Eid-ul-Adha: Abraham and the Sacrifice

by John Gilchrist

Abraham and the Sacrifice

Islam celebrates two great festivals annually - Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. The first is the great festival that follows the month of Ramadan when the fast is broken. The second occurs about two months later during the month of Zil-Hajj when an animal is sacrificed in commemoration of Abraham's sacrifice of his son. This festival is incorporated in the great pilgrimage to Mecca which should properly be made during this month but it is also observed all over the Muslim world at the same time. The underlying importance of this festival is the spirit of sacrifice (qurbani) in memory of Abraham's great act of faith many centuries ago.

Eid-ul-Adha is, according to Islamic teaching, a time for Muslims to learn the value of self-denial by making a sacrifice of something living to God. It is stringently denied by most Muslim theologians that the sacrifice has any further significance and it is especially denied that religious sacrifice has any atoning or propitiatory value. Abraham's great act of submission is thus regarded solely as an example of genuine surrender to the will of God and is to be followed as such.

In this booklet we shall examine in some detail this great event in Abraham's life and will study all the circumstances around it to decide whether the Islamic negations of any propitiatory value or representation in the sacrifice of his son are justified, or whether there was not really some great underlying revelation in it.

We shall begin by making a study of Abraham's faith for it is very rarely realised just how considerably God tested his belief in his faithfulness and trustworthiness.


The story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son is of profound significance and the best way of obtaining the deepest knowledge of its meaning is to go through the life of Abraham from the very time that this son was promised to him to the end when this son became the progenitor of a great nation.

When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God spoke to him and said:

"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless them selves". (Genesis 12.1-3).

The Quran confirms that God gave this great promise toAbraham that he would be the father of many nations:

"Lo: I have appointed thee a leader for mankind". (Surah 2.124).

As Abraham left his country and was travelling through the land of Canaan (subsequently known as Palestine and Israel), God again spoke to him and said "To your descendants I will give this land" (Genesis 12.7). Later, when Abraham again came to the land of Canaan, God spoke to him and said:

"Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted". (Genesis 13.14-16).

Abraham must have marvelled at these awesome promises. He must have wondered very deeply about the future generations and have pondered at great length as to why he should be the father of so many descendants and why they should be blessed through him. Presently, however, he was concerned about the fact that he had no offspring of his own. His nephew Lot had parted from him and his only heir at the time was a slave named Eliezer of Damascus. Therefore, when God spoke to him again, Abraham said:

"'0 Lord God, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir. " (Genesis 15.2-3).

Immediately, however, God answered him and spoke these comforting words to him:

"This man shall not be your heir, your own son shall be your heir". (Genesis 15.4).

After giving him the tidings that he would have a son, God made him come out of his house and said:

"Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them". (Genesis 15.5).

As Abraham stared in awe at the myriads of stars above him on a clear night, God said to him: "So shall your descendants be". (Genesis 15.5).

God had promised him that he would give him a son-even in his old age - and that through this son he would give him offspring as many as the stars he could see in the sky. Now Abraham knew that it was not naturally possible for him to have a son because his wife was barren and "it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women" (Genesis 18.11). Furthermore he himself was to all intents and purposes too old to bear offspring through her.

Abraham knew, therefore, that God's promise could only be fulfilled if God himself supernaturally brought about the conception and birth of the son by the power of his Spirit. Abraham nevertheless trusted him whom he considered faithful to bring this about in his own wonderful way.

"And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness". (Genesis 15.6).

Why did Abraham believe God? Was he the kind of man who did not reason about difficult matters and preferred just to leave them to God to achieve though he could neither understand nor comprehend them in any way? Was fatalistic resignation Abraham's concept of surrendering to the will of God? No - this man Abraham is set forth in the Bible as the great figurehead of faith in a human creature whose example should be followed by all men (Galatians 3.9). He considered the promise, reasoned about it, came to a conclusion it was true, and then believed. We have a fine summary of his thoughts in this passage:

"Abraham is the father of us all, as it is written, 'I have made you the father of many nations' - in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told 'So shall your descendants be'. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was 'reckoned to him as righteousness'." (Romans 4.16-22).

