One of the more perplexing statements in Genesis is God saying Isaac is Abraham's only son:

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 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 on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22 ESV)

Even though Ishmael had been sent away, he was still alive: Abraham had two sons at that time.

In Exposition of Genesis H. C. Leupold provides what he believes to be the best translation of the Hebrew. Here is his understanding of this passage:

And it came to pass after these things that God put Abraham to the test and said unto him: Abraham! and he said: Here am I! And he said: Take now thy son, thine only one, whom thou hast grown to love, even Isaac, and go for thyself to the land of Moriah, and offer him up there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains I shall indicate to thee.1

Leopold (citing Koenig) takes אהבת to mean ...grown to love... and comments:

The successive terms descriptive of the son who is to be sacrificed are employed, not to make the sacrifice harder but to recall to Abraham's mind how much he has "grown to love" him. For 'aha‘bhta the perfect, is a perfectum resultativum, describing that the father has grown to love the son and now stands deep in that love (K.S. 127). The successive terms are 1) "thy son." 2) "thine only one," 3) "whom thou hast grown to love," 4) his name "Isaac" the epitome of the great joy that came with this son.2

Leupold is silent on conflict with Ishmael, but if grown to love is accurate, then what God is saying is Isaac is the only son Abraham grew to love and there are just 3 terms identifying Isaac:

(1) your son (2) the only one you grew to love (3) Isaac

Is "grown to love" a reasonable understanding of אהבת in Genesis 22:2?

1. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, The Wartburg Press, 1972, p. 618
2. Ibid., pp. 619-620

  • YLT renders the English as the present perfect tense 'whom thou hast loved'. – Nigel J Jan 20 at 18:46

if grown to love is accurate, then what God is saying is Isaac is the only son Abraham grew to love

Not necessarily.

Before Isaac was born, in Genesis 17

17Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Abraham was a righteous man. Surely, he loved his women and son. If he hadn't "grown" to love Ishmael, would he wish that Ishmael be enough and there was no need to have one more.

After Isaac was born, in Genesis 21

9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking her son,b 10and she said to Abraham, “Expel the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

11Now this matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son Ishmael.

Unlike Sarah, even after Isaac, Abraham still loved Ishmael as he loved Isaac.

  • It appears to me you are making the point to the question. Abraham still loved Ishmael but he had to develop that same love for Isaac. The nature of love between father and son differs from a mother's. Abraham loved both from birth, but a father's love for a teenage son (Ishmael) compared to a toddler (Isaac) can be different. (For example, Isaac had a love for Esau as a hunter, but that was different from when Esau was very young.) After Ishmael left Abraham grew to love Isaac as he had loved Ishmael. IOW it is not that Abraham didn't love Isaac when Ishmael left, his love grew. – Revelation Lad Jan 20 at 20:16
  • "Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game..." Genesis 25:28 The ability of the older son to interact with his father can lead to a love based on shared interests which is impossible for a younger son, or a son who has no desire to be like his father. So the father may love both, but his love for the "different" son may grow. – Revelation Lad Jan 20 at 20:22
  • Did I assert that Abraham did not grow in love for Isaac? – Tony Chan Jan 20 at 20:31
  • Well if "grew to love" is accurate, then it is God who states Isaac is "your son, the only one you grew to love." – Revelation Lad Jan 20 at 20:38
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    Is your answer: God said "your son, the only one you grew to love, Isaac." – Revelation Lad Jan 20 at 20:59

Biologically speaking, Abraham had many sons apart from Isaac, including Ishmael and the sons of Keturah:

  • Gen 25:1, 2 - Now Abraham had taken another wife, named Keturah, and she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.

This is at least 8 sons. Abraham loved them all, and left inheritance for them all:

  • Gen 25:6 - But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

Isaac was special for several reasons:

  • Isaac was born conceived miraculously to a 100 year old woman
  • Isaac was the son of promise
  • Isaac was to be the progenitor of the Messiah
  • Isaac was to inherit the promised land

All this is described in the Abrahamic covenant recorded in Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18.

Thus, it was that Hebrews 11:17 describes Isaac as:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac on the altar. He who had received the promises was ready to offer his one and only son [Gr: "monogenes" = unique]

In Gen 22:2 - Isaac is described similarly,

“Take your son,” God said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

In this case, the verb 'love" is אָהַ֙בְתָּ֙ ie, Qal - Perfect. Abraham loved Isaac beyond doubt from the start which is why it was such a wrench to be asked to sacrifice him.

The passage here in Gen 22 represents the great test of loyalty - did Abraham love God or the miraculous son more? Abraham loved both, but he proved that he was loyal to God above all else.

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    I fail to see how Keturah's sons, who had not been born are relevant to what God says to Abraham in Genesis 22. – Revelation Lad Jan 20 at 21:01
  • @RevelationLad You do not know how many children Abraham had by concubines or when, we only know he was childless when Ishmael was born. For all we know, Ishmael might have been the first of a dozen sons of concubines before Isaac was born of Sarah. This goes to the assumption that if something is not mentioned it must not have happened, which leads people to assume things like people fasting if the scriptures don't mention them having a meal, or claims that no one went to the bathroom in the 40 years wanderings in the desert because it was never described, etc. – Robert Jan 20 at 21:27
  • @Robert - excellent point and well stated. We are also not told when Keturah became Abraham's "wife" - it may have been before Isaac was born or not. That is also beside the point for the comment in Heb 11:17. – Dottard Jan 20 at 22:06
  • @Robert The question is on understanding what God spoke to Abraham. The secondary implications of that are just that. Nor does the possibility of other children play a role in what God spoke when telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. – Revelation Lad Jan 21 at 1:45

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