Christian Churches of God
Abraham and Isaac:
A Faithful Sacrifice
(Edition 3.0 20030202-20040529-20070123)
The decision by Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was a progression in his life that resulted in one of the most sincere and dedicated displays of faith. For this reason, the following story is one that holds valuable lessons for children and adults alike.
Abraham and Isaac: A Faithful Sacrifice
Genesis 22:1-2 After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 2 He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori'ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." (RSV)
Imagine if you would, that you were a parent instructed to be in the place of Abraham or a child called by your father to be in the position of Isaac. The faith, willingness, and respect required for an individual to allow his father to sacrifice him are only exceeded by the faith displayed during the sacrifice of Christ.
It is interesting that in the text above it says that Isaac is Abraham’s only son when the Bible tells us that there was another son, Ishmael (Gen. 16:15-16). His mother was Hagar the maidservant of Sarai. The Lord told Abraham that he would bless Ishmael and that he would be the father of twelve rulers (Gen. 17:20). However, God would establish an everlasting covenant with Abraham through Isaac and his descendants after him (Gen. 17:19). Isaac, as the only son of Sarai, was the son of promise.
Isaac’s sacrifice was a prototype of the sacrifice of Christ, the difference being that Christ’s sacrifice was of much more significance and value. What makes it more significant is the fact that Christ knowingly submitted to the will of the Father to be offered as a sacrifice (Mat. 26:39; Jn. 6:38), whereas Isaac didn’t know that he was to be the sacrifice. Thus, Christ exemplified complete humility and selflessness through which the entire creation is atoned for and redeemed.
Abraham in this example is a prototype of God the Father. He demonstrated absolute selflessness in his willingness to give up his son for the greater good. Giving up a child, an only child at that, would probably be the most difficult task asked of a parent. Yet, Abraham was willing to do this with no questions asked. Through Abraham’s example, God is giving us a glimpse of His love for each and every one of His creation.
However, unlike God our Father, Abraham was not perfect and did not always have the levels of faith displayed in this later example concerning the sacrifice of his son Isaac. In order to realise Abraham’s progression of faith, we must look at earlier examples in Abraham’s life.
We must first understand that Abraham was known as Abram and Sarah as Sarai (Gen.17:4-17), prior to the establishment of the covenant between God and Abraham. It was at this point that God changed their names to reflect the blessing He bestowed upon them. Abram became Abraham, a father of many nations and kings. God said He would extend Abraham’s family to reflect the sand of the sea and stars of Heaven (Gen. 32:12; 22:17). This blessing came through his son Isaac. This is much like how God the Father will extend His family and redeem kings and nations to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.
When Abram was 75 years old, he was told by God to leave the land of his forefathers, where he grew up, and journey to the land of Canaan where he was to be blessed and become a great nation (Gen. 12:1-5). While travelling to Canaan with his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot, a severe famine forced them to go into the land of Egypt instead.
As Abram approached Egypt, he became fearful that when the Egyptians saw how beautiful his wife Sarai was, one of them would kill him and take Sarai as his wife.
So Abraham said to Sarai, “Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared (Gen. 12:11-13).
Abram resorted to this action because he lacked faith in God’s promise that He would multiply his seed and make of him a great nation. If Abram had really believed this promise from God, he would have realised that the promise could not be fulfilled if God was going to allow him to die at the hands of the Egyptians. If Abram had died at this point, God would have broken His promise. However, God cannot break His promises, because He is the epitome of faithfulness and truth (Deut. 7:9; 32:4).
This brings us to an important point. We need to better understand what God’s promises are in order to have more faith. This means that we should study God’s word diligently in order to find what His promises are for His people. By doing this, and believing what God says we will increase in faith. We need to trust God more and not rely on our own reasoning and ourselves. This will lead us away from sin because when we trust God and His promises, we will not take matters into our own hands. Whenever we take matters into our own hands, we usually end up sinning. When we sin the result of that sin can have a negative impact on other people, and not just ourselves. We see an example of this after Sarai pretended to be Abram’s sister in order to preserve Abram’s life.