He reasoned carefully about the promise. He questioned whether it could be fulfilled. He could not naturally have a son but he knew that God was faithful and if God had promised to give him a son, then because of the faithfulness of God to his own word, the promise must come true. Abraham began with this precept firmly fixed in his mind:

"Every word of God proves true". (Proverbs 30.5).

Knowing this he believed that God would fulfil his promise. But he did not stop there - he reasoned further as to how God could bring this about. God would have to intervene in the natural order. He would have to cause something to happen which otherwise could not naturally take place. He believed, as Paul put it to the Roman Christians, that God "calls into existence things that do not exist" (Romans 4.17). Because of this exercise of faith, because he reasoned carefully about the matter and did not just accept the promise fatalistically, he came to understand how the son would be conceived and in so doing gained a greater understanding of the mind and will of God as well. God highly commended him for this exercise of faith. Abraham did not believe, as some men foolishly do, that God can just do anything he pleases according to his arbitrary will and that no one can question his acts - even when what purports to be an act of God is altogether morally questionable. Abraham did not have such a low concept of God.

He believed that God is absolutely righteous and that he would never do something which human conscience would con-firm to be unrighteous. He knew that God, whatever he did, would always act within the bounds of his own absolute moral holiness and perfection. Some consider that this attitude limits the power of God to do as he chooses - not so Abraham. He believed in a God of eternal righteousness who was all the more exalted and glorified by his own refusal to choose to do anything that would go against his own love of righteousness and holiness. As he said on another occasion, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18.25). He knew that God's will is always good and acceptable and perfect.

He knew that it was within the moral holiness of God, coupled with his omnipotence, to bring about the son he had promised. So, as Paul said, after he had reasoned about this, "no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised". (Romans 4.20). This process of reasoning strengthened his faith so that he did not just believe the promise through blind, uncomprehending acceptance of God's word, but rather saw by his faith what was behind that word - God's ability to bring "into existence things that do not exist" and when he saw this, he understood the promise, he gained knowledge of the ways of God, and because he obtained this better comprehension of the nature of God and his works, he was able to believe with sound reason (and not blind resignation) the promise he received. He was justifiably "fully convinced that God was able to do as he had promised".

God commended him for this process of faith - and because he displayed his faith by carefully reasoning about the promise in the light of God's own righteous character, God "reckoned it to him as righteousness". Such is the faith God requires from us. Such was the faith of Abraham - and therefore he is set before us as the ideal example of a man who had true faith in God.


Ten years after God had first given his great promises to Abraham, his wife Sarah complained to him of her barrenness. So she suggested to him that he should bear offspring through her maid Hagar. (Genesis 16.2).

When Hagar had conceived a child, however, instead of remembering the circumstances in which she was able to bear it, she looked on Sarah with contempt and Sarah, grieved by this betrayal of trust, drove Hagar away into the wilderness. (Genesis 16.6). Nevertheless the Lord, in his perfect justice and mercy, commanded her to return to Sarah and at the same time promised that her descendants would be multiplied into a great nation as well. Then the Lord said to her:

"Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael; because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen". (Genesis 16.11-12). When the child was born, Abraham did as the Lord had commanded and called the son Ishmael (meaning "God hears") and as far as he was concerned, this was the fulfilment of the promise God had given him. Accordingly he temporarily abandoned his belief that the promised son would be born of his wife Sarah. He looked on Ishmael with extreme favour, persuaded that he was the child of the promise.

For thirteen years Abraham looked on as Ishmael grew up. Ishmael had by this time almost reached adulthood and Abraham looked forward to seeing the beginning of the offspring he longed for who would herald the fulfilment of God's promise that he would give him descendants as many as the stars in the sky. But the first of a number of shocks, designed to really test his faith in the faithfulness of God, was about to confront him.

After thirteen silent years during which Ishmael grew to the threshold of manhood, God again spoke to Abraham and said these words:

"I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly". (Genesis 17.1-2).

Once again God renewed his promise that he was to be the father of kings and nations (Genesis 17.6). With Ishmael now approaching adulthood, Abraham no doubt eagerly anticipated what God still had to say to him. But he was in for a surprise. God said to him of Sarah his wife:

"I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her". (Genesis 17.16). At first Abraham marvelled at this promise. Both he and his wife were now twenty three years older than they were when God first promised him that he would have a son. Was Sarah now to become the mother of nations? Was God to make his covenant with the son of his wife rather than the son of her maid after all? Abraham took surprise now that he should bear a son through Sarah his wife and said to the Lord:

"Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" (Genesis 17.17).

