Beckett: The Sacrifice

It was still dark when father woke me up from a deep slumber.

“Wake up, Isaac,” he said. “We must make a sacrifice to the Lord.”

I couldn’t tell if the raspiness in his voice was due to worry or having used his voice for the first time this morning. Still, though, it was an odd thing to prepare a sacrifice before dawn broke. The Lord must be requiring a major sacrifice for us to be waking so early.

As I rose from bed and dressed in my tunic, father’s donkey was already saddled and he already had two of his servants ready for departure. He was cutting wood for a burnt offering as I walked out of our home.

“Where are we going, father?” I asked.

Tying the last bundle of wood to his donkey, he said, “Moriah, my son. The Lord has commanded we prepare a sacrifice for Him, and you are to come with me.”

“That’s three days’ journey! Why so far, father?”

“It is not for us to know what God has hidden, only what He has revealed. He has revealed that we journey there and prepare a sacrifice. Why we must go and do so, it is hidden. And it is not our place to ask and speculate.”

It wasn’t until the second day of our journey that I noticed we didn’t have a lamb with us. How are we going to prepare a sacrifice without a lamb? At first, I thought father was absentminded about the sacrifice, but that doesn’t seem like him. He may be old, but his mind is as sharp as the dagger on his side. I thought about breaching the subject with him, but lest I come across as impertinent, I decided to wait it out until we arrived at our destination.

On the third day as we arrived at Moriah, father looked up the mountain and stared into the distance at the altar above. He seemed lost in thought, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to ascend the mountain. Father broke the silence by commanding the servants to remain with the donkey as he and I ascended the mountain for worship, giving me the wood to carry as he carried the sacrificial knife and the torch. It was a strange command, seeing as they are certainly welcome to join us in worship. But I didn’t want to question father.

Father was quiet the entire trip. Usually we talk and joke on our trips, but on the entire journey here he hardly said a word. He always seemed lost in thought… and afraid. I’m not sure why he had so much fear in his eyes and how he walked. This didn’t change as we ascended the mountain. The only sounds that came from him were grunts as we climbed over large rocks and stubbed our toes on smaller ones that jeered out the side of the mountain. Something was obviously troubling him. Maybe he finally realised he forgot the lamb for the sacrifice and was fearful of what to do once we got to the altar.

But that doesn’t make any sense. Father is a sharp man. He would’ve remembered to bring a lamb. Even if he did forget, we certainly would’ve turned around to get a lamb or purchased one from someone on the road. We did pass by a few shepherds, after all, which is not an uncommon occurrence.

I decided to risk appearing disrespectful towards father by asking him where the lamb is. But I lost track of him.

“Father!” I called out.

He appeared from behind a boulder. “Here I am, my son.”

“Look, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Father looked at me somberly, a bittersweet look in his eyes, “God will provide for Himself a lamb for the offering, my son.”

I suppose that makes sense. Father told me how God, many decades ago, promised him a son. That son was me, and I wasn’t born until father was one hundred years old! If God can promise a man and his wife a son and provide one for them in their extreme old age, God can certainly provide a lamb when needed. Still, though, the way he said it was strange. It didn’t appear to me to be a lie. Father certainly believed what he had said—that God indeed would provide—but he still seemed afraid.

When we finally arrived at the altar, father took the wood off my back and began laying them on the altar, and that’s when things turned sour.

Suddenly, father grabbed me with violent determination and thrust me onto the altar.

“What are you doing, father?” I yelled, my voice cracking in my early adolescence.

Father didn’t say anything. Tears were streaming from his eyes as I struggled to fight him, pushing back with my arms and thrusting my pelvis violently to throw him off balance. But even for his old age, father is remarkably strong.

I don’t understand what’s happening. Why is father laying me on the altar? I’m not a lamb! But it’s no use. Father is far stronger than me. One by one, he tied each of my limbs to the altar.

I don’t understand. Why am I the sacrifice? This is something those evil nations do with their own children, even infants, both born and unborn! I thought our God was different than their gods? Maybe a human sacrifice is far greater than that of a lamb?

As I’m questioning everything about our God, father unsheathes the sacrificial knife, and I look into his eyes. His eyes are dark, scared, but somehow confident. Confident in what?

His eyes are the last thing I will see as I drown in my own tears, my last taste the salty snot dripping from my nose as I struggle to break the ropes around my arms and legs, my last feeling to be the fire that will sear my skin and muscles down to the bone.

Father raises the knife to cut my throat. This is it. If a human life is greater than the sacrifice of a lamb’s, perhaps my life will be what’s necessary to cover the sins of the world.

But a loud voice thunders, “Abraham!”

Father stops and yells straight into the heavens, “Here I am!”

The mysterious voice continued, “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.”

What in the world is going on? Who is this voice? Is it God? Was this seriously all a test for my father? To test and see if he still trusted God after giving him what He promised? Thank God! I’m alive!

But still… Why? Why put me through this living nightmare? Then I remembered what father had said yesterday, “It is not for us to know what God has hidden, only what He has revealed.” I already knew that YHWH is not a God who sacrifices our children. I should’ve trusted Him like father trusted Him. What I don’t know is why He put both of us through this. But like father said, it is not our place to ask and speculate.

I squint over at father, who had walked over to a bush where a ram was stuck by its horns. Father brought it over to me as he untied me. Without having to say a word, I finally understood. I stepped down from the altar, laid the lamb on the altar, and father and I sacrificed it together.

Father decided to call the place, “YHWH will provide” as a reminder that God will always provide what He has promised. A fitting name, considering the foreshadow of a far greater event.

I did not yet know it, but just as God provided the sacrifice for that day, so He would provide a sacrifice far greater than that ram and far greater than my life. God would not require of humanity what He would require of Himself—the blood of His only Son, whom He would not keep for Himself but give to the entire world.

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