I want to warn you, out of the gate, that I’m going to do a little less “Here’s how we live as Christians” in this homily. I want to take this as an example of the Catholic way of reading Scripture. As we dig through the bible, both Old Testament and New, these sorts of things present themselves. We just have to pay attention and keep immersing ourselves more and more in the Word of God.
We always call this story “The Sacrifice of Isaac” or something like that, but look at it. Isaac wasn’t sacrificed. That’s why the traditional Jewish name is the Akidah – the Binding of Isaac.
I want to introduce you to a fancy word we use in Scripture studies: Typology. It’s the idea that all of the OT points to the truths of Christ and the NT.
One poetic way it’s often said is “the New Testament is hidden in the Old. The Old Testament is revealed in the new.” (That’s how Augustine put it.)
For example, Noah and the flood is a “type” (sign) of baptism.
Typology in the story of the Akidah
So let’s look at all the typology hidden in this story – and there is a lot. I’m gonna pull 8 specific points, but I’m sure there are more to be found.
1. The father (Abraham) sacrifices his “only beloved son.”
It’s important to remember, here, that Isaac was not an only child. He wasn’t even a firstborn! Abraham also has Ishmael, but God refers to Isaac as his ONLY beloved son. Likewise, in the flesh, Jesus came second (though, as the Word, he always existed). Adam was the firstborn of man, but Jesus was the beloved Son who carried the covenant.
To really understand the next couple, I need to read you a bit that was excluded from the reading (mainly to make it shorter so you didn’t have to sit through as much – but I’m going to undo that.)
Genesis 22:4–8 NABRE
On the third day Abraham caught sight of the place from a distance. Abraham said to his servants: “Stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over there. We will worship and then come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. “Father!” he said. “Here I am,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “My son,” Abraham answered, “God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” Then the two walked on together.
2. Isaac carries the wood
Isaac, that beloved son, carries the wood for the holocaust up the mountain just as Jesus carried the wood of the cross to his own sacrifice.
3. God himself will provide the lamb
This connection between Isaac and Jesus is made far more clear a few verses later when Isaac asks where the lamb for sacrifice is, Abraham says: “God himself will provide the lamb” (Gen 22:8, NRSVCE). Listen to the announcement of John the Baptist on the bank of the Jordan River when he sees Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). God, indeed provided the lamb, both to replace Isaac and then to replace the whole of Jewish temple worship with the one perfect lamb.
4. Isaac’s age
When you picture that story taking place, how old are Abraham and Isaac? Since my youth (and probably influenced by the plethora of syrupy little bible pictures I saw over time), I pictured Isaac as a little boy – maybe 10 years old. But he wasn’t.
Remember the part where Abraham tells the servants to stay behind so he and the boy can go ahead? When Abraham tells the “servants” the he and the “boy” are going on ahead, the word used is the same: na’ar (for both the servants and the boy). So, Isaac is “na’ar,” the same term as the servants.
More than that, though, Isaac, this “little boy,” is old enough to carry enough wood to burn a human being up the mountain. So, he is a young man, not a small boy. In fact, according to later Rabbinic tradition, he was 33.
Remember who else was, according to tradition, 33 years old at his sacrifice?
So…This is important because it means…(ready for this?)
5. Priest and victim
Isaac was 33 (give or take). How old was Abraham? Well, we are told earlier that he was 100 when Isaac was born, so he was 133, now (give or take). If Isaac figured out what was going on and fought back, who’s gonna win? The 33 year old or the 100+ year old?
Isaac offers himself (because he could easily overpower Abraham); he is both victim and priest – just as Jesus offers himself on the cross.
John 10:17–18 NABRE
I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
And how far is the mountain from when they started?
6. Three days
What was that first sentence I read in the part that the lectionary skipped? “On the third day…” (Gen 22:4) Sound familiar?
So, where was this 3-day-away place? Where did this take place? It was in the first few sentences of the reading. “Go to the land of Moriah”
Mount Moriah (by name), occurs only one other place in Scripture:
2 Chronicles 3:1 NABRE
Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, which had been shown to David his father, in the place David had prepared…
Solomon builds the Temple there! It is the mountain on which Jerusalem is built! This is the very mountain where Jesus would be tried and crucified. Jesus’ sacrifice also occurred on Mount Moriah.
8. A Spiritual/Anagogical Meaning
So, we have a type of the Father (Abraham) and Son (Isaac), but where is the Holy Spirit? The offering of Isaac is meant to be a burnt offering. Notice the wood and torch.
Fire has always been one symbol of the Holy Spirit – think of the signs we use at Pentecost and Confirmation. The Holy Spirit is the flame that is meant to consume Isaac in the offering – He is to be totally consumed in fire.
The Son will offer himself to the Father in the Spirit.
We could spend all day mining these, but you’d eventually throw rotten vegetables at me. I encourage you, though, go home. Dust off the bible. Read it. Read it alone. Read it as a family. Make it a game. Look for these things.
I preached this homily at Saint Rose of Lima church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on February 25, 2018, the Second Sunday of Lent.