But then, overwhelmed by his long expectancy of the fulfilment of God's covenant through Ishmael and struck by God's word that the son he had promised was to come from his wife Sarah, Abraham said to the Lord:

"0 that Ishmael might live in thy sight.'" (Genesis 17.8).

0 that Ishmael may be the apple of your eye, the child of your favours, he pleaded. But God said to him:

"No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him". (Genesis 17.19).

This must have been a bitter pill for Abraham to swallow. His hopes for Ishmael vanished like a mist. God promised that he would make Ishmael the father of a great nation after the flesh (Genesis 17.20), but his covenant - a richly spiritual one - was to be made through Isaac after the Spirit.

However deeply this might have affected Abraham, he was a deeply spiritual man and he was, as a man of true faith, concerned only about spiritual matters. Maintaining his faith without wavering, he again believed the Lord and began to look forward to the child who was to be born of the Spirit by the will of God. Accordingly he dismissed from his hopes the child who was born of the flesh through the will of himself, his wife and his mistress. From now on he anticipated the day when Isaac would be born to him.

God was so determined that his promise should be properly fulfilled that he ensured that Ishmael should not appear to be the child of his spiritual covenant. He had said to Hagar:

"He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen". (Genesis 16.12).

He shall be a "wild ass of a man", God said, meaning that he would be a thoroughly unspiritual man, a man of flesh and blood alone and born of the flesh alone. In every way he would be sharply contrasted with Isaac who was to be a deeply spiritual man, born of the Spirit by the special will of God.


God had not promised the birth of Ishmael to Abraham -he spoke of Isaac when he first promised that he would give Abraham a son through whom all the nations of the earth in the coming ages would bless themselves.

The Quran confirms that no tidings of the birth of Ishmael were given to Abraham but that Isaac alone was the son who was promised to him. The promise of the birth of Isaac is recorded in the Quran in these words: "And we gave him tidings of the birth of Isaac, a Prophet of the righteous". (Surah 37.112).

The Quran says nothing of any tidings being given about the birth of Ishmael but whenever it does speak of such tidings it always refers to Isaac or specifically names him as the son who was promised (See also Surah 11.71 as well where Isaac is again named as the promised son). It is wise at this stage to note that the Quran takes no issue with the Bible on the chain of events we have thus far considered and that, when it does refer to them, it plainly endorses them as we have seen.

God fulfilled his promise and Isaac was duly born when Abraham was a hundred years old. (Genesis 21.1-3). Nevertheless Ishmael took exception to Isaac and the favour of God upon him and began to trouble him while he played, envious of the blessings that had been promised to his offspring. (Genesis 21.9). The Bible says of Ishmael's treatment of Isaac:

"He who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit". (Galatians 4.29).

God's warning that Ishmael's hand would be against every man was coming true. He was seeking for his offspring after the flesh the blessings promised to Isaac's offspring after the Spirit. Sarah perceived this and said to Abraham:

"Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac". (Genesis 21.10).

Because Ishmael was born of the flesh and only of a slave woman at that, whereas Isaac was born of the Spirit according to the promise of a free woman, God commanded Abraham to hearken to the voice of his wife and to part from Hagar for Ishmael was not his true son, being born only of a slave woman (Genesis 21.12). Isaac, however, was the only son of his wife Sarah, the free woman, and God had promised "through Isaac shall your descendants be named". (Genesis 21.12). So from that day Abraham bid Hagar and Ishmael farewell and remained with Sarah and his only son by her, Isaac. The years went by and Abraham lived in the land of the Philistines. (Genesis 21. 34). Gradually, however, the intense anticipation of the fulfilment of God's promise began to possess Abraham again as he saw his son approach adulthood. Presently he expected to see some of those descendants God had promised him. As he had done many years before, Abraham eagerly awaited the fulfilment of his promise.

But if the rejection of Ishmael came as a shock to him, far worse was to follow now. God was nowhere near finished with testing and proving the intensity and degree of his faith. The final and great test was about to confront him.


