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Isaac: Child of the promise and heir of the promises


Isaac: Child of the promise and heir of the promises

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul correctly designates Isaac as the child "of promise." (Gal. 4:28.) There are two reasons why this designation is appropriate. An understanding of them is helpful to us.

First, it was through Isaac that the promise to Abraham that the Lord would "make thy seed as the dust of the earth" (Gen. 13:15), or as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5; 22:17), or "as the sand which is upon the sea shore" (Gen. 22:17) would be fulfilled. (Gen. 21:9-14.) Indeed, the promises made to Abraham, which result in the blessings of the "Abrahamic Covenant," were renewed with Isaac (Gen. 26:1-4, 24) and then later with his son Jacob. (See Gen. 28; 35:9-13; 48:3-4, and Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 13.) It is certainly apparent that the Lord intended His covenant to be established with Isaac even before Isaac was born. (Gen. 17:16, 19, 21.)Second, Paul suggested that Isaac's birth was the fulfillment of a promise made between Abraham and the Lord. (Gal. 4:22-23.) Since Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 (Gen. 17:17), neither expected to become parents. Before the announcement of Isaac's birth was made, we must assume Abraham and Sarah expected the promise would be fulfilled through Ishmael, (Isaac's elder half brother) born to Hagar, Sarah's handmaid. (Gen. 16.) The Lord even seems to have set the exact time when Isaac would be born (Gen. 17:21; 18:14; 21:2), and revealed the name by which he would be called in mortality. (Gen. 17:19; 21:3.) Thus Isaac became the first (and only) son of the first wife, making it culturally and traditionally appropriate for him to receive the promise made to his father.

Circumstances of Isaac's birth

The news that Abraham and Sarah would become parents to a son was made to them by the Lord Himself at the same time that He instructed Abraham: "As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be." (Gen. 17:5.) Sarah - meaning Princess - seems to be a fitting name of a woman for whom a large number of offspring would be holders of the royal priesthood. (D&C 84:34.)

The scriptures tell us that this announcement caused both Abraham and Sarah to laugh. Both the original Hebrew and Joseph Smith corrected the word "laughter" to a new and more appropriate word, "rejoiced." (See Gen. 17:17 footnotes, and JST Gen. 17:23.) This seems a more appropriate emotion for a childless couple learning they would soon have a son and heir. The great message to all of us from the miraculous birth of Isaac is found in Gen. 18:14: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

The sacrifice of Isaac as a type of Christ

The Book of Mormon Prophet Jacob tells us that the command received by Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." (Jacob 4:5.) To most readers of the Old Testament the similarities between the test of Abraham and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ by Heavenly Father are obvious, but many miss the precise detail. This recorded biblical experience is also used by the Lord to help instruct the children of Israel, both ancient and modern about the future role and sacrifice of His only Son. The following are only some of the possible types and similitudes:

In the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham was a type of Heavenly Father. His previous name Abram means "exalted father" and Abraham means "father of a multitude." (See Bible Dictionary, "Abraham," also Gen. 17:5.) Both names are appropriate descriptions of our Heavenly Father.

Isaac was a type of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God. He also was the only son of Abraham and Sarah, and was called Abraham's "only begotten son" by Paul as he recounted the faith of Abraham. (Heb. 11:17.) One of the meanings of the name Isaac is "he rejoiceth," echoing the response of his parents to the announcement of his birth. Also, I have no doubt that the Savior rejoiced that He was able to bring about the atonement to give everyone the opportunity to return to the presence of God. Such was His love for us all.

The birth of Isaac to Sarah was a miraculous one, as was that of Jesus Christ to Mary. Although not as unique as the Savior's birth, since others had given birth whilst seemingly barren and of old age, both needed the Lord's power and intervention.

The place Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac was specified by the Lord: `. . . get thee into the land of Moriah; upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." The site where traditionally Abraham offered Isaac is now the site of the Dome of the Rock, a beautiful Muslim mosque. Only a short distance away on a higher point of the same hill (Mount Moriah), is Calvary (Hebrew name, Golgotha). Thus Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac on the same Mount that the Father would make the sacrifice of His Son, and where Jesus would perform His ultimate sacrifice for the blessing of all mankind.

John 19:17 states that Jesus "bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha." When they got to Mount Moriah, Abraham left his servants and donkeys and continued on foot. He "took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon his

Isaac'sT back." (JST Gen. 22:7.) Some have seen similarities between the actions of the two sons in this event, both carrying the means of their own sacrifice.

Insufficient direct detail of Isaac's age at the time of this event is available in the Old Testament. However, it is relatively easy to calculate that Isaac was 37 years old at Sarah's death. Even if the journey to Mount Moriah took place several years before her death, Isaac would have been in his thirties, as was the Savior at the time of His crucifixion.

Isaac submitted voluntarily, just as the Savior would do. Since Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born, it is easy to see that Isaac could easily overpower him if he desired. "The Bible mentions no struggle or objection. Isaac's silence can only be explained in terms of his trust and obedience to his father." (Dallin H. Oaks, October 1992 general conference; November 1992 Ensign, p. 37.) The prophet Isaiah writing about the Savior's submission to the will of His Father writes: " . . . as sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." (Isa. 53:7.)

