In selecting passages for Bible Journaling, I’ve been working through my favorite Children’s Bible. This next story is not included in my children’s version of the Bible and yet it is so sacred, I can’t imagine skipping over it. At the same time, it’s a hard story to know how to tell.
God asks Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, a burnt offering. It doesn’t make sense that God would ask Abraham to do this, and it makes even less sense that Abraham would do this without protest. After all, Abraham argued on behalf of Sodom. Why does he not argue on behalf of his own long-awaited son? Maybe both God and Abraham know that this can never happen? The story ends well with an angel stopping Abraham and a ram showing up as an acceptable alternative, but what does this whole experience mean for the relationship between Isaac and Abraham going forward? What will this do to Sarah when she hears of it? The Bible account tells us Sarah dies soon after this event. Does this break her heart?
As I thought of how to illustrate the verse, I considered three images. I thought about Abraham and Isaac walking up the mountain, and how Isaac carries the wood for the altar on his back. I wondered about how old Isaac was. When I heard this story as a child, I always imagined Isaac as a boy of about nine, but I’ve heard from various sources that Isaac may have been older, like in his 30s, which changes the story for me somehow—he begins to look more like Jesus carrying the cross. I thought about the poignant conversation between Abraham and his son, and how Isaac wonders where the offering could be. I thought about Abraham’s strange answer: “God himself will provide the lamb, my son.” When Abraham says “my son”, was he addressing Isaac or telling him that he would be the offering?
I couldn’t bring myself to paint the image of Isaac bound with his father holding a knife above his throat, ready to slaughter his son, but this is another vivid image that comes to mind. Was Isaac willing to be sacrificed? Or did he fight it? What was the look on Isaac’s face? Was there fear? What was the look on Abraham’s face? Was he determined or hesitant? Was he stoic or weeping?
Ultimately, I settled on drawing the ram that just shows up in the story. I traced a photograph of a ram onto tracing paper with a black Sharpie marker and then placed the traced image under my Bible page. I cut out the tracing paper Ram and used it as a mask when I applied the blue gelato to the background. Illustrating this verse made me ponder the connection between this story and the shofar, the sound of victory, and of how Christ ultimately conquers sin and death through his own substitutionary sacrifice.
As I read this story, I wondered if God tests Abraham to see if a human exists willing to see his own beloved son sacrificed. (Abraham’s love for Isaac is the first use of the word love in the Bible.) Was God questioning his own willingness to do the same? God must see how humanity needs Jesus to show us the path to life and how to love. At this point, God must also know what will happen to Jesus, given the strong human tendency to misunderstand the good.
I also thought of how God often brings us to experiences that don’t make sense to us and yet when we continue to walk in faith, God provides. There’s so much more that could be said about this story, but I’ll stop with this thought!