Parenting and the binding of Isaac

A little boy was having problems accepting his parents’ authority.  In response to simple, ordinary parental instructions (“take a bath,” “clear your place at the table,” “do your homework”), the little boy raised fierce opposition:  “I don’t want to,” “You’re not the boss of me,” “No one else I know has to.”  The parents cracked down.  All of his favorite privileges were now gone.  He could earn them back only with several consecutive days of military obedience to orders:  “Take a bath” had to get met with “Yes, sir.”  “Clear your place at the table” also needed a terse “Yes, ma’am” response.

The little boy tearfully acquiesced, but then offered one further complaint:  “You at least give me reasonable orders, Mommy.  Daddy keeps giving stupid orders, like “clean up after your sister.”  I hate that.  He’s testing me.”  If the little boy was looking to triangulate Mom and Dad in order to gain sympathy or leniency, he was looking in the wrong place.  Mom had a simple response:  “Pass the G*d damn test!”

The story I just told reminded me of a another story, a very old one, known to you all:

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

I actually don’t have a point to make, beyond the obvious:  An authority figure sometimes needs to do something to ensure that the person over whom he exercises that authority truly understands who is ultimately in charge.  It seems like a petty thing, even when God does it, but that’s only when things are going along swimmingly.  When life gets tough, the follower needs to look reflexively to the leader for moral guidance, for justice, and for comfort.  Testing the follower is a way of reinforcing the follower’s understanding of that relationship.