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Abraham and Isaac: The Complete Guide and Typology

Imagine Abraham and Isaac. Imagine the man that God called to sacrifice his son. What does this man and son look like? What if I told you that our mental image of Abraham and Isaac is seriously flawed?

Who was Abraham? Just some wandering, nomadic shepherd, randomly chosen by God, right? Based on the Biblical and archaeological evidence, NO! Abraham was a much more interesting and important figure, even before he forever changed the course of world history.

What about Isaac? How old is he? He's just a young boy, right? What if I told you that Isaac was not a little boy?

On what mountain does Abraham take Isaac? Is it just an ordinary mountaintop? Where is Mount Moriah today? Where was Mount Moriah in Christ's time? What if I told you that you already know this mountaintop, and it's famous for another reason?

I've been working on this mega-article for a while! Writing this guide has spawned a number of other articles, as well:

There are so many connections between the Sacrifice of Isaac and the Sacrifice of the Cross.  We'll go over all the following connections:

  • When did Abraham live? When was Abraham born? Abraham's Timeline
  • What was Abram/Abraham's Role in Society?
  • The Sacrifice of Isaac
  • The Test
  • One and Only Son
  • The Age of Isaac
  • Not a Child Sacrifice
  • A Willing Sacrifice
  • Isaac Carries the Wood for the Sacrifice
  • Three Days to Mount Moriah
  • Where is Mount Moriah
  • Ram's Head Caught in the Thorn Bush
  • Isaac and Jesus are Both Sons of Abraham
  • Genesis 22:8 "God Himself will provide the Lamb"

Get out your Bibles! The central text we're looking at for the Sacrifice of Isaac is Genesis 22. Let's start with the first six verses, paying special attention to the words in bold:

[1] 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.” [3] So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. [4] On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. [5] Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” [6] And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together

To help us keep track of our progress through this very rich scripture, look to headers like this one:

"Abraham!" "Here Am I." First Off, WHO was Abraham?

The typical depiction of Abraham as a poor desert nomad is likely completely wrong. The archaeological and even the Biblical evidence presents a very different picture. It is possible that Abraham was actually a much more interesting and important figure, even before he forever altered the course of world history.

There's SO MUCH about Abraham's story that is under attack that I wrote a whole separate article on the Modern Attack on Abraham. You can find that article here.

Rather listen to this article? I recently did an interview with Brother Andre Marie on the Veritas Radio Network on the "Modern Attack on Abraham" - Listen to it here!

Abraham's Timeline

Abraham's entered into the Land of Canaan when he was 75. Here's a look at the timeline of Abraham's life between entering the Promised Land and his death.

Who was Abram/Abraham?

Abraham was born "Abram." Abram didn't become Abraham until he was 99 years old, when God changed his name to "Abraham," meaning "a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:5).

Abram was a tenth generation descendant of Noah, through his father Terah. Terah was the father of three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran is better known for his son, Lot.

Abram married Sarah, his half-sister, who was then known as Sarai. Sarah was also barren. Abram departed for Canaan along with his father, wife, and nephew, Terah, Sarai, and Lot, respectively.

What was Abram/Abraham's Role in Society

We may think of Abraham as a wandering nomadic chieftain or as an ignorant, migratory Arab sheik. The evidence just doesn't support this. 

The City of Ur during Abraham's Time

Abraham came from Ur, which was a very powerful place in Abraham's time. Ur was also a wealthy and sophisticated urban area surrounded by sedentary farmers, i.e. not wandering nomads.

Here's a computer reconstruction of Ur based on the archaeological excavations that have taken place:

2166 BC, the date of Abraham's birth (here's the Biblical calculation of that date, if you're wondering), corresponds to the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ur at this time was at the height of its glory, it's golden age. 

Gordon & Freedman: Abraham, the Merchant Prince

Cyrus Gordon, an American scholar of Near East cultures and ancient languages, as well as David Noel Freedman of the University of California, have advanced the idea that Abraham was not just a powerful patriarch but a merchant prince

Gordon's theory is based on texts discovered at Ras Shamra in Syria. In one of these ancient texts, the king of Ras Shamra is complaining to the Hittite king about the merchants from Ur.

Gordon cites several verses from the Bible which indicate that the patriarchs were merchants:

(1) Abraham was able to buy land from Ephron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver, weighed "according to the weights current among the merchants." (Genesis 23:16 RSVCE). 

