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William Shepard

The Sacrifice of Isaac

Now in a little time Abraham and Sarah had a son, as God had foretold, and he was named Isaac, which in the Chaldaic language meant laughter. For Sarah had laughed when she heard the angels say that she was to have this child. As Isaac grew up he endeared himself more and more to Abraham because of his many good qualities. He was zealous in the worship of God, he was kind to all his neighbors, and he loved and honored his parents. It was a great happiness to Abraham to think that when he died he should leave this son behind him to take charge of all his possessions, to continue the good work that he was doing in the world, and to be the founder of a race of men who would worship the true God. God knew Abraham's thoughts and hopes, and because He wished to try his obedience He appeared to him one day, and after reminding him of all the blessings He had bestowed on him, and that this son Isaac was only one of His many gifts, He said,—

"Take this son Isaac, whom thou lovest so much, and get thee to the mountain called Moriah, and there build an altar and sacrifice Isaac upon it as a burnt-offering to me."

Abraham was deeply grieved when he heard this command to kill his own son and offer him up on an altar, in the way that lambs were offered up. But in all his great sorrow he never thought of disobedience. He knew that God's will must be done. He knew also that life was a gift from God, which might be withdrawn in any way and at any time that God saw fit. But he did not tell Sarah or any of his people what he had been commanded to do, for he was afraid that they might try to dissuade him from doing the will of God.

Early next morning he arose and bade Isaac and two other young men who were members of his household to get ready to accompany him on a journey. The wood, ready cut for the sacrifice, was laid upon the back of an ass, and so the little party started out on their journey towards Mount Moriah. They travelled for two days, and on the morning of the third day they came in sight of the place. Then Abraham told the servants they need go no farther. He left the ass with them and made Isaac shoulder the wood. And when they had come up to the top of the mountain, Abraham, with the help of Isaac, built the altar for the sacrifice. While they were building, Isaac said to his father,—

"My father, you have wood and fire, but what are you going to offer, since we have no animal for a burnt-offering?"

"My son," answered Abraham, "God will provide a lamb for the burnt-offering."

When at last the altar was finished, and Abraham had laid the wood on, and all things were ready, he told his son what God had commanded of him. And though Isaac loved life very dearly, being then a vigorous young man, twenty-five years of age, he told his father that if it pleased God that he should die he was willing to be sacrificed.

So Abraham took up the knife and lifted up his hand to kill Isaac. But at that moment God called out to him in a loud voice and ordered him to lay down the knife. He said that He did not desire the death of Isaac, but had only wished to try Abraham's obedience. Since, therefore, He was now satisfied of his readiness to do all His commands, He was glad that He had bestowed so many blessings upon him, and He would continue to watch over him and his family. He promised also that Isaac should live to a good old age, and that he should have numerous descendants, who would inherit the land of Canaan and be envied of all men, and that through these descendants all the races of men should be blessed.

After God had spoken in this way, Abraham looked around, and beheld a ram that had been sent to take the place of Isaac. And he seized and killed it and laid it on the altar as a burnt-offering. Then father and son with much rejoicing returned to where the two young men were waiting for them, and they all proceeded homeward together.

Not long afterwards, Sarah, who was one hundred and twenty-seven years of age, fell sick and died, and Abraham buried her in the land of Hebron.