Abraham Offering Up His Son Isaac
AUTHOR: Whitefield, George
PUBLISHED ON: April 3, 2003
TAGS: abraham | Jesus

George Whitefield  Sermon 3

Abrham’s Offering Up His Son Isaac

Genesis 22:12 “And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither
thou any thing unto him, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing
hast not withheld thy Son, thine only Son from me.”

FULL TEXT: Genesis 22:1-12

    The great Apostle Paul, in one of his epistles, informs us, that
“whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning, that
through patience and comfort of the holy scripture might have hope.”
And as
without faith it is impossible to please God, or be accepted in Jesus,
Son of his love; we may be assured, that whatever instances of a more
common faith are recorded in the book of God, they were more
designed by the Holy Spirit for our learning and imitation, upon whom
ends of the world are come. For this reason, the author of the epistle
the Hebrews, in the 11th chapter, mentions such a noble catalogue of
Testament saints and martyrs, “who subdued kingdoms, wrought
stopped the mouths of lions, etc. and are gone before us to inherit
promises.” A sufficient confutation, I think, of their error, who
esteem the Old Testament saints, and would not have them mentioned to
Christians, as persons whose faith and patience we are called upon
immediately to follow. If this was true, the apostle would never have
produced such a cloud of witnesses out of the Old Testament, to excite
Christians of the first, and consequently purest age of the church, to
continue steadfast and unmoveable in the profession of their faith.
this catalogue of saints, methinks the patriarch Abraham shines the
brightest, and differs from the others, as one star differeth from
star in glory; for he shone with such distinguished luster, that he
called the “friend of God,” the “father of the faithful;” and those
believe on Christ, are said to  be “sons and daughters of, and to be
blessed with, faithful Abraham.” Many trials of his faith did God send
great and good man, after he had commanded him to get out from his
and from his kindred, unto a land which he should show him; but the
was the most sever of all, I mean, that of offering up his only son.
by the divine assistance, I propose to make the subject of your
meditation, and, by way of conclusion, to draw some practical
as God shall enable me, from this instructive story.
    The sacred penman begins the narrative thus; verse 1. “And it
came to
pass, after these things, God did tempt Abraham.” After these things,
it, after he had underwent many severe trials before, after he was
full of days, and might flatter himself perhaps that the troubles and
of life were now finished; “after these things, God did tempt
Christians, you know not what trials you may meet with before you die:
notwithstanding you may have suffered, and been tried much already,
yet, it
may be, a greater measure is still behind, which you are to fill up.
not high-minded, but fear.” Our last trials, in all probability, will
the greatest: and we can never say our warfare is accomplished, or our
trials finished, till we bow down our heads, and give up the ghost.
“And it
came to pass, after these things, that God did tempt Abraham.”
    “God did tempt Abraham.” But can the scripture contradict itself?
not the apostle James tell us, “that God tempts no man;” and God does
no man to evil, or on purpose to draw him into sin; for, when a man is
tempted, he is drawn away of his own heart’s lust, and enticed. But in
another sense, God may be said to tempt, I mean, to try his servants;
in this sense we are to understand that passage of Matthew, where we
told, that, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit (the good Spirit) into the
wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.” And our Lord, in that
form of prayer which he has been pleased to give us, does not require
us to
pray that we may not absolutely be led into temptation, but delivered
the evil of it; whence we may plainly infer, that God sees it fit
to lead us into temptation, that is, to bring us into such
circumstances as
will try our faith and other Christian graces. In this sense we are to
understand the expression before us; “God did tempt or try Abraham.”