When Pharaoh saw Sarai, he planned to take her as his wife. Pharaoh broke God’s Law because he took another man’s wife, even though he was unaware of that fact at the time. God caused plagues to enter Pharaoh’s house because of this sin. Realising why the plagues had come upon him, Pharaoh went to Abram and asked him why he had not said that Sarai was his wife in the first place. Then Pharaoh gave orders to have Abram, and all that belonged to him, sent on his way (Gen. 12:14-20).
Abram sinned because he sent his wife to another man. Pharaoh sinned even though he did not know the real truth. So when God’s people do not trust and obey Him, they invariably sin and can lead others to sin as well.
Following such an experience, one would think that Abram had learned to have faith that God was going to ensure his safety, no matter what the circumstances were. However, this was not to be the case, as we will see from Abram’s next test of faith.
Now Abram settled in a land between Bethel and Ai with his family. They quickly increased in great wealth and herds. Being part of Abram’s family, Lot also achieved a great wealth of herds, to the point that his herdsmen and Abram’s herdsmen began to fight over land. In order to keep the peace, Abram told Lot to choose land in whichever direction he desired to dwell. Abram would then go in the opposite direction. Lot chose the greener pasture, without knowing that what he chose would be the source of problems for him later.
While they dwelt in this new land, Lot and his family were taken captive by a foreign king. When Abram heard of his nephew’s captivity, he took 318 of his men and recaptured Lot and his goods. Following the battle, Abram refused to take any rewards from his victory. Instead, he gave it all to the king of Sodom, except a tithe, which Abram gave to Melchisedek the king of Salem, who was a High Priest of God. This shows us that God had a continuing priesthood on the planet, up to and beyond Abram. There was not any time when this planet was without God’s Law, or without a priesthood to execute this Law.
Abram knew and followed God’s Law regarding tithing, which is why he gave 10% to the priesthood of Melechisedek. That Law had not yet formally been given, yet Abraham tithed by faith, because after he returned from Egypt, Abram was converted.
After all these things, the word of God came to Abram saying,
Genesis 15:1-6 "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie'zer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir." 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir." 5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. (RSV)
Quite a few years passed after these things were told to Abram. When he was 99 years old, the word of God came to him again.
Genesis 17:1-4 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (RSV)
Reading on, we see that with the receipt of new names, both Abraham and Sarah received a renewal of the promise of a blessing on a much grander scale. Still Abraham continued to doubt God.
Realising that he was to become a father at the age of 100, Abraham fell facedown and began laughing (Gen. 17:17). This may seem greatly disrespectful to openly laugh at the words of God. However, it is humanly understandable to find oneself laughing in disbelief, if we look at things on a physical level only. In Sarah’s case (Gen. 18:10-13), when she heard the announcement from the three angelic strangers who arrived at their home, Sarah also laughed at the thought of having a child in her old age. Humanly this was not possible, as Sarah, who was about 90 years old, was well beyond the age of being able to bear a child (Gen. 18:11). Knowing this fact, they both laughed, not realising God’s power to execute His will.
When we look at things physically, we limit God who is not limited by anything except sin, which He is not capable of. When we limit God, we are sinning, because we are bringing Him down to our human level of limitations and imperfections. As we see from Sarah’s statement, she could not imagine ever having a child at her age. Her laughter was an expression of disbelief in God’s word, and her following statement confirmed it: “After being so old, shall there be pleasure to me, my husband also being so old?” To show Abraham and Sarah that they were limiting God and not trusting His word, the Angel of God said, “Is there anything that is too difficult for God? At the appointed time, I will return to you, at the time of life, and there will be a son to Sarah.” Sarah was so startled by this that she denied she had even laughed at God's promise. "No, but you did laugh!" scolded the Angel (Gen. 18:12-15).
Knowing that nothing is too difficult for God, we should never doubt His word or His promises, despite what physical obstacles we might face throughout our lives.
