“These are the descendants of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah.” (Geneis 25:19-20)
Isaac was the beloved son of Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Isaac’s mother Sarah was elderly and over childbearing age. One day, three angels visited Abraham and announced that Sarah would miraculously bear a son. A year later, as foretold, she gave birth to a son and named him Isaac. The visit of the angels, as well as the miraculous birth, remind us of Christ’s own nativity.
When Isaac was still young, God tested Abraham’s faith, telling him: “Take your son, your only son, the one you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering on the mountain that I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2) Abraham obeyed and set out with Isaac. Abraham carried a knife and some fuel, while Isaac carried the wood with which to make the altar.
When they arrived at the mountain-top, Abraham prepared to kill his son. However, God intervened and commanded him to stop. Abraham then spotted a male sheep stuck in some thorns and sacrificed it instead of Isaac. The story has long been understood as a prophetic reference to Christ’s death. Isaac carrying the wood symbolises Christ carrying the cross, while the death of a beloved son, as well as the lamb in thorns, point to Christ’s crucifixion wearing a crown of thorns.
After this brush with death, Isaac later married Rebekah, a beautiful woman from Abraham’s homeland. Together they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. God then repeated to Isaac the promise that he had made to his father Abraham: “All the nations on the earth will be blessed through your descendants.” (Genesis 26:4)
This stained glass scene of Isaac carrying the wood up the mountain, found within Downside Abbey and by Sir Ninian Comper, is the lower half of the window we saw yesterday, featuring his father Abraham. Isaac is pictured as a young child, although in fact he may have been much older, but this only heightens the drama of the potential sacrifice of an innocent son.
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