Abraham, Isaac & Rebekah

According to the Book of Mormon, the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham was done in “similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5). After reviewing the scriptures, it is easy to see how this event was symbolic of the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Consider the following: 
  • In this story, Isaac is a type for the Savior, and Abraham is a type for our Heavenly Father. In fact, the name Abraham means “Father of a multitude.”[1]
  • Furthermore, in this story, Isaac’s brother Ishmael is a type for Satan, for both Ishmael and Satan were cast out of their father’s presence.[2]
  • The birth of Isaac, just like that of Christ’s, was announced beforehand by a heavenly messenger.[3]
  • Just as the virgin birth of our Savior required a miracle, so did the birth of Isaac require a miracle, for Sarah was 90 years old at the time she conceived.[4]
  • Just as Christ was given the birthright from our Heavenly Father, so too was Isaac given the birthright from his father Abraham. In fact, the holder of the birthright in the Old Testament was always meant to represent Christ.[5] This is because when the father died, his inheritance was divided equally between all his children, except for the eldest son who held the birthright. Instead of receiving an equal inheritance, the eldest son was to receive a double portion of his father's inheritance.[6] This helps to explain why the birthright was sometimes fought over in the Old Testament. What is often overlooked, however, was the fact that this double portion was given to the eldest son because it would now be his new responsibility to take care of, and look after, the family.[7] It is for these reasons that the holder of the birthright represented Christ, for it is Christ who holds the birthright in our heavenly family, and who has taken it upon himself to make sure we are all cared for spiritually. It was his responsibility to suffer for our sins so that we may be saved. Because Christ was willing to do this, he will be the greatest in his Father's Kingdom.
  • Both Isaac and Jesus were in their thirties at the time of their sacrifice.[8]
  • The journey to the mountain where Isaac was to be offered took 3 days. Similarly, the journey from the beginning of Christ’s ministry to his sacrifice took 3 years.
  • We read that Abraham laid the wood needed for the offering
    upon Isaac’s back as they journeyed to the location of the sacrifice.[9] And just as Isaac had to carry the wood that he was to be sacrificed on, so too did Jesus carry a 75-100 lbs wooden crossbar on his back to the site of his crucifixion.
  • Furthermore, these two sacrifices were located on the same mountain range and were offered up very closely to one another. Isaac was sacrificed on Mount Moriah, just a few hundred yards away from Golgotha.[10]
  • Just as Jesus submitted willingly to his Father,[11] so too did Isaac, for Isaac, being in his thirties, could have easily resisted his father Abraham who would have been over 100 years old.[12]
  • Both were bound to the wood.[13]
  • In both cases, thorns appear at this point in our story. In Genesis, we read of a ram being caught in a thicket of thorns, and who is then sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Similarly, it is a crown of thorns that Christ wore as he was being crucified. This becomes even more interesting as we come to understand what it is that thorns represent in the scriptures. After Adam's transgression, sin is introduced into the world, and as a result, we read that the earth will begin to produce thorns and thistles naturally.[14] Thorns here represent sin, for both are produced naturally on this fallen earth.[15] With this new insight, we can appreciate that the crown of thorns upon Christ's head represented the sins of the world which he bore.

It is at this point in our story that something interesting happens.  Isaac is treated as if he died on the mount.[16]  The text reads,

So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba (Gen. 22:19).

Where is Isaac?  Although Isaac would have obviously returned with his father, it is interesting that his name is omitted from the text as if he had died on the mount.  In fact, it is not until Isaac gets married to Rebekah two chapters later that he is mentioned again by name.[17]  

As it was with Isaac, so too is it with Christ, for after Christ’s death, Christ has chosen to go unrevealed to the world at large until his Second Coming.  What is interesting about this is that the scriptures often compare the Second Coming to a marriage union between Christ (the Bridegroom) and his Church (the bride).  A case in point is the parable of the ten virgins.  Therefore, Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah, a marriage that occurred two chapters after he was sacrificed on the mount, is simply a continuation of our original story. Christ was sacrificed on Golgotha, and will return in glory at his Second Coming to “marry” his Church. 

The Apostle Paul made this analogy:

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church…. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Eph. 5:23-25).

Once we understand this relationship, we are more able to understand why the terms “adultery” and “fornication” are sometimes used to describe when Israel, in times past, abandoned Jehovah and went off worshiping false gods. For example, the Lord described Israel in Ezekiel “as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband” (Ezek. 16:32).[18] When this occurred, Israel figuratively committed adultery by breaking her “marriage covenant” with the Lord and entering into relationships with other false gods.

The parable of the ten virgins teaches us that this marriage covenant goes into full effect at the Second Coming.  In this parable, Christ, the “bridegroom,”[19] comes unexpectedly to the ten virgins (who represent us as his Church). Unfortunately, however, only about half of his church will be spiritually prepared to meet him (as represented by the five wise virgins).  The five foolish virgins who have procrastinated repentance will consequently be shut out from the marriage ceremony. Only those with oil in their lamps (the Holy Ghost[20]), will be invited in.
Interestingly enough, Joseph Smith also compared the Church to a bride at the second coming.  In his Kirtland temple dedicatory prayer, he asked the Lord that the “church may come forth...and be adorned as a bride for that day when thou shalt unveil the heavens” (D&C 109:73-74).

Keeping this in mind, let us return to the story of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah and see what new insights we can draw.