After living for some time in the land of the Philistines, Abraham heard again the voice of God calling him by name "Abraham.'" (Genesis 22.1). Immediately he responded "Here am I". Filled with excitement at the prospect of knowing more of the effective realisation of God's promises to him, he eagerly awaited the message God was to give him. Was his son now to become the forefather of many nations?

With keen anticipation he expected some indication of the fulfilment of God's promise that he was to have descendants as many as the stars in the sky. But a sword was about to pierce his soul. For God immediately said to him: "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 upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you". (Genesis 22.2).

What a command this was: Ishmael had left him and Isaac alone was with him. With great awe and wonder Abraham received this command to sacrifice Isaac his son.

The Quran confirms the Biblical account of the sacrifice and also plainly supports the clear statement in the Bible that it was Isaac who was to be sacrificed. We read of Abraham:

"My Lord! Vouchsafe me of the righteous. So We gave him tidings of a gentle son. And when his son was old enough to walk with him, Abraham said: 0 my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice thee". (Surah 37.100-102).

It is quite obvious that the son who was to be sacrificed was the same son whose birth was foretold. We have seen from other passages in the Quran that the birth of Isaac alone was foretold to Abraham and it is clearly this son who was to be offered up.

Secondly in the same Surah (37), we find a lengthy account of various significant incidents in the lives of the prophets of old who are all mentioned by name. In the case of Abraham, after the narration of the tidings of the birth of the son and the vision to sacrifice the same son, we read:

"And We gave him tidings of the birth of Isaac, a Prophet of the righteous. And We blessed him and Isaac". (Surah 37.112-113).

These verses are clearly a summary of the narrative about the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham as a test of their mutual faithfulness to God throughout the whole ordeal until God provided a ram in Isaac's place. Clearly the Quran here agrees with the Bible in making Isaac the son who was to be sacrificed. Ishmael is mentioned elsewhere in the Quran by name (particularly in the passage about the construction of the Ka'aba where he is named as Abraham's helper - Surah 2.125) but is nowhere mentioned in this passage about the sacrifice wherein Isaac is expressly mentioned twice by name.

Accordingly it must be concluded that the Quran supports the Bible in making Isaac the object of the sacrifice. Certainly no fair and impartial exposition of Surah 37. 100-113 can produce the conclusion that it was Ishmael who was to be sacrificed in the vision that Abraham saw.

Abraham must have been struck with bewilderment when he first heard this command to sacrifice his son Isaac. If we suggested that he received this order without any emotional shock or immediate repulsion in his heart at what he was commanded to do, we would dishonour Abraham as a real man of God. We cannot believe that such a father who loved his son so much could automatically respond to the command with unaffected resignation to it or with a straightforward complacency with the divine will.

The very wording of the command shows that God did not expect it to be received without heart-rending astonishment but rather that he intended that Abraham should be shocked to the core of his great human soul. God deliberately placed emphasis on the nature of the price Abraham was to pay to fulfil this demand and quite clearly determined to test him to the extreme of his affections and love for his son and for God: "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". (Genesis 22.2).

What a tremendous trial of faith this was for Abraham. God put him to a severe threefold test - firstly to show his overriding love for God by giving that which was dearest to his heart and which could not be replaced, even his only son; secondly to maintain his trust in the absolute moral holiness and trustworthiness of God who he had hitherto believed would never will something that was evil or morally questionable; and thirdly to persevere in his faith in the steadfast faithfulness of God to his own promise that he would yet give him descendants through this son as many as the stars in the sky.

For some real faith implies an unquestioning resignation to what appears to be the will of God, no matter how improbable or morally suspect the exercise of that will may appear to be. Abraham was not such a man. He could not summarily abandon himself to the command to sacrifice his son without considerable reflection on its implications and circumstances. God confronted him with this awful test of his faith because God knew that this man would never go through with the command unless, as in the case of the birth of Isaac, he was fully convinced both of the moral excellence of the order and its thorough consistency with the promise that God would give him descendants as many as the stars in the sky.

