The moving story of the sacrifice of Isaac is rich in significance. The book of Genesis tells us that God told Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac to him, on Mount Moriah. Abraham set out to do just that, taking the boy Isaac up the mountain and building an altar for the sacrifice.
Only at the last minute – as Abraham was wielding the knife – did God intervene to stop the death – by speaking directly to him from heaven. Abraham then spied a ram caught in a thorn-bush, which he sacrificed in place of Isaac.
God had previously promised Abraham that through his son Isaac a great nation would be born (Genesis 17:1-8, 19). Abraham had such trust in God that he believed that he would still somehow fulfil this promise, even if Isaac had to die. (Hebrews 11:17-19). This great faith is celebrated in the New Testament, which says that by being prepared to sacrifice Isaac, his faith had passed the test (James 2:21).
The story also works on another level. As St John Paul II explained: “The sacrifice of Isaac anticipates that of Christ: the Father did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the world’s salvation. He who withheld Abraham’s arm when he was at the point of immolating Isaac, did not hesitate to sacrifice his own Son for our redemption. Abraham’s sacrifice thus emphasizes the fact that human sacrifices must never be performed anywhere, since the only true and perfect sacrifice is that of the only-begotten and eternal Son of the living God.”
This majestic sculpture of Abraham is found within the west apse of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Dating to 1991, it was created by the artist Sean Rice (1931-1997), who also produced the Stations of the Cross found around the cathedral. The sculpture pictures Abraham releasing the ram from the thicket, while still clutching the knife with which he was to sacrifice Isaac.
Rice explained: “In this bronze I have sought to interpret the transition from the harrowing personal conflict to that of the intense relief experienced by the father for his child. The tensions within Isaac’s father are replaced with a tranquility, despite being driven towards a build-up of terrible resolve and power.”
He added: “The sculpture was modelled and cast in bronze at my Liverpool studio in Walton. It was finally assembled and fabricated in bronze, copper, gilding metal and brass using various forming and welding techniques.”
See the full image:
Detail of the ram:
Where to find this work of art
Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The Temple of Solomon was later build on Mount Moriah, where Abraham had attempted to sacrifice Isaac (2 Chronicles 3:1).
- From the New Testament: Traditionally, the story was considered a symbol of Christ carrying his cross. Like Isaac, Christ carried the wood on which he would die up the mountain.