It is elsewhere noted that Abraham was rich in gold and silver, cf. Genesis 13:2 and 24:35. The French Assyriologist Georges Roux observes that such silver was "used as a standard for exchanges" and was "hoarded by high officials and did not circulate unless authorized by the palace."[5]

How then did Abraham acquire so much silver and gold? Was he an official merchant of the government of Ur?

(2) The Schechemites gave permission to Jacob's household to "dwell and trade" and "acquire real estate" in their territory (Genesis 34:10).

(3) After Joseph released his brothers from prison, they relayed his message to Jacob. The message was, if they could prove their honest intentions, they would be permitted to "trade in the land" (Gen 42:34). Joseph's brothers weren't just permitted to buy grain from Egypt's storehouses; they would become merchants with Egypt. The context was a formal trade alliance.

This tells us something about Joseph, too, right? It's no wonder Joseph rose so rapidly in the Egyptian ranks. He was descended from a line of merchant princes. His family had been negotiating trade in commodities for hundreds of years.

Gordon concludes that "the patriarchal narratives, far from reflecting Bedouin life, are highly international in their milieu, in a setting where a world order enabled men to travel far and wide for business enterprise ... Abraham comes from beyond the Euphrates, plies his trade in Canaan, visits Egypt, deals with Hittites, makes treaties with Philistines, forms military alliances with Amorites, fights kinglets from as far off as Elam ..." [6]

There's a lot more that can be said about how the Bible's descriptions of Abraham match the archaeological proof, including really interesting bits about the caravan routes. You can read all about this here.

Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs

For the above sections on Abraham's role in society, I am referring to an excellent resource, which you might also enjoy: Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs (by using the link below to purchase you will be helping to support this site)

"God Tested Abraham" - The Test

Genesis 22 begins "After these things God tested (Hb. nissah) Abraham." God decides to "test" Abraham. What does this remind you of? Who else undergoes a "test"?

Christ in the Garden of Olives by Paul Gauguin
When Jesus is praying at the Mount of Olives, he chides the Apostles for falling asleep:

When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41, NAB)

"The Test" can be understood either as the test of temptation that (1) the Apostles will soon undergo to abandon Christ during his Passion, or (2) that Christ is experiencing as he prepares for death.

The Greek word used here for "test" is peirasmon (noun) or peirazo (verb), which means "an experiment, a trial, temptation." This word is only used one other place in Matthew: in the Lord's Prayer (6:13). But, wait, where is the word "test" in the "Our Father"?

The New American Bible (NAB) alone translates this word as "test." The Revised Standard Version (RSV) provides the more common translation: "... And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." In the NAB, we read "... and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one."

Every man in the Bible must undergo this test!

The same word is used to describe Abraham's test as Jesus and the Apostles' test! The Hebrew word nissa, Abraham's "test," translates to peirazo/periasmon in the Greek. 

Not only that, nissa is connected to the word used to describe the testing of Adam & Eve by Satan in Eden (and Satan didn't appear as a mere serpent, by the way).

There will be more on the connection between Adam & Eve and Abraham & Sarah in a moment ...

"Only Son Isaac" - WHO was Isaac??

God tells Abraham: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love" (Genesis 22:2). Does this remind you of anything?

Think about God's words for His Son at Jesus' Baptism (and basically all the "Listen to Him" Luminous Mysteries): "This is my one and only Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

And God's words again at the Transfiguration of Jesus: 

Isaac is Abraham's "beloved" son.

But something is off about this statement: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love." What's wrong with that statement? Child sacrifice? Forget the child sacrifice part for now, we'll address that in a moment. 

Was Isaac the "only son" of Abraham? No! 

Why does God call Isaac Abraham's ONLY SON?

Here is Abraham's family tree - notice the forking under Abraham's name:

Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac wasn't even Abraham's first-born son, so why is it that Ishmael is treated like he was never even born?

God's Promises to Abraham

God actually made three promises to Abraham. God describes the threefold promises of His covenant with Abraham at Genesis 12:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to [1] the land that I will show you. And [2] I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and [3] by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Gen 12: 1-3)

What were the three promises that God made to Abraham? 

(1) "Land": "Go from your country ... to the land that I will show you." 