We learn from John 8:56 and Helaman 8:17-18 that Abraham saw the Savior's day and rejoiced to do so. We also learn from Abraham 3 and 4 that he was shown the creation of this earth, pre-mortal life, the choosing of a Redeemer and the Lord's plan for this earth and its inhabitants. With all this information available to him through vision and the Urim and Thummim, Abraham's answer to a question asked by Isaac is revealing. Realizing they were carrying everything they needed to make a burnt offering to the Lord, except the offering itself, Isaac asked his father, " . . . but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7.) Abraham's reply was: "My son, God will provide himself a lamb. . . ." (Gen. 22:8.) When the angel stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac, "he

AbrahamT lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son." (Gen. 22:13.) A ram is not a lamb, and the appearance and sacrifice of the ram was not the fulfillment of the statement that "God will provide himself a lamb." From previous knowledge, Abraham knew that a lamb must be sacrificed, but it was to be "Christ the Lamb" (D&C 76:85), not a ram caught in a thicket. With this understanding, it was possible for Abraham to teach his posterity, through Isaac that sometime in the future "the Lamb of God" would come into the world, and would be sacrificed. A further personal application of this event was given in the October 1992 general conference by Elder Oaks: "Because of our sins and our mortality, we, like Isaac, are condemned to death. When all other hope is gone our Father in Heaven provides the Lamb of God, and we are saved by His sacrifice." (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 92.) Speaking of the Crucifixion, Elder Neal A Maxwell stated: "There was no ram in the thicket at Calvary to spare Him, this Friend of Abraham and Isaac." (October 1981 general conference, Ensign Nov. 1981, p. 8.)

Once the event was over and ended happily, Abraham named the place "Jehovah-Jireh" meaning, "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen." (Gen. 22:14.) However, Adam Clarke, citing other scholars, suggests the correct translation should be "on this mount the Lord shall be seen." Dr. Clarke continued: "From this it appears that the sacrifice offered by Abraham was understood to be a representative one, and a tradition was kept up that Jehovah should be seen in a sacrificial way on his mount." (Bible Commentary 1:141, Clarke.)

One of the "divine promises to Abraham was the assurance that Christ would come through His lineage." (Mormon Doctrine, p. 13.) Thus Isaac was a descendant of Abraham, and Christ was born through the lineage of both of them. "And so through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through David finally the Lord became the Son of God through Abraham." (President Spencer W. Kimball, October 1975 general conference; Ensign Nov. 1975, p. 80.)

Much of the commentary about the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham focuses on Abraham's faith, righteousness, obedience and courage. I feel we should also spare a thought for Isaac, who also displayed complete obedience, total trust in his prophet-father, and a willingness to submit to the will of his father too, regardless of the possible pain and consequences. His reward for his obedience has earned him, like his father, Abraham and son, Jacob, his exaltation. They "sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods." (D&C 132:37.)

The marriage of Isaac

The Lord had selected an eternal partner for Isaac, who was from the land of Abraham's origin and thus able to perpetuate the covenant the Lord made with Abraham and Isaac. The person selected by the Lord had to be identified by Abraham and introduced to Isaac. The story is recounted in Genesis 24, and is a story of faith and commitment.

The servant of Abraham, who was sent to find Isaac a wife was promised by Abraham, "The Lord God of heaven . . . shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence." (Gen. 24:7.) The Lord guided the servant to Rebekah, who " . . . being a virgin, very fair to look upon, such as the servant of Abraham had not seen, neither had any man known the like unto her." (JST Gen. 24:16.) Such was her faith and trust in the Lord she immediately accepted the invitation to leave her family, travel to a new country completely foreign to her with Abraham's servant and his men, to marry a man she had never met. However, her family recognized the hand of the Lord in this, saying to Abraham's servant: "The thing proceedeth from the Lord: . . . Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken." (Gen. 24:50-51.) Thus her simple response when given the choice was, "I will go." (Gen. 24:58.) Before she left, Rebekah was given a blessing, which verifies the fact she was foreordained to be Isaac's wife, and a partner with Isaac in the promise made to him by the Lord. "Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gates of those which hate them." (Gen. 24:60.) "And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her." (Gen. 24:67, italics added.)

Isaac's simple life

"Isaac did not become an Abraham or a Jacob. He did not reach the heights of Abraham, called the `father of the faithful.' Nor was he as impressive as his son Israel, father of the twelve tribes. Yet Isaac is loved and revered. He worshiped God, cared for his home, and pursued his work. He is remembered simply as a man of peace. The eloquent simplicity of his life and his unique ability to lend importance to the commonplace made him great.

"Isaac worshiped at an altar of stone. He sought there answers to life's questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?

"To know the word and works of God, Isaac knelt in his day at his altar. His tent, a home for himself and family was sacred to him, as our homes are to us.

"Kneeling at this altar, mindful of his family in his tent, Isaac found most of his working hours consumed in watching over wells he had caused to be digged. His flocks were nourished by them. His simple dependence upon the water and the soil and the forage that grew is little different in our day, for man must work.

"How little things have changed since Isaac's day - the things that really matter. There is the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the same family roles to fill, the same need to work." (Elder A. Theodore Tuttle, Ensign, January 1973, p. 67.)

Isaac was a special pre-mortal spirit, along with his father and son. Righteous and valiant in the pre-existence, he was seen in vision by President Joseph Fielding Smith. (D&C 138:38-41.) What a blessing to have righteous, obedient patriarchs like Isaac, especially as we contemplate being heirs to the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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