August 16, 2007


This is a watercolor that I just finished. I’ve been thinking about this story a lot lately, trying to wrap my mind around its inherent complexities and contradictions. Laura has an agnostic friend who cannot find the love and the justice of God in this story. It is also interesting that the Jewish community has a harder time dealing with this story then we do. Our advantage being we can see God’s higher purpose through the symbolism. But still there is the question of Abraham as an individual being commanded to murder for the sake of symbolism. I guess what I really want to know is how Abraham explained the situation to his son as he was tying him up and if this situation affected their relationship afterwards.

Sufjan Steven-Abraham
Off his album Seven Swans.

"Abraham, worth a righteous one

Take up on the wood

Put it on your son

Lake or lamb

There is none to harm

When the angel came

You had raised your arm

Abraham, put off on your son

Take instead the ram

Until Jesus comes"


Janelle said...

Jacob, the watercolor looks great! I too, have often wondered what Abraham told Isaac, and how Isaac looked at Abraham afterwards. But one thing is certain - Isaac knew his father followed God. May my own children know the same about their parents.

Brian said...

Wow. Amazing work. I'm especially fond of the angel. Where do you keep all of these anyway?

What did Abraham tell Isaac? If I had to make a good guess, informed by the Bible, I would guess that Abraham told Isaac that he loved him, and that even if he died on the altar, God would raise him from the dead. Hebrews 11 opens up the story of Genesis 12 when it tells us that because Abraham trusted God's promise to create a nation out of his son Isaac, he believed that even if Isaac died, God would raise him from the dead.

What do you think?

Jacob Haynes said...

I don't have any doubt that Abraham believed that God would still keep His promise even if it meant Isaac would be resurrected, but that is not exactly the greatest reassurance to the one who is about to be sacrificed.

I mean if lets say your dad took you hunting, and then told you that God told him to kill you, started to point his gun at you, and said "Don't worry, I'm pretty sure God will raise you from the dead after this is all over with." It wouldn't really assure me too much.

The bigger issue for me is the expense of the individual at the cost of greater symbolism. I am not saying this is wrong or contradicts God's character; in fact it is very much in character (I mean look at Job, Hosea, or Jeremiah). It is just a realization that sometimes our security, stability, even sanity as individuals is not the very highest priority to God. He might just use us in a greater story that involves us on the brink of killing our son.

Raghu said...

This story reminds me of Lewis's expression about Alsan not being a "tame lion." You really don't know what He is going to do. (There is a lot of mystery involved in following this God.) The suspension of the ethical is one of the hardest things to wrap our minds around. I think Abraham must have realized the God he served wasn't someone you could put in a box or rationalize. I am not sure if that helped him along the journey, but it should have at least been eye opening.

ninepoundhammer said...

Firstly, great artwork--very striking, indeed! Secondly, though we cannot prove it from Scripture, might we infer that Isaac also heard the angel who spoke to Abraham at the altar? I would say that would go a long way towards giving Isaac understanding of the situation.

Also, we know from Genesis 24 and 25 that Isaac dwelt with/ near his father until the latter's death, accepting the wife chosen for him by Abraham as well as his fortune (Gen. 25:5). That implies a great deal regarding their relationship, in my opinion.

As for 'the expense of the individual at the cost of greater symbolism', Romans 9 is the best answer I can give for that: 'But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honoured use and another for dishonourable use?' (Romans 9:20, 21).
We all deserve death and punishment; that God has chosen to spare any of us by His grace alone is cause for worship.

In the big picture, I don't think we should look upon the near death of Isaac any differently that the thousands (millions?) of deaths from the Flood. God's purpose is God's purpose.

Jacob Haynes said...

Thanks for everyone's imput. I hope that the angel was revealed to Issac as well, moreover I trust that God provided Abraham faith and Issac peace just as he provided the Ram for the offering.

Romans 9 sums up my thoughts on the subject, I have nothing to add.

Joshua said...

