The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is quite well known, especially to those who grew up in Sunday school. We remember that God tested Abraham’s love for the Lord by commanding him to offer up his only son, the promised heir. We have read that Abraham packed up for the journey to a mountain God would show him, and took along his son and two servants. We know it took them three days to reach the particular mountain in the land of Moriah where God wanted him to hold the sacrifice.
But what I wonder is what occurred within those three days between home and the altar. I wish I knew what Isaac was thinking throughout that whole experience. Sometimes the Bible seems to be rather cold-cut and emotionless, only providing the facts and not always the feelings behind those facts. I wonder what was happening in Isaac’s soul as he traveled with his father Abraham that long journey to the mountain God would show them where to do sacrifice. Isaac didn’t know what the offering would be. He just knew they were going to an undisclosed place to offer a sacrifice to God.
I suspect this trip had a dual purpose. Of course, it was to try Abrahams love for God and trust and obedience in offering up his promised son. But it could have also served to purge Isaac. Perhaps he was complacent as the Godly Abraham’s heir. Maybe he needed that journey to think about the coming offering and prepare his heart for it. I don’t know if Isaac had ever helped his father gather stones for an altar, choose their best lamb out of the flock and kill it and lay it on the wood and feed fire to that offering.
If he had been a part of a sacrifice before, I’m sure Abraham would have explained the ceremony to his son and taught him the devotion and worship it entailed. Isaac was probably solemnized by the realization that he needed this opportunity of personal fellowship and worship of his father’s God to help him step up into manhood, into his own relationship with God—and later, though he did not know it, as a patriarch of God’s chosen. This could have been his spiritual bar mitzvah, when he crossed the threshold from heir to steward.
I think that journey and the altar he knew he would build at the end of it made him think. Made him purge himself of his privileged childhood bubble and truly turn his face to seek God. I think all of this was happening while they traveled so that when they reached Mount Moriah, Isaac was ready for his father to bind him, not the expected lamb, to the altar. He had been spiritually prepared those three days and nights, discussing God with his father while wandering foreign trails and relaxing around campfires. He would not have been ready to be the sacrifice when he started off from home a boy. But he waked up Mount Moriah a man. And when the hearts of both the father and son were ripe for surrender, God pointed Abraham to the mountain of sacrifice.
And both men found out on that mountain that being willing to give the ultimate sacrifice can mean earning the ultimate miracle. God just wants us to be given to Him…consciously surrendered to whatever He desires, whether life or death. I think Isaac learned that on the way to the altar and never forgot it afterward.
Reading this story in the Bible and ruminating upon it showed me a parallel to my own life. I am embarking on a missions trip to Southeast Asia this week. I know everybody expects their lives to be drastically changed and their morals set straight and their souls lit on fire for God by a missions trip to a third world country. I’m hoping all those things happen to me throughout the course of the next two weeks. But I think the preparation for this trip has already helped me grow spiritually.
I don’t know what I will face on this journey to the other side of the world. I can imagine, filling in the blanks of our itinerary with possibilities of things that could take place. But, like Isaac, I have no idea what will transpire once I reach my destination. And I want my heart to be ready for the unknown. An altar of some sort awaits me there on that mission field. What God will ask me to place on that altar is yet unclear, but I do not want to be shown my Mount Moriah only to turn away in fear and unbelief from the sacrifice He requires. I want to prepare my heart now to be willing to do the unthinkable, as Isaac was.
I don’t know if I was ready to accept the lessons of this missions trip when I first signed up. I don’t know if I am ready now. But I have already learned so much just from the few months preparing for this journey, and I pray God gives me the grace I need the moment I need it, whatever altar I must build there.