Isaac



This may not be what you thought it was. The song, Isaac, by Bear’s Den is the subject. It is about the story of Isaac, tangentially. But that really isn’t the point so much, as far as I understand it.

Isaac is a tender, haunting song, a thoughtful piece, but not a biblical exposition. Still, it is one of my favorite songs (currently), and I think it is worth breaking down a little bit. 

My daughter tells me Bear’s Den isn’t particularly religious, maybe not at all, though they do use religious imagery at times. I am drawn to artists that use religious imagery, like Mumford and Sons, probably because it is familiar to me.

The song opens with the biblical imagery:

Isaac are you listening
I watched it from afar
I watched as the clouds began to part


Issac can you see my now
I’ve known you all my life
And I worship the ground you walk upon


Isaac will you never learn
That a father’s love must be earned
Or your mother need not learn

Again, I rely on my daughter’s “research” to note that the narrator of the song is purposely ambiguous. We only know it is someone who loves Isaac, but it’s not his father or mother, and it’s not God. It’s someone watching the scene unfold where Abraham is ready to sacrifice Issac at God’s bidding.

It’s someone sympathetic to Isaac, thinking of Isaac as he is about to be sacrificed.

Isaac I have never seen you look so afraid
With your head pressed so hard against the stone

You look so alone

I’m going to give all my love to you

From the onlooker’s point of view, Abraham is sacrificing his son to please God, and Isaac. The implication is that Abraham is trying to earn God’s love as Isaac would dearly like to earn Abraham’s father’s love. Abraham’s attempt to earn God’s love, in fact, is the obstacle to Issac earning. Abraham’s love.

There is nothing Issac can do. Isaac has no control of the situation. He is helpless, and all alone, as Abraham prepares to take his life.

The last verse suggests a current parallel of someone struggling to earn the love of a father.

Isaac are you listening
I watched it from afar
As your your life fell apart
Isaac will you never learn
That a father’s love must be earned
Or your mother need not learn
How to love you
I’m going to give all my love to you

We all know someone who has struggled in life stemming from a poor or nonexistent relationship with his father. Girlfriends, lovers, wives try to fill the void, but they can’t. It’s not the same thing. The love of a father is fundamental need in a child’s life. We can watch from afar, but we can’t touch that place where the void sits in the pit of the stomach.

We might be tempted to focus on the “unbiblical” view of the Abrahamic story and miss the tenderness and depth of the song/lyrics.

Turning our full attention on the biblical story, we have to admit that we don’t often focus on Issac. Our focus is on Abraham. His wife, Sarah, bore him a son, Isaac in his old age, the fulfillment of a promise a long time coming. Abraham held on to that promise dearly and, no doubt, loved Isaac all the more dearly for the waiting.

We probably can’t truly understand the depth of sorrow and crushing disappointment Abraham felt when he heard God, the same voice behind the promise, instruct him to sacrifice Isaac. For Abraham, though, there was no choice in the matter. He has lived his entire life listening to that voice. You don’t turn your back on the God of the Universe.

We don’t appreciate that child sacrifice to appease angry and capricious gods was the norm in Abraham’s bronze age world. God’s voice had seemed so different than these, but Abraham, and all of his neighbors, would have understood it all too well. The gods didn’t love; they were to be appeased; and that was all.

Except, the God of Abraham really was different. The He didn’t require the sacrifice of Isaac. He provided the sacrifice. He wanted Abraham’s attention!

It turns out this God loved Abraham. Not only that, God desired to bless Abraham and through the one man who heard and responded to His voice the entire population of people.

It isn’t that Abraham had to earn God’s love. God already loved Abraham.

A father’s love is a fundamental need for every person. We don’t all have that love, but we do have something that can fill the void. We have a God who loves us and desires to bless us.

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