Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 782
Abraham, offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God, counts his blessings—his land, his peaceful life, his children—and tells of his delight in his favorite child, Isaac. He stands praying in a field near his home in Beersheba. After the prayer, he calls to Isaac to return to their home.
God, in Heaven, summons an angel and tells him that he intends to test Abraham’s steadfastness by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, and he orders the angel to announce his wish to Abraham. Meanwhile, Abraham prays again, asking God what gift or offering might please him most. The angel then appears and tells Abraham that God commands the sacrifice of Isaac as an indication of Abraham’s love for the Lord. Abraham immediately experiences great inward conflict. He keeps repeating that Isaac is the most loved of all his children, that he would rather sacrifice anything else of his, including his own life, than to offer up Isaac. At the same time, he is aware that God’s will must be obeyed and that the sacrifice, no matter how painful, must be made. Abraham then calls Isaac, who is praying, and tells him that they must perform a sacrifice for the Lord. Isaac declares his willingness to help. Abraham feels his heart breaking as they walk toward Mount Vision to make the sacrifice.
On their arrival at the mountain, Isaac asks why Abraham seems so concerned. The boy begins to quake at the sight of the sharp sword in his father’s hand because, aware of his father’s acute misery, he guesses that he is to be the offering in the sacrifice to the Lord. Abraham then tries to explain to Isaac that they must follow God’s commandment, having no other choice. Isaac prays to his father, asking him to spare his life and wishing his mother to be there to intercede for him. Isaac also wonders what crimes he committed that his life should be demanded by God. Abraham, in his misery, explains that God’s will must simply be obeyed. At last, Isaac understands and yields to God’s will. He asks, however, that Abraham not tell his mother he was killed. Instead, she is to believe that he went into another land.
Resigning himself to death, Isaac asks for his father’s blessing. Abraham gives his blessing, laments further, and proceeds to bind Isaac’s hands. Abraham then repeats his hope that he could be sacrificed in Isaac’s place, but the brave Isaac reminds him that God must be obeyed and asks that the killing be done quickly. Abraham covers Isaac’s face with a cloth and makes ready to lift his sword. Just as Abraham is about to strike Isaac, the angel appears and takes the sword from Abraham’s upraised hand. The angel says that Abraham proved his willingness to obey God’s command, an act that fully displayed Abraham’s mind and heart. Therefore, the angel continues, Abraham will not be compelled to sacrifice his son, but might substitute a young ram, tied nearby, for the offering. Abraham is overjoyed and, after the angel’s departure, gives thanks to God for Isaac’s deliverance. Isaac welcomes his reprieve, but only after Abraham assures him that God will regard the ram as a worthy substitute. Isaac, at his father’s bidding, runs to bring the ram. Returning with it, Isaac expresses his happiness that the beast, rather than he, is to be sacrificed. When Abraham offers up the ram, Isaac still shows a great fear of Abraham’s sword and does not wish to look at it.
After the sacrifice, God again speaks to Abraham, acknowledging his goodness and promising that his family will multiply. Abraham then returns with Isaac to their home, recounting on the way his pleasure that his favorite child is spared. Isaac is also grateful, but he mentions his fear and states that he never wants to see the hill again. Abraham and Isaac thank God and show great relief to be returning home together. Abraham praises the gentleness and understanding of his young son.
The play’s commentator, the Doctor, then appears on the scene to make explicit the moral of the story: that one should follow God’s commandments without quarreling. The Doctor asks how many in the audience would be willing to smite their children if God so commanded. He thinks that several might do so, although the children’s mothers would wail and protest. The Doctor then says that God will mend everything for those truly willing to follow his commandments—those who serve God faithfully will be certain to benefit from their loyalty.
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