The greatness of this man's faith is found in his refusal to believe anything unless it was credible - no matter who commanded it - and his determination to understand and recognise the credibility of that which appeared to be overpoweringly incredible - when the One who gave the command was the God in whose absolute holiness and faithfulness he had always trusted, the "Holy God who shows himself holy in righteousness". (Isaiah 5.16).

God would have been most unimpressed with Abraham's attitude if he had simply resigned himself to the divine will that his son should be sacrificed without any serious consideration of what was involved in the matter. God wanted him to explore at length the conciliation between the apparent horror of the command and the transparent eternal trustworthiness of the God who gave it- because through this he intended to reveal to him the glory of his salvation for all mankind which flesh and blood could never show to him.


Abraham had reasoned very carefully about the promise that his wife would bear him a son. With this same inspired reasoning this man, who sought earnestly to gain as much understanding and knowledge as he could of the God he loved, through the commands and promises he was given, thought through the command to sacrifice his son according to the test God had set in a threefold form before him.

The first test - too often considered to be the only one before his eyes - was for this man the easiest of the three. He was required to prove that his love for God was unsurpassed by his love for anything else by giving up that which was dearest to his heart - his son Isaac. God did not require his possessions, goods or material wealth - he required that which Abraham could neither replace nor substitute, something of his very own being, his only son. Because he, as a true father, loved his son so much, it must have been a heart-breaking ordeal to part with him. But Abraham had already endured the command to part with Ishmael, his son by the slave woman. And because of his deep love for God, he resolved to obey God again and in doing so give up even his only son by his wife Sarah.

The other two tests were more severe, however. The first had related only to the nature of Abraham's love for God. The other two related to the nature of God himself! Firstly, in his time, Abraham witnessed with moral abhorrence and repulsion the manner of worship which his contemporaries offered to the idols they had created. To him the worship of idols was really offered to demons - and the formalities of this worship confirmed his beliefs about it. The worst idolaters offered their own sons up as sacrifices to their idols - and to Abraham this was the last word in human degradation and wickedness.

Now he was confronted with a similar order to sacrifice his own son to the God he worshipped in spirit and in truth. How could he reconcile this command with his belief that God was absolutely moral and holy? Abraham did not have the low concept of God that some men have. To these God's omnipotence allows him to do anything arbitrary as he pleases. To them any suggestion that God can only do what is morally and properly right is a restriction on his power to do anything he chooses. To Abraham such arbitrary acts, far from being proof of God's power, would be evidence of a lamentable weakness in his moral character.

Abraham had a high concept of God. He believed that God was absolutely holy and righteous and that he bound himself accordingly to do only that which was morally right and proper at all times. In the circumstances he was constrained to reconcile in his mind the moral holiness of God and the apparent contradiction of it that confronted him in the command to sacrifice his son.

Secondly he had to consider this command in the light of God's promise that he would have descendants as many as the stars in the sky. How could God fulfil his promise if his son was to die and be cremated before he could bear any offspring and descendants? Abraham was confronted with a command which at face value was morally questionable and which made the earlier promise apparently devoid of any possibility now of fulfilment. But as he set about considering all this, he was destined to resolve this whole matter in such a way that he was to find the significance of the sacrifice far more astonishing than its immediate implications.

He began by presuming that "Every word of God proves true" (Proverbs 30.5). Therefore that which appeared to be morally questionable must in some way be morally excellent -and he was determined to find out what that excellence was. Secondly that which now appeared to be beyond the possibility of fulfilment must in the providence of God yet be fulfilled -and with these reasonings Abraham sought out the meaning of the command he had been given.

God at first had promised him a son through whom he was to have innumerable descendants. The promise consisted of two extremes - the birth of Isaac by God's intervention at the beginning, and countless descendants by his will and power at the end. In between these two suddenly came the command to sacrifice. Abraham could not believe that it was contrary to or destructive of the earlier promise he had received. God gave the promise - the same God gave the command to sacrifice. Because of his knowledge of God's total consistency in his acts, Abraham believed that the command to sacrifice, rather than violating the promise, was inseparably linked to it. He concluded that the miraculous birth, the sacrifice and the descendants were all linked together and that somehow the promise of descendants was dependent upon and was to be fulfilled through the sacrifice of Isaac.

