day as if our gradual and incremental progression toward faithfulness is all we can muster. Then God comes with a body-blow. “Take your son, your only son, the one you love, and go forth.”
Abraham learned the appropriate response, hinneni (“here I am, Master”), over the course of a lifetime. That is the way God teaches all His children. A long obedience in the same direction (as Eugene Peterson rightly noted). God began a frame around your life the day you heard His first call. Now you and I are watching for the other edge of the frame so that we can also say, “Here I am, my Lord. What would You have me do?”
Topical Index: lekh lakha, go forth, Akedah, Genesis 22:2, hinneni