Abraham Offers His Only Son — His “Only” Son?

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Image of Abraham and his only son Isaac before offering his sacrifice
Image source: Sweet Publishing

Abraham offers his only son in today’s Bible reading*. Yes, you read that correctly: “his only son”. But didn’t Abraham have a son by Sarah’s servant Hagar? Yes, he did. Ishmael was born fourteen years before Isaac.

So why does Moses refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only” son? Elsewhere we’re told that Isaac was Abraham’s “firstborn” son. (Hebrews 11:17) What gives?

Yes, Ishmael was the first son born to Abraham. But God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would become parents (Genesis 17:16, 19) in their old age and their offspring would number as many as the grains of sand on the seashore and stars in the sky. (Genesis 22:17, 15:5) In fact, God changed Abram’s name (the Father is Exalted) to Abraham (Father of a Multitude) (Genesis 17:5) and Sarai’s name (Noble Woman) to Sarah (Princess). (Genesis 17:15)

However, due to Sarah’s lack of faith, (she had borne no children to Abraham and was beyond childbearing years) she sent Abraham into a tent with her servant, Hagar. Nine months later, Ishmael was born. Abraham would finally have an heir. Or so he thought.

But God doesn’t work in the same way that we do. His ways and thoughts are far superior to ours. (Isaiah 55:9) Fourteen years after Ishmael was born, God miraculously enabled a one-hundred-year-old Abraham and a ninety-year-old Sarah to see the promised heir, Isaac. God says that Abraham’s promised lineage would be traced through Isaac. (Genesis 21:12–13)

Even though Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands and gave Abraham a son through her servant Hagar, God made good on His promise to provide Abraham and Sarah an heir.

Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Bible speaks of Isaac as being Abraham’s special, firstborn son. Ishmael was the son of the flesh, but Isaac was the son of the promise. (Galatians 4:23) Ishmael became the father of the Arabs and Isaac became the father of the Jews. Both Muslims and Jews rightly claim Abraham as their father.


God can do the impossible.

If you think you have ruined God’s will for your life, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! God can redeem our mistakes. In fact, He often does!

But you must turn to Him, admit your mistakes (or outright disobedience), and trust Him to turn things around. Yes, there may be consequences that won’t be resolved on this side of eternity. But know that God is bigger than eternity! God doesn’t promise material prosperity to His children. Instead, He promises something much better: Himself.

God is trustworthy. God is good.
And everything God does is good.

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
– Genesis 20
– Genesis 21
– Genesis 22
– Genesis 23

This devotional was originally published on January 11, 2021.

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