The Binding of Isaac
Isaac had heard the word of God from an early age. He knew the utterings of the creator for as long as he could remember. His mother would even say he knew God even before he was born. Isaac thought that statement was odd. How can you know God if you hadn't been created yet? Perhaps it was the other way around, God knew Isaac before Isaac was born. Yes! That's what his mother probably meant.
Isaac's father would often disappear, whether it was in the middle of the day, or the dead of night. The man never told his family where exactly he wandered to – it was heavily guarded secret. But all Isaac knew, this was only time his father got to speak with God himself, face to face. His father, Abraham, began talking to God when he was Isaac's age. This was when Isaac's father lived very far away. The boy's mother would always tell the boy how God told Abraham to leave his city and travel across the known world to the Holy Lands, which God promises to Abraham and his descendants.
On occasion, the boy would ask his father he could go too. Isaac was eager to meet God himself. He wondered what the old man truly looked like. They said man was made in his image. This made the boy more curious. Every time he asked, however, his father declined.
"You will meet him one day," his father would always say. "Just now isn't the time. You have to be patient."
Isaac was about to turn thirteen. Surely now was the right time. The boy was about to come of age. He was about to do the rite of passage all boys did at the age.
"But will I meet him?" the boy sounded unsure. Sometimes he even doubted the creator's existence. But if his father insisted God exists, then it must be true. "I'm almost man."
"You're still a boy," his father told him. "But I do solemnly promise I will introduce you to God."
Although it seemed like an empty promise, the boy knew he could trust his father. When had the great Abraham let anyone down? And through Abraham, had always predicted everything to come true, including Isaac's birth. Because Isaac trusted his father, and his father trusted the Maker, he knew anything was possible through God.
Isaac's parents were old. The boy was too scared to ask their exact age – he was afraid he'd been scolded if he even dared mutter the question. Isaac was sure his parents were over a hundred years old, but that might be his childhood mind playing tricks on him. Isaac remembered hearing from one of the maidservants how his mother was beyond childbearing age when she gave birth to the boy. They said it was a miracle only God could deliver. His father even claimed he talked to God the day the boy was born – the creator himself gave the boy his blessing.
Sarah worried for both her husband and her son. She worried every time Abraham would disappear. In the beginning, he started going away for about a half-hour or so. As time went one, his disappearances became longer and longer. At one point it was a few hours; now it was a few days. Sarah also asked her husband what he did during his solitary moments. All Abraham could answer with was he was going to speak to God. Damnit! That's what he always said. She had never talked to the Almighty before, besides in her dreams. It was the night before they left their hometown of Ur. She remembered as she laid asleep, she imagined God descending like a dove. Transforming into an old sagely man, the spirit of God would whisper in the woman's ear.
"Fear not, for I am the one who created you," the voice would say. "I have always known you, and you have always known me."
"Who are you?" Sarah asked in her dream. "Is it you, the Maker?"
"I am who I am!" God announced. "I have chosen both you and Abraham to be my chosen people. I compel you to leave this ungodly city and travel westward. You will soon come upon fertile land alongside the sea. Here your people will flourish. It is there we will establish a new covenant – a covenant that will last the aeons, as long as your people follow my commandments."
Sarah was about to ask God what he meant by commandments, but she awakened. Later the following day, Abraham would have his first visitation by God. The Almighty also instructed him to travel westward. Following the Lord's command, the two did just that. Packing everything they owned, and preparing their household – including dozen or so servants under their care – they left. Along with them came Lot, Abraham and Sarah's nephew.
Although a young boy when they left Ur, Lot had grown into a robust man. Lot's father Haran had died not long before both Abraham and Sarah received their visions from God. Not wanting to see the boy suffer, Abraham adopted the boy into their household. Due to a falling out, a few years later, the now young man left their household, moving to a nearby land on the other side of the River Jordan. Sarah missed the young man. Quite often she would have long conversations with Lot, especially during the long hours Abraham would disappear. But tension grew between the two men, and it eventually blew into an argument and a fistfight. After the fray had calmed, Lot had decided to leave the household.
Picking up one of the pots, Sarah began moving it into the storage house. Traders had recently come. Using what little money they had remaining, the small household bought supplies for the winter. As she walked to the building, she noticed Hagar nearby. Sarah always despised the woman. Hagar entered the household as a servant around twenty-five years ago. Her husband quickly became intrigued by her beauty. While Sarah had passed childbearing age, Hagar was young enough to produce offspring. A year after entering the household, the younger woman bore a child, who she called Ishmael. She hated both the woman and the child. She could forgive her husband for infidelity, but she would never forgive what she called 'the whore and the bastard'. Sarah wished the two would run away and disappear. But Abraham insisted they remain, saying Ishmael was his firstborn. Sarah scoffed at the notion. Is he no forgetting Isaac, Abraham's true heir?
"May I be of assistance," Hagar asked.
"No!" Sarah snapped. She had very little patience for the woman. "I needn't help."
"But your back is aching," the younger woman said. Sarah was unsure if the woman was truly concerned for her or not. "Please let me help."
