I became a Christian in my early twenties. Soon after, I started reading the Bible for the first time. Like many people, I began “in the beginning” at Genesis 1:1. I read some accounts I was already familiar with: creation, the fall, Cain and Abel, and the flood. I did not struggle with much of what I read, not even the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then everything came to a screeching halt when I read about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac:
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”Genesis 22:1-2
And he said, “Here I am.”
Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
I thought, “God made Abraham wait so long for this son. Why would He then make such a cruel request? I can understand God calling down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, but how could He ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son?” As a new Christian, I did not understand. After careful studying, I realized God did not intend for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. We know that because the Angel stopped him:
“Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him.”Genesis 22:12a
If God Did not Want Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac, What Did He Want?
The answer is twofold…
God Wanted to Test Abraham
We read that in the first verse of the chapter. God’s request had never been anything but a test—not to see Abraham sacrifice Isaac, but to see whether Abraham would do it. When Abraham revealed he would obey God’s command, the Angel stopped him. Abraham passed the test, and there was no reason for it to continue.
God Wanted a Type or Shadow
Abraham and Isaac is a picture of what God would do with His Son two thousand years later, when He was sacrificed and then raised. He wants us to understand the sacrifice He made, so He put it in human terms. Twice the Angel of the Lord commended Abraham for not withholding his son:
- Genesis 22:12b—[He] said, “For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
- Genesis 22:16—[He] said, “Because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son.”
God had no intention of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, but this account looked forward to what God had every intention of doing with Jesus. Abraham did not spare his son but was willing to deliver him up:
“[God] did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”Romans 8:32
Three things to keep in mind as you read about God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac…
First, God wants us to appreciate His love for us.
So, as you read consider how hard this was for Abraham. When you put yourself in Abraham’s place, you develop some idea of how heart-wrenching it was for God. Do you have a son? What if God made this request of you? As you read about the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make, think on the even greater sacrifice God was willing to make and why He was willing to make it—His great love for us:
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8
Second, Jesus wants us to appreciate the sacrifice He made for us.
So think of what it was like for Isaac. When you put yourself in Isaac’s place, you can identify with how hard it was for Jesus. What if you received the same request Isaac received? As you consider the sacrifice Isaac was willing to become, reflect on the even greater sacrifice Jesus became. He said:
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.John 15:13
Third, keep this analogy in mind so you do not “settle for scraps.”
Imagine that you prepare a delicious feast for your friends, but when they arrive, they sit on the floor and eat the crumbs that fall from the table. If you read the account of Abraham and Isaac and fail to see God the Father and His Son, you are eating the crumbs. You have missed the wonderful feast that has been prepared for you.
Genesis 22 is not primarily about Abraham and Isaac. Yes, they are present, but you want to see the true and greater Father and Son in the story:
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”John 12:20-21
Desiring to see Jesus should be our hearts’ cry! My desire for you as you read this book is that you see Jesus and that by seeing Him, you grow in your love and thankfulness for Him.
Listen to the message below if you’d like to hear the sermon I preached on this material…
Isaac and Jesus Were Only Begotten Sons
The typology between Isaac and Jesus is immediately established very strongly in Genesis 22:2. The language used regarding Abraham and Isaac is almost identical to the language used in the New Testament regarding God the Father and His Son. In Genesis 22:2 God said to Abraham, “your son, your only son.” He repeated these words two more times:
- Genesis 22:12—“And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’”
- Genesis 22:16—[The Angel of the Lord] said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son.”
God does not waste words in Scripture. When He is repetitive, it is for a reason. God does not use highlighting, italics, underlining, or bold for emphasis, but He does repeat Himself when He wants to ensure we do not miss something. God wants us to recognize Isaac was, “[Abraham’s] son, [his] only son.” Abraham had another son, Ishmael, so how can God refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only” son? The word “only” does not mean “single.” The Old Testament has three Hebrew words for “only.” Here are two of them:
- Genesis 6:5—“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only [raq] evil continually.”
- Genesis 7:23—“So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only [‘ak] Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.”
The Old Testament is primarily written in Hebrew (with small portions written in Aramaic), and the word for “only” in Genesis 22:2 is yachiyd, which means “unique.” It is referring to Isaac being Abraham’s special, one-of-a-kind son. The same word is translated as “precious” elsewhere in Scripture:
- Psalm 22:20—“Deliver Me from the sword, My precious [yachiyd] life from the power of the dog.”
- Psalm 35:17—“Rescue me from their destructions, My precious [yachiyd] life from the lions.”
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says yachiyd means, “only begotten son.” This makes Isaac look like Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. “Begotten” does not mean “created.” The writers of the Nicene Creed wanted to make sure nobody misunderstood the word, so they said:
I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by Whom all things were made.
