Abraham, Isaac and Sacrifice

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.--Hebrews 11:17-19

As Memorial season approaches, let us consider another sacrificial experience of enormous proportions. God's request of Abraham concerning Isaac tested all the aged man’s trust in his God. Abraham recalls God's faithfulness to him on past occasions and is encouraged to continue obedient. In later years Moses instructed his people to remember God's faithfulness to them in their time of need (Deuteronomy 8:1,2). Likewise, our heavenly Father allows memory to help us during trying experiences. As we look at the Abraham/Isaac experience, let us remember our Father's faithfulness to us.


Not many have been asked to make a commitment to sacrifice like that required of father Abraham. Abraham was summoned by the heavenly Father for a test, the outcome of which would confirm God's covenant to establish his heavenly and earthly kingdom phases for all time.

Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Ishmael, his firstborn by Hagar, was approximately 14 years old. At the time of this communication between Abraham and God, Isaac was a full grown man, not a child. Josephus places Abraham's age at approximately 125. Although no definitive scriptural proof exists as to Isaac's exact age, if we consider that Isaac is a picture of Jesus in this and other experiences, it is perhaps reasonable to conclude that Isaac might have been 30 years of age. Jesus was 30 years of age when he began his full-time adult ministry.

Abraham has been styled the "Father of the Faithful." his entire life history as sketched in the Bible, was a life of faith, a life of trust in God and reliance upon the divine promises. This final test was terribly severe by any standard. Only someone in a very close relationship with God could be so trusting and yet bold in proceeding through the experience. It appears that the timing for this test was fairly abrupt, yet it prompted his swift obedience. He had a positive assurance of God’s command. He knew it was not his imagination, and it certainly was not the whispering of witches or wizards, or a dream.

"The land of Moriah," specifically Mount Moriah, was to be the place of the burnt offering. We learn from 2 Chronicles 3:1 that Solomon's temple was to be constructed here, upon the very spot where Abraham and Isaac experienced this heart-rending trial. The rock upon which Isaac is supposed to have been bound was the location for the brazen altar in this temple.

The words "take now thy son, thy only son Isaac" (Genesis 22:2) gripped Abraham's heart. He had firm belief and trust that God would work out his plan of salvation and the blessing of all the families of the earth through his only authorized seed, Isaac. "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." (Hebrews 11:17-19) Did Abraham tarry with thoughts of doubt concerning why God would destroy the only means by which "the seed" would be developed? No. He reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead to implement his purposes. What a grand demonstration of faith plus insight into the mind and heart of God!

Consider our heavenly Father's only begotten son in his heavenly preexistence, and how the entire success of the plan to save the entire race of mankind from death depended upon Jesus' total and complete submission to his father's will. If Abraham anguished over the potential loss of his only son, how much more did the Almighty experience anguish over the total experience of his son becoming flesh, suffering as a human, and ultimately being put to a shameful death. Yet the heavenly Father continued in the plan of salvation as did Abraham on the trip up Mount Moriah.


Consider also Isaac, the role he plays, and his character. Since Isaac is a type of Jesus, we see similarities in his life and our Savior’s. The name Isaac means "laughter" (Genesis 17:17). Abraham laughed at the prospect that he would have a son in his advanced years. Sarah, his wife, also laughed upon hearing this news (Genesis 18:12). Sarah laughed in joy at Isaac's birth; hence, he was named "laughter" or "joyous." How appropriate was this characteristic of joy as it applied to our beloved master "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same and set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

Isaac's peaceableness is demonstrated in his interaction with Abimelech who asked Isaac to "go from us, for thou art more mighty than we." Isaac who had accumulated considerable wealth and an entourage of servants decided to move his encampment away from King Abimelech rather than insist upon his right to co-exist. After this selfless decision to relocate himself, God blessed him with flowing water wells and a personal reiteration of the promise that "I am the God of Abraham, thy Father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake" (Genesis 26:24).

