Beckett: Poetry – The Sacrifice

This is a midrash poem. A midrash is an an archaic Jewish practice of telling a story, which took a biblical account and explored a “gap” in the account in order to teach a moral lesson. The “gap” I explored in this midrash is, “What was Isaac thinking during the near-sacrifice of Isaac account?” So, I explore that during this narrative poem whilst sticking close to the authenticity of the biblical text. I explore this gap in order to teach the theological point of the account.

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.”
What was the cause for
the raspiness in his voice?
Worry? Or still waking up?
It was an odd thing to prepare
a sacrifice before dawn broke.
It must be for something important.

I rose from bed and dressed in my tunic,
father’s donkey already saddled
and two servants ready for departure,
father cutting wood for a burnt offering.

“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 accompany me.”

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

“It is not for us to know
what Yahweh has hidden,
only what He has revealed.”

It wasn’t until the second day of our journey
that I noticed we had no lamb.
Perhaps father was absentminded,
but that is unlike him.
He may be hold, but his mind is as sharp
as the dagger on his side.
Perhaps I should tell him,
but lest I appear impertinent,
I should wait until we arrive.

We arrived at Moriah on the third day,
and father gazed up the mountain,
staring into the distance at the altar above.
He seemed lost in thought, as if unsure
he wanted to ascend the mountain.

Father broke the silence, commanding
the servants to remain with the donkey
as he and I ascended the mountain for worship,
the wood on my back as father carried
the sacrificial knife and the torch.

Father was strangely quiet the entire trip.
He always seemed lost in thought… afraid.
This did not change as we ascended the mountain.
The only sounds that came from him
were grunts as we climbed over rocks
and stubbed our toes on sharp edges.

Something was obviously troubling father.
Maybe he finally realised he forgot
the sacrificial lamb for the altar.
But that makes no sense;
father is a sharp man.
Certainly, we would’ve turned around
or purchased one on the road.
We did pass by a few shepherds,
which is a common occurrence.

Confused, and nearing the top,
I decided to risk being disrespectful,
but I lost track of him.

                                    “Father!” I called out.

“Here I am, my son,” he said solemnly,
appearing from behind a boulder.

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

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

I suppose that makes sense.
Father told me how Yahweh,
many decades ago,
promised him a son.
That son was me.
If Yahweh can promise a man and his wife
a son in their old age, —
and when my mother was barren, —
He can certainly provide a lamb
for Himself when needed.
Still, though, the way he said it was strange.
It did not appear to me to be a lie.
Father certainly believed what he had said, —
that Yahweh would indeed 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 trust 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 happening.
Why is father laying me on the altar?

                                   I am not a lamb!

But it’s no use. Father is 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 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
running 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,

Father stops and yells straight into the heavens,
“Here I am!” as if he know who it was.

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 Yahweh?
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 Yahweh is not a God
who sacrifices 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 as father implied,
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,
“Yahweh 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 the 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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