    How God was pleased to reveal his will at this time to his

servant, whether by the Sheckinah, or divine appearance, or by a small
still voice, as he spoke to Elijah, or by a whisper, like that of the
Spirit to Philip, when he commanded him to join himself to the
chariot, we are not told, nor is it material to inquire. It is enough
we are informed, God said unto him, Abraham; and that Abraham knew it
the voice of God: for he said, “Behold, here I am.” O what a holy
familiarity (if I may so speak) is there between God and those holy
that are united to him by faith in Christ Jesus! God says, Abraham;
Abraham said (it should seem without the least surprise) Behold, here
I am.
Being reconciled to God by the death and obedience of Christ, which he
rejoiced in, and saw by faith afar off; he did not, like guilty Adam,
the trees of the garden to hide himself from, but takes pleasure in
conversing with God, and talketh with him, as a man talketh with his
friend. O that Christ-less sinners knew what it is to have fellowship
the Father and the Son! They would envy the happiness of saints, and
it all joy to be termed enthusiasts and fools for Christ’s sake.
    But what does God say to Abraham? Verse 2. “Take now thy son,
only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of
Moriah, and
offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I
shall tell thee of.”
    Every word deserves our particular observation. Whatever he was
to do,
he must do it now, immediately, without conferring with flesh and
But what must he do? “Take now thy son.” Had God said, take now a
firstling, or choicest lamb or beast of thy flock, and offer it up for
burnt-offering, it would not have appeared so ghastly; but for God to
“take now thy son, and offer him up for a burnt-offering,” one would
imagine, was enough to stagger the strongest faith. But this is not
all: it
must not only be a son, but “thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.”
If it
must be a son, and not a beast, that must be offered, why will not
do, the son of the bond-woman? No, it must be his only son, the heir
all, his Isaac, by interpretation laughter, the son of his old age, in
his soul delighted, “whom thou lovest,” says God, in whose life his
own was
wrapped up: and this son, this only son, this Isaac, the son of his
must be taken now, even now, without delay, and be offered up by his
father, for a burnt offering, upon one of the mountains of the which
would tell him.
    Well might the apostle, speaking of this man of God, say, that
“against hope he believed in hope, and, being strong in faith, gave
to God.” For, had he not been blesses with faith which man never
had, he must have refused to comply with this severe command. For now
arguments might nature suggest, to prove that such a command could
come from God, or to excuse himself from obeying it? “What! (might the
man have said) butcher my own child! It is contrary to the very law of
nature: much more to butcher my dear son Isaac, in whose seed God
has assured me of a numerous posterity. But supposing I could give up
own affections, and be willing to part with him, though I love him so
dearly, yet, if I murder him, what will become of God’s promise?
Besides, I
am now like a city built upon a hill; I shine as a light in the world,
the midst of a crooked and perverse generation: How then shall I cause
God’s name to be blasphemed, how shall I become a by-word among the
heathen, if they hear that I have committed a crime which they abhor!
above all, what will Sarah my wife say? How can I ever return to her
after I have imbrued (to wet or stain) my hands in my dear child’s
blood? O
that God would pardon me in this thing, or take my life in the place
of my
son’s!” Thus, I say, Abraham might have argued, and that too seemingly
great reason, against complying with the divine command. But as before
faith he considered not the deadness of Sarah’s womb, when she was
age, but believed on him, who said, “Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a
indeed;” so now, being convinced that the same God spoke to and
him to offer up that son, and knowing that God was able to raise him
the dead, without delay he obeys the heavenly call.
    O that unbelievers would learn of faithful Abraham, and believe
whatever is revealed from God, though they cannot fully comprehend it!
Abraham knew God commanded him to offer up his son, and therefore
notwithstanding carnal reasoning might suggest may objections. We have