The descendants of Abraham will lose possession of this land again and again due to their disobedience, but God is always faithful.

(2) "A Great Nation": There will be "a great nation" that's actually named after Abraham's grandson, the nation of "Israel." But a "nation" meant more than a country; it meant a royal line. 

Nations were ruled by kings at this time. Presidents wouldn't be around for a while. This wasn't a promise of a government; it was a promise of a royal dynasty. It was also much more than just a promise of children; it was a promise that his children would be kings. 

(3) Universal Blessing: "... and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” 

This one is a little more cryptic. What is the prophecy of this promise? Though a divine gift, how could Abraham's promised land and nation bless the entire earth? The land is only a small part of the earth and the family is only a small slice of the whole population. 

How could a blessing radiate from Abraham to the entire earth? This is a promise that the entire world will be redeemed by one of Abraham's descendants. This is a promise of the coming Messiah. AND, somehow this prophecy is mystically "bound up" with Isaac. It's Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac that allows God to elevate this promise of a universal blessing into a covenant

The sacrifice of Isaac, therefore, is the single greatest prefigurement of the sacrifice of Jesus. The blessing of God we receive through Christ passed first through Abraham and Isaac. 

These three promises are each ultimately elevated to covenants at Genesis 15, 17, and 22. 

So why is Isaac a Son of Abraham, but not Ishmael? 

A covenant is a family bond. Ishmael was born outside of the covenant. Isaac, not Ishmael is the heir to the covenant (Gen 17:17-21).

God promised Abraham, not just a son, but a whole royal dynasty (above) when Abraham was already 75 years old. Eleven years roll by living in the "Promised Land" and Abraham is still childless. Abraham is now 86 (Gen 16:16) and his wife, "Sarai", is barren and well beyond her child-rearing years, likely 76 years old[1]. 

People are starting to laugh! "This man said God promised him a royal line. He must be crazy!" "Too many nights in the desert ..."

The Sin of Abraham & Sarah, Adam & Eve

After 11 years of waiting, Sarai was probably sick of seeing her husband in his humiliation and misery. Like any good wife, she probably felt her husband's pain as her own pain. She tells him the following at Genesis 16:

“Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. (Gen 16:2)

Sarai invites her husband to have relations with her maidservant, Hagar. If she cannot give him a child, maybe Hagar will. 

And Abram "hearkened to the voice of Sar'ai" - I bet he did! Does this remind you of another wife inviting her husband to sin in the Book of Genesis? Adam also "hearkened to the voice" of Eve, when she offered him to eat of the Forbidden Fruit (which was not an apple, by the way) at Genesis 3. 

Similar to the Original Sin, things quickly soured after Abraham conceived with Hagar. Sarai believed that Hagar began looking upon her with contempt. Sarai soon "cast out" her pregnant maidservant, even as Adam and Eve had been "cast out" of the Garden of Eden. 

Hagar in the Wilderness, Camille Corot (1835)
But the Angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar as she wandered pregnant and alone in the wilderness: 

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael; because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” (Gen 9-12)

God makes a promise now to Hagar, as well. Like Abraham, her descendants will be numbered beyond multitudes. 

Who are the descendants of Ishmael? 

What is this people which claims heritage from Ishmael? The Arabs. God's prophesy rings true to this day, does it not? It has echoed like a gong throughout world history, too. The descendants of Isaac, Jews and Christians, have long been at war with the descendants of Ishmael, the Arab peoples. 

Why? Because Abraham messed up. Because Abraham grew impatient waiting for God. So much depends on the actions of one man. Thankfully, this is also true of Abraham's descendant, Jesus. 

Enough back story, right? Back to the Sacrifice of Isaac: 

"The Land of Mori'ah" - Where is Mount Moriah?

What if I told you that SEVERAL important events in the Bible happen at Mount Moriah? 

You already know about the Land of Moriah! 

The Geography Mount Moriah

Do we know where the sacrifice of Isaac took place? Is it possible that the memory of this location has survived over the thousands of intervening years? 

Of course! This site is a holy place for both Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It has been a place revered since ancient times. In fact, it is one of the most ancient and most holy sites in all world history. 

You may know this location better as the exact, same spot at which King David and Solomon decided to build the Temple. 

