Today we read one of the most famous scene in the Old Testament, Genesis 22, in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.
This story is traditionally referred to as “the Binding of Isaac”. Modern readers tend to refer to it as the testing of Abraham. There are several things to be aware of to get the deeper meaning of the story. First, God tells Abraham to go to the land of Moriah. The mountain where the scene takes place is traditionally identified as the mount where Solomon will eventually construct the temple in Jerusalem. Thus Abraham is the first person to worship and offer sacrifice on the temple mount. Also, the word Moriah is very close to the Hebrew word “to see”. The mount can be thought of as the place where God is seen again prefiguring the Jewish Temple which will be an earthly dwelling place for God.
Abraham’s words also have a double meaning. God calls to Abraham and he answers, “Here I am.” Later, Isaac calls to him and says, “Father”. Again, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” Finally, just as Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, an Angel calls out to stop him. Again, Abraham responds, “Here I am.” This triple calling to Abraham evokes the trinity – calls from God the Father, the Son and the Spirit (or Angel). Abraham’s response evokes what we will later come to know as God’s name, “I am”. This suggests the divinity of all members of the trinity.
The maim metaphor for the scene that is prefigures the sacrifice of Christ. In answering three times with the phrase “I am” it shows that in this scene Abraham is playing the role of God the Father who is willing to sacrifice His Son. It takes place in Jerusalem. The son, Isaac, carries the wood for the sacrifice up the hill as Christ did. Note, that Isaac is not a young child. He is old enough to carry enough wood for a fire meant to consume a lamb. Whereas Isaac is young and strong, Abraham is well over 100 at this point. This suggests that when Isaac is bound by Abraham that Isaac does not resist. Thus the sacrifice of Isaac is voluntary as Christ’s will be. Abraham says that for the sacrifice, “God will provide the Lamb.” Of course, these prefigures that God the Father will allow the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, the Lamb of God. After Abraham’s hand is stayed we see that God provides a ram for the immediate sacrifice that day. A ram is a male, signifying that the lamb that will be provided by God will be a male. The horns symbolize kingship. Later the ram’s horn will be used in the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, when horns will be made into trumpets and blown to symbolize the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the ram is caught in a thicket prefiguring the crown of thorns Jesus will wear.
Just one quick note on the New Testament reading. Jesus speaks of what will happen to those that choose to follow him. He says the they will be hated and persecuted. He says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” This is a clear statement from Jesus. Salvation is not a one time and your done matter. Salvation involves persevering and remaining faithful even under trials. St. Paul will later speak of it as having “run the race.”