"If you insist on being helpful," Sarah ordered, "find my son. I need to talk to him."
"As you command."
Isaac was sitting watching the herd with his older brother. Although they were only half-siblings, and the older boy being around ten years older, the two boys were incredibly close. Isaac's mother hated that the boys would spend so many hours together.
"It's unfair," Isaac complained. "I've always wanted to go with father to meet God, but he always refuses."
"Tell me about it," his brother replied. "I've been nagging him too, and for longer. And I've not prevailed."
"I wonder what he talks to God about?" the boy said. "I wonder if father discuses us with the Maker? It would be great to know what God thinks about us."
"I'm sure it's mundane and boring," Ishmael responded.
"And why does God talk to father alone, and not us," Isaac continued. "Why talk to father at all."
"I guess the Maker can feel lonely sometimes," the older boy explained. "It must get lonely knowing you're the only god in insistence."
"Maybe there are others," Isaac pondered. "Perhaps God has a family – a wife and kids – and he's not told us about them yet."
"Don't be silly," Ishmael reprimanded. "There's always been one God, no other deity. If God did have wife, surely, we would've known about her by now. Nah… God is alone in the world. That's why he created us. He created man so that there'd always be someone there to keep in company… I guess."
As Isaac pondered his brother's statement, Ishmael's mother approached. Although the boy kind of liked Hager – he had no reason to hate the woman – his mother would become agitated whenever the two would interact. As long as he could remember, Isaac knew about the affair, and how it brought Ishmael into the world. There was always an uneasy truce between Hager and Isaac's mother, and it was obvious to the world to see.
"Your mother needs of you," Hager instructed. "Be quick. Sarah doesn't appear to be in a patience mood at this moment."
Isaac's mother would only occasionally discipline the boy – that job was usually reserved for the boy's father – but the boy was sure he didn't want to garner the wrath of his mother. Saying goodbye to his brother, Isaac made his way to the storage room, where Hager had instructed him to go. His mother was waiting. The woman had finished packing the recently purchased wine.
"Where were you, Isaac?" Isaac's mother asked.
"I was with Ishmael," the boy answered. His mother scowled.
"How many times must I tell you not to spend time with him," Sarah told him off. "That bastard is sure to teach you bad habits."
"I just did mean to-"
"Just don't do it again, you promise," his mother cut him off midsentence.
"Why did you call me?" the boy asked.
"I need you to find your father," Sarah explained. "I need you to give him this."
The woman approached the boy, handing him a seashell necklace. Isaac was confused. Why ask him to do this? Couldn't his mother have done the task herself instead? The boy was wise enough not to question the logic of an adult, in case the boy got told off and disciplined.
"I will find father," Isaac said. "Where can I find him?"
"The last time I heard he trading in the nearby town," the boy's mother clarified. "You can find him there."
The evening soon arrived. It came sooner than Ishmael expected. Usually, the sun began to set around the twelfth hour. Today, however, the sky began to darken around the ninth hour; grey clouds obscuring the sky. Usually, these ominous skies indicated the rainfall. Yet the young man could not feel any drops of rain. The sky kept threatening to shower, but never actually did. Ishmael hated whenever this happened.
Ishmael questioned whether to return home or not. It was easy to herd the sheep to the barn, and then retire for the day. But there was always the chance the young man would cross path with Sarah, his stepmother. For as long as the boy had lived, he knew the woman despised Ishmael existence. She would never outright be mean to the boy, but she always treated him with contempt. Ishmael would rather face the rain than face a deranged woman.
He continued tending the flock for another hour, before returning home. Ishmael was hoping to find his younger brother, but he couldn't find Isaac anywhere. Talking to a servant, he learnt that Sarah had tasked the young boy to find his father. What processed the woman to do that? Surely, she wasn't in the right mind. Ishmael worried raiders would kidnap Isaac and enslave him. Although the town was only a ten-minute walk, it was still risky. Ishmael chose not to confront Sarah about this, in case an argument broke out. Knowing his mother, Ishmael knew Hager would eventually get involved. It was the last thing he needed at this moment.
It was around the eleventh hour when Ishmael father returned with Isaac. That evening the family feast together, breaking bread and drinking wine, thanking the Lord for their meal. Ishmael found it difficult to sleep, however. His mind was restless. While he laid there, he heard a sound. Leaving his bed, he went to search for the source of the noise.
Ishmael picked up one of the kitchen knives; a tool to defend himself. Walking outside, he made his way to the side of the house, where he heard the noise. A small shadowy figure loomed ahead. As Ishmael approached, it became clear what the source of the noise was.
"Isaac?" he asked.
The boy jolted; his eyes staring intensely at Ishmael.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Isaac repeatedly said. "I didn't mean to."
"Why are you outside?" Ishmael asked. "You know it's dangerous to go outside by yourself, especially at night. Raiders could've kidnapped you."
"I thought father was outside," the boy explained. "I thought he was going to see God. I wanted to go with him."