There was only one way that Isaac could beget offspring after he was sacrificed - by God raising him from the dead. Abraham had realised earlier that Isaac could only be born through the power of God who could cause things to exist that do not exist. Therefore he concluded that if God could create Isaac out of nothing, he could also raise him from the ashes after he was sacrificed as a burnt offering. As Paul said of Abraham, he believed in God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4. 17). (The Quran confirms, in Surah 2.260, his faith that God could give life to the dead). Or, as another writer put it:

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said. 'Through Isaac shall your descendants be named'. He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back". (Hebrews 11.17-19).

Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. This resolved the apparent impossibility of the fulfilment of the promise. It also led to Abraham resolving the moral issue as well. Abraham considered that the Isaac who was to beget all these descendants was to be a risen Isaac - one who could, in a resurrected body, fulfil the promise of God. When Abraham reasoned that the remarkable promise of descendants was dependent upon the renewed, remarkable condition of the son who was to beget them, he saw at last the moral excellence of the command. Somehow, only through a resurrection and a body which had overcome death, could the promise be fulfilled. Abraham rejoiced before God as, in a wondrous triumph of faith, he resolved in his mind the moral excellence and consistent nature of the command he had received - and the God who had given it. But although he now saw its practical nature, he was yet to discover its ultimate significance.


Abraham, as we have seen, discounted the idea that faith was a bare surrender to the will of God. He believed that it required an exercise of reasoning so that the will of God could be understood and justifiably followed. But he also believed that such enquiring faith should seek out the mind and purpose of God behind his will and promptly proceeded to do this in respect of the command to sacrifice his son. Such is true, discerning faith and for such faith Abraham was deeply commended by God.

He began by considering what God had said to him "I have made you the father of many nations". (Romans 4.17). Because of his faith, God had made him both the prime example of true faith among men and also the father of the faithful. God approved both his faith and trust and accordingly decreed that those who had faith like Abraham were to become his sons and be blessed with him. (Romans 4.11-12, Galatians 3.7).

Because of his faith Abraham became the father of many nations. But, he reasoned, surely God is truly the Father of the faithful? And were not his faith and trust motivated purely by God's faithfulness and trustworthiness? He considered that his faith in God was like the reflection of the sun's light by the moon. For all its brilliance, the moon merely reflects the light of the sun, but the sun generates its own light. Abraham considered that his faith and trust were merely reflections of God's inherent faithfulness and eternal trustworthiness.

He saw his high status, therefore, merely as a reflection of God's great glory in heaven. He saw that, as father of the faithful, he was merely a type of the true Father in heaven. He then realised that if he was only a reflection and a type, then so were his son, the unusual birth, the sacrifice, the resurrection and the physical descendants. The whole process issued from a man who was merely a type of the real Father in heaven. Abraham was merely the physical reflection of the spiritual reality in heaven.

Abraham put it all together. The father was to have a son in this world born wonderfully of a woman by the Spirit and this son was to be a decidedly spiritual man all his days. Before he could have any descendants he was to be sacrificed as an offering to God, struck down by the hand of his own father. But he would rise from the dead and the risen son would beget descendants of great number through whom the nations of the world would be blessed.

By searching out the meaning of all this as he moved away from the reflection to the reality, Abraham was able to outline in his mind a glorious process of salvation that was to fill him with unspeakable joy. God, the true Father, was to send his own Son into the world, born miraculously of a woman by the power of his Holy Spirit, to be a man who would live solely by the Spirit he was to be born by- a man who spiritually would be the image of his eternal Father in every way. By his own eternally spiritual nature, he would transform men of all ages and in all nations from sinners of mere flesh and blood into saints of true spiritual dignity and would ultimately bring these offspring of the Spirit to eternal glory in the kingdom of God he had come to make available to them. But first he was to be sacrificed as an offering for sin. He was to burn within as he endured the wrath of God on behalf of sinners of every nation and in every age. He was to be struck down, not only physically at the hand of man, but spiritually by the hand of his own Father as he endured his wrath against the sins of men so that he might make a full atonement for them.

The Son of God was to rise from the dead, however, and the risen Son was to make available to men of true faith the Spirit of God so that they might become not only children of Abraham through the manner of their faith but spiritually children of God through the saving reality of that faith.

