Isaac Carries the Cross •
So Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulder… (NEB)
We have written on this Bible story before (Abraham Places the Wood on Isaac’s Back) but we want to hit it again.
Bible Bits marvels at the pre-figuring of Christ carrying the cross in the Genesis account of Abraham’s sacrifice of his special son Isaac. Isaac too carries a cross of sorts, which is laid upon his back by his father Abraham.
Gen 22:5-6 He said to his men, ‘Stay here with the ass while I and the boy go over there, and when we have worshiped we will come back to you.’ 6 So Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulder, he himself carried the fire and the knife, and the two of them went on together. (NEB)
Although the Genesis account doesn’t make it absolutely clear, we see a young Isaac willingly going to his “cross” — his sacrifice on the burning altar built by his father.
Gen 22:7-9 Isaac said to Abraham, ‘Father’, and he answered, ‘What is it, my son?’ Isaac said, ‘Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the young beast for the sacrifice?’ 8 Abraham answered, ‘God will provide himself with a young beast for a sacrifice, my son.’ And the two of them went on together 9 and came to the place of which God had spoken. There Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. (NEB)
This is of course a fundamental story in both Jewish and Christian traditions. The Jewish faith and synagogue ritual refers to this story and its “binding” as the “Akedah.” We Christians see our Christ in this account, but Jewish commentary and tradition see Isaac as a prototype of the adult, willing, self-sacrificing martyr for the faith.
Jewish exegetical commentary on the Bereishit (=Genesis) dating from the 6th century AD alludes to the Roman-era practice of executing Jews on a stake, and forcing the victim to carry that “cross” to the killing site:
And Avraham took the wood of the burnt-offering — like one who carries his own stake [to be impaled] on his shoulder. (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 56.3, Sefaria.org)
That same Rabbinic writing also declares Isaac to be either thirty-seven or twenty-six years old (depending on original manuscript sources). Interpreters of more recent times speculate that Isaac was younger, but nevertheless an adult capable of knowing consent. This gives us a willing Isaac, cooperating with his own sacrifice. In the Midrash commentary on Genesis, Isaac frets about upsetting his father Abraham’s task:
Another explanation: Rabbi Itzchak said, “At the time that Avraham sought to bind Itzchak, his son, [the latter] said to him, ‘Father, I am a young man and I am concerned lest my body shake from fear of the knife and I will trouble you, and lest the slaughtering will be invalid and it will not be considered a sacrifice for you. Rather, tie me very well.’ Immediately, ‘and he bound Itzchak.’ Could he really tie up a man of thirty-seven (a different version: of twenty six years)? Rather, it was with his agreement. Immediately. ‘And Avraham sent his hand.’ (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 56.8, Sefaria.org)
There is of course much more to be said regarding the Akedah, and we will here go no further down that path. We leave you with the mental images of both Christ Jesus carrying wood for their own sacrifice: Christ a cross and Isaac a bundle of fire wood.
Blessings to you! God’s blessings to you! And read the actual Bible for yourself!