That Holy Pause
An imaginative reading of Genesis chapter 22.
He broke up pieces of gopherwood in the dark while his family slept. He wondered, with each swing of the axe, when God would show up. Call it off. A few times he thought he heard a voice from heaven say: You did it. You have proven your faithfulness. Isaac does not have to die.
But there was only stillness and the sound of birds waking up. He continued to swing the axe. Our bodies are amazing like that. They can go through the motions of daily tasks, even when we are dying inside. We brush our teeth the day after an accident. We pull on a pair of pants for the funeral. We go to work. We heat up a can of soup. We remember to turn the humidifier on before bed.
Issac and the servants got dressed, sleepy and calm, while Abraham saddled the donkey. He sighed, deep and heavy. Troubled. Isaac watched his father, but did not speak. They began their journey as the sun was rising.
It was days before they found the spot. With each step, Abraham had strained his ears, hoping to hear God’s whisper. A call to turn around. Then, suddenly, he saw it. The place where Isaac would die. I wonder, did he pray his own version of Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer? Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. (Lk. 22:42) Or did he plead, over and over again, under his breath, God, please. Help.
Finally Isaac spoke. He had been watching the trouble in his father’s eyes. He had noted the silence. He had noticed the absence of a sacrifice. But he had remained quiet, unwilling to believe that his father would kill him. Maybe this was all a test. Did he trust his father? He spoke: My father, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
God will provide, Abraham said. But the weariness did not leave his face. This was Abraham’s test. Did he trust his Father? Days of walking alongside his son, knowing what God had asked of him. Knowing what was to come. The cup of trembling. The death of an innocent lamb.
Abraham tied Isaac to the pile of wood, drenching his son’s face with tears as he wrapped the rope around and around. He paused again, before getting out his knife, looking heavenward for mercy. There was no reply, so he proceeded with obedience, not knowing God’s plan. And this is perhaps the truest definition of faith I know.
I wonder about that holy pause, when Abraham lifted the knife above his son. Was it a prayer?
God, I trust you.
Was it patience?
God, I’m waiting.
Was it terror?
There must be another way. God, please.
And what was that moment like for Isaac, facing his father’s knife?
Was it trust?
Surely he will not.
Was it fear?
This is why he tied me down…
Was it anger?
How could he do this to his own son?
But heaven replied before Abraham’s hand descended: Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me. (Gen. 22:12) And he sighed with the relief of a thousand years.
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