I N those long ago days, when the story of the world was only beginning, a city had grown up, far away in the East, on the banks of the great river Euphrates. The people who settled there had learned to make bricks and build houses; but many of them still lived in tents, for they often wandered far away from their city, and lived among the fields, where they were herding their sheep and cattle.
There were no books in those days to teach the people what they wanted to know; but they learned from other things besides books, and the great sky above them was a page they often studied. They watched the golden sun rise in the east, and marked the hours as it climbed high into the sky, and it taught them all about times and seasons; and at night, when they saw the moon hang out her silver lamp, and the stars come out one by one, they learned the lesson of numbers, and how to guide their way, and many other things.
It was amongst these people that Abraham had been born—Abraham the great traveller, the man who had journeyed far away into unknown lands, and who had met with so many adventures. He had returned now from his wanderings, and returned a very rich man indeed. His possessions were piled high on the backs of the long string of camels and asses; his flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle were driven along by hundreds of his servants; and he, the great chief, in his scarlet robe rode at their head.
A whole country was needed for this large tribe of people, with their flocks and herds; so Abraham halted on the wide plain of Mamre, and settled down there to make his home.
It seemed as if the chief had all that his heart could desire: there was his dear wife, Sarah, to keep him company; there was his gold and silver, his sheep and cattle, a beautiful land to dwell in, and, best of all, he had God for his friend.
But there was just one thing that Abraham and his wife had not got, and they wanted that one thing more than anything else in the world. They had no children, and they longed with all their hearts for a little son. God had been so good to them, had taken care of them through all their wanderings, had given them great riches; but this one gift He had not sent, and they said to themselves, "What is the use of all our possessions when we have no son to enjoy them after we are gone?"
Now it happened one day that Abraham sat at the door of his tent, and looked out over the rich fields where his flocks were feeding, finding very little pleasure in it all, and feeling, perhaps, rather sorrowful and lonely, when suddenly there came to him three wonderful men whom he knew were messengers from God. And the message they brought was a very joyful one—so joyful that Sarah, who was listening inside the tent, could scarcely believe it could be true. God was going to give them a little son, the messenger angels said.
But although Sarah thought the news was too good to be true, Abraham was quite sure that God would do as He promised; and he was quite right, for, after waiting all those many, many years, the baby whom they had so longed for was born.
There was surely no happier woman in all the world than Sarah when she held her little son in her arms, and Abraham's happiness was as great as hers. They called the baby Isaac, which means "laughter," and he was the very joy of their hearts; and as he grew into a strong, healthy boy, they seemed to love him more every day. He was their only child, and so much more precious than all the other gifts that God had given them.
Now God knew that Abraham loved and trusted Him, and He knew, too, how much Abraham loved his little son, and so He made a plan to try which love was the greater.
In the stillness one day God's voice called, "Abraham!"
And Abraham answered at once, "Behold, here am I."
Then, quite plain and clear, the command came, "Take now thy son, thy only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
Abraham knew just what that meant, for he had often built an altar of stones and offered a lamb upon it to God; but now, instead of a lamb, he was to give his only son.
Not for one moment did Abraham hesitate. He could not understand why God should want to take back His precious gift, but he trusted God with all his heart, and was sure that whatever He did must be right.
Very early in the morning he prepared for the journey to those distant mountains which he could just see on the horizon. He saddled the ass, and told Isaac to get ready to go on a journey with him, and he also carefully cut the wood ready for the burnt offering.
Abraham leaving Home
Isaac was quite a big boy by this time, and was accustomed to go on journeys with his father; so he asked no questions about what they were going to do until at last they reached the mountain and began to climb up over the rocks. His father had given him the bundle of wood to carry, and he saw, too, the knife and the fire, so he was sure they were going to offer a sacrifice to God. But where was the lamb? What was the use of fire and wood without the lamb? Isaac was puzzled, and at last he felt that he must ask a question.
"They went both of them together."
"My father," he said.
And the poor father, climbing up and up with tired feet and a heart heavy with sorrow, paused for a moment, and answered, "Here am I, my son."
"Behold the fire and the wood," said Isaac, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
"My son," answered Abraham, "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering."
So on and on they went, until at last they came to the place which God had chosen; and there Abraham built an altar, and put everything ready, and took his son, whom he loved so dearly, and who was so willing to do as his father bade him, and put him also upon the altar. Now he took the knife, and raised it up to kill the boy; but before he had time to strike, God's voice rang out from heaven.
"Abraham, Abraham, lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me."
So Isaac was saved, and all Abraham's sorrow was turned into joy. He had trusted in God through the darkness of sorrow, when every step of that long journey had cost him bitter suffering; and now in the sunshine of joy he retraced his steps, with a heart so full of gratitude and happiness that the long journey seemed to him as a pathway of flowers, the boy's hand clasped in his, and God leading them.