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And it came to pass after these things that God tempted Abraham, and said to him, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Lo! I am here. And he said, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved—Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up in the morning and saddled his ass, and he took with him two servants, and Isaac his son, and having split wood for a whole-burnt-offering, he arose and departed, and came to the place of which God spoke to him, on the third day; and Abraham having lifted up his eyes, saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his servants, Sit ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will proceed thus far, and having worshipped we will return to you. And Abraham took the wood of the whole-burnt-offering, and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took into his hands both the fire and the knife, and the two went together. And Isaac said to Abraham his father, Father. And he said, What is it, son? And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, where is the sheep for a whole-burnt-offering? And Abraham said, God will provide himself a sheep for a whole-burnt-offering, my son. And both having gone together, they came to the place which God spoke of to him; and there Abraham built the altar, and laid the wood on it, and having bound the feet of Isaac his son together, he laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife to slay his son. And an angel of the Lord called him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham. And he said, Behold, I am here. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the child, neither do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest God, and for my sake thou hast not spared thy beloved son. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and beheld, and lo! a ram caught by his horns in a plant of Sabec; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a whole-burnt-offering in the place of Isaac his son. And Abraham called the name of that place, The Lord hath seen; that they might say to-day, In the mount the Lord hath seen. And an angel of the Lord called Abraham the second time out of heaven, saying, I have sworn by myself, says the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and on my account hast not spared thy beloved son, surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the shore of the sea, and thy seed shall inherit the cities of their enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast hearkened to my voice. And Abraham returned to his servants, and they arose and went together to the well of the oath; and Abraham dwelt at the well of the oath. – Genesis 22:1-18
God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as the ultimate test of his faith and obedience. Beyond all hope, He had given Abraham a son in his old age, the son who furthermore was the living pledge of God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of nations. Now He says, “Give him back to me, but go on believing that I will do what I promised.”
Abraham does it. Of course, the Angel stays his hand, and he receives his son back beyond all hope, as from the dead. But morally Abraham has sacrificed him. In his will and in his heart he has given him back to God. After he receives him yet a second time from God, as from the dead, neither his relationship with God nor with his son will ever be the same again. Both will be incomparably higher, holier, and more permanent.
Everything Abraham is, everything he hopes for, everything he believes in, is wrapped up with Isaac. To give him up means to give up everything, everything except God. By his obedience, he is saying in action, “You, Lord, are everything, and I am nothing. Do with me as You will.”
Thus one could say that there are three types, three pre-figurations, of Christ in His Passion in this history of Abraham’s sacrifice: Isaac prefigures the Only Son of the Father, carrying the wood of the sacrifice on his back, as Christ carried the Cross. The ram caught in the bush and sacrificed in Isaac’s stead prefigures the Lamb of God, Who suffered in place of guilty man. Usually in the typology Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father, Who offers His Son for our salvation. Yet, if I may be so bold, I shall venture to offer that Abraham in his crushing, utter abasement before God, in his Job-like submission to the will of God, is also a type of the Paschal Christ in His Extreme Humility, His emptying Himself to the uttermost for us.
Each and every saint, each and every Orthodox Christian who goes to Paradise, will have one or perhaps several crises when he has to give up his “Isaac,” i.e., someone or something he thinks he cannot live without. There is no getting around it. The door of Extreme Humility is the door to Paradise.
During these closing days of Great Lent, as we prepare to glorify the Lord in His Passion, let us quietly pray for true humility, to realize very deeply within ourselves that God is God, and that He is holding us in the palm of His hand. Let us pray for the grace of an unchanging firmness to make an act of absolute faith and hope in Him, so that when the crisis comes, and we must sacrifice our particular Isaac, there will be no doubt of the outcome.
O Lord Jesus, Who emptied Thyself for us to the uttermost, glory be to Thee!
This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen