One of the more disturbing stories in the Bible is the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. After all that Abraham has gone through – believing in the promises of God, fathering both Ishmael and Isaac, then sending Ishmael away – God speaks to Abraham one more time.
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you” (Genesis 22:2).
As they approach the mountain with the wood and knife, Isaac asks his father where the lamb is for the sacrifice. In a moment of tenderness and trust, Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (22:8).
As the story goes, Abraham binds his son and is about to slaughter him when an angel tells him to stay his knife. The Lord then provides an animal, a ram in a thicket, in order to perform the ritual sacrifice, while Isaac is spared.
When we read this in the Bible, it’s incredibly disturbing. But what about when we read it in the newspaper?
Everyday we bind our nation’s sons and daughters and slaughter them in war. We strap them down with debt from college, we bind them with jingoistic patriotism. We encourage them to enlist in our military and offer themselves for our protection, telling them that this is the highest calling.
Yet as there was for Abraham, there is always the voice from above telling us to cease our warfare, to stop our warring madness. At the moment before the knife falls or the order is given, there is always an opportunity to stop, to let live rather than let die.
But we do not hold back. Our sons and daughters are slaughtered on our command in the deserts of the Middle East and in the highlands of central Asia. The story of Abraham and Isaac may be disturbing. But the stories that are written everyday in our newspapers are worse. Abraham did not sacrifice his child. We do. And we are.