It was still dark, and the air hung heavy with the promise of morning. In a while the sun would be rising, the day would begin, and at first light they must be off. The two servants were already up, and he had asked them to wake the boy, and tell him they were going on a journey. He couldn’t bear to do it himself, he had never lied to the child and didn’t want to begin now. If this ultimate breach of trust was looming between them, it seemed more important than ever to keep faith in the small things, to pour as much love and truth into his son as he could in the little, terrible, time that remained.
As his fingers fumbled in the cold with the leather straps of the donkey’s saddle, he owned himself a coward. He could justify their early start so easily – there was food and water to be organised, the donkey to be saddled, the wood to be cut to make the fire for the burnt offering. At a guess, Mount Moriah was about 3 days journey away, which meant about 6 days journey there and back (assuming there was a journey back – at the moment the whole world seemed turned upside down, and he was certain of nothing). Any prudent man would seek an early start.
But he knew that wasn’t the reason that he was out here, struggling to do the simplest tasks in the pre-dawn darkness. Fearing to face the questions in his son’s eyes was the least of it. Far more significant was the conversation he did NOT want to have with his wife, the boy’s mother. He had murmured something to her last night about going on a short journey and taking the boy, and she, abstracted with other tasks, had merely nodded. But his Sarah was no fool. One look at his face in the cold light of day and she, who had stayed by his side through so many impossible moments, would have the whole truth out of him in five minutes. And then what? How on earth could he possibly explain, possibly justify? There were no human words that could ever make sense of such a thing, certainly none that any mother could accept. Who was he fooling? There were no words that made any sense to him either as a man, as a father. And, when it was over, how would he ever come back to her?
He must keep busy. If he were to stop, if he were to pause, he would never be able to obey. To hesitate for a moment would be to find reasons to hesitate another moment, and in the end obedience wouldn’t happen. He must keep busy, fill his mind with practicalities, like how much wood did he need to take, how much food for 4 people (and would that be only 3 on the way back?). Anything, any detail at all to fill his mind and silence the scream that was rising inside him – a scream about the very God whom he had staked his life on. What do you do when the one to whom you have entrusted all that you are, all that you ever dared to dream or long for, turns around and cuts you down with a demand so outrageous that the very stars stand still for horror?
You try to figure it out. Didn’t God keep all His promises? Had any word of His ever fallen short? In God there was no division between speech and fulfilment, only the passing of time so that human eyes might see the fulfilment unfold. And had not this same God said that through this child, this miracle, this Isaac, his offspring would be reckoned? It made no sense unless God meant to restore the dead to life. How could this be? He did not know, but he had walked too far with God to turn away now. There was no other way to go, no other God to turn to. He must obey, though it cost him all that he was. But could God, high above all human suffering, have any idea of how it felt to give up your only son to die as a sacrifice?