To put it plainly, in one glorious flash of inspiration and revelation, Abraham saw the whole of the Christian Gospel. By a faithful consideration of nothing more than two apparently contradictory divine statements, he worked out the whole of God's plan of salvation. When Isaac asked him where the sacrifice was, Abraham answered him with joy in his heart:

"God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son". (Genesis 22.8).

As he spoke to his son, he knew that God's Son was to become "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1.29). But as Isaac was one of those who was to become one of the objects of the atoning work of the Son of God, he could not ultimately be slain as his type. God only wanted a full shadow and reflection of the work of his Son to be formed in Abraham's mind. But for the perfection of the type, it was necessary that something figuring the work of the Son of God should be sacrificed instead of (and indeed in place of) Isaac. So a lamb without blemish, caught in the thicket, was slain instead as God stopped the human sacrifice and deeply commended Abraham for his steadfast faith, love and trust. (Genesis 22.11-13). For the Lamb of God was to be caught in the thicket of sin as he died as a sufficient offering once for all for the sins of God's true people. But, while he beheld by the eye of faith the redeeming work of the Son of God through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed, Abraham once again was reminded of the great blessings God had promised to his descendants. When the sacrifice of the lamb was over, God said to him:

"Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves because you have obeyed my voice". (Genesis 22.16-18).

Abraham realised that those who were to be redeemed by the work of the Son of God were in some way to be his descendants as well. Abraham was promised that all the nations would be blessed through his son - and, although he had seen that Isaac was only a physical type of the true Saviour, yet he knew that the real, effective outworking of the promise had been made to his descendants through his son. Abraham realised that the Son of God according to the Spirit was to become his son according to the flesh - and that his real descendants were to be those who would obtain the blessings promised through faith in his greater son yet to be born. Abraham saw that his true offspring were not to be his sons by the flesh but his students by faith:

"It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants". (Romans 9.8).

From that day Abraham looked forward with joy to another age when his greater son would be born to redeem the world. In the fullness of time this greater son was born. As Isaac had been born of the Spirit of a barren woman, so Jesus Christ was conceived and born of the Spirit by a virgin woman. The true Son of Abraham had been born. But although Isaac had Abraham for his immediate physical father, Jesus had no human father, being descended from Abraham only through his mother and her line from Abraham. God was the Father of Jesus in an eternal and spiritual sense and whereas Jesus was the promised Son of Abraham, he was the real Son of God. Abraham knew that the Son of God was to be the real Redeemer of his many descendants and that which Abraham had looked forward to with great longing and joy had now come into the world.

When some of the Jews, arguing hotly with Jesus in later years, appealed to their status as the physical sons of Abraham in support of their claim that they were the heirs to God's blessings, Jesus reminded them that Abraham had vested his hopes, not in his immediate physical offspring, their forefather Isaac; but in his greater son after the flesh, Jesus himself, the Son of God according to the Spirit:

"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad". (John 8.56).

Abraham looked forward to the coming of Jesus, his greater son, to redeem the world from sin. It is for this reason that one of the first titles Jesus is given in the Gospels is "the Son of Abraham". (Matthew 1.1). He is the ultimate Redeemer -the one who was to really bring about that which was prefigured in the sacrifice of Isaac many years earlier. Both Jesus and Isaac were properly descended from Abraham according to the promise but as Isaac was really only the son of Abraham, the reflection, so Jesus is ultimately the Son of God, the true Father of the faithful, the reality.

Abraham, who exercised his faith and reasoned deeply in his heart about the command to sacrifice his son, saw the salvation of God in one glorious comprehension of the significance of the sacrifice. He foresaw the crucifixion of Christ and knew that it was to be the Son of God who was to be made a sacrifice for sin so that the blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants might become real to men in all nations who would turn to faith in Jesus:

"That in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith". (Galatians 3.14).

God revealed to Abraham that he was to send his own Son Jesus Christ into the world, born of Abraham's seed as his greater son, so that the blessings he had promised to all nations might take real effect through the saving death of his Son on the cross and his subsequent resurrection to glory and honour at the right hand of God:

"And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying 'In you shall all the nations be blessed'. So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith". (Galatians 3.8-9).

