“your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.” The fourfold mention of Issac as Abraham’s “son...only son...whom you love...Isaac,” establishes the intimate relationship between Abraham and his son, which is especially the case since Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, had been sent away years before. Abraham’s hope lay in Issac because he knew the promise was that the Messiah would come through Isaac. Also, the fact that God acknowledged that Isaac was loved by Abraham—“your only son, whom you love—precluded any idea that the reason that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice Isaac was that he did not really care about Isaac in the first place and was a selfish and cold-hearted man.
“your only son.” This is not an error in the Hebrew text or a contradiction in the Bible. Genesis tells us clearly that Abraham had another son, Ishmael, by Hagar (Gen. 16:4-16). God calls Isaac the “only son” as a point of emphasis to draw our attention to Isaac because he is the son of the promise, the son in the line of the Messiah (Gen. 21:12). If Isaac dies, humanity is lost because God’s promise of a Messiah through Isaac will go unfulfilled and there will be no Messiah to save mankind from death. In the line of the Messiah, and as the Hope of mankind, Isaac was the “only son.”
The offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 is a multifaceted portrait of the Messiah in which Isaac is a type of Christ and Abraham is a type of our Heavenly Father. No doubt Jesus himself received great inspiration and courage from it.
The multifaceted portrait includes: Abraham being the father who is willing to give his only son, while Isaac is the “only son” who is willing to give up his life. While it is often portrayed that Isaac is a small child, that is not the case. Isaac was a strong young man, as we can see by the fact that he carried the wood for the burnt offering on his back for three days, and that would have been quite a lot of wood, (Gen. 22:5). If Isaac had not allowed Abraham to bind him, then Abraham, likely around 130 years old, would not have been able to do it. Isaac was willing to die simply because Abraham told him it was the will of God.
Isaac and Abraham traveled for three days, during which time Isaac was as “good as dead” (Gen. 22:4), while Jesus was dead for three days and nights (Matt. 12:40). Isaac carried the wood he was to be offered on (Gen. 22:6), and Jesus carried the wood he was to be crucified on (John 19:17). Isaac was bound before he was offered (Gen. 22:9), Jesus was bound before he was offered (Matt. 27:2).
Also, Abraham and Isaac were both blessed with great blessings after they obeyed. Abraham was told his seed would become many—like the sand on the seashore; Isaac was told he would inherit the gate of his enemies (Gen. 22:17). Similarly, God and Jesus were both blessed after Jesus obeyed: God was blessed to have a huge family to live with Him forever, while Jesus will rule the earth as king, and indeed, inherit the gate of his enemy.
Still another parallel between God and Abraham is that Abraham was so confident in the promise of God that the Messiah would come through Isaac that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:19). However, offering Isaac would still have been difficult for him—it would never be easy to kill your own son even if you knew things would be okay in the end. Similarly, even though God knew He would raise Jesus from the dead and make him ruler over His creation, that did not make it easy for God to watch His only Son suffer and die.
“Moriah.” The name “Moriah” is composed of three elements. The prefix Hebrew letter mem, in this context, referring to “the place,” the Hebrew verb ra’ah (#07200 רָאָה), and “Yah,” indicating “Yahweh.” When used in the passive voice, the verb ra’ah means “to see,” while when it is used in the active voice it means more “to provide.” Thus the connotation of “Moriah” in this context would include both “the place where Yahweh sees,” and “the place where Yahweh provides.” The word ra’ah occurs throughout the record, showing God’s constant watchfulness and provision (Gen. 22:4, 8, 13, 14; and also as part of “Moriah,” v. 2).
“burnt offering.” Although this was about 400 years before God gave the Law to Moses, the burnt offering was an indication of complete surrender to the will of God. Human sacrifice was forbidden by the Law (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31), and there is no indication that God condoned it in any way before the Law. In fact, when people engage in human sacrifice it is to demons, not God (Ps. 106:37-38).
God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac is a unique prophetic picture in which Isaac was a type of Christ, and beyond that, God knew ahead of time that He would not allow Abraham to kill his son. Sadly, the record of Abraham and Isaac has been widely misunderstood. Some people have doubted that God really asked Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering—to kill him and burn him. However, it is clear from Hebrews 11 that Abraham understood God correctly and acted out of his genuine trust in God, and thanks to Abraham’s trust and action, Isaac became a very clear type of Jesus Christ. Soren Kierkegaarda is one famous person who misunderstood the Abraham-Isaac record. He wrote four scenarios about Abraham and Isaac, none of them correct. In the first scenario, Abraham lies to Isaac and acts like killing Isaac is his own idea trying to protect Isaac’s faith in God. In the second, Abraham’s trust in God is shaken because of God’s request and so he sacrifices a ram instead of Isaac. In the third scenario, Abraham decides not to kill Isaac and prays to God to forgive him, and in the fourth scenario Abraham cannot bring himself to kill Isaac but Abraham’s lack of trust in God causes Isaac to doubt his own faith.
But God did ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering and the Abraham-Isaac record in Genesis 22 is a vital piece of redemption history. Certainly, it is the clearest picture in the Bible of the father who is willing to give his son and the son willing to die according to the will of the father. But more than just picturing the willing father and son, it must have helped Jesus Christ on many levels. We know from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that he did not want to die and yet he prayed, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). So Jesus was prepared to die; prepared to do what God wanted no matter what it involved. The fact that Jesus knew that some 2,000 years earlier a real flesh-and-blood son, Isaac, had been willing to die simply because his father Abraham said it was necessary would have helped Jesus “set his face like a flint” (Isa. 50:7) and suffer what he had to suffer to accomplish redemption. No doubt that Jesus had reflected on the Abraham-Isaac record many times throughout his life, starting at a very early age.
Also, although God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son is unique and to some people even seems cruel, it is not completely out of the ordinary for God to ask very difficult things of His prophets. Also, the text of Genesis 22 reveals, not the confused and anxious angst of a caring father, but the calm resoluteness of a prophet of God who had personally met God on numerous occasions, who had been asked to do challenging things before, and who had always been protected and blessed by God. There is no hint of Abraham’s having confusion and anxiety in the text, instead, he figured that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Indeed, “he who had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son…He reasoned that God was able to raise him up, even from among the dead, from which, as a parable, he did receive him back” (Heb. 11:19).
The prophetic picture of the father willing to offer his son and the son willing to die at the request of the father was a vital one to help people grasp what needed to happen with the Messiah in order to pay for the sins of mankind and make salvation available to anyone who wanted it. The record of Abraham offering Isaac is certainly historical, and no doubt it greatly helped Jesus, and it clearly teaches us that there may be things God asks us to do that we do not fully understand, but it is still important for us to obey God.
[For more on the times God appeared personally to Abraham, see commentary on Gen. 18:1.]
“one of the mountains.” The place where the Temple was built was Mount Moriah, but that does not mean Isaac was sacrificed on it, as is commonly assumed. Note that God told Abraham to “go into the land of Moriah” and sacrifice Isaac on “one of the mountains” there. God never said to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah itself. There is a huge controversy over the location of the place where Jesus was crucified, but there is good evidence that it was on the Mount of Olives. If that is the case, then it is very likely indeed that the mountain that Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac on was the Mount of Olives.
“I will point out to you.” The Hebrew is slightly awkward when literally translated: “of which I will tell you.” The meaning is, “that I will show you,” or “that I will point out to you.”