Isaac was thoroughly familiar with the promise of future blessings to come and was satisfied to wait for God to bring these to pass in his own way and in his own time. Similarly, our Master did not accept Satan’s suggestion to bow down and worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8). Jesus knew that ultimately he would receive from his heavenly Father in a rightful manner the authority and power over the human race. What excellent examples to the spiritual seed of Abraham, which is Christ, to wait on the Lord for fulfillment of his gracious promises. We should not run ahead of our heavenly Father, forcing matters to come to pass which are not what he would have for us.

Isaac was a full grown, 40-year-old man when Abraham selected a bride for him sight unseen. Isaac was not consulted. Abraham's eldest servant Eliezer was sent out to find a wife for him. Down through the Gospel Age our heavenly Father has used the holy spirit to draw to him those who have ears to hear through his son Jesus. Jesus' bride, the church, is being chosen by his father who submits them to the lordship of his son. The apostle Paul tells us, "We brethren as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (Galatians 4:28).

The Journey

Abraham rose up early in the morning and prepared for the trip. He took two of his young men along with Isaac for the journey. The account does not say whether Abraham told them where they were going. Abraham was focused upon the destination which God told him to approach and doubtless remembered the promise given earlier in his life (Genesis 12:18) of the blessings to come. While steadfastly determined to follow the path which God had marked out for him, he must have assuredly anguished over the inevitable activity of this trip. Once again, Abraham's seemingly limitless faith shored him up through this experience. Abraham must have thought that even though God would later raise Isaac from the dead, a space of time until his resurrection might intervene and change forever his life and Sarah's. Like his departure from his homeland of Ur, Abraham once again travelled a path unfamiliar in both geography and intent.

"This is the trial here. Can faith give up that much loved life, that son so long waited for, of whom it had been said "in Isaac shall thy seed be called." Is it not to leave this or that outward thing--this was done long ago, when we came out of Ur of the Chaldees--it is not the trial of weary pilgrimage, wandering from day to day without a certain dwelling place; it is not even the giving up of Hagar's son, the fruit of our own energy, to which our God now summons us. It is nothing less then to give up that life, to which God's promises have so long directed us--which he has given to be our joy, and from which he himself had bid us expect such blessings, not to ourselves only, but to others--in the assurance that as he gave it at the first, he will, though now he seems to take it from us, give it back again. Faith therefore shrinks not even here, but binds its own fruit, and gives it back to God, accounting that he, who can raise up the dead, will restore the precious life which he first quickened out of our barrenness.

"To do this, Abraham leaves his servants and the ass, even as faith, when it is tried, leaves behind it all those thoughts, which, like the servants, by their presence, might oppose the sacrifice. Thus it travels on to Mount Moriah, that is to ground chosen of God for faith that dares not choose its own crosses, or where or when it will endure suffering. But if in the journey of life, trial is appointed, so grievous as to threaten to crush that inward life which is so precious to us--be the trial, what it may, pain, contempt, or misrepresentation, or, what is far more trying to the elect, confusion of soul, inward distraction, desolation, darkness--whatever it be, if it be God appointed, let us go onward, the spirit of sonship shall not perish. But let us take heed that we are not on the self-chosen ground.

"Self-chosen penances, self-inflicted pains, are not the sacrifice faith offers upon Mount Moriah; rather do they savor a horrid Moloch, to which even Solomon may vow, but whose worship is abomination. Great as those sacrifices may seem which are imposed by self will, much more precious are those which God calls us to. One day in which we yield our will to him is of more value than years of toiling self will. Such yieldings of our will are not safe. The life which is sprung from faith cannot perish thus." (Types in Genesis, Jukes, pp. 259 to 261)

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It is likely that Abraham told no one the details of the trek they were about to make. The custom of the day was that the patriarch of the family made decisions in an autocratic manner and was accountable to no earthly person. Did Abraham mention anything to his beloved Sarah? No amount of the truth would have been a comfort to Sarah who did not, as the record indicates, have as large a measure of faith as did her husband.

Regarding the two men mentioned in Genesis 22:3, Jukes thinks they might represent our adversarial elements which oppose our consecration, the sacrifice of our fleshly interests for spiritual ones. Others have suggested that these servants represent earthly colleagues of Jesus, disciples or those who were the closest to him on earth. But in any event, when the situation became the most intense, the two were not permitted to follow (Genesis 22:5).