But there remains one more thing to consider. God said to Abraham "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love" (Genesis 22.2). This called for the greatest manifestation of the love of Abraham for God - there was nothing greater that he could sacrifice to prove his surpassing love for God in heaven. He had to sacrifice something living that had come from him - something that would cost him far more than all his material possessions put together.

There is ultimately only one reason for this - God did not ask him to sacrifice his son just to test his love for him-rather it was through this that God desired to impress on Abraham how great his love was for him and all mankind. He was to send his only Son into the world to become a sacrifice for Abraham and all mankind as a glorious manifestation of his infinite, undying love for wayward sinners.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life". (John 3.16).

What greater sacrifice could a man make for God than to give his own son for him? What greater proof of God's love for man can be found than this - that he gave his only Son to die for our sins? And God only required that Abraham should contemplate the sacrifice. But God himself actually went right through with his love for men by giving his Son to die for our sins so that we may obtain the opportunity to possess eternal life through faith in him.

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him". (1 John 4.9).

Just as Isaac willingly showed complacency with the will of God, so Jesus willingly of his own free will laid down his life for us. If God had redeemed us through anything he had created, it would have cost him nothing for he created it out of nothing. But God never asked any man to do more for him than he was prepared to do for men. He commanded Abraham to give up his own son who came from his own body. So God gave his own Son for us - one who was not created but whose blessed presence the Father hod enjoyed from all eternity.

What a wondrous proof of God's love we have in this -that he gave his own Son to die for our sins. Abraham's exercise of love for God through the sacrifice of his only son was a magnificent shadow of God's love for us being made manifest through the sacrifice of his only Son.

Could God have tested Abraham's love for him any more deeply than he did by commanding him to give his own son as a proof of his love? Could the deep love of God for us be proved in any way greater than this - that he gave his Son to save us from our sins?

"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?" (Romans 8.32).

"In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins". (1 John 4.10).


Once a year the Muslim world commemorates the deep, wondrous love of Abraham for God in being willing to spare not even his own son to give a full, effectual proof of that love. Every day of the year, however, the Christian world remembers the deep, magnificent love of God for men in being willing also to spare not even his own Son to prove once for all his eternal love for us and his desire that we should not perish but, through faith in Jesus his Son, obtain eternal life.

With deep compassion we view the Eid sacrifice as an unwitting reminder of the revelation God gave Abraham of his salvation to come through his Son Jesus Christ which was to be fully foreshadowed in the sacrifice of Isaac. When we reflect on the sacrifice, should we remind ourselves of a man and his love for God, or should we not really see this whole matter in its true perspective and look to God and remind ourselves of his undying love for men? When Eid-ul-Adha comes again, will it once again be the love and faith of a man that impresses you, or will it be the transcendent love and faithfulness of God towards men that moves your heart to wonder and joy?

By exercising deep, penetrating faith, Abraham saw that God was to send his Son into the world to die as a sacrifice for our sins so that we might be redeemed to God. When he foresaw the coming of Jesus, he rejoiced with great joy in his heart at the redemption he was to achieve (John 8.56).

Today we look forward with exceeding joy to the return of Jesus Christ whom God has made the Saviour of the world. (1 John 4.14). We are the true sons of Abraham because we follow the example of the faith which he had by looking unto Jesus for our salvation from sin and its consequences to righteousness and a place in the kingdom of God. We are assured that the blessings which God promised him will be ours when Jesus comes again. As it is written:

"If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise". (Galatians 3.29).

Will you not also share these blessings with us by turning and putting your whole faith in Jesus, the Son of God, so that you too may enjoy forever the unspeakable riches of his grace and kindness towards us? Or will you continue to reject the love of God fully manifested before your eyes and become instead one of those with whom he is not pleased, those, who by refusing to put their faith in his Son, have incurred his anger and have gone astray?

The Muslim Eid sacrifice is a frank reminder of the great expression, not only of Abraham's love for God, but of God's great love for hell-bound sinners in giving his only Son to die for the sins of the world so that some, by forsaking their sin and by trusting in the Son, might be redeemed from the awful wrath of God and become instead the heirs of his grace. Such men alone are partakers of the life of God - all other men are the objects of his wrath.

"He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life". (1 John 5.12).

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him". (John 3.36).

Overview on John Gilchrist's booklets
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