sufficient testimony, that God has spoken to us by his son; why should

not also believe, though many things in the New Testament are above
reason? For, where reason ends, faith begins. And, however infidels
stile themselves reasoners, of all men they are the most unreasonable:
is it not contrary to all reason, to measure an infinite by a finite
understanding, or think to find out the mysteries of godliness to
    But to return to the patriarch Abraham: We observed before what
plausible objections he might have made; but he answered not a single
no, without replying against his Maker, we are told, verse 3, that
rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his
young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the
offering, and rose up and went unto the place of which God had told
    From this verse we may gather, that God spoke to Abraham in a
or vision of the night: For it is said, he rose up early. Perhaps it
near the fourth watch of the night, just before break of day, when God
said, Take now thy son; and Abraham rises up early to do so; as I
doubt not
but he used to ruse early to offer up his morning-sacrifice of praise
thanksgiving. It is often remarked of people in the Old Testament,
they rose early in the morning; and particularly of our Lord in the
that he rose a great while before day to pray. The morning befriends
devotion; and, if people cannot use so much self-denial as to rise
early to
pray, I know not how they will be able to die at a stake (if called to
for Jesus Christ.
    The humility as well as the piety of the patriarch is observable:
saddled his own ass (great men should be humble) and to show the
though he took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, yet
keeps his design as a secret from them all: nay, he does not so much
tell Sarah his wife; for he knew not but she might be a snare unto him
this affair; and, as Rebekah afterwards, on another occasion, advised
to flee, so Sarah also might persuade Isaac to hide himself; or the
men, had they known of it, might have forced him away, as in
after-ages the
soldiers rescued Jonathan out of the hands of Saul. But Abraham fought
such evasion, and therefore, like an Israelite indeed, in whom there
was no
guile, he himself resolutely “clave the wood for the burnt-offering,
up and went unto the place of which God had told him.” In the second
God commanded him to offer up his son upon one of the mountains which
would tell him of. He commanded him to offer his son up, but would not
directly tell him the place where: this was to keep him dependent and
watching unto prayer: for there is nothing like being kept waiting
God; and, if we do, assuredly God will reveal himself unto us yet
in his own time. Let us practice what we know, follow providence so
far as
we can see already; and what we know not, what we see not as yet, let
only be found in the way of duty, and the Lord will reveal even that
us. Abraham knew not directly where he was to offer up his son; but he
rises up and sets forward, and behold now God shows him: “And he went
the place of which God had told him.” Let us go and do likewise.
    Verse 4. “Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and
the place afar off.”
    So that the place, of which God had told him, was no less than
days journey distant from the place where God first appeared to him,
commanded him to take his son. Was not this to try his faith, and to
him see that what he did, was not merely from a sudden pang of
but a matter of choice of deliberation? But who can tell what the aged
patriarch felt during these three days? Strong as he was in faith, I
persuaded his bowels often yearned over his dear son Isaac. Methinks I
the good old man walking with his dear child in his hand, and now and
looking upon him, loving him, and then turning aside to weep. And
sometimes he stays a little behind to pour out his heart before God,
for he
had no mortal to tell his case to. Then, methinks, I see him join his
and servants again, and talking to them of the things pertaining to
kingdom of God, as they walked by the way. At length, “on the third
day, he
lifts up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.” And, to show that he
yet sincerely resolved to do whatsoever the Lord requested of him, he
how will not discover his design to his servants, but “said, verse 5.
his young men,” (as we should say to our worldly thoughts, when about

