Thursday

24 September 2015

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (v. 2)

Psalm: Psalm 96


Background

Sit down with this reading and take a deep breath. Trust God, somehow, and let the story move you. Try not to judge quickly but allow the storyteller to hold you a moment with a deep mystery. We may ask here of this story, 'What is the memory?' and 'What is the meaning?' (see the introduction to the passage on Tuesday (link)). Do we have echoes here of an ancient story that explains an end to human sacrifice? Is this a story about the testing of faith for those that have been through terrible times? Whatever the memory, it is hard, and whatever the meaning, we are left thinking, 'Can God really test people in this way?' It feels an age away from our own times, and our God is a far less frightening God. But I wonder, is today so much less awful than an age where sacrifice was commonplace, and perhaps human sacrifice still part of local practice? And horrifyingly as a human race we sacrifice our children all the time. Our children are hungry and sick. They are exploited and abused. They are traded as slaves and denied their childhood by being forced to work. The horror of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son is too much to bear - and it was against a background where such practice might be demanded. Genesis offers a way out in which God provides, and an ancient horror is ended. Abraham is tested and his faith is in a God who surely he couldn't contemplate 'going through with it'? To us the very question that God asks is abhorrent. 'How could God ask it?' But it is also abhorrent that our world should make such demands on us as well, and as we take that deep breath and allow an ancient story to hold us, we may hear as well, "do not lay your hand on the boy" (v. 12).

This poem offers a modern (?) parallel: 

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
and took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
behold the preparations, fire and iron,
but where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
and stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
neither do anything to him. Behold,
a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
and half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)


To Ponder

  • How may you trust God when so much in the world can trouble you and shakes your faith?
  • How may you wonder at God's self-giving love in Christ as you struggle with your own challenges today?


Bible notes author: 
  The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin

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