coffee and a Bible

Do You Have a Favorite Kid? (Genesis 22:2)

Share the Post:

I have three kids. Two boys and one girl.

I love each of them equally (no matter what they tell you). As any parent would tell you, I love them all differently, and yet equally at the same time. I’m still not sure what that means, but I know it’s true.

That’s why it’s shocking to me that God, in talking to Abraham about sacrificing his son, refers to Isaac three times as “Your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16).

At first glance, we don’t usually notice it. Then it hits us…

What about Ishmael? Did God forget about him?

How Many Children Did Abraham Have?

We know about Isaac. That’s one.

We know about Ishmael. That’s two.

What we don’t usually remember offhand is that Abraham actually had a total of eight sons. After Sarah died, Genesis 25:1-3 mentions that Abraham had six more kids through his second wife, Keturah. 

Those childrens’ names, in order, are Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. According to Genesis 22:6, they were all given a portion of Abraham’s inheritance while Abraham was still alive, then sent to live “in the east.”

The New Testament further complicates matters when they seem to “disagree” on the number of children Abraham has (both conveniently ignore the children of Keturah).

Galatians 4:22 says that Abraham had two sons — Isaac and Ishmael — while Hebrews 11:17 says that Isaac was Abraham’s “only begotten son.”

We’re not even gonna try to get into how Romans 4:16 claims that everyone who is of faith is a son of Abraham. That’s clearly a spiritual context; we’re talking about Abraham’s physical lineage.

As you can tell though, it all gets very confusing very fast.

Why is Isaac Called Abraham’s “Only Son”?

The reason Isaac is referred to as Abraham’s only son most likely comes down to a matter of legal lineage. Since the six sons of Keturah are sent away with a portion of the inheritance, and Ishmael (and Hagar) are driven away by Sarah, Isaac is literally the only legal son under Abraham’s roof.

Genesis 25:5 confirms this: “Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac.” The only reason Abraham would do this is if he considered Isaac his rightful heir, as God had said he would be.

We also have to make a clarification about Keturah. Whereas Genesis 25:1 says that she is essentially Abraham’s second wife, 1 Chronicles 1:32 claims she is actually his concubine. Since she’s dubbed a “secondary wife” — as was the custom in those days — her children really didn’t have any legal standing in the house of Abraham.

Why is Isaac Called “Your Son Whom You Love”?

As if this all couldn’t be more confusing, God also refers to Isaac as “your son, your only son, whom you love” (Genesis 22:2). Does that mean he didn’t love the others?

Clearly not, as we can tell from his concern over sending Ishmael away (Genesis 21:11).

I don’t think that the “son whom you love” comment is meant to imply that Abraham didn’t love the other children. Instead, I think it’s to reveal to Abraham the intensity of the test before him in Genesis 22.

If there was any doubt in how hard it was going to be to lose a child, it’s made doubly hard when you’re reminded how much you love your children. That puts an emotional pull on the moment that can’t be matched by any other means.

It also reveals more about Abraham’s faith in the moment. If he was willing to give up the thing that he arguably loved more than anything else in this life, there is nothing he won’t give up.

Could the same be said about us?