I wonder, did Isaac have a profound sense of humor? Was he a comedian of some sort? Often, we paint the pictures of biblical characters as faithfully stoic. These scriptures don’t often expand on the whole person, just glimpses into a part of their role in God’s larger story. Yet they were people who dwelled among the earth, seeking that which we seek today. For a moment, try to imagine Isaac not as a child, but a man. Imagine him gathering a crowd around to tell them the humorous story of his life. Imagine, if you can, a people that gathered around this leader not just because of his role, but because he would bring laughter to a crowd.
Our scriptures don’t record a lot about Isaac’s childhood—life with the leader of the people; a child of very aged parents; a walking miracle showing God’s promise and faithfulness. In Genesis 21, Isaac is born and the next time we meet up with him, it is at a most troubling moment in all of scripture—the sacrifice of Isaac. This passage in Genesis 22 is hard to imagine, let alone ask deeper questions about what it actually means. Read Genesis 22:1-19.
How do you feel after reading this passage? Sad, angry, confused, bewildered, unsure, doubting, hurt? That, I do believe, is the heart of such stories. They force us to feel, to wrestle, to ask deep questions that may not have quick answers and to question our understanding of God.
One question is the age of Isaac. Is this an image of a toddler going with his father in unabandoned trust? Or, as the Rabbinic tradition has suggested, was Isaac 37 years old in this moment where his father takes him to be sacrificed? What meaning would the story have if viewed from the perspective of a child blindly following his dad versus a grown man choosing to follow his father’s lead?
To be sure, there is no easy way around this passage. It warrants further reflection and nuanced interpretations. So today, rest in the uncertainty of it…allow space for the Spirit to work…live in the tension of such a troubling narrative.