He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood (Genesis 22:9).
Years ago we purchased a bike rack for the car. A Yakima – the kind of bike rack you can leave on your car to tell others that you’re athletic and outdoorsy and spend time on the beltline. Mostly, our bike rack announces that we’re headed out on vacation. We typically mount it on the back of the car when we make our annual beach trip.
As sturdy as our bike rack is, I don’t quite trust it when it comes to long trips on the highways. So once I’ve actually maneuvered the bikes into place and secured them with the rubber straps that came with the rack, I pull out a few bungee cords and go through a final ritual of binding.
At some level, this binding is born of fear. I’m doing all I can to keep what I’ve got. I don’t want look in the rearview mirror and see something flying from the back of the car. The binding is an act of securing what’s mine, holding it tight.
The Hebrew word for binding is Akedah. It’s the word that rabbis use to designate the story of Abraham’s binding his son Isaac to the altar, obediently preparing to give his long-promised child back to God.
We don’t like this story. At the very least, it baffles us. As people who love God, the story sometimes embarrasses us, raising more questions about God than it answers. At worst, the story simply offends us. Why would God ask this? What’s God doing? What’s going on? The key to the story seems to be at verse 12.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” [God] said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”The word that catches my attention is “withheld.” The habit of holding something back, tucking it aside, putting it away for private use or enjoyment.
Abraham’s disturbing story on Mount Moriah has much to tell us about what it means to trust God - but one simple lesson is this: Trust is not about what we believe in our heads. It’s about what we hold in our hands. Abraham on Moriah is our model of radical trust, binding Isaac, nothing held back.
When Binding is Letting Go
There is a kind of “binding” that tries very hard to keep something in place – like bikes on the back of the car. But there is a different kind of binding, like the akedah on Mount Moriah, where we give something up, let it go.
Our idols, the gods we truly cherish and trust, are discovered in those recesses of heart and mind where we say silently to God, “You cannot have this. You cannot have this relationship or my career. You cannot have my plans for the future or the people I cherish.”
We may not even be aware that we’re saying such a thing. There is no deliberate rejection of our faith, no defiant act of disobedience. But we are holding back, and the holding back is grounded in fear, not trust.
The question today: What are you withholding? What would it look like to bind it to an altar and offer it to God?
Show me, O God, what I’m withholding – keeping from you, fearfully binding it so I won’t lose it. Give me the grace I need to bind it to an altar where all I am and I have is yours. I ask this in the name of Jesus, your only son, freely given for the world. Amen.