Following this promise, and after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, an incident occurred which was nearly identical to the one that Abraham and Sarah faced some twenty-four years previously with Pharaoh. One would think they would have learned to trust God, increased in faith and learned to do what is right according to His Law. Yet as we are about to see, Abraham and Sarah will once again find themselves claiming to be brother and sister, this time in the land of Gerar.
The king of Gerar was a man named Abimelech. When Abimelech saw how beautiful Sarah was he took her into his house, having been told by Abraham that she was his sister. Yet, that night God spoke to Abimelech and told him, “You are about to die because of the woman you have taken, she being married to a husband” (Gen. 20:3). Because Abimelech was under the impression that Abraham and Sarah were brother and sister, and because God withheld him from sinning, Abimelech and all that belonged to him were spared from the wrath of God. This was on condition that he return Sarah to Abraham and ask Abraham to pray for forgiveness for his actions.
Once Abimelech had been granted forgiveness, his wives were again able to bear children, because they had been made barren while Sarah was among them. Once again Abraham proved himself incapable to exercise faith and fully trust God. Yet, God was faithful to Abraham in His promises because in His omniscience God foreknew that Abraham would later demonstrate complete faithfulness to Him.
Soon Abraham was to face probably the most difficult test of his faith. At the age of 100 years, Abraham’s son Isaac was born unto him (Gen. 21:1-3). This was the son through whom all the promises would come. If anything were to happen to him, God’s word could not be trusted. With this in mind, we can see that Abraham was going to have a double trial. This trial would clearly put God’s word to the test as well as Abraham’s faith.
Would Abraham trust God’s promises no matter what was going to happen? Would Abraham choose to obey God over the life of his son Isaac?
God called to Abraham and said, “Abraham!”
And Abraham said, “Here I am”.
Then God continued, “Take your son Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. And there offer him for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of” (Gen. 22:1-2).
Obeying this command, Abraham, Isaac, and two young servants awoke early in the morning to cut wood for the sacrificial altar, and to saddle their donkeys before their journey to the place where God told Abraham the offering would take place. Then after a three-day journey, Abraham was able to see the location for the sacrifice and stopped to tell his two servants to stay back with the donkeys, while he and Isaac went to present an offering. Abraham took his knife and the fire while Isaac carried the very wood on which he was to be sacrificed to the site (Gen. 22:3-10).
There are many similarities between the sacrifice of Isaac and that of Christ. Let us look at some of these now.
1) Isaac carried the wood he was to be sacrificed upon, symbolising Christ carrying the wood or the stake upon which he was to be crucified (Jn. 19:17).
2) Both Christ and Isaac were obedient till death (or near death in the case of Isaac).
3) Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son, as God allowed the sacrifice of His only begotten son.
4) The ram sacrifice in the place of Isaac that occurred later was a physical symbolism of the atonement sacrifice that would be provided by Christ the Messiah.
God allowed Abraham to be tested. However, after Abraham displayed his faith in God the Father to the point of sacrificing his only son Isaac, God sent His Angel to intervene before Abraham followed through with the sacrifice of his son. This particular test having concluded, God then spoke to Abraham through the same Angel and said,
Genesis 22:12 "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." (RSV)
The words, “for now I know” in the above verse prove that it was the Angel of the Lord that was speaking. As we know only God the Father is omniscient, that is, He is all-knowing. Even though God knew what Abraham would do, He allowed the incident to take place so that His Angel would know Abraham’s heart was faithful to God the Father.
This Angel was the Being who later became the man Jesus Christ. It is possible that this is also when Christ knew that God would not withhold him from being sacrificed in order to redeem to Himself all of His creation. Thus, He would extend His family through Christ; much like Abraham’s family was extended through Isaac.
Genesis 22:16-18 "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." (RSV)
Again we see Isaac is referred to as the “only son” in this biblical passage. As mentioned previously, Abraham had another son through Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. This son, Ishmael, along with his mother had been sent away from Abraham’s home upon Sarah’s request (Gen. 21:9-14). This left Isaac to be Abraham’s only son, and he was to be the son of the promise God made to Abraham.
So, because of the obedience and faith of Abraham, the blessings of many nations, including our own nations, have filtered down in both physical and spiritual areas we can appreciate today.