Many Faces of Isaac

Light of truth

Jacob Chanikuzhy

“The Night in Question” is the story of Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff, famous American short story writer. In this story, Frank retells to his sister Frances the story he heard in a sermon. The story was of a parent who had to make a terrible choice. Benny was the nine year old boy of Mike and Janice. Benny was very, a very smart boy, full of energy, very good at school, and very much interested and gifted in sports. Machines, however, was his passion. One night Mike had to replace a co-worker as drawbridge (movable bridge) operator. His duty was to lift the bridge for the passing of ships and lower the bridge again for the passing of trains. One can imagine the engine room of the drawbridge with powerful and massive machinery that would raise and lower the huge bridge. With gigantic screws and wheels turning everywhere, even the expert mechanic needed to be very careful not to get squeezed, crushed or grilled in the engine room when the machine runs.

On that fateful night, Mike took his son Benny with him for work. Mike and Benny enjoyed their time together chatting, playing, biting snacks and sipping drinks. Then Mike was busy operating the drawbridge for a couple of ships. Then it was time to lower the bridge for an express train to pass. All of a sudden he noticed that Benny was missing. He called out the name of his son at the top of his voice. Bu there was no response. He guessed with a shudder that his little Benny was in the engine room. If he rushes to the engine room to save his boy, it would be too late to lower the bridge and the train, with its full load of people, would sink in the sea. Mike had to make a terrible choice between his boy, the love and light of his life, and a trainload of strange people. But, Mike knew what to do, what to choose, because the Father of all had done this before when He gave His only son for the salvation of all…

“No,” interrupted Frances, “That is it. That is my quota of holiness for the year…I know, I can see it coming. The guy kills his kid, right? …that is a crummy story…I don’t care if the Almighty poked a gun in my ear, I would never do that…Not in a million years…”

The story of the binding of Isaac elicits different response in different readers. Many find it difficult to understand how an ethical God can ask a father to sacrifice his son and how a sensible father can kill his son to please his God. Frances in The Night in Question represents all those who have problems with the near sacrifice of Isaac. In their attempt to find sense in this story, Jewish and Christian writers offers a variety of interpretations and reflections.

As Isaac means laughter, the readiness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is a challenge for us to re-examine our modes and means of laughter. Abraham must reached the peak of joy when he got back his son alive. However, to attain it he had to undergo a phase of trial and suffering in perfect obedience and trust. In divine plan, our best joys also are mysteriously connected with some kind of suffering.

The story of Isaac mirrors in the patriarchal history the Israelite tradition of redeeming the first born with an animal sacrifice (Exodus 34:20). Another plausible way to appreciate the story is to understand it as the story which the biblical author uses to present a radically new picture of the God of Israel. Abraham knew that his contemporaries had greatly feared their idols and were desperately striving to placate them. They were even ready to offer their firstborns as a sacrifice to their gods. So, Abraham was also prepared to sacrifice his beloved son to his fearsome God. But on Mount Moriah, Abraham realized that his God was totally different from what others considered their gods to be. Unlike the pagan gods who are capricious and brutal, God of Israel is just and merciful, gracious and loving. He is one who prohibits all human violence on his behalf by saying, “Do not lay hand on the boy” (Genesis 22:12). Thus, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac invites us to behave as our God does. We imitate our God best when we avoid hurting other people, especially the week and the innocent, and treating all with love and mercy.

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