No mother would ever willingly sacrifice her sons for territorial gain, for economic advantage, for ideology.

–Ronald Reagan

Genesis, Chapter 22

The Binding

Abraham had been living well as the seasons passed. He became close to the Abimelech, swearing oaths of mutual trust of God, promising to be loyal through generations. Abraham wondered what sort of generations he would leave without a true-born heir.

One night he had a dream. He walked over ground black as space, littered with diamonds that sparkled, vaulted by a temple ceiling, like those of his youth. He came to an ancient stone where words were written:

Take your sons and daughters, whom you love and go to the highest mountain you can find. Sacrifice them there as a burnt offering on a mountain and El will reward you.

The Gods had signed their names: Adonai, Anat, Dagon, Baal Hadad, Chemosh, Queen of Heaven Ashtoret, Kothar-wa-Khasis, Moloch, Mot, Qetesh, Shahar, Shalim, Yam, and Yahweh.

He woke, remembering how families would sacrifice children in desperate times. He realized that he had no other options left before him. To gain a true-heir he must sacrifice his mixed-blood son.

Early the next morning, Abraham loaded his donkeys, took his two most trusted servants, his son Ishmael, and headed to the highest mountain around..

On the third day, they arrived at the feet of Mount Moriah. Abraham told his servants: “Wait here with the donkeys, we’ll be doing a private ritual. Whatever you see or hear, stay down here.”

Abraham took the wood for Ishmael to carry, while he carried the tinder and his ritual knife.

As they climbed, Ishmael probed: “Father?”

“Yes, my son?”

Ishmael shivered, Abraham hadn’t called him son as far as he could remember: “I have the wood and you have the fire and the knife, but where is the lamb for the offering?”

Abram chuckled and tried to show mirth instead of nervousness. “Don’t worry about that, Elyon will provide all that we need.”

Ishmael stacked the wood into a pyre, and then Abraham told him to climb on top. Ishmael grew concerned, and quickly looked ready to climb back down, so Abraham bound him with leather straps.

The Sacrifice is Made

Abraham grabbed Ishmael as he tried to pull away. “God has asked for a sacrifice. Son, are you asking me to defy the Creator?”

Ishmael laughed: “I’m not asking you to defy anyone. I’m asking you to let me go! You left grandfather because the gods were cruel and demanding. What sort of God are you looking to please?”

Abraham felt his heart being torn in two and tried to convince himself as much as Ishmael: “You don’t understand, you’re just a child. I must go as far as I can to show God my faith!”

Ishmael grew resolute and tightened the rope on his wrist. If his father wanted to be tested, so be it. “I’m sick of fighting you and being terrified by you. If my blood will heal your heart and bring you close to God, then do it.” Ishmael laid down.

Abraham gripped the ropes tightly, and wondered who his God cared about. He recalled his life of violence and lies, and the three travelers who went to destroy Sodom.

After a time, he finally lifted the knife.

Ishmael closed his eyes and prayed. The knife rose past Ishmael’s head to Abraham’s throat. These words startled Ishmael: “Elohim, Creator of Everything, I cannot follow you if you need me to kill for you. However, if you need a sacrifice, then you have my life.” The knife’s blade pressed into the skin of Abraham’s neck and Ishmael’s eyes bolted open.

Abraham shouted: “If you wish to rule with fear and destruction, then I will destroy myself for you and offer my body as a sacrifice which my son can burn. However, if you are the God of justice and honor I believed you to be, then give me a sign, another sacrifice.”

There was a rustle in the bushes just then. The baaing squeal of a young lamb as it squirmed in its leash. Behind the lamb was Sarah: “Abe, you old fool, you forgot the sacrificial lamb.”

The mirth in her voice and smile on her lips covered up the exhaustion that took her. Sarah was an old woman, especially for those days, and hiking a mountain with a stubborn young lamb in tow was the last heroic effort she was able to make.

Abraham lifted his knife, and brought it down to pierce Ishmael’s heart.

Isaac is Delivered

Abraham brought his knife down and Ishmael laughed. Abraham stopped, the knife point touching Ishmael’s chest. A bead of blood showing. Abraham said with confusion: “Why are you laughing?”

Ishmael said: “Because you mean to sacrifice me for an heir, when I am your heir.”

“That cannot be true,” Abraham said and lifted the knife again.

Ishmael said: “Either way, you will not kill me.”

Abraham said, growing upset: “Who will stop me? I sent away your mother. My wife and our household are many kilometers away. The slaves at the base of the mountain do as I say. And you are just a child, bound to a sacrificial pyre with leather straps. I will kill you because God has ordered it. None can defy God.”

Ishmael laughed again: “Humans defy God every day. My mother is here, in my memory. Your wife is in your mind, telling you not to do this. Slaves can think for themselves. If God wanted me to be a sacrifice, you would not be the instrument. And I am no longer a child. I have undone your weak knots, and I am stronger than you.” Ishmael stood up and stepped down from the pyre.

Abraham took a step back. His son said: “I was called Ishmael, and God heard me when you raged in your desperate madness. Now I am called Isaac, for laughter is in my heart.”

Abraham yelled at him: “You are a demon! Your heritage will be the enemy of my true son! My obedience to God will be an example through the ages!” Abraham leapt at Ishmael called Isaac with flashes of rage and his knife held deftly in his hand.

Isaac was unprepared for the sudden rage, and stepped back, but too late to avoid the attack. The knife cut across his eyes, the oils and cuts partially blinding him. But because he moved, his father slipped and fell onto the ground.

He laughed through the pain, and could hear where his father landed. Nothing stirred. He said: “Father, put an end to this madness! No God worthy of you would ask you to kill. God does not want servants, if that was so, then the angels would have been enough. God wants equals. It is why, some say, he gave us the fruit of knowledge, to be equal with him. Listen to the truth in your heart!”

There was no answer. Isaac listened. Was his father truly mad, circling silently around to finish his sacrifice?

Isaac moved slowly, listening for movement. His food tripped on a soft bundle. He felt around. His father laid on the ground. Dead. He fell on his own knife and pierced his own heart.

Isaac wept over his father’s body. He grieved for the loss, for the waste, and for the desperation that wears on the souls of humanity, driving them to such a state.

Isaac, once called Ishmael, came down from the mountain, stumbling down the path, but keeping sure feet. When he could see the forms of the servants he said: “Something terrible has happened to my father.”

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