The sacrifice of Abraham

The sacrifice of Abraham

To obey God’s command, Abraham accepted to immolate his son Isaac, when an Angel came to prevent him. Called the father of believers, Abraham is a figure of the Eternal Father, who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem us through His death upon the Cross.

Picture painted at the Monastery of the Apostles and reproduced in the Magnificat calendar, January 2018

The sacrifice of Abraham

Isaac, the son of the promise, was growing and developing in the sight of the Lord. He was about twenty-five years old, full of grace and virtue. Now the holy patriarch could die, for his son would multiply his descendants like the stars in the sky. One day as Abraham was being lulled by these charming thoughts, he heard a voice that he recognized as the voice of Jehovah:

“Abraham, Abraham.”

“Here I am, Lord.”

“Take your only son, your beloved son, your Isaac, and go into the land of Moriah.[1]  There you will offer him as a holocaust upon one of the mountains that I will show you.”

This command broke Abraham’s heart and disconcerted his mind; he was dumbfounded. Nevertheless, he did not even have the temptation to complain or disobey. God had spoken: man had only to bow down and hope against all hope. So he arose before daybreak, saddled his ass for the journey and cut some wood for the holocaust. Taking two young servants and his son Isaac with him, he set out for the place that the Lord had indicated to him.

He walked for two days, overwhelmed with mortal anguish, not daring to look upon or speak to his son. On the third day he lifted up his eyes and saw the mount of sacrifice at some distance in front of them. “Stay here with the ass,” he said to the two servants. “My son and I will climb to the top and worship Jehovah. Then we will come back to you.”

He took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on Isaac’s shoulders, while he carried the fire and the knife; and they set out. Father and son were walking side by side in silence when Isaac ventured to ask a question:

“Father?” he said.

“Yes, son.”

“I see the wood and the fire for the holocaust, but where is the victim?”

“God will provide, son,” answered Abraham, stifling his sobs.

They continued climbing the hill without speaking a word. When they reached the top, Abraham erected an altar and arranged the wood upon it that was to consume the victim. Then he revealed to this son of tenderness the formal order of the Lord: Take your son Isaac and bring him to the mountain to offer him to Me as a holocaust. Like an innocent lamb, Isaac let himself be bound without any resistance and lay upon the wood on the altar. Then his father put out his hand and took the knife. He was about to strike when a great cry resounded above his head:

“Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am, Lord!” said the patriarch, recognizing an Angel of God.

“Put down your knife and do not lay a hand on the boy. Now I know that you fear God; for to obey Me, you did not hesitate to sacrifice your only son.”

A cry of joy and gratitude issued from the hearts of the father and the son, and they knelt down and worshiped the divine majesty. Upon rising, Abraham saw a ram whose horns were caught in a bush. He laid it on the altar where his son had been a moment before and offered it in sacrifice to the Lord. In remembrance of God, who sees -everything and provides for the most unusual situations, the place was called the Mount of the Divine Vision. Since then, when times of great difficulty arise, the people repeat this proverb: “God will provide as He did on the mountain.”

Abraham soon received his reward for his absolute devotion to Jehovah. The voice of the Eternal One called to him a second time and spoke these solemn words: “Since for My glory you have not withheld the sacrifice of your only son, I swear by Myself that I will bless you, and will multiply your descendants as the sands upon the seashore; your descendants shall extend their domination over enemy cities, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in the One who will be born of you. Such is the value of your obedience.”

The One speaking in this way was none other than the only-begotten Son of God, the Messiah promised to fallen humanity. Abraham awaited the Liberator and knew that He would be one of his descendants. He longed for the blessed day of the Redemption with all his might; in the transports of his soul, he soared into the future ages to hail the Redeemer. The Son of God wished to reward his faith and love by manifesting the secrets of the future to him. In a sublime vision, the holy patriarch contemplated the only-begotten Son of God come down to earth, incarnate for the salvation of men, a true son of Abraham. He saw this new Isaac carrying the wood of sacrifice to the very spot upon which God had commanded him to immolate his son. The Blood flowed, the Victim expired, the world was saved. Recalling the anguish he had felt on Mount Moriah, Abraham understood the love of a God who sacrifices His only-begotten Son, and he rejoiced upon seeing all the nations of the earth regenerated in the Blood of the Divine Lamb, singing the hymn of deliverance at the feet of Jehovah.

