A Hebrew Bible in dust at rest in a library of a Christian University somewhere in the Midwest teased me with these words in its foreword. A Jewish work by Jewish scholars for a Jewish readership, the editor conveyed the exhaustive research which informed the translation. Illusory of the effort was a brief statement about the story of Abraham and Isaac. Some primitive manuscripts relayed a slightly different tale than the one which came later; the one traditionally given. In its original telling, Isaac dies but then is resurrected by God and given back to Abraham.
I cannot un-remember it. Not because I am Christian and this telling is a remarkable archetype, helpful to my own belief. But because of how it is unhelpful. Because the first question I am often asked about this dangerous patriarchal myth is, “Did God really expect Abraham to kill Isaac?” Like a newly discovered crime scene, rabbis, pastors, scholars and skeptics race to the scene with apologetic musings and condemning commentary. Let’s not make their mistake. Let’s not be in a hurry to rush in on this scene only to presuppose answers to questions only Abraham, Isaac and God can tell.
There is a harsh, uncomfortable reality in this tale that will be lost on the majority of soft thinking, spongy-worded spiritual people among us. Those who find it hard to comprehend how it is that conflict is essential to peace,or that love emerges through judgment and disciple, and not the absence of it, are among those who may be fated to forever view this patriarchal myth as if through the wide eyes of the ingenue archaeologist looking for the first time at strange hieroglyphs.
When I was a soldier we may have all said, “We’re all the same color here. We’re all green.” Actuality was that a caste system of competence separated us. Clearly defined lines. Support personnel were one caste. Another is combat support. Combat Arms was a little higher up the food chain, but don’t think that being an Infantry soldier made you elite. Among the Eleven Bravo (11B) military specialty is a class system. Each one rising only to one’s own level of incompetence. Above infantry were Rangers and Paratroop types who wore wings. Hybrids enjoyed special status: Airborne Ranger. Green Berets were more elite but it was an exceptional class of soldier who became the Special Forces soldier. Yes, we’re all green here, but no one casually compared the supply clerk or the mess sergeant to the class of elite soldier.
These soldiers were given something special, only to have it taken away.
These soldiers were tested more often, more severely, because more was riding on their success.
The nation entrusted more to them. The military has just cause to demand more.
On a mission, they would often be alone or small in number so their loyalty and resolve, confidence and competence had to be beyond proven.
So as you read this tale of incomprehensible demands on God’s first prophet, ask this also:
Is Abraham given the fierce, horrific task as a test because God has risked everything on this one man? Do we super focus on the trial? Is it better, perhaps, to simply salute the elite soldier; regard him as one we might aspire to be?
Carefully read the narrative. Study its words. It will rough you up a bit.
Maybe it is a story better handled by callouses than soft hands; better carried by spiritually war-torn veterans than academics.
Neither God nor Abraham nor Isaac are defined by this trial. Yet all are proven by it.
In Abraham’s mental, spiritual, and physical resolve we see a special forces elite who can remain present in each excruciating moment. He is not seduced by yesterday’s promise. He is not distracted by an imagined future.
“Here I am, my son.”
“Here I am, [my Lord].”
It is only in this moment the providence of God will be seen.
In fear and fire, it is only the moment we can manage.
The Love of God is dangerous; exhilarating; inviting us- driving us- to higher eschalons of trust.
Abraham is still teaching us what it means to walk together with God into a dangerous love relationship.