19. Abraham’s Hope in Sacrificing his Son Isaac

Here is a painting of the angle stopping Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac. Abraham was the father of faith.
The Sacrifice of Isaac, Domenichino, 1626, Baroque Classicism 

There is a grand unity in the Bible. The story of Abraham itself can seem confusing because there are so many moving parts to it. But the story of Abraham fits together as a unified whole around the theme of covenant. Below is the outline that I will use to discuss the Abrahamic Covenant so that hopefully it makes more sense as you grasp the big picture of this remarkable story.

Please read post 18 if you haven’t already, as background for this post.

Summary of the Abrahamic Covenant1

1. The Sevenfold Promise of the Abrahamic Covenant – Genesis 12:1-3

2. The Inaugural Blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant – Genesis 14:17-24

The inaugural blessing set in motion the following:

3. The Ratification of the Covenant; Abraham would be a great nation – Genesis 15/fulfilled Deuteronomy 1

4. The Sign and Seal of the Covenant, Circumcision; Abraham’s name would be great (i.e, that kings would come from him) – Genesis 17/fulfilled 2 Samuel 7

5. God swore an oath after Abraham displayed faith, promising all nations would be blessed through Isaac’s lineage, a prophecy realized in Matthew 26:26-28.

Following the establishment of the circumcision covenant, Sarah bore Isaac at 99, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah of a natural heir through whom the covenant’s promise would manifest. It had been over 25 years from the call of Abraham in Ur to the birth of Isaac. 

The only thing left now that Isaac was born was for Abraham to consummate the covenant. God put Abraham to the ultimate test to see if he would be faithful to the covenant by exercising obedience to Him. 

Abraham’s Test of Faith

God asked Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son of the covenant, Isaac. Abraham brought Isaac to Mount Moriah (the site of present-day Jerusalem) to sacrifice Isaac.2 This is very near to the place where he received the inaugural covenantal blessing from Melchizedek years before. Over the years, trials and tests challenged Abraham’s faith, leading it to develop deep roots within the covenant God established with him. Additionally, the reward of Abraham’s faith was the miraculous birth of his son Isaac to his wife Sarah, who had been barren and was past the age of being able to bear children. 

Now Abraham faced one more test of faith. He never knew his God to be one to require human sacrifice as some of the surrounding nations did. Abraham firmly believed that God would fulfill His covenant promise by providing an heir, and this promise was fulfilled specifically through Isaac. Moreover, he didn’t quite know what God would do, but he trusted Him enough to reason that if he did indeed go through with the sacrifice, God would be able to raise Isaac from the dead. He was confident of that for he told his servants, “Wait here, we will worship and then we will come back to you.” 

Faithful Obedience

Moreover, he put the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac’s back, made sure that he had his knife, and walked with Isaac up to the top of Mount Moriah to the specific place that God had appointed. When he reached the top of Mount Moriah, he built an altar and carefully arranged the wood on the altar. He then bound his son and laid him on top of the altar. Also, he stretched out his hand with the knife, ready to slay his son, when the text in Genesis 22 says:

“But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy 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.’

“The term ‘angel’ denotes a ‘messenger’ or ‘ambassador.’ Early church fathers interpreted such appearances as Christ’s pre-incarnate manifestations, known as Christophanies. Examples include God revealing Himself to Hagar in Genesis 16 and Samson’s parents in Judges 13.”

In addition, the situation’s irony becomes clear if we consider this as Christ’s pre-incarnate appearance. Here, the Son of God halts Abraham from sacrificing his only son, foreshadowing His future sacrifice. Instead, Abraham offers a ram caught in a thicket, symbolizing Christ’s sacrifice.

Also, Abraham is a picture of the heavenly Father who did not spare His one and only Son but gave him life to the world. With Abraham and Isaac, we have an earthly type of heavenly reality.

Isaac, a Type of Christ

So, there are many parallels between the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Jesus.4 They were both sacrificed in that geographical location. Both Isaac and Jesus had a miraculous conception. Like Abraham leading Isaac with wood for sacrifice, the Father led His Son carrying the cross for crucifixion. Isaac and Jesus were both submissive to their fathers and their fathers greatly loved them.  Someone bound them and placed them on the wood/cross.

They both came back from the dead – Jesus literally and Isaac figuratively. 

“The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.'” 

-Genesis 22:15-18

There is more to discuss in the ramifications of the Abrahamic Covenant, which I will discuss in the next post. But, I would like to conclude this post by discussing the eschatological nature of this covenant.

