Sacrifice of the Son

…did you hear this Sunday’s readings?! They were amazing! Sunday was one of those days that such impactful, powerful readings with such powerful images that I was confused about which image to use first! The image of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, which is an incredibly powerful scene that has been expressed many times in art… or the Transformation?

So! We’ll use the Sacrifice of Isaac today, since it happened first, after all, and then move onto the Transfiguration (with some commentary on how it relates to Lent) tomorrow! (Though, if you want to see a cool artwork of the Transfiguration today, here’s a really cool artwork of the Transfiguration from Peru that I featured a while ago!)

Anyway! The first reading that was read to us at church yesterday was a condensed version! That is, it contained all the important parts to the story, so you shouldn’t worry about it not containing the message of scripture, however there were some lines of extraneous detail that were taken out to streamline the story for oral retelling. So! Because some of those extraneous details are interesting, here is the non-condensed version!

Like I said… a dramatic scene, right?

I think Rembrandt captures the drama of the scene beautifully:

Sacrifice of Isaac, by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1635. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Via
Sacrifice of Isaac, by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1635. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the artwork, the angel grabs Abraham’s wrist so hard that he lets go of his knife and seems surprised. The expression of both the angel and Abraham are interesting also — it almost looks as if Abraham is surprised by the change of events — though, probably happily so, as he seems a bit green in his face in this picture!

But the more interesting figure is Isaac. Abraham has covered Isaac’s face, thus not giving us any insight as to how Isaac might be feeling at this moment as he lays prostrate on a pile of wood that he helped to gather, waiting for his throat to be slit and him to be offered as sacrifice.

But, because the face is covered, it makes him almost seem to be an anonymous person, which reminds me almost of a contemporary (non-religious) work, The Son of Man, by René Magritte, in which a man in a suit stands with an apple in front of his face. The artist of that work said about the hidden face, “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.”

And this is kind of the sensation that we feel when we look at this art. Who is that man underneath the hand? The only things about Isaac that we see are his body, with white rags around his pelvis, his abdomen vulnerably stretched out, and his legs curled underneath him. And, in the way that he is dressed and the vulnerable way he is splayed out for us to see, this artwork seems to call to mind Christ as He is sprawled out on the cross.

Which, in a way, is remarkably appropriate. After all, as St. Augustine wisely said about reading the bible, “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” The sacrifice of the son is something that is alluded to in the Old Testament… but it is the New Testament that it finally comes to pass in the form of Jesus Christ.


Dear Jesus,

Thank You for submitting to being our sacrifice so that we may be saved.


I made a new book, just in time for Lent! It pairs pictures of the Passion with the prayers of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Read more about it here!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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