Years later the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, is alive and thriving. God again comes to Abraham—though not in any physically perceptible form—and this time gives him a quite explicit command:
Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
The text then simply narrates Abraham’s obedient actions, with no hint of emotion:
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
Only on the third day, as Abraham and Isaac are approaching the mountain alone, does the text subtly convey what Abraham must be feeling. Isaac asks:
My father.…Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering….
The rest of the story is well known: God rescinds the decree at the last moment and provides a ram to take Isaac’s place; an angel of the Lord calls out from heaven to laud Abraham:
By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
Human sacrifice is on the way to being abolished; both Abraham’s own people and humanity at large will benefit greatly from this major step toward civilization.
Why, though, when Abraham originally received the appalling diktat from God, did he not even raise a peep of protest—so unlike his behavior when he boldly confronted God about Sodom and Gomorrah?
After all, Isaac was promised to Abraham by God and was supposed to be the means—the only means—toward the “great nation” for which God seemingly had such plans.
Yet Abraham doesn’t even mention such matters as he sets forth to do God’s bidding.