Abraham was to become a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3), and God had promised that it was through Isaac that Abraham’s offspring would be named (Genesis 21:12). Abraham had waited twenty-five years for his promised son. That is what made the command to sacrifice Isaac such a great test (Genesis 22:1-19).
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is disturbing. Human sacrifice was forbidden to Israel (Deuteronomy 12:31), and as readers we are relieved when Abraham’s hand is stayed by the voice of the angel. Yet as I read this Old Testament narrative, I can’t help think of another story – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
- Both stories deal with a son of promise.
- Both stories deal with an only and beloved son (Genesis 22:2). With Jesus, God gave his only Son (John 3:16), his beloved son (Matthew 3:17).
- Both stories deal with the same geography. The land of Moriah is normally identified with Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1).
- Both stories deal with an atoning sacrifice. Isaac is to be a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2, see also Leviticus 1:4). Jesus was to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
- Both stories affirm faith in resurrection. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17–19, ESV). Hebrews reflects on Abraham’s dilemma and words: “He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you’” (Genesis 22:5, NIV, emphasis added). For Isaac to fulfill the promise, he had to live beyond the sacrifice. For Jesus to be the glorious King that his identity as Messiah affirmed, he had to live beyond the sacrifice. Isaac was spared; Jesus was offered, but raised.
- Both stories affirm “God will himself provide the lamb…” (Genesis 22:8, John 3:16).
- Both stories center on the promise made to Abraham. The promise is reaffirmed after the offering of Isaac (Genesis 22:17-19). Jesus is the promised seed through whom all the world is blessed (Galatians 3:7-9).
I must confess that such comparisons are not popular today, and I’m well aware that typologies can be taken too far. Isaiah 53 is a far clearer place to look for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet as a reader, I can’t help but see these comparisons. It is as if God is giving in Abraham a glimpse of what was to come two millennia later. Given what was to come, the offering of Isaac is the big hint.