Most people are familiar with the Old Testament story of Abraham apparently being required by God to literally sacrifice his only son Isaac.
It is one of the strangest and most cruel stories in the whole of the Bible, and yet it is central to the story of the Bible as a whole. Abraham’s faith and obedience are tested beyond human limits.
The sacrifice of Isaac, from which Abraham is released at the last minute, becomes the model for Jesus’ own death. On Remembrance Sunday it is good to remind ourselves of the supreme sacrifice that war requires of individuals and parents. Wilfred Owen sums it up strikingly in this poem:
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abraham rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abraham bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon this lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the ram of pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
11 November 2018