While Ishmael was mad at his brother's recklessness, he could some understand why the younger boy meant. Their father would occasionally disappear, without warning. When Ishmael was Isaac's age, he too was curious.
"Come inside," Ishmael instructed. "If you insist on meeting God, I'll talk to father about it."
"You would?" the boy sounded surprised.
"I'll do anything for my younger brother."
The next day, Ishmael discussed with his father. Abraham was hesitant at first, but after some convincing, he agreed to bring Isaac with him to meet God.
A few days passed with not much happening. Suddenly, on the Sabbath, Abraham approached his younger son. The boy was tending the flock.
"I have the surprise for you today," Abraham announced. "Today you are going to meet the creator himself, God Almighty."
"Really?" the boy asked, excitedly.
"Since you seem very curious," the man continued, "I thought it was right to bring out before the Lord. We will begin travelling immediately."
They pack enough gear for an at least three-day journey, there and back – food rations, sleep mats, and some spare coins in case they came upon a nearby town. The one thing they didn't prepare for the journey was a sacrifice. Isaac expected his father to choose own of their lambs, the biggest and fattest, to be a gift to God. The boy asked his father, but Abraham was elusive with his answers. The man insisted that God would prepare a sacrifice for them.
Another thing that got Isaac thinking was the absence of his brother. Ishmael was nowhere to be seen. The older boy had been arguing with their father, but Isaac was sure meeting the Maker was a good enough reason to bury the hatchet, so to speak. Instead, the travelling party consisted of Abraham, Isaac, and two of the servants – a man and his sixteen-year-old son. Although slightly older than Isaac, the boy would occasionally play ball and knucklebones with the other child. While their position in life was completely different, there weren't many children Isaac's age. He had to value any and all friendship he could get. He wondered if God was friendly. Perhaps the Maker could teach the boy a new game or two. After all, the Almighty was known to create things.
They travelled for a day and a half. Along the journey, they came across nomad traders. Using the coins which they had brought, Abraham bought fresh bread. They quickly ate the food while travelling further into the wilderness. They drew closer and closer to the sacred mountain, where they would sacrifice before the Lord. Throughout his short life, Isaac had grown up hearing the tales of this place. According to his father, this mountain was the first place God ever created when he made the earth. As a result, it was a very special place for the Almighty. It was also a very suitable place to meet God himself. The closer they got; the more excited Isaac grew.
The group travelled for another day and a half. They soon came to the edge of the mountain. Abraham instructed his servant to stay at the base of the mountain, tending the donkeys and supply. Only Abraham and his son Isaac would travel the final distance to the meeting grounds. Reaching the top of the mountain, the man instructed his son to collect as much wood as possible. At the very top was a stone pillar, which the wood piled onto to make a pyre.
"We're ready," the boy asked. He looked around. "But where's the lamb. You said God will deliver a sacrifice."
"My son," Abraham replied, trying to comfort his son. "As it was promised all along, God will provide the lamb."
Abraham instructed the boy to lay on top of the alter. Unsure what was going on, the boy did as was instructed. The man took out a knife and prepared to sacrifice to the Maker. The dagger loomed above. It waited in space, the only thing keeping it from striking was Isaac's father. He knew he could trust his father. And he knew God always had a plan, no matter what. Surely no harm could come to him. The was no way God would allow his most favourite person to harm his son. With a blink of an eye, the knife descended, gouging into the boy's chest. Isaac screamed in pain. What was his father doing? Was this God's plan. He continued to scream, but the pain didn't go away. Darkness quickly came as Isaac fell unconscious, falling into an eternal sleep. Whether he met his Maker, no one ever knew.
Abraham expected an angel to come sweeping down and stopping. He didn't want to kill his son. The thought of harming the little one distressed him greatly. But the voices in his head kept telling him he had to make the sacrifice. With the boy's corpse in his arms, Abraham began doubting the word of God. Was this what God wanted? How would Sarah react? They tried so long and hard to have a son. And now the boy the Almighty had promised years ago was dead.
Sarah screamed when she saw the body of her dead son. Grief overcame her; refuse to acknowledge her husband. The man had committed the worst sin of all. For many days and nights, the woman would wail for her son. Sadness had overstruck her, and her faith so broken, the woman died a few months later.
Ishmael was angry beyond words. He loved his brother dearly. And to see his lifeless corpse almost destroyed the young man. Feeling as if his father had stabbed him as well, Ishmael left his father's household. Trying to find his cousin Lot, the young man travelled the region. Finding no traces of his Lot, however, Ishmael decided to return to his father's homeland of Ur. The young man pondered whether there he would find the answered the continued plaguing him.
As for Abraham; the man continued tending his flock. He was never able to find another wife. He spent the last of his days alone. Even his servants began to desert him. God never spoke to him again. It seemed the Almighty had abandoned him. Abraham as if he was a lost sheep, not knowing where he was. The man thought he had lost all hope until one day travelling to the nearby village. In the corner of his eyes, he saw a boy who looked similar to his son Isaac. The man wonder, perhaps the Lord hadn't abandoned him.