Isaac On His Way to the Slaughter
Bruce J. Berger
How sharp into my childlike wrists were those leather thongs by which you bound me tightly to that outcropping of rock when I knew you were about to take my life, and how sharp was the edge of that blade when you tested it against your thumb to draw a thin line of blood, and yet much sharper you made it when you honed it against the whetstone you’d hidden under the folds of your robe.
And it was all so clear to me that I would be the victim of your urge to kill, that you’d already killed a fair share of sheep and goats in offerings to your god and that the blood spilled hadn’t been enough, it had in fact stirred your thirst for even more. And I saw you drink it, saw you scorn the strict rules you’d always preached to me, rules that your god had supposedly decreed about the taking of life, rules that I once thought you truly believed.
But then I saw you couldn’t resist the temptation to become powerful through slaking your thirst with life. My mother saw me staring secretly at your ritual and pulled me away, turned my face toward her as if by doing so she could erase the image, and she bade me never speak of it, but I couldn’t forget that look of exquisite delight on your face.
And when you set off with me to find a special place for sacrifice, it had to have been like a stab in my mother’s heart, and she knew the pain of losing her only child, knew it was the last she’d see of me, knew that her god punished her for her sin against Hagar and Ismael, and knew she could say nothing, not even goodbye, would do nothing to stop you, and kept her silence.
No place for me to run. The wilderness in its terrible beauty would’ve devoured me in a day and the buzzards would’ve picked clean my bones in a night and I would’ve died alone. Maybe I shouldn’t have feared that ending, maybe that would’ve been better than being blind and deceived, just disappearing from life as I’d appeared slowly from a putrid speck entered into my mother’s womb, but I wanted the nearby comfort of a murdering father more than I feared the ripping of your knife, and marched obediently alongside your donkey, measuring my last steps, counting each step, reliving in my mind as much as I could of the short life I’d lived.
So I was ready, and when I asked you “Where is the sacrifice, Abba?” it was my paltry effort at sarcasm, because you knew I knew. God would provide indeed. I was ready, I saw no point in resisting.
You heard a voice, you say, calling “Abraham! Abraham!” I would’ve heard it too, if that’s how it had happened, but I heard nothing. I felt the knife touch my throat, and by that time I wanted nothing more than to have it over and done with. Just that light touch drew its own thin line of blood, and I couldn’t understand why you didn’t send me to sleep with our ancestors at once. I couldn’t understand why the cut was not sharp and deep and immediately deadly, as you’d have done a sheep or goat, why you had not let all my blood gush out in a bright red stream until my heart had pumped my entire being onto the grey rocks and the barren earth around use.
Then I felt the touch of your finger on my throat, coating itself with blood from that thin and shallow crevasse in my neck, and then I heard you lick that finger and smack your lips, and I knew that the ordeal was over.
You’d had your wish, and the superficial wound in my neck would heal with time, and the slight scar would be visible beneath my beard only to Rebekah, who never believed this story.