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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

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  • YLT renders the English as the present perfect tense 'whom thou hast loved'.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 20, 2021 at 18:46

4 Answers 4

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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 and born to a 90 year old woman (unlike the other children) and to a 100 year old man
  • Isaac was the son of promise/covenant (unlike all Abraham's other children)
  • Isaac was to be the progenitor of the Messiah (unlike the other children)
  • Isaac was to inherit the promised land (unlike the other children)

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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  • 1
    I fail to see how Keturah's sons, who had not been born are relevant to what God says to Abraham in Genesis 22. Jan 20, 2021 at 21:01
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    @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, 2021 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, 2021 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. Jan 21, 2021 at 1:45
  • I think I would have stressed "Isaac was the son of promise/covenant (unlike all Abraham's other children)", it was Isaac through whom God would fulfill his promises. As Hebrews says this means that Abraham must have had faith to sacrifice his "only" son. Mar 13 at 7:07
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No, "grown to love" is not a reasonable understanding. The simple definition in Biblical-speak is "whom you love" (present tense).

The commentators explain the dialogue this way
G-d: Take your son.
Abraham: Which one? I have two.
G-d: Your only son.
Abraham: Each one is an only child to his mother.
G-d: The one you love.
Abraham: I love them both.
G-d: Isaac!

It is clear from Abraham's behavior that he loved both sons deeply. He sent Ishmael away only out of Sarah's insistence. Why would he have to grow to love his son? What evidence is there that "love" is "grew to love"?

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  • @diylmma Thank you. The commentator's approach is possible, but ignores Abraham could not take Ishmael and assumes Ishmael would have willing participated (an equally important consideration). I also think there is support suggesting it may not be the best way to understand what happens Despite the godly character of the patriarchs, favoritism was present (Rachel's sons vis a vis Leah's). So over time, Abraham's love for Isaac may grown to what he had for Ishmael; also the separation from Ishmael may have initially effected Abraham negatively, which he eventually overcame. Aug 23, 2021 at 12:52
  • @RevelationLad, interesting explanation.
    – diyImma
    Aug 24, 2021 at 5:35
  • +1, but I think it would be better to stress that "grew to love" isn't what the basic word in question means, the word means "love" over the explanation of the passage. Mar 13 at 7:11
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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.

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  • 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. Jan 20, 2021 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. Jan 20, 2021 at 20:22
  • Did I assert that Abraham did not grow in love for Isaac?
    – Tony Chan
    Jan 20, 2021 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." Jan 20, 2021 at 20:38
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    Is your answer: God said "your son, the only one you grew to love, Isaac." Jan 20, 2021 at 20:59
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There are three verses that refer to Isaac as Abraham's only son. Three mentions is usually significant. If the inserted son is removed, it is even more emphatic.

Gen. 22:2 -And he said, Take now thy son, thine 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 will tell thee of.

Gen. 22:12 - And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only, [son] from me.

Gen. 22:16 - And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only [son]:

The only angle I found that makes sense is that there are two Abrahams. One of Yahweh, and the other of Another Yahweh (the who had only Isaac, not Isaac and Ishmael). The incident with Isaac and "only son" references were clues. Once I followed that rabbit trail, I saw other 'doubles'. This line of thinking also makes sense of some of the passages of Jesus.

Anyway, that's the current view from here. Likely not to be popular, but my goal is Truth, so I follow where the signposts point.

[Edited to remove "Yahweh vs True Yahweh. That was an incorrect conclusion when the matter is far from being resolved.]

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  • "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Deut 6:4) Jun 3, 2021 at 17:40

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