tread the courts of the Lord’s house) “Abide you here with the ass;
and I

and the lad will go up yonder and worship, and come again to you.”
This was
a sufficient reason for their staying behind; and, it being their
custom to go frequently to worship, they could have no suspicion of
what he
was going about. And by Abraham’s saying, that he and the lad would
again, I am apt to think he believed God would raise him from the
dead, if
so be he permitted him to offer his child up for a burnt-offering.
that be, he is yet resolved to obey God to the uttermost; and
    Verse 6. “Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid
upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and
went both of them together.” Little did Isaac think that he was to be
offered on that very wood which he was carrying upon his shoulders;
therefore Isaac innocently, and with a holy freedom (for good men
not keep their children at too great a distance) “spake unto Abraham
father, and said, My father; and he (with equal affection and holy
condescension) said, Here am I, my son.” And to show how careful
had been (as all Christian parents ought to do) to instruct his Isaac
to sacrifice to God, like a youth trained up in the way wherein he
go; Isaac said, “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb
for a
burnt-offering?” How beautiful is early piety! How amiable, to hear
people ask questions about sacrificing to God in an acceptable way!
knew very well that a lamb was wanting, and that a lamb was necessary
for a
proper sacrifice: “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb
a burnt-offering?” Young men and maidens, learn of him.
    Hitherto, it is plain, Isaac knew nothing of his father’s design:
I believe, by what his father said in answer to his question, that now
the time Abraham revealed it unto him.
    Verse 8. “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a
for a burnt-offering.” Some think, that Abraham by faith saw the Lord
afar off, and here spoke prophetically of that Lamb of God already
slain in
decree, and hereafter to be actually offered up for sinners. This was
lamb of God’s providing indeed (we dared not have thought of it) to
his own justice, and to render him just in justifying the ungodly.
What is
all our fire and wood, the best preparations and performances we can
or present, unless God had provided himself this Lamb for a
He could not away with them. The words will well hear this
But, whatever Abraham might intend, I cannot but think he here made an
application, and acquainted his son, of God’s dealing with his soul;
and at
length, with tears in his eyes, and the utmost affection in his heart,
cried out, “Thou art to be the lamb, my Son;” God has commanded me to
provide thee for a burnt-offering, and to offer thee upon the mountain
which we are now ascending. And, as it appears from a subsequent
Isaac, convinced that it was the divine will, made no resistance at
For it is said, “They went both of them together;” and again, when we
told, that Abraham bound Isaac, we do not hear of his complaining, or
endeavoring to escape, which he might have done, being (as some think)
thirty years of age, and, it is plain, capable of carrying wood enough
a burnt-offering. But he was partaker of the like precious faith with
aged father, and therefore is as willing to be offered, as Abraham is
offer him: And “so they went both of them together.”
    Ver. 9 At length “they came to the place of which God had told
Abraham. He built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and
Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.”
    And here let us pause a while, and by faith take a view of the
where the father has laid him. I doubt not but that blessed angels
round the altar, and sang. “Glory be to God in the highest,” for
such faith to man. Come, all ye tender hearted parents, who know what
it is
to look over a dying child: fancy that you saw the altar erected
you, and the wood laid in order, and the beloved Isaac bound upon it:
that you saw the aged parent standing by weeping. (For, why may we not
suppose that Abraham wept, since Jesus himself wept at the grave of
Lazarus?) O what pious, endearing expressions passed now alternately
between the father and the son! Joseph records a pathetic speech made
each, whether genuine I now not: but methinks I see the tears trickle
the Patriarch Abraham’s cheeks; and out of the abundance of the heart,
cries, Adieu, adieu, my son; the Lord gave thee to me, and the Lord

