Abraham was called “friend of God”. What an amazing thing to be called. One of the places where we see this friendship at its most tender is the time when God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son on a particular mountain. What happened on that mountain reverberates throughout the whole of history, and Abraham shared some of the most painful emotions of his friend, God.
The first thing to notice in the story found in Genesis 22 is Abraham’s response to God’s call.
God calls his name, “Abraham”, and Abraham responds, “Here I am” – or “hineni” in Hebrew: an expression of unconditional availability.
The second thing to notice is what God says next.
The Hebrew reveals that the wording God uses is not wording of a command, but a request. “Please take your son, your only son, the son that you love”…. it is reminiscent of his first command to Abraham, when he told him to “Go!”: To leave his country, the land of his relatives, the home of his father. But this time he is not insisting: he asks.
The third thing to notice is that this is the very first time the word “love” is used in the Bible.
Often the first mention of a word or concept is key to unlocking its meaning in the broader picture of the Bible. The idea of love comes first in this concept – a father’s willingness to sacrificing a beloved son on Mount Moriah – and the love mentioned is the love of the father for the son.
The text tells us that old father Abraham is the one who split the wood – heavy work for an elderly man – and they go off to the mountain of God’s choosing together. The son carries the wood on his back, up mount Moriah, the very place that Yeshua would later be crucified. Isaac innocently asks about the sacrifice, and his dad assures him, “God himself will see to the lamb”.
According to Jewish tradition (Rashi), Isaac’s hands and feet were bound behind his back, and I cannot even begin to imagine the thoughts and emotions that raced through Abraham’s head as he held the knife up high…
But thoughts and emotions would have been many and excruciating… the pain would have been almost unbearable… wait – what is going on here? The Biblical text tells us that God was testing Abraham, but we well know that God already knew the condition of Abraham’s heart. Was he allowing Abraham too to see how ready and willing his heart of faith truly was? Is there not something else going on here too? Do we see here that God is bringing his friend, Abraham, to the place where his own Son would be slaughtered, so that he could share some of his heart and pain over this experience with Abraham? Did Abraham’s ability to identify with some of God’s agony in that moment enable him to bring some comfort, empathy, and love to his friend, God, as they shared in the bitterness together?
I believe so.
Perhaps this is what Paul writes about when he talks about the “fellowship of sufferings” in Philippians 3:10. We have the awesome privilege of drawing close to the heart of God, he calls us his friend, and sometimes, he invites us and draws us in to share some of his pain.
Are you willing to allow God to share some of his thoughts with you? To show you how he feels about some of the things on his heart? Are you willing to listen, to be available to him? To be a friend to God, partnering with him in what he wants to do?