There are some indications that Isaac was not a boy, but a young man given the range of meaning for the Hebrew word. One strand of Jewish tradition venerates Isaac for willingly submitting himself to death.

What is important to remember is the preceding context of Genesis, where Abraham tried three other times to find for himself and heir to accomplish the promises God had made to him. God had each time denied Abraham in his efforts, and each time giving more explicit detail about through whom the promise would continue, culminating in the naming of Isaac as the seed of promise in chapter 21.

The testing of Abraham was more than symbolism, for in it God was making the opportunity for Abraham (not unlike Christ making the opportunity for Peter) to demonstrate his love for (trust in) God though he had faltered three times before. It was also definitive proof that Abraham loved God and His glory above all other things, including not simply his own son, but all the promises that we to be fulfilled in him.

In Abraham's love we see God's love mirrored in that God's love for His own glory did not cause Him to spare His Son the humiliation of human frailty, the pain of the cross, and the anguish bearing in Himself the wrath of God for the sins of His people. Though this is symbolic in a way, it is no less significant for those involved or for us as we look at the immediate context (for marriage too is also a symbol of Christ's relationship to His people), and I think that if Abraham had taught Isaac about the glory of God as a father ought, and Isaac being the son of promise as he was, we could agree to some extent that Isaac's trust in God is not far removed from his trust in Abraham to whom he submitted himself willingly to be bound.

The story is one of the most sobering expressions of trust that the Bible contains I think.

Jacob Haynes said...

Josh, though I agree with the love and trust present in Abraham, I will disagree with the view that Isaac willing submitted himself.

I have also heard this possibility of Isaac being a young man. I find that the implications of this view not lining up with the story. Why did Abraham need to bind him? Why did Abraham lie to him about the lamb being provided (or at least skirt the issue)?

Though sometimes Isaac is symbolic of Christ, in this story Isaac represents us as Gods children being spared by a replacement sacrifice provided by God. We are not willing recipients of God's justice, so it makes sense that Isaac was not.

Joshua said...

I agree that Abraham was not forthright with Isaac about the sacrifice, but the fact that Isaac was bound requires one of two options: he either willingly submitted to be bound or Abraham bound him by force. Binding would seem to be the normal procedure for sacrifice, to ensure both an accurate strike and prevent resistance by the sacrifice out of natural fear. I didn't mean to imply that Isaac had to be older, but only to mention the possibility that he could have been. I don't think being younger or older makes a significant difference given the two-fold option above still requires willingness or force. The text does not indicate force or submission, but given that Isaac had followed him despite his unorthodox behavior up to the final point, it would seem that he either trusted Abraham, was simply ignorant, or was taken in the end by force. The second choice seems implausible given the binding, but the third also seems incongruent given Abraham's age, perhaps even if Isaac were a young boy.

Abraham's statement "God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering" does not constitute a lie, for indeed what God had freely given (Isaac) He could also freely take. That is was vague or indirect does not make it untrue or a false witness.

I do not think that Isaac has to represent Christ either, but it does not follow that he was an unwilling recipient of God's justice, for indeed he was not a recipient of God's justice at all, but of His grace. As God's own, Isaac was elect and therefore (in terms of God's decree) covered in the righteousness of Christ. Although Christ's atonement had not yet been accomplished in time, God's eternal perspective still recognizes Isaac as His own according to His eternal decrees.

Besides, I don't think that Isaac would have thought of the sacrifice in terms of God's justice, per se. The trust I was highlighting was Isaac's trust in Abraham, and through him, by implication, in God. To me, the story can also be exemplary of the sort of impact fathers (indeed parents) have upon their sons (indeed children). It is not the main point, but I do think it is a legitimate implication.

So (long windedly) I was not intending to imply that Isaac was trusting in God to raise him from the dead, or that his trust was equal to Abraham's, but merely that Isaac's trust in Abraham (enough to be bound at least) is still exemplary though perhaps more so as a testament to Abraham as a father (since Isaac trusted him enough to be bound).