Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


Re-thinking the Sacrifice of Isaac

This weekend was a kind of anniversary for me: my first cross-country road trip, my first date, shaving my legs, and the first time I thought I was going to die.

I was 13-years old when my favorite grandparents invited me to take a trip with them. Cousin Penny was getting married in Texas. They asked if I would like to drive down and attend her wedding.

Our first night on the road I convinced Gram to let me shave my legs—something my mother said I couldn’t do yet. Instantly it was the best time of my life. Those hairless legs gave me the confidence to go to the wedding, dance at the reception, and go out on a hastily-put-together-double-date-to-the movies-escorted-by-a-real-cowboy-who-went-as-a-favor-to-his-friend-who- was-dating-my-cousin.

Then the fun stopped.

Gram got up in the night, had a stroke, fell, and broke her ankle. Although the stroke left only minor impairments, the ankle was a problem. The doctors didn’t want to put on a cast because of the severe heat and probability that Gram’s foot would swell on the way home. We immediately packed up and left.

The night we stayed in Reno, Grandpa went out for a paper and was forced back into our motel room by a man wearing a nylon stocking that distorted his face. He had a gun.

I knew in that moment that my Grandpa would do everything he could to keep Gram and me alive. If he couldn’t, that was okay.

One of the most challenging passages in the Old Testament is found in Genesis Chapter 22. “Later on God tested Abraham’s faith and obedience… ‘Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…’”

I often hear this scene lamented. Imagine innocent Isaac’s vantage point. His terror! The emotional damage! What cruelty!

I’m not sure that our Old Testament gives all the details necessary for us to see the scene accurately, and judge God and Abraham so harshly.

Titus Flavius Jocephus was a 1st century Romano-Jewish scholar, hagiographer (writer of the Hebrew Bible), and historian. He wrote this scene differently in his book, “The Antiquities of the Jews.” In describing Isaac, he wrote, “Now Isaac was twenty-five years old.” Suddenly things change.  

As soon as the altar was prepared and Abraham had laid the wood, he addressed Isaac with beautiful words of love for him and also for his God. When he finished, it was Isaac’s turn.

“Now Isaac was of such a generous disposition as became the son of such a father, and was pleased with this discourse; and said ‘That he was not worthy to be born at first, if he should reject the determination of God, and of his father, and should not resign himself up readily to both their pleasures; since it would have been unjust if he had not obeyed, even if his father alone had so resolved.’ So he went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed.” Josephus, 1:13:227 and 1:14:232.

God stopped Abraham. It wasn’t Isaac’s time.

Everything written in our scriptures is true, but there are many vital historical events that lack detail. If Josephus is correct, both father and his grown son stood soberly, but willingly before God in holy obedience.

When the gunman shoved into our room I was strangely curious how God would save us. He did. We were too poor to make it worth the robber’s effort. He left.

It wasn’t our time either.