It is the first love story in the Bible.
Abraham entwines his fingers in his son’s hair as he grasps it, drawing back the young man’s head, baring his neck.
Isaac lies on the makeshift altar, bound tightly, silent, sweating, breathing deeply. He is young. His skin is tight and smooth—hardly a quarter century old and not yet showing the signs of age.
So young, yet it is time for him to die. His blood will wet and stain the altar. It will smell like copper.
It had been a long journey, thousands of miles, decades. The Ancient Voice had called to Abraham in Haran so long ago, after his father passed, drawing him across the dry wastes to Canaan.
The promise was glorious.
“Go. All peoples of the world will be blessed through you.”
Of course, it would not be that easy. Back then the Voice had left out one important clause. After thousands of miles, decades, there would be one more condition.
“Kill your beloved son for me.”
The boy had been a miracle. It had been decades since that Voice had promised Isaac to him, Abraham, that old man with no son. That old flesh with too little life left in it to give for a new soul to spring forth.
But the One who had promised a son to Abraham was the Voice of Life itself. (It was as though it had spoken from beyond the very stars that day, beyond the edge of the World.) The Voice was the source of life and gave it freely. Abraham’s age, the power of decay, was no obstacle.
The day Isaac had been born was the happiest day of his life.
Yet, freely given, freely returned. Abraham would give up even Isaac, whom he loved above everything else, if it would mean life for the world, fulfillment of the promise, a blessing for all peoples. Isaac agreed. He knew what was at stake: “Tie the cords tight so that I cannot struggle and ruin your sacrifice,” he had quietly said.
Abraham must have been heartbroken to give away his son. He loved him. He was his pride and joy.
And so the father stands, blade in hand, poised to tear open the beloved son’s throat and let the life spill out of him.
Yet, Isaac’s blood would not stain the altar that day. This sacrifice was to be unbloody.
Blade in hand, Abraham would slaughter his right to hold on to what he loved, to possess what was his, to be cared for in his old age, to have a legacy in this world. He gave up his hold on his beloved, even the promise of God. He gave away everything that was meaningful to him in this world—everything that you and I strive for so strongly, the things we devote our lives to. Abraham cut it all out of his heart.
You may think this story is strange, but it’s meaning is simple. At the root of all Life and Goodness is letting go. It is when you hold on to things too strongly—either things or people—that you will do all sorts of twisted things to keep them in your grasp.
This story is the first time love is mentioned in the Bible, and in a way it is the first love story in the Bible. God asked Abraham to give away Isaac to prove his love. Abraham loved the promise so much, and the blessing of the people of the world that would come from it, that he was willing to give away his only son for it. God himself would do the same. For the life of the world, he would refuse to hold on to his Beloved Son.
What it is it in your life that you hold on to tightly? Is it a dream, a career path, a physical possession, a person? Could it be that God is asking you to let it go? Perhaps when you loose your grasp on it (sometimes it feels like you are driving a knife straight into your heart) you will find that God only wanted you to let go so that it (and you) would be free to bring life to the world.