The creed teaches Jesus is eternal, and as the Son of God, is equal with God. If begotten does not mean created, what does it mean? The Greek word for “only begotten” is monogenes, and it means, “single of its kind.” Again, it means Jesus is God’s unique Son. This separates Him from believers who are sons and daughters of God by adoption, and angels who are also called “sons of God” (Genesis 6:4, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7 cf. Hebrews 1:5-14). Monogenes only occurs nine times in Scripture:
- Three times Luke used the word to describe parents who lost an “only” (monogenes) child (Luke 7:12, 8:42, and 9:38).
- Five times John used the word to refer to Jesus as “the only begotten (monogenes) Son” (John 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18, 1 John 4:9).
The last use identifies the other individual in Scripture given the same title as Jesus:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… His only begotten (monogenes) son.Hebrews 11:17
God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, instead of Ishmael, because He wanted him to sacrifice his only begotten, special, unique, precious son. This looked forward to God sacrificing His only begotten, special, unique, precious Son.
Isaac and Jesus Were Named by God
In Genesis 22:2 God said, “…your only son Isaac…” The mention of Isaac’s name draws a connection to Jesus. Isaac also had the rare distinction of being named by God, instead of being named by earthly parents. Notice the parallelism between these verses:
- Genesis 17:19—“Sarah… shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.”
- Matthew 1:21—“[Mary] shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”
Isaac and Jesus Were Loved by Their Fathers
In Genesis 22:2 God said, “…whom you love…” The “Principle of First Mention” encourages Bible scholars to take notice of the first time words are used in the Old and New Testaments, and even in each book of the Bible. The idea is God reveals the truest meaning of a word when it first occurs. Genesis 22:2 contains the first use of the word “love.” Considering the different relationships involving love—for example, mother to a son, daughter to a father, sister to a brother, husband to a wife—makes it more significant that the first time the word “love” is in the Old Testament, it describes the love a father feels toward his son.
The first time the word “love” occurs in the New Testament also describes a Father’s love for a Son. God’s words at Jesus’ baptism echo His words to Abraham:
“This is My Son, whom I love.”Matthew 3:17 NIV
The parallel verses in Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22 are also the first time the word love is used in each gospel. As Isaac was the object of his father’s love toward the beginning of the Old Testament, so too was Jesus the object of His Father’s love toward the beginning of the New Testament.
Isaac and Jesus Reveal God’s Love for the World
God stated His love for Jesus at the beginning of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; however, a change takes place in John’s gospel. The first time John uses the word love he describes God’s love, not for His Son, but for the world—a love so great that God was willing to sacrifice the Son He stated His love for in the previous three gospels:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.John 3:16
Abraham loved his son, but he was willing to give him up because of his love for God. Similarly, God the Father loved His Son, but He was willing to give Him up because of His love for us.
Isaac and Jesus Were Burnt Offerings
In Genesis 22:2 God said, “…and offer him there as a burnt offering…” God did not just ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He specifically said to “offer him as a burnt offering.” Again, God is repetitive to make sure we do not miss this. The words “burnt offering” occur six times between verses two and thirteen. Almost every other verse reminds us Isaac was to be a burnt offering.
Leviticus 1 describes burnt offerings. They were voluntary acts of worship to express devotion to God, or they could serve as an atonement for unintentional sins. The meat, bones, and organs were completely burnt, and this was God’s portion. The animal’s hide was given to the Levites, who could later sell it to earn money for themselves.
Burnt offerings make a fitting picture of Christ. Three times they are called:
…an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord.Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17
Paul applies this imagery to Jesus:
[Christ] has given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.Ephesians 5:2
The key verse is Leviticus 1:4. Let’s look at it, piece-by-piece:
- Leviticus 1:4a says “[The priest] shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering.” This communicated the transmission of the sin to the sacrifice, and it looked to the way our sins are transmitted to Christ. Isaiah 53:6 says “the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” In many pictures of the account, Abraham has the knife in one hand, and his other hand is on Isaac’s head to maintain the imagery.
- Leviticus 1:4b says the burnt offering “will be accepted on [the sinner’s] behalf” looking to the way Christ died in our place.
- Leviticus 1:4c says the burnt offering will “make atonement for [the sinner]” looking to the way Jesus made atonement for our sins.
The priest shall:
“carry the ashes [of the burnt offering] outside the camp.”Leviticus 6:11
The same language discusses Christ’s sacrifice:
He… suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.Hebrews 13:12-13
Leviticus 1:9 and 13 say “the priest shall burn all on the altar.” Burnt offerings were completely consumed, and Jesus is the true and greater Burnt Offering who was willing to be completely consumed for our sins.
- In Genesis 22:2, do you see any other parallels between Jesus and Isaac?
- Do you see any other parallels between God the Father and Abraham?
- How does Jesus’ sacrifice reveal God’s love for us?
This post is taken from A Father Offers His Son: The True and Greater Sacrifice Revealed Through Abraham and Isaac. Get your copy today!