And thus was the word of Jesus fulfilled: Abraham desired to see My day; he saw it and was glad.[2]

Source: Fr. Auguste Berthe, c.ss.r., Jéhovah et Son Peuple, depuis Adam jusqu’à Jésus-Christ (Magnificat: Mont-Tremblant, 2015), pp. 71-74. Narration based on Genesis, chap.ྭ22, 1-18.

[1] The land of Moriah would appear to be the area around Jerusalem. One tradition relates that the sacrifice took place in the very place where the temple of Solomon was to be raised. Other serious authors maintain that the sacrifice of Abraham was offered on the mount of Calvary, where Jesus was to shed His Blood around 1,833 years later.

[2] St. John 8:56.

The sacrifice of Isaac is a lively figure of the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The figure and the reality have such a close resemblance that we cannot consider the one without being reminded of the other.

· It is an Angel who announced the birth of Isaac to Sara. It is the Archangel Gabriel who announced the birth of Jesus to Mary.

· Isaac is the well-beloved son of his father. Our Lord is the well-beloved Son of God the Father: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (St. Mark 1:11; St. Matthew 17:5)

· Isaac, all innocence, is condemned to die. Our Lord, Innocence itself, is condemned to die.

· It is Abraham, the father of Isaac, who must execute the sentence. It is God the Father who, by the hand of the Jews, Himself executes the sentence of death upon His Son. Saint Paul says, God has not spared even His own Son, but has delivered Him to death for us all. (Romans 1:2)

· Isaac, laden with the wood destined to consume him, ascends the hill of Calvary. Our Lord, laden with the wood of the Cross, ascends that same hill of Calvary.

· Isaac allows himself to be bound upon the pyre and meekly bows his head to the sword that is to sacrifice him. Our Lord allows Himself to be fastened to the Cross and as a tender lamb, consents to be slaughtered. Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. (St. John 1:29)

· Isaac is not put to death, since he is only a figure. Our Lord is truly put to death since He is the reality.

· Abraham sacrifices a ram to God in place of his son. God suffers that Jesus be sacrificed in place of sinful man.

· The ram’s horns are caught in a briar bush. Jesus’ head is crowned with thorns, and His entire life is strewn with difficulties and contradictions.

· Jesus Christ is represented by Isaac, a figure of the Word who does not die, and also by the ram, a figure of the humanity of Christ who is put to death. Christ is both Priest and Victim: He offers the victim to the Father, for as the Word He does not die; but He is also the Victim offered upon the altar of the Cross, for He knows death in His humanity: The Word was made flesh. (St. John 1:14)

· The place of the two sacrifices is upon Golgotha, although there are those who think that the sacrifice of Abraham was made on Mount Moriah, a mountain near Jerusalem.

· Isaac descends from the mountain full of life and laden with benedictions: a numerous posterity is promised him. Our Lord issues from the tomb full of life and laden with glory; as the reward for His obedience, He receives all the nations as an inheritance.

Sources: Msgr. Jean-Joseph Gaume, Catechism of Perseverance (M. H. Gill & Son: Dublin, 1886), Vol. I, pp. 369-370; Fr. Paul Grenet, called D’Hauterive, Grand Catéchisme de la Persévérance chrétienne (Hippolyte Walzer: Paris, 1903), Vol. III, p. 95; Origen, Homilies on Genesis II, 5.

This article has been published in the Magnificat Magazine, January 2018, available from Editions Magnificat.