Types and Shadows

Genesis 22:4 indicates that on the third day of the trip "Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off." The ancient worthies named in Hebrews 11 all died in faith "not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

On the third day Abraham saw not only the site but more of the meaning of what was about to come to pass. He tells the two young men to stay with the ass while "[we] go yonder and worship, and come again to you." This aptly pictures our heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus as they proceed together toward Calvary. We may glean from the Scriptures that Jesus gradually learned the details of the total sacrificial experience which was to come just as the Isaac’s information came incrementally.

Genesis 22:6 says Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and put it on Isaac’s back. The three days of their travel represent the three plus years of Jesus' earthly ministry. The wood given to Isaac pictures the cross which Jesus physically carried to Golgotha, a symbol of the total service of Jesus to his Father and to us. The fire in Abraham's hand aptly portrays the burning trial about to engulf the offering. Nevertheless, as Abraham and Isaac traveled "together" our heavenly Father was with his suffering servant even until his last breath. On the night before, Gethsemane proved very trying to our Savior causing him to ask for a change of this experience which might bring blasphemy upon the heavenly Father's name and character (Matthew 26:38-39; John 12:27).

Isaac's question concerning the lamb for the burnt offering did not go unanswered by his father. "And Abraham said, my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering; so they went both of them together." Indeed the heavenly Father did provide the lamb. God sent his only begotten son into the world to be a propitiation for sins, a sin-offering. No other human being could furnish such a ransom price as Jesus Christ. A perfect man, Adam, had sinned requiring the perfect man Jesus, to offset the offense and furnish satisfaction to God’s justice (Psalms 49:7; 1 Corinthians 22).

What discussion must have passed between the lips of father and son as Isaac allowed his father to bind him upon the altar for slaughter. Could not a grown man have overpowered his aging father if he so chose? Isaac was totally submissive in this act as he was in all his life. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). We are given no evidence that Isaac commented or questioned his father beyond this point. It was imperative that this be a voluntary sacrifice to merit the efficacy desired by the Father. Jesus remained silent at the appointed time before Pilate allowing him to execute his declaration of death which would secure the divine plan. The Hebrew word translated "bound" is Strong's #6123 and means "to tie with thongs." Not only was Isaac physically bound, but a greater, more significant binding was placed upon his heart in submitting to his father's wisdom in this matter. Likewise Jesus was bound to offer himself for the sins of the world.

All of Isaac's hopes of an earthly inheritance perished at the moment he saw his father's hand with a knife about to slay him. Similarly the church shares Jesus' loss of all earthly hopes and ambitions due a perfect man as we consecrate to death all our life's ambitions, hopes, and dreams and accept the will of our heavenly Father in directing the balance of our lives, called "a reasonable service." Abraham did not need to complete the killing process; God stopped his hand. In God's eyes, the act was complete because the intentions of the participants, particularly Abraham, were perfect and pleasing to him.

We read that a ram was provided by God for the "burnt offering in the stead of his son." Location and topography suggests that a ram was a readily available animal. The ram reminds us of the two rams of the tabernacle sacrifices (Exodus 29). The first ram is a burnt offering of the Lord. Aaron and his sons lay hands upon it, it is killed and the blood is sprinkled on the altar. Moses cuts the remaining portion into pieces symbolizing the individuals in the collective body of Christ. The second ram is a ram of consecration. "Thus a ram in sacrifice became a symbol of the seed of Abraham, and an indication of a part of the process by which reconciliation of divine justice will be made on behalf of all the families of the earth, to permit of their being blessed by the messianic kingdom" (Reprints page 5180). We suggest that the lamb (Genesis 22:6,7) represents Jesus and the ram (Genesis 22:13) represents the church, the Body of Christ, who are sacrificed with Jesus on the same altar to accomplish the blessing of all the families of the earth (Genesis 28:14).

Memorial Thoughts

This discussion of Abraham and Isaac reminds us of God's plan and purposes as well as his methodology. We are privileged to participate in his grand and loving plan to bless all the families of the earth. Only by our willing, compliant sacrifice will we be successful and hear "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).