The sun shone mercilessly overhead as they walked. Their sandals protected their feet from the rocky ground, but only just. Ahead loomed the mountain that served as their destination. The boy looked at his father, walking without any visible signs of discomfort and considered asking him again, but then thought better of it.
They had been traveling since yesterday, and wouldn’t reach the mountain until tomorrow. In addition to the heat and the uneven ground, his father’s silence contributed to the trials of their journey. The older man was often quiet, but more so since they left the boy’s mother behind when they set out on the journey. He was distant and not his usual friendly – if a bit withdrawn – self. The boy did not know what might be wrong.
Finally the sun slipped below the horizon, and the air began to cool. The two servants began unpacking supplies from the donkey and set up the tent. His father prepared a modest meal for him and his son, leaving the servants to their own food.
As they ate, the boy spoke. “Why are we going to the mountain, father?”
The father made sure that the servants were a ways off before answering. Then he sighed. “I have already explained this to you.”
“You said that God required a sacrifice.”
“But we have no suitable sacrifice with us.”
“God will provide. You must trust God.”
The boy nodded and said nothing more, returning his attention to the food. However, his mind summoned the image of his mother’s face when his father had told them about their journey. She had said nothing, but a sadness fell over her. He had not understand why, and he still did not, but the image of her face made him uneasy.
“And why must we go to the mountain? Can we not make a sacrifice at home?”
“The mountain is a sacred place; it places us closer to God. Now, please be quiet. I need to listen for God’s voice tonight.”
The boy obediently said nothing more. While had never heard God speak, he knew better than to continue to question his father. His father spoke with God often. It was another thing he did not understand, but he knew God’s instructions were to be followed.
The next morning, they continued in silence. The boy still wondered where the sacrifice would come from. No wild animals were evident, and there were no towns from which to buy one. What would happen if they did not find one. And why would God give them an animal only so they could give it back immediately? No answers presented themselves, and the questions made him more uneasy. Once more his mother’s face appeared before him.
Just before midday, they reached the base of the mountain. A path winding up toward the peak could be seen, but they did not climb immediately. Instead, his father instructed the servants to set up the tent here. He and his son would eat and then head up to worship alone.
After a small meal, they set out. The mountain was dotted with rough, hardy bushes, but little else by way of vegetation. The path itself was steep and rocky. Still no animals appeared near them.
The boy dared to speak once more. “We are nearly there. Where will we find a suitable sacrifice?”
A darkness had settled over his father since they had started out that morning. The boy’s words seemed to deepen it, but he said nothing. They finished the climb in silence.
After a couple of hours, they reached the top. There, they found a clearing, in the middle of which sat a low stone table, clearly created as an altar. His apprehension became something akin to fear when the boy still did not see any animals nearby.
His father began taking out a length of rope and appeared to be struggling with it. “Come over here, and help me with this.
With all of his instincts now screaming at him in his head, the boy ran into the brush as quickly as he could. He changed directions several times before slowing down. Moving as quietly as he could, he found a dense bush to conceal himself in and listened for pursuit.
There was no sound in the brush itself, but he could hear his father yelling for him.
“Come back here! Why do you run from your father? God requires a sacrifice, and I need your assistance.”
His father paused. When he began to speak again, he was no longer calling for his son but was talking to someone else.
“I will not fail you. He is my son. I will find him. Please give me a chance.”
“No. You do not need to look elsewhere. You must know my only desire is to serve you.”
“What? Oh, I see. Are you certain? I know I can bring him back.”
And once more.
“Very well. If that is your instruction.”
Then came the sound a bleating sheep. The boy began moving quietly back towards the clearing. He caught a glimpse of the animal bound upon the table just as his father brought down a knife upon it. The sheep went limp as blood pooled beneath it. Chanting the prayer asking God to accept the sacrifice, he lit the wood he had piled up around the animal. Soon the sacrifice was engulfed in flames.
When the flames began to die down, without turning around, his father said, “It is done. You may come out now.”
Whatever it had been in his father that had frightened him before was now gone. He left the brush and reentered the clearing. His own gaze was fixed downwards even as he knew his father was not looking at him.
Whether it was anger or shame, something held his father’s tongue all throughout their descent. His mother never would forgive her husband if she knew what had transpired this day. He knew he would not break her heart with the story, just as surely as he knew he could never see his father the same way again.