THE FIRE AND THE KNIFE
(Genesis 22: 1-14)
Mile after mile we have walked toward
a distant hill in silence.
The wood grows heavy on my shoulders,
sticks for the altar biting into my back.
My father carries a smoldering coal
in a pot which sends smoke rising
around his face. The smoke must sting
because I think he is weeping.
I see him touching the knife
in his belt, lifting it again
and again, as if its weight,
like the wood, is burdensome.
To distract myself from my burden
I ask, “Where is the lamb
for the sacrifice, Father?”
He turns his stung eyes toward me.
“God will provide the lamb,” he says,
and looks away again
toward the mountain as if
he must study the path up its flanks.
How old he looks,
walking beside me,
shoulders slumped beneath his beard,
his bent legs seeming to quiver.
Of all the miles I have travelled
in all the years of journeying
from Haran, this is the road
that’s been hardest to walk,
this fire I carry consuming me,
this knife cutting into the heart of me,
grief stealing the breath in me
as we near the chosen hill.
How hard it was to lose Ishmael,
whom I sent into the wilderness
with Hagar, though God has assured me
that the boy will be father
to his own nation. But is not Isaac
the child of God’s promise,
through whom my descendants
will be numerous as stars?
God, I have heeded your voice
from Chaldea to Canaan,
followed your calling with
trust in your word; I have faith
that you bless your servants.
Yet giving Isaac up may cost me more
than perhaps I have strength
to bear. I did not know that faith
was such fire. I did not know
that faith was so knife-edged.
God, is this wood he carries
meant for my son alone?
Or is the altar I will build
for my own heart?
At last I lay down the burden
of wood here at the top of the hill.
How carefully now my father arranges
each stone and stick of the altar,
each piece set in place like a gesture
of love. Again I ask him, “Where
is the lamb?” His eyes are wet
beneath his gray brows, his gray
beard trembles, like the hand
on my shoulder, his other hand
holding rope. “You know that I love you”
he whispers; and as he begins
to bind me, sobs it again,
and I begin to tremble too.
Both of us now are weeping as with
his old arms he lays me on the altar.
In my hand the knife, at my feet
the coal. The boy on the wood,
shaking and crying.
My own vision blurred with tears.
And then I hear the voice,
the angel saying, “Stop”,
and glad I am to stop,
and gladder still to see
the ram caught in a bush,
its horns tangled in branches,
and now I am crying with joy
as I cut loose my son
and seize the provided sheep
for the sacrifice, and I shout
praise to God for the giving
of the gift.
I give thanks to God
for the giving of the gift.
I am still shaking as the fire
consumes the altar.
But my father does not clean
“I think I will keep it like this,”
he says, his gaze on the blood red blade.
“I think I will keep it like this
as a reminder. Thanks
be to God
for the gift.”
Copyright © 2014 by Andrew King