The stone on which Isaac was sacrificed is also the site of one of the most sacred holy sites to the Muslim people: the Dome of the Rock.

The Muslims built the shrine after conquering Jerusalem in 637 AD. Completed in 691-692 AD, the Dome of the Rock is the oldest Islamic building in the world.  

Here is a picture of the stone, itself, the "rock" of the Dome of the "Rock":

This is also called the Foundation Stone, as in "the stone the builder's rejected has become the Foundation Stone."

Wait ... Was the Sacrifice of Jesus ALSO on Mount Moriah? 

Isaac is possibly the greatest type for Jesus. Is it possible that the sacrifices of both "beloved sons," the Sacrifice of Isaac and the Sacrifice of Jesus, happened in the SAME LOCATION? 

Nah, that would be far too great a coincidence ... right? No. That's just how God works. As the Venerable Fulton Sheen said, God does nothing without a "finesse of all details." 

Both the Sacrifices of Jesus and Isaac occurred on Mount Moriah! 

Though the exact locations are not known with absolute certainty, we can say that Mount Calvary or Golgotha were very near each atop Mount Moriah. Here are a series of maps:

In the map above, you can see that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Place of Sacrifice (Dome of the Rock) are side-by-side and both on Mount Moriah

"On the Third Day" - Three Days to Mount Moriah

A resurrection was prophesied (Abraham said, “we’ll come back to you.” Jesus said, “I will rise on the third day.”)

"Arose and Went" 

This phrase "arose and went" is used several times in Scripture. In particular, there are two very interesting moments: 

(1) When David journeys with the Ark to the "hill country of Judah" in 2 Samuel 6. 
(2) When Mary, the New Ark, journeys with the unborn Jesus to the SAME "hill country of Judah" to visit Elizabeth.
>> For more on this very important connection, read this article "What's Really Happening at the Visitation"

David and Mary both journeyed to almost the exact same place near the western outskirts of Jerusalem ... or what would have been called "The Land of Moriah" in Abraham's time! 

Abraham, David, and Mary all "arose and went" to the SAME PLACE! Jerusalem. 

The Age of Isaac?

One of the first questions I asked what this: How old is Isaac? From our years in Sunday School and Children's Church, we are taught that Isaac is a child, are we not? 

Isaac is NOT a young boy. 

This has become such a pervasive misconception that critics actually attack the Bible for endorsing child sacrifice. Crazy, right? But it's out there. Here's an article from The Huffington Post (go figure). Here's yet another article from The Huffington Post. Here's a post from Patheos

Want the full story? There's so much to say about Isaac NOT being a little boy that I wrote this article just about this. You can read that here

Here's the nutshell version ... How we know Isaac is not a little boy:

First, Isaac carries the wood of the sacrifice: "And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son" (Gen 22:6). 

As we will see later, it is very significant that Isaac should carry the wood of the sacrifice on his back, as Christ did, carrying the Cross. For now, it is significant in showing Isaac's age.

How much wood would it take to roast a human being? At least several logs, right? Possibly a lot more ... maybe this much?

Based on this, we know that Isaac is old enough to carry a bundle of wood up a mountain. He is certainly old enough to walk. He's old enough, not only to climb a mountain, but to do so while hauling some serious weight. 

This likely also tells us that Isaac is stronger than Abraham, who is over one hundred years old at this point - we'll come back to this in the "Willing Sacrifice" section.

Second, "lad" and "young men": "Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the ass, I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you'" (Gen 22:5). 

What if I told you the same word is used for both "lad" and "young men"???

The same Hebrew word -- na'ar -- is used to describe both Isaac and the servants. It is likely, therefore, that Isaac was around the same age as Abraham's servants, who accompanied them. 

There's still more Biblical evidence of Isaac's age: Here's the full article on this. 

Conclusion: Isaac was an Adult

Isaac was a full-grown man and could have been the same age as Jesus. 

Some last clues that point to this: (1) Abraham sent for a wife for Isaac at this time; (2) the Jewish historian Josephus claimed Isaac was 25 at the sacrifice; and (3) multiple rabbinic sources claim he was 36 or 33. 

Therefore, this was no child sacrifice, nor even an attempted child sacrifice - Isaac was "a willing sacrifice." 
Francisco de Zurbaran, "Agnus Dei" (1635-40), Prado, Madrid

A Willing Sacrifice

Imagine this scene again. Father Abraham is taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed. How old is Abraham? How old is Isaac? 