thee away; blessed be the name of the Lord: adieu, my Isaac, my only

whom I love as my own soul; adieu, adieu. I see Isaac at the same time
meekly resigning himself into his heavenly Father’s hands, and praying
the most High to strengthen his earthly parent to strike the stroke.
why do I attempt to describe what either son or father felt? It is
impossible: we may indeed form some faint idea of, but shall never
comprehend it, till we come and sit down with them in the kingdom of
heaven, and hear them tell the pleasing story over again. Hasten, O
that blessed time! O let thy kingdom come!
    And now, the fatal blow is going to be given. “And Abraham
forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.” But do you not
he intended to turn away his head, when he gave the blow? Nay, why may
not suppose he sometimes drew his hand in, after it was stretched out,
willing to take another last farewell of his beloved Isaac, and
desirous to
defer it a little, though resolved at last to strike home? Be that is
will, his arm is now stretched out, the knife is in his hand, and he
about to put it to his dear son’s throat.
    But sing, O heavens! and rejoice, O earth! Man’s extremity is
opportunity: for behold, just as the knife, in all probability, was
his throat, ver. 11, “the angel of the Lord, (or rather the Lord of
Jesus Christ, the angel of the everlasting covenant) called unto him,
(probably in a very audible manner) from heaven, and said, Abraham,
Abraham. (The word is doubled, to engage his attention; and perhaps
suddenness of the call made him draw back his hand, just as he was
going to
strike his son.) And Abraham said, Here am I.”
    “And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou
thing unto him: for now know I that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast
withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”
    Here then it was that Abraham received his son Isaac from the
dead in
a figure. He was in effect offered upon the altar, and God looked upon
as offered and given unto him. Now it was that Abraham’s faith, being
tried, was found more precious than gold purified seven times in the
Now as a reward of grace, though not of debt, for this signal act of
obedience, by an oath, God gives and confirms the promise, “that in
seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed,” ver. 17, 18.
what comfort may we suppose the good old man and his son went down
from the
mount, and returned unto the young men! With what joy may we imagine
went home, and related all that had passed to Sarah! And above all,
what triumph is he now exulting in the paradise of God, and adoring
free, distinguishing, electing, everlasting love, which alone made him
differ from the rest of mankind, and rendered him worthy of that title
which he will have so long as the sun and the moon endure, “The Father
the faithful!”
    But let us now draw our eyes from the creature, and do what
if he was present, would direct to; I mean, fix them on the Creator,
blessed for evermore.
    I see your hearts affected, I see your eyes weep. (And indeed,
who can
refrain weeping at the relation of such a story?) But, behold, I show
you a
mystery, hid under the sacrifice of Abraham’s only son, which, unless
hearts are hardened, must cause you to weep tears of love, and that
plentifully too. I would willingly hope you even prevent me here, and
ready to say, “It is the love of God, in giving Jesus Christ to die
for our
sins.” Yes; that is it. And yet perhaps you find your hearts, at the
mentioning of this, not so much affected. Let this convince you, that
are all fallen creatures, and that we do not love God or Christ as we
to do: for, if you admire Abraham offering up his Isaac, how much more
ought you to extol, magnify and adore the love of God, who so loved
world, as to give his only begotten Son Christ Jesus our Lord, “that
whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting
May we not well cry out, Now know we, O Lord, that thou hast loved us,
since thou hast not withheld thy Son, thine only Son from us! Abraham
God’s creature (and God was Abraham’s friend) and therefore under the
highest obligation to surrender up his Isaac. But O stupendous love!
we were his enemies, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made
the law, that he might become a curse for us. O the freeness, as well
the infinity, of the love of God our Father! It is unsearchable: I am

in contemplating it; it is past finding out. Think, O believers, think

the love of God, in giving Jesus Christ to be a propitiation for our
And when you hear how Abraham built an altar, and laid the wood in
and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood;
think how
your heavenly Father bound Jesus Christ his only Son, and offered him
the altar of his justice, and laid upon him the iniquities of us all.
you read of Abraham’s stretching forth his hand to slay his son,
Think, O
think, how God actually suffered his Son to be slain, that we might
for evermore. Do you read of Isaac carrying the wood upon his
upon which he was to be offered? Let this lead you to mount Calvary
very mount of Moriah where Isaac was offered, as some think) and take
view of the antitype Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bearing and ready
sink under the weight of that cross, on which he was to hang for us.
Do you
admire Isaac so freely consenting to die, though a creature, and
obliged to go when God called? O do not forget to admire infinitely
the dear Lord Jesus, that promised seed, who willingly said, “Lo, I
though under no obligation so to do, “to do thy will,” to obey and die
men, “O God!” Did you weep just now, when I bid you fancy you saw the
altar, and the wood laid in order, and Isaac laid bound on the altar?
by faith, behold the blessed Jesus, our all-glorious Emmanuel, not
but nailed on a accursed tree: see how he hangs crowned with thorns,
had in derision of all that are round about him: see how the thorns
him, and how the blood in purple streams trickle down his sacred
Hark how the God of nature groans! See how he bows his head, and at
humanity gives up the ghost! Isaac is saved, but Jesus, the God of
dies; A ram is offered up in Isaac’s room, but Jesus has no
Jesus must bleed, Jesus must die; God the Father provided this Lamb
himself from all eternity. He must be offered in time, or man must be
damned for evermore. And now, where are your tears? Shall I say,
your voice from weeping? No; rather let me exhort you to look to him
you have pierced, and mourn, as a woman mourneth for her first-born:
for we
have been the betrayers, we have been the murderers of this Lord of
and shall we not bewail those sins, which brought the blessed Jesus to
accursed tree? Having so much done, so much suffered for us, so much
forgiven, shall we not love much! O! let us love Him with all our
and minds, and strength, and glorify him in our souls and bodies, for
are his. Which leads me to a second inference I shall draw from the
foregoing discourse.
    From hence we may learn the nature of true, justifying faith.
understands and preaches the truth, as it is in Jesus, must
that salvation is God’s free gift, and that we are saved, not by any
or all
the works of righteousness which we have done or can do: no; we can
wholly nor in part justify ourselves in the light of God. The Lord
Christ is our righteousness; and if we are accepted with God, it must
only in and through the personal righteousness, the active and passive
obedience, of Jesus Christ his beloved Son. This righteousness must be
imputed, or counted over to us, and applied by faith to our hearts, or
we can in no wise be justified in God’s sight: and that very moment a
sinner is enabled to lay hold on Christ’s righteousness by faith, he
freely justified from all his sins, and shall never enter into
condemnation, notwithstanding he was a fire-brand of hell before. Thus
was that Abraham was justified before he did any good work: he was
to believe on the Lord Christ; it was accounted to him for
that is, Christ’s righteousness was made over to him, and so accounted
This, this is the gospel; this is the only was of finding acceptance
God: good works have nothing to do with our justification in his
sight. We
are justified by faith alone, as saith the article of our church;
to which the apostle Paul says, “By grace ye are saved, through faith;
that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Notwithstanding, good
have their proper place: they justify our faith, though not our
they follow it, and evidence our justification in the sight of men.
it is that the apostle James asks, was not Abraham justified by works?
(alluding no doubt to the story on which we have been discoursing)
that is,
did he not prove he was in a justified state, because his faith was
productive of good works? This declarative justification in the sight
men, is what is directly to be understood in the words of the text;

