When Abraham and Isaac reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound Isaac, lit the fire, drew his knife, and thrust it into Isaac!
At that moment God stood by Abraham’s side in bodily form and exclaimed: “What have you done? Oh wretched old man! That was not what was asked of you at all. You are my friend, I only wanted to try your faith! I called to you at the last moment. Didn’t you hear me? I cried, “Abraham, Abraham, refrain!” Didn’t you hear my voice?
Then Abraham answered God with a voice that betrayed a half mystic adoration and a half disheveled weakness that belongs to mental derangement: “Oh Lord, I did not hear you. Yet now that you mention it, I seem to remember that I did hear some kind of voice. Oh when it is you, my God, who commands a father to murder his own child, then a man at such a time is under terrible strain. Therefore, I did not hear your voice. And if I had, dared I have believed it was yours? If you commanded me to sacrifice my child, which you did command me to do, and then at the decisive moment a voice is heard saying, ‘Refrain,’ am I not obliged to believe it is the voice of the Tempter that wants to keep me from fulfilling your will? I had journeyed long, and now, when the moment at last had come, I was intent on doing only one thing. My options were: Either I should have assumed from the start that the voice that spoke to me, ‘Sacrifice Isaac,’ was the Tempter’s voice, and then not gone forth as I did, or when I had assured myself that it was indeed your voice from the start, I should have concluded that this other voice, this voice at the decisive moment, was the Tempter’s. It was the latter I chose.”
So Abraham went home, and the Lord gave him a new Isaac. But Abraham did not look upon him with any joy. When he looked on him he shook his head and said, “This is not my Isaac.”
But to Sarah he spoke differently. To her he said: “This is all so very strange. That it was God’s demand that I should offer Isaac is certain, absolutely certain. God himself cannot disavow that. Yet when I took it seriously, it was a mistake on my part. It was, in the end, not God’s will.” Yet, as we know from the story (Genesis 22), it did not go like this with Abraham. His obedience lies just in the fact that at the very last moment he immediately and unreservedly obeyed as he did. This is amazing. When a person has for a long time been saying “A”, then humanly speaking he is rather bothered at having to say “B.” It is even harder, when one has actually drawn the knife, to be able and willing, with implicit obedience, to recognize that after all no demand is made, that it is not necessary after all to set forth to Mount Moriah with the purpose of sacrificing Isaac. The decision whether to sacrifice one’s only child or to spare him, oh, this is indeed great! Greater still, however, is it to retain, even at the last moment, the obedience, and if I may venture to say so, the agile willingness of an obedient soldier. Such a one, even when he has almost reached his goal, does not mind having to run back again, even if it renders all his running in vain.
Oh, this is great! No one was so great in faith as Abraham – who can comprehend him.