Lambs and Wolves

For paradise to be possible either the lion must lose his nails, or the lamb must grow his own.  HANS BLUMENBERG  Before setting out to Moriah, where he intends to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son, Abraham loads the wood into Isaac’s arms and carries the burning torch and a sharp knife himself. On the way his son asks, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? The question is devastating, as is Abraham’s answer: My son, God will provide himself a lamb. It is a scene of unspeakable cruelty. (The murder of Abel is a crime statistic by comparison.) For Isaac is doubly innocent. Unaware of God’s command, and presumably too inexperienced to beware fathers bearing torches, he is psychologically innocent. And since he has presumably done no wrong, he is morally innocent as well. All this weighs on Abraham, and it is meant to. He has agreed to be the hand by which innocence is extinguished.  There are other mythical traditions in which a father might kill a son without qualms, whether to gain divine favor or to assure a military victory. But the Hebrew Bible is a different sort of book. Its God is a test giver who keeps an eye on the moral spectator. Isaac turns out to be just a prop in a drama revolving entirely around his father. Once Abraham has proven his infinite resignation before God — without, in the end, committing the unspeakable — nothing more is required of the human lamb and the incident is not mentioned again. The real test for Isaac will come later, when he becomes an adult and is saddled with two difficult sons. One wonders if he ever thought back to that strange afternoon. He certainly would not have been encouraged to dwell on

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