know I, says God, that thou fearest me, since thou hast not withheld

son, thine only son from me.” Not but that God knew it before; but
this is
spoken in condescension to our weak capacities, and plainly shows,
that his
offering up his son was accepted with God, as an evidence of the
of his faith, and for this, was left on record to future ages. Hence
you may learn, whether you are blessed with, and are sons and
daughters of,
faithful Abraham. You say you believe; you talk of free grace and free
justification: you do well; the devils also believe and tremble. But
the faith, which you pretend to, influenced your hearts, renewed your
souls, and, like Abraham’s, worked by love? Are you affections, like
set on things above? Are you heavenly-minded, and like him, do you
yourselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth? In short, has your
enabled you to overcome the world, and strengthened you to give up
Isaacs, your laughter, your most beloved lusts, friends, pleasures,
profits for God? If so, take the comfort of it; for justly may you
say, “We
know assuredly, that we do fear and love God, or rather are loved of
But if you are only talking believers, have only a faith of the head,
never felt the power of it in your hearts, however you may bolster
yourselves up, and say, “We have Abraham for our father, or Christ is
Savior,” unless you get a faith of the heart, a faith working by love,
shall never sit with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Jesus Christ, in the
of heaven.
    But I must draw one more inference, and with that I shall
    Learn, O saints! From what has been said, to sit loose to all
worldly comforts; and stand ready prepared to part with everything,
God shall require it at your hand. Some of you perhaps may have
who are to you as your own souls; and others may have children, in
lives your own lives are bound up: all I believe have their Isaacs,
particular delights of some kind or other. Labor, for Christ’s sake,
ye sons and daughters of Abraham, to resign them daily in affection to
that, when he shall require you really to sacrifice them, you may not
confer with flesh and blood, any more than the blessed patriarch now
us. And as for you that have been in any measure tried like unto him,
his example encourage and comfort you. Remember, Abraham your father
tried so before you: think, O think of the happiness he now enjoys,
and how
he is incessantly thanking God for tempting and trying him when here
Look up often by the eye of faith, and see him sitting with his dearly
beloved Issac in the world of spirits. Remember, it will be but a
while, and you shall sit with them also, and tell one another what God
done for your souls. There I hope to sit with you, and hear this story
his offering up his Son from his own mouth, and to praise the Lamb
sitteth upon the throne, for what he hath done for all or souls, for
and ever.

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