Abraham is somewhere between 100 years old (Gen 21:1-5) and 137 years old (cf. Gen 23:1; 17:17).[7] A man his age should not be climbing a mountain!

Isaac is somewhere under 37 years old, as we discussed above. He has reached the age of manhood and will soon marry. Most likely, he is in his late 20s or early 30s, possibly even the age of Jesus, a beautiful connection in itself. 

Isaac is in the prime of his life; Abraham is long past his prime. 

Could Isaac overpower Abraham? Yes, easily. Isaac is not an infant or small child, as he is typically depicted. 

This is not to say our older generation is weak and helpless: 

But Abraham is approaching 137 years old and Isaac is in his prime. We are not told that Isaac struggled in the slightest. He was obedient to his father, Abraham, as Jesus will be to His Father. 

How does Christ describe his own sacrifice? See John 10:17-18,

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.

These could be the words of Isaac, speaking of his "Father" Abraham. Only Isaac did not have the "power to take [his life back] again." 

The Wood of the Sacrifice

One more very important note about Isaac carrying the wood of the sacrifice. This tell us more than just Isaac's age. 

Think: WHO else carried the wood of the sacrifice on his back?

Jesus! Both Jesus and Isaac carry the wood of the sacrifice on their backs. 

SIDENOTE: What about the companions that stayed behind? The companions that were with them stayed behind (most likely on the hill across the valley, called the Mt. of Olives) when the son went with the father for the sacrifice.

Ram's Head Caught in the Thorn Bush

Remember what God instructed Abraham to use as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac? It was a ram whose head was caught in a thorn bush. See Genesis 22:13 above.  

What is the significance of a ram being sacrificed instead of Isaac? A ram is an adult male sheep, an adult lamb. What does Abraham call this part of the mountain? The Mount of the Lord. Abraham called the specific place "the Lord will provide." The Lord provided what? A lamb. 

Put it all together and this ram is the "Lamb of the Lord" or the "Lamb of God". Isaac is replaced by the "Lamb of God". 

What does John the Baptist call Jesus at John 1:29? 

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Abraham sacrificed the "Lamb of God" instead of Isaac. God sacrifices His own Son, Who is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. 

But what about the thorn bush?

Abraham's ram, the Lamb of God, has his head caught in a thorn bush. Jesus' head is also adorned in thorns. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is crowned in thorns. 

Genesis 22:8, 14 "God Himself will provide the Lamb"

The Lord Himself provided the sacrifice (the ram, Jesus). One last note on this, the word order in the Hebrew text of Genesis 22:8 could read, “The Lord will provide Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” 

It's not merely that God will provide the Lamb, the Lamb of God. God, Himself, will be the Lamb of God. To keep this covenant between Himself and Abraham and Abraham's descendants forever, God Himself will ultimately serve as the sacrificial Lamb of God. 

Scripture is just so, so rich. Amen? 

Please remember to comment below and to share this Gospel message!


[1] The calculation of 215 years relies on Genesis 12:4; 21:5; 25:26; and 47:9, as described on p. 11 of Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs. Abraham entered Canaan when he was 75 and was 100 when Isaac was born (a difference of 25 years). Jacob was born when Isaac was 60 and was 130 when he stood before pharaoh. We add 25, 60, and 130 to get 215 years. Add another 75 years, and you arrive at the year of Abraham's birth.
[2] Jean-Louis Ska, S.J., Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, Eisenbrauns (2006), p. 169 (incorrectly cited by Wikipedia as pp. 227-28, 260)
[3] Michael Ripinsky, 1985, 71:139-140 - more Egyptian examples can be found here.
[4] Barnett, Richard D., 1985, “Lachish, Ashkelon and the Camel: A Discussion of Its Use in Southern Palestine” in: J.N. Tubb, ed. Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Papers in Honor to Olga Tuffnell, London, Institute of Archaeology, pp. 16-30, 16. For more on this, click here.
[5] Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq, 3rd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1992), 1962, p. 172-73.
[6] Cyrus Gordon, "Abraham and the Merchants of Ura," Journal of Near Eastern Studies (January 1958), p.28-30.
[7] Sarah is 10 years younger than Abraham according to Genesis 17:17.

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