As the covenant-making process unfolds in Genesis 15, 17, and 22, the three main covenantal promises of 1) great nation, 2) great name, i.e., kings, and 3) a blessing to all nations are reinforced and build to a crescendo:5

Chapter 15 Great Nation

Chapter 17 Great Nation   Great Name

Chapter 22 Great Nation   Great Name  Blessing to the Nations 

This follows the same order of how the promises are laid out in Genesis 12:1-3. After the blessing of Melchizedek, the promises have to be ratified through covenant-making rituals. The great nation promise is ratified by the animal ceremony. Once ratified, chapter 17 reaffirms the promise of a great name through the covenant of circumcision. These ratified promises are echoed in chapter 22, where the third promise of blessing to the nations is also ratified. The promises are layered upon each other as they are ratified. 

The eschatological fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant is the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to all the nations.  The Abrahamic Covenant was God’s blueprint to reconcile a fallen world back to Himself. Additionally, the scope of the covenant was global. The nation of Israel was the instrument through which God would work to accomplish this purpose. The Messianic promise of Genesis 3:15 and the Noahic Covenant were simply precursors to the Abrahamic Covenant, and the other covenants of the Bible – the Mosaic, the Davidic, and the New Covenant – flow from the Abrahamic Covenant. 

It was only when Abraham sacrificed Isaac that the promise of all of the nations being blessed was ratified.

In consummating the Abrahamic Covenant by the sacrifice of Isaac, God was declaring that promises of the covenant will only be realized by the death and resurrection of Christ. This is the only hope of the nations, the only way they can receive God’s blessing. So, what started as a promise in Genesis 12:1-3, ended with the sacrifice of the son of that promise.

The entire Abrahamic Covenant from beginning to end points to Christ. The text above says, “…and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain a blessing for themselves.” St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians says that the word “offspring” or “seed” is singular and not plural, referring to Christ6 This is why the entire covenant is laden with sacrifice from the liturgical ceremonial sacrifice of bread and wine by Melchizedek, to the halving of the animals, to circumcision, and finally to the sacrifice of the firstborn son of the promise. Even in circumcision, we have a picture of Christ, for the book of Colossians relates circumcision to the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Galatians 3:8-9 states:

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall by blessed in you.’ For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.”

God and Human Sacrifice

God opposed human sacrifice in the Old Testament. In the following verse from Jeremiah he clearly states that as he condemned Israel’s practice of human sacrifice that they had adopted from the surrounding nations:

“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

-Jeremiah 32:35

To sum up, God never intended Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. As stated above, it was merely a type of foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of humanity.

As humans, we intrinsically know, even if it is only at a subconscious level, that we have fallen short of a perfect standard. To use biblical language, we have sinned against God. We also know that we need to pay the price for those sins. This knowledge itself is the root of many psychological problems today. We can either turn to God and be forgiven, or we can deal with this guilt in a myriad of other way.

One way that humans have dealt with this guilt is by human sacrifice. If an innocent victim or victims can be substituted in our place, then just maybe we can be exonerated. Of course this does not work, and just like the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, it does not cleanse the conscience from guilt, but in fact increases our guilt. This leads to a vicious circle of more sacrifices and more guilt. The “peaceful” Aztecs of what is today Mexico, were notorious for this practice as they cut the beating hearts out of live victims. Today, we are more sanitized in our practice as we do the same deed in abortion clinics.

Final Thoughts

Lastly, there is only one sacrifice of an innocent victim that will suffice to expiate our sins against God. The sacrifice of Christ that the sacrifice of Isaac prefigured four thousand years ago. It is only by receiving that sacrifice for our sins, that we can be relieved of our true guilt before God.

Please leave you comments below and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!

Deo Gratias

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  1. Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, pp. 93-110, Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, 1998
  2. “Jewish Archaeological Sites: Mt. Moriah,” Jewish Virtual Library, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1995, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mount-moriah
  3. Andrew, Augustus Paul, “Some Do Not Believe He’s an Angel,” Ancient Hebrew Research Center, https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/god-yhwh/some-do-not-believe-hes-an-angel.htm
  4. Spain, Derek, “The Answers: 30 similarities between Abraham offering Isaac on Mt. Moriah and God offering Jesus on Mt. Calvary,” Living for Christ, https://derekspain.com/2014/03/10/the-answers-30-similarities
  5. Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, pp. 94-96
  6. Galatians 3:7-18


Balentine, Samuel E., editor, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology: Two-Volume Set, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2015

De Mieroop, Van, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3rd Edition (Blackwell History of the Ancient World), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J., 2015

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, 1998

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT., 2009

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018

Weinfeld, M., “Covenant Terminology in the Ancient Near East and Its Influence on the West.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 93, no. 2, 1973, pp. 190–199. JSTOR

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