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What is the deeper meaning of Abraham and Isaac-the biblical narrative?

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lynnebh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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You do not mention the title of the book, poem or play you are working on, so I will give you an overview of the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible. Abraham and his wife Sarah were very old - over 90 years old - and they had no children. God had promised to make Abraham the father of many nations. Yet into their 90s, they still did not have any children. Sarah decided to hurry things up, so she made Abraham sleep with her servant, Hagar. In those days, if a slave woman had a child, that child was considered to be the child of the master and his wife. Hagar had Ishmael. But God let Abraham know that this was not HIS plan. Ishmael was not the promised child. Finally, an angel appeared and told Sarah and Abraham that they would have a child. Sarah laughed! But, 9 months later, Isaac was born. He was the child of the promise. Abraham was a great man of faith to the Jews. God wanted to test his faith, so he told Abraham to make a sacrifice, as Jews were supposed to do back in those days, and the sacrifice was to be his son, Isaac. Abraham went up on a mountain with Isaac. Isaac, a young boy, asked his father, "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" Abraham, full of fear but a many of obedience, replied that "God would supply the lamb for the sacrifice." Abraham laid Isaac down on the altar of sacrifice. Just as Abraham was about to bring the the knife down to kill Isaac, God intervened and stopped Abraham. Isaac went on to grow up, marry and have children (Jacob and Esau), from whom he had grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. - as many as the stars in the sky, just as God had promised. In this way, Abraham was the father of the Jewish race.

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woodpvd | Student

The wonderful thing about the story of Abraham, especially being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, is that it teaches us on several levels. It poses a quandary: Why would God ever ask such a thing—of Abraham or anyone? The conclusion is that when you get a ‘word from God’ (some do once or twice in their lives) you are empowered by God (not forced but given the wherewithal) to follow His directive just as Abraham did. But in general all the leadings of God are best followed (Ten Commandments, parable teachings, miracles, examples of godly men) in faith because you know that God is doing the leading and never misleads. The path He suggests to you is the path of spiritual success and spiritual prosperity. This success and prosperity is so important to God for you that He planned to give His very own Spirit (Holy Spirit) to those who commit to follow Him. He gave his own Son in order that all of this spiritual leadership could take place. This is God’s teaching in the story of Abraham—My promises are sure and I will never lead you astray, just have faith and watch what I do on your behalf.

sean313 | Student

Three short answers.

I read this story, didn't think much of it.  Then watched the TV series and seeing it acted out made it so much more real.  I questioned why God would do that.  If anything, seeing it made me reject God and the bible even more.

After some problems in my own life, the story keeps coming back to me, and I think I've discovered the meaning of the story, and now cherish it, after once hating it.

There are 3 possible reasons, I think, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son:

1) God isn't all-knowning, and needed to see if Abraham was true to his faith.

2) God is all knowning, and the test isn't for God, but for Abraham.  It was something Abraham needed.

3) Either God knew Abraham's inevitable choice, or not, but God needed it to be a story of faith for men to know later.  To teach men faith, sacrifice, and what it means to cherish the Lord above all things.

This story is incredibly powerful.  It's DECEPTIVELY powerful!  Most people will read it, and even these explanations, and not think further.  But maybe one day something will happen in your life, like mine, and it will take on a new hue.  I married my wife because it was the first person in my life that I thought loved me unconditionally and wholly.  It wasn't until she told me she doesn't love me anymore, that this story become clear to me.  And I realized how deep unconditional love is... unconditional love couldn't be better displayed than sacrificing the one thing you love above all things, even yourself.  As an old man would probably feel about sacrificing his cherished child.

clyoon | Student

I believe the deeper meaning of the story of Abraham almost killing his son Isaac is about obedience and faith. 

God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and like any father would, would have a hard time accepting God's command and would have a hard time getting himself to do it. Abraham was most likely devastated when God asked this of him and questioned, "why?" But Abraham had faith in God that God knows what He is doing and that God asks this of Abraham for a reason. Abraham knew that God had a plan for him. So Abraham obeyed. Abraham also knew that obedience is the best policy in his relationship with God and that when God commands, we obey because God is sovereign and God is perfect. We obey because God loves us and we love Him back. 

Chantelm | Student

Abraham was a great man of the old testament. He is the first account we see of God working through his people. God promised him that he will prosper him and his descendants will be multiplied. God bore Abraham's wife Sara a son at the age of 90 years of age which seemed almost impossible but God made it possible. God told Abraham to name him Isaac meaning "he laughs". God led Abraham to the promised land and even though he wasn't able to stay in it his descendants were able to. Abraham left everything he had in Ur his home land to go and fulfill God's plan. God led him  through battles and helped him through his long journey. He was tested and God asked him to sacrifice his only son with Sarah and he didnt hesitate to do it. God was trying to see if he would do it and right before he was going to kill him God sent an angel to stop him.

willjm | Student


It is possible that you are looking for the symbolism of the story. I’ll tell you what I know and you let me know if it relates to your project.

When Abraham was asked to offer up Isaac it was a foreshadowing of God offering up his Son for the sins of mankind.  God thus became the Greater Abraham because instead of being stopped short God actually watched his son die before him.  {Not all religious modes of thought would agree with this statement but we are talking about symbolism in literature NOT religious belief}.  What is interesting in the Biblical account is that God told Abraham in Genesis 13:16 that he would "constitute your seed like the dust particles of the earth, so that, if a man could be able to count the dust particles of the earth, then your seed could be numbered. Get up, go about in the land through its length and through its breadth, because to you I am going to give it.”  At this point in the Scriptures, Abraham had no children but the significance of this verse is greater than the birth of his son Isaac.  Later, in Genesis  22:1,2 God said, “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and make a trip to the land of Moriah and there offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall designate to you.”  Here is the test of faith Abraham had to endure: at this point he had to give up either his son or his God.  Notice the wording of this passage, "your ONLY son" this should remind you of the famous John 3:16 verse where we are told that God gave “his ONLY begotten Son” which again points us to the idea that God is the Greater Abraham.  The book of Hebrews comments on Abraham’s faith in its 11th chapter. We read, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, as good as offered up Isaac, and the man that had gladly received the promises attempted to offer up [his] only-begotten [son], although it had been said to him: “What will be called ‘your seed’ will be through Isaac.” But he reckoned that God was able to raise him up even from the dead; and from there he did receive him also in an illustrative way.” (Heb. 11:17-19). So to put things in perspective for you, God told Abraham all the earth would bless themselves by means of his seed, then asked him to kill his seed (his son Isaac) and as Hebrews tells us, he supposed that if he offered up Isaac he would be brought back to life to fulfill what God had promised. There is a deeper significance to “the seed” as it relates to the fact that Jesus Christ came through Abraham’s seed thus giving all of mankind the reason to “bless themselves.” I hope this helps you understand this story a little better.