As you will recall, after Abraham returns home from the mount, his next item of business was to find a wife for Isaac.  He subsequently sends his servant Eliezer all the way to Mesopotamia with this very objective in mind.[21]  The name Eliezer means “comforter.”[22]  If Abraham is a type for our Heavenly Father in our story, you might be able to guess who his servant, whose very name means comforter, represented.  Eliezer represented the Holy Ghost, whose whole purpose during this earth life is to seek out and testify to those who are willing to be united in a “marriage covenant” with Christ.  As it is with the Holy Ghost, so too was it with Eliezer; his objective was to find a bride worthy of Isaac.

In order to find the best bride available, Eliezer came up with a plan. He decided he would sit out by a well near the city with his ten camels and wait.[23]   What was he waiting for?  Eliezer made his own deal with the Lord.  He said, 

Let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom…shall say [to me], Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that [God] hast appointed for thy servant Isaac (Gen. 24:14).  
No doubt, any woman who would offer to do this would be a bride worthy of Isaac.  After all, a thirsty camel can drink up to fifty gallons of water at one sitting,[24] and Eliezer had ten thirsty camels with him!  It would therefore take someone with a great deal of charity to voluntarily draw that much water.  Nevertheless, this was the very thing that Rebekah did.[25]  In addition, Rebekah also offered lodging for Eliezer in her father’s house.[26] Surely this was a bride worthy of Isaac.

Eliezer, when he reached Rebekah’s house, told her and her father
Rebekah and Eliazer
the reason why he came.  He said to them, 

I am Abraham’s servant.  And the Lord hath blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and he hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses.  And Sarah my master’s wife bare a son to my master when she was old: and unto him hath he given all that he hath (Gen. 24:34-36).  

Here Eliezer tells them that Abraham has many riches, which will all be given to his son Isaac.  This means that whoever marries Isaac will become extremely wealthy. The fulfillment of this promise comes to us in modern revelation.  The Lord tells us,

For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him (D&C 84:36-38).

The message is clear: if we will listen to the Holy Ghost and do what he instructs us to do, we will be invited into the marriage ceremony of the bridegroom at the Second Coming.  Those who receive this invitation will receive all that the Father has.

This is exactly what Rebekah chose to do.  She returned with Eliezer to marry Isaac.  And this is where our story gets interesting.

As Rebekah approached Isaac's residence, she saw Isaac approaching and immediately veiled her face.[27]  What is even more interesting is that she kept this veil over her face until after she married Isaac,[28] a practice that is common in many cultures
Rebekah Veils Her Face
even today.  Why did she do this?  In order to understand the symbolism here, we have to understand that there is currently a veil covering our earth.  And just like Rebekah’s veil that was removed at her marriage ceremony, this earthly veil will be removed at our marriage ceremony with the Lord at the Second Coming, for at the Second Coming, “the curtain of heaven [shall] be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up, and the face of the Lord shall be unveiled; And the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him” (D&C 88:95-96).

This is the marriage ceremony.  This is what we should all be striving to live worthy of, and this is what the story of Abraham and Isaac is meant to teach us.  Remember, we are to be “adorned as a bride for that day when [the Lord] shalt unveil the heavens” (D&C 109:73-74), but until then, we are to wear a veil that separates us from the Lord’s presence.  Thus, when women veil their faces, as they commonly did in many ancient cultures, and especially in the story of Isaac and Rebekah, they represent the Church as a whole.  The women represent us, and the veil represents the spiritual blindness that covers our minds, separating us from Christ.  When the veil is removed from the earth at the Second Coming, it will bring us into Christ presence.  If we are found unworthy at that time, we will be consumed by his glory and burned at his coming.  However, if we are found among the five wise virgins we will unite with Christ in a marriage ceremony and live with him in his Father’s kingdom.   

The important thing to remember from this story is that Rebekah agreed to marry a bridegroom she had never seen.  Her face was veiled until the marriage.  She is an example of faith to all of us, for we are also asked to enter into a marriage with one whom we have never seen.  It will require much faith on our part, but if we will listen to the Holy Ghost, we, like Rebekah, will be given “all that [the] Father hath” (D&C 84:38).

Read about other Old Testament "types of Christ" here.

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[1] McConkie and Parry, Guide to Scriptural Symbols, p. 12.
[2] Genesis 21:10, 14.
[3] Genesis  17: Luke 1.
[4] Genesis 17:17.
[5] Journal of Discourses, 21:370.
[6] Deuteronomy 21:17.
[7] “Joseph, Birthright Son of the Covenant.” See also Farms, Pressing Forward With the Book of Mormon, p. 71.
[8] If Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born (see Gen 17:17), and died shortly after his offering at the age of 127 (see Gen 23:1), then Isaac would have been approximately 37 at the time he was offered by his father Abraham.
[9] Genesis 22:6.
[10] See for example Ricks, “Mount Moriah: Some Personal Reflections,” Ensign,  Sept. 1980.
[11] Luke 22:42.
[12] Genesis 17:17.
[13] Genesis 22:9; Matthew 27:35.
[14] Moses 4:24.
[15] Mosiah 3:19.
[16] See also Missler, Hidden Treasures in the Biblical Text, p. 61.
[17] Missler, Hidden Treasures in the Biblical Text, p. 61
[18] See also Revelation 2:14; Ezekiel 16:15-16; Hosea 2; Jeremiah 3:14; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 61:10.
[19] Matthew 25:1.
[20] D&C 45:56-57.
[21] Genesis 24:2-10.
[22] Missler, Hidden Treasures in the Biblical Text, p. 61.
[23] Genesis 24:10-11.
[25] Genesis 24:15-20.
[26] Genesis 24:25.
[27] Genesis 24:65.
[28] Genesis 24:65-67.