Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac: A Parable 


In the book of Hebrews we read: Women received their dead by resurrection. (Hebrews 11:35) There are two stories of resurrection in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37), one done by Elijah and one by Elisha. But there is also the narrative of Abraham, sorrowfully obeying God in preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but then being told by the angel not to harm his child, which the book of Hebrews also counts as a resurrection story.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)


In saying this is a resurrection story “figuratively (Greek: parabole) speaking” the New Testament says the Abraham story of the sacrifice of his son Isaac is really a parable – it has meaning beyond any of the literal details. In Christianity it will serve as a type of the sacrifice that God the Father makes in having His Son die for us on the cross. Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice is a parable, a foreshadowing of the real sacrifice which God the Father and Son make for all humankind. Here is the parable from Genesis 22:1-18:

After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 

[Note: God’s testing (Greek: epeirase) of Abraham is the very thing we ask in the Lord’s prayer for God not to lead us into: temptation/testing (Greek: peirasmon). We are saying: “I want to be your faithful servant, but please don’t push me to see how far I’m willing to go. Abraham bent but did not break, but I’m not sure I could do that. Please, God, take my word that I want to be faithful and a servant, don’t ask me to do evil just to test my faithfulness.”]


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. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. 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.” 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. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.


But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “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.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place The LORD will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

And 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 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, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.


Just as Abraham did not withhold his son from God, so too God will not withhold His Son from all of us.  This is the lesson of the parable of Abraham and Isaac.  From Wednesday of the Fourth week of the Great Lent, we sing this Matins aposticha:

We have reached the middle of the course of the fast that leads to your precious cross. Grant that we may see your day that Abraham saw [John 8: 56] and rejoiced when he received Isaac back alive on the mountain, as from the tomb! Delivered by faith from the enemy may we share in your mystical supper, calling out to your peace: Our Light and our Savior, glory to you!