The image above is from Redeemed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-ups by Ned Bustard. This particular piece of art was done by Kevin Lindholm and is called “Knight of Faith.”
Genesis 22:9-18 [NLT]
9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. 16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants[a] beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”
Dear God, I’ve spent some time with this story in the past. So much time, in fact, that I’m curious to see what I might have missed.
It’s interesting to me that Bustard chose, in this book’s telling of the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, to start with their arrival at the place for the sacrifice. I’ve usually spent more time in verses 1-8 than I have 9-18. So what is here that I might have missed in the past? Or what have I seen before of which you need to remind me?
Verse 9 alone must have really done something to alter the relationship between Isaac and Abraham. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that Isaac even worshipped you after that. If I had been him, I would have thought my dad was crazy and that would have included his worship of you. If I try to imagine this scene, it’s horrific. I almost need to just set that aside before I get deeper into the story because if I start to look at this story through Isaac’s eyes it freaks me out a little.
The thing I’ve noticed in this story in the past is Abraham’s possible idolization of his son and the promise that you gave him about his descendants. In verses 1-8, as he is lying to Sarah, to the servant, and to Isaac; as he is walking for a few days to reach the site; as he is eating and talking with Isaac; as he is silently thinking and praying; I am sure that he was doing a lot of repenting and wondering how much he had failed you by taking his eyes off of you and giving in to his own vanity.
With all of that said, let me see what I notice in this image:
- The most prominent thing in the image is the knife. It seems like it’s the first thing Lindholm wants me to see. The knife, gripped by Abraham’s fist. Something horrific is about to happen and I don’t think the artist wants me to miss that fact.
- The next thing I notice is Abraham’s face. He is staring up. Is the look in his eyes desperation? Despair? Anguish? Surprise?
- There is a hand with two fingers touching Abraham’s hand. The fingers are no bigger than Abraham’s. They are a different color.
- There is the boy. His eyes are closed. Given the comments I made earlier about the horror of verse 9, it would have been an interesting choice to leave Isaac’s eyes open. Did Lindholm consider that? Was that perhaps just too hard to see so he closed them instead? Was Isaac just waiting for the end? Another choice would have been to make Isaac look afraid. Terrified. But Lindholm chose to make him asleep. Interesting. Perhaps he envisioned that Abraham knocked him out.
- There is the ram, already there, with his horns stuck in the thicket. If I had been the artist I might have shown a larger, more dense thicket, but perhaps Lindholm is suggesting that you didn’t need to do much to provide this ram for the sacrifice.
In the description of this picture, Bustard quotes Tim Keller: “God saw Abraham’s sacrifice and said, ‘Now I know that you love me, because you did not withhold your only son from me.’ But how much more can we look at his sacrifice on the cross and say to God, ‘Now we know that you love us. For you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from us.”
Father, search me today and help me to see what I have not sacrificed to you. Which parts of my vanity are still too important to me? Deal with me gently, Father. I know I am proud. I know I am vain. I know I can be selfish. Help me, Father to not get to a point where you have to go to these lengths to get my attention and repentance.
In Jesus’ name I pray,