Isaac Bound

Jul 24, 2017

by Eric Sponheim, former board member  

It’s a deeply weird story that we never quite know what to do with. God tells Abraham to bind his first-born son Isaac to an altar in the wilderness and be ready to sacrifice him at God’s command.

God’s ask of Abraham is incomprehensible. Incomprehensible not only because it involves human sacrifice, but because the sacrifice is to be a son so long-awaited – a son who was to be part of a grand covenant of blessing that would extend to all the families of the world (Genesis 12:3).

Of course, we know how it turns out. At the last minute, after Abraham had raised the knife to kill his son, the Lord’s angel intervened. But that doesn’t make the story any less terrifying.

To be sure, there are ways you can try to spin it. Kierkegaard, for one, put forward a theory about the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” This came in a book fittingly called Fear and Trembling.

And yet, at bottom, for many of us the binding of Isaac (as the story is known in Jewish tradition) remains a bizarre moment in Scripture, more a Steven King horror story in Hebrew Bible garb than an invocation of grace.

Perhaps a commentator on my post will offer some insights that better illuminate this inexplicable binding. For now, I would merely point out that Scripture does not shy away from moments that seem utterly senseless.

And yet that may be why Scripture rings so true, because we all experience such moments in our own lives. Yours may involve a prison sentence, a divorce, a personal betrayal or some other wrenching crisis of faith. You may feel like Isaac bound, stricken to your very core. Yet this binding is surely not the last word.



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