Once upon a time, when there were only a few folks living on Earth, and the Lord God could take the time to address them individually, God spoke to Abraham.
“Abraham”, said God, while Abraham was grilling lamb kebobs in his back yard. Abraham flinched when he heard his name coming from an unspecified place above and behind his left shoulder.
Abraham knew it was God, because God was always talking to him, and the voice always came from the same place. The first time he heard it, he was living in Ur of the Chaldees and still going by his given name, Abram. The voice told him to leave his home in Ur, even though his friends, family, hometown sports teams, and the diner where they always saved him the best seat up by the window were there; and wander in the desert, even though the desert was dry and dangerous, and God was vague about where exactly he should go. The second time he heard it, the voice told him that he was no longer going to be called Abram, but Abraham, even though Abram was the name on his birth certificate, marriage certificate, bank accounts, and credit reports. The third time he heard it, the voice told him to cut off his foreskin, even though it wasn’t causing him or anybody else any trouble whatsoever.
Abraham always did what God asked, unlike most people who, when asked to leave home or remove a body part, either ignored God or chose a lessor sacrifice, like setting up a swear jar and putting a quarter in it each time they cursed. Abraham, though, feared God, and feared what would happen if he failed the tests, even as he hoped each test would be the last, hoped that moving away from home, and changing his name, and cutting off the end of his dick would be enough for God. But it never was. God couldn’t get over the fact that Abraham kept doing whatever God asked, so God kept coming up with more tests, curious as to what Abraham’s limit might be.
“Abraham’, God said.
Abraham flinched, but knew it was no use trying to hide or pretend he didn’t hear. “Here I am”, he replied.
God continued, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
God didn’t really want Abraham to burn his son, God only wanted to get a rise out of him, to see the look on his face when he finally reached his breaking point. Through all the tests God had given him, God had never heard Abraham curse, or even raise his voice. God loved it when people lost it, delighted in seeing people at their wit’s end. God put people to the test, not to see if they’d fail, but how. How much cursing, how much kicking, how much punching at the air with mortal futility? Abraham, though, was a tough cookie. He always did what God asked without complaint, so God came up with the most absurd test yet, sure that it would at last trigger the spectacle of Abraham throwing down his tongs and yelling, “Leave me alone you fucking motherfucking fuck!” Maybe, if God was lucky, Abraham would kick a rock and hurt his toe and unleash a second wave of profanity.
But Abraham slowly took the kebobs off the grill and put the fire out. He didn’t say anything, he swallowed his feelings, felt a little twinge in his mind, and obeyed God like he always did, with the silent hope that this test would be the last, and from this point on God would leave him alone.
The next morning, Abraham woke up early and loaded up his truck. Then he went and knelt beside Isaac, shook his shoulder, and said, “Wake up, son, it’s time to go.”
Isaac sat up and saw his father standing by his bed, two servants standing behind him. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“We are going to travel for a distance, and then make an offering that will please the Lord.”
As they drove, Isaac couldn’t help but notice that there was not a sheep, nor ram, nor fatted calf tied in the back of the truck like there usually was. Isaac was young, but he had helped with offerings before. He knew what was missing. He looked in the rearview and saw the two servants crouched in the bed and wondered which of those poor souls would have to die to satisfy God.
God, too, wondered about Abraham’s plan.
After they had been driving for three days, they stopped. Abraham looked at a hill in the distance and mulled over what he would tell his wife, Sarah. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away?” That sounded trite. “His ways are not our ways, dear Sarah?” Not quite. “Ours is not to question why, ours is just to do and die?” Maybe something like that. Abraham put the truck in park and rapped the back window with his knuckles, the signal to the servants that they’d arrived.
“Stay here with the truck,” he said to them, “the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.”
Isaac was confused. If they were going to make a sacrifice to the Lord God, they were lacking a key ingredient, namely, the animal to be sacrificed. Isaac wondered if Abraham was starting to lose it, thought maybe his mind was slipping. Even as they walked away from the truck, it seemed as if the old man was arguing with himself. And were those tears rolling down his cheeks?
Isaac asked, “Father?”
Abraham stopped, wiped his face, and said, “Here I am, my son.”
Isaac went on, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
God had seen enough. God hadn’t got the hoped for reaction, and God was getting a little concerned. There was no part of God that believed Abraham was actually going to go through with it, but God worried about Isaac and the mental toll this was taking on him.
“Abraham,” God said.
Abraham heard the voice, and flinched, as he always did, but this time he was looking down at Isaac, and was lost in the boy’s eyes. He saw in them a multitude of generations, and then he saw the boy, just the boy, looking back at him with fear, doubt, hope and trust, but a trust that was slipping away, a trust that was only there because, out in the desert, far from home, what choice did a boy have but to trust his father? The twinge in Abraham’s mind turned to a snap, followed by a long, slow unraveling.
“You’ll see, son,” Abraham said, and he and Isaac walked on together.
They came to the top of hill and Abraham built an altar, laid the wood, and grabbed his son and bound him fast. God shouted to get his attention, but Abraham was too far-gone, he had the wide-open eyes of a madman, the eyes of Cain before he crushed the head of Abel. God shouted again. Abraham raised up the knife. God shouted a third time, but nothing.
God needed a new plan.
Violence was a design flaw that God had long been ashamed of. Cain was the first, and God had hoped he was the last, a one-time glitch. But since that day, God had seen brothers kill brothers, strangers kill strangers, husbands kill wives, and cities attack cities. Some of it was planned, some of it was random, all of it tore at God’s very being. God hated it, but could do nothing about it, because people had choices. Maybe this was another design flaw.
Abraham, of course, always chose to do what God asked. God’s new plan was to put this obedience to better use, but first God needed to get his attention.
Normally, not a problem, but Abraham wasn’t responding to God’s voice this time. This time God had to send an angel, and the angel called out “Abraham, Abraham.”
Abraham stood, knife at the boy’s throat, and shook his head to try to clear the daze.
“Here I am.”
“Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him! Behold, I present another sacrifice!”
Abraham cocked his head, uncertain as to what that angel was holding. The angel explained:
“It is called an Ar-15. It is an assault rifle, and it has but one purpose, which is to kill people. It is a symbol of all the violence that has been and ever will be. Remove the boy, and place this on the altar instead! Sacrifice this, so the world may live in peace!”
Abraham stared at the weapon, his eyes still wide. It looked to him like some kind of mechanical reptile. He thought about what it would feel like to hold something so deadly. He imagined the sound it would make, the vibrations that would run through his body, down to the very earth. If he had that gun, he wouldn’t fear God or anyone else ever again. If God tried to put him to another test, he’d shoot the sky until God moved on down the road. He’d change his name back to Abram, go back to Ur, and take his rightful seat in his favorite diner, and if anyone was sitting there, why, he’d shoot them, too.
So Abraham did take the knife and cut his son’s throat clear down to the spine, while the angel watched and screamed. Isaac’s blood did run down and pool on the ground. Abraham lit the fire and the boy burned. Abraham took the gun from the angel and slung it over his shoulder. He set off toward Ur, as the smoke from the altar filled the sky.
Matt Lang lives in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and several other people. When he’s not writing stories that bleed for Pulp Metal Magazine, he’s writing adorable children’s books about giraffes.
One thought on “Back to Ur by Matt Lang”
Love that story. Wish Abraham had shot God and the Angel instead. The world would be a better place without them. . .