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Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman – Isaac

We’ve all heard the expression, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” but the information about Isaac in Genesis certainly places him in a subordinate position to his father, Abraham, and his son, Jacob.

The first mention of Isaac was when God told Sarah that she would give birth to a son and that she should name him Isaac (which means “he laughs,” a reference to Abraham laughing when God promised him a son). Abraham, who was one hundred years old when Isaac was born, followed God’s command and named his son Isaac.

Sarah was jealous of her slave woman, Hagar and her son, Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son; she was afraid that Ishmael would inherit as much as Isaac. So she demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, which God instructed Abraham to do. The reason God allowed it was because it was “through Isaac that offspring shall be named after” Abraham.

Later God told Abraham to take Isaac, “whom you love,” to the land of Moriah and present him as a burnt-offering on a mountain that God promised to show him. Abraham did as God commanded. On the third day, when they came to the place, Abraham instructed his young servant to stay with the donkey while he and Isaac went to worship. Isaac was suspicious because they were carrying everything except a lamb for a burnt-offering. Abraham told him that God would provide the lamb. When they arrived at the place, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood on top, bound Isaac and placed him on the altar. Abraham took out his knife, but before he killed his son, an angel stopped him; he had proved that he feared God. When Abraham looked up, he saw a ram that was caught in a thicket, so he retrieved the ram and offered it as their burnt-offering. Abraham named the place “The LORD will provide.” Isaac was evidently willing to be sacrificed to God; at least, there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

The angel told Abraham that the LORD said because he had not withheld his only son, the LORD would immeasurably bless him and make his descendants “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” His offspring would conquer their enemies and through them “all the nations of the earth” would be blessed. Abraham, his young slaves, and Isaac returned to Beer-sheba.

After Sarah had been dead three years and Abraham was advanced in years, he sent his most trusted servant to Haran to arrange a bride for Isaac from among his relatives. Abraham was specific that this bride must not to come “from the daughters of the Canaanites.” The servant asked what he should do if the woman was not willing to return with him; if that occurred, should he take Isaac “back to the land from which you came?”

Abraham gave a lengthy answer that was basically don’t you dare take my son back there. He promised that an angel of the LORD would be with them. If the woman refused to follow him, then he would be free from his orders (later Abraham also said he would be blameless if her kindred would not agree to this arrangement). So the servant swore that he would follow his master’s orders. With ten camels and all sorts of choice gifts, the servant left for Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. We assume this city was in Haran since that was Abraham’s former city.

By a well outside the city, the servant paused and prayed that God would grant him success. As a sign, he asks that the girl to whom he says, “Please offer your jar that I may drink,” will respond, “Drink, and I will water your camels,” will be the one whom God has chosen for Isaac. Almost immediately, Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s brother and a beautiful virgin, came to the well to fill her water-jar. After she had filled her jar, the servant said to her, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” Once he had finished drinking, she said she would draw water for his camels also. The servant watched in silence to make certain that she was the LORD’s choice.

After the camels had finished drinking, he gave her “a gold nose-ring weighing a half-shekel, and two bracelets… weighing ten gold shekels.” Then he asked whose daughter she was and if there was room in her father’s house for them to spend the night. She told him and that they would be welcome to spend the night. The servant bowed his head and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham… the LORD has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.” Rebekah ran and told her mother what had happened. Once Rebekah’s brother, Laban, saw the nose-ring and the bracelets, he went out to the spring to meet the man and invited them to come to the house. He had ordered a place prepared for their camels also; when they arrived at Laban’s house the camels were unloaded and they were given straw and fodder. Laban also provided water so the men could wash their feet. Later when a meal was prepared for them, the servant insisted on telling about his errand before they ate.

He told them that he was Abraham’s servant, that Abraham had become wealthy with “flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys.” He also told them about Sarah birthing Isaac even though she was old and that Abraham had given Isaac all he had. He explained Abraham’s charge to find a suitable wife for Isaac and told them everything that had transpired previously up to that point. Then he asked if they would deal loyally and truly with his master. Laban and Bethuel answered that since this arrangement came from the LORD, he could take Rebekah to be the wife of his master’s son. After the agreement, the servant bowed before the LORD. Then he gave silver and gold jewelry and beautiful clothes to Rebekah and costly ornaments to her brother and mother. Then the men ate and drank and spent the night there.

The next morning, Rebekah’s brother and mother begged that she remain with them at least ten days and then she would be free to go. The servant was not pleased; since his journey had been successful, he did not want to delay. When they proposed asking Rebekah, she agreed to go immediately so her brother and mother sent her nurse with her and blessed Rebekah.

Isaac had left Beer-lahai-roi, and settled in the Negeb. One evening during a walk, Isaac saw camels coming. When Rebekah saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel, and asked the servant who the man was who was coming to meet them. When the servant told her that it was his master, she covered herself. Once the servant reported to Isaac all the things that he had happened, Isaac took Rebekah into Sarah’s tent; she became his wife and he loved her.

Abraham gave Isaac “all he had,” but to his concubines’ sons he only gave gifts and sent them “to the east country” – “east,” as in away from God.

When Abraham died at 175 years of age, Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, east of Mamre.

God blessed Isaac, who settled at Beer-lahai-roi

Interestingly, in comparison to Abraham and Jacob, who were the prototypical “wandering Jew,” Isaac never traveled outside Israel. Even when Rebekah seem to be barren, Isaac did not impregnate his wife’s concubine like father had; instead he “pleaded with the Eternal on behalf of his wife” and God heard his prayer. Isaac was sixty when the twins, Jacob and Esau, were born; he had married Rebekah when he was forty. In a culture when men took multiple wives, Isaac’s loyalty and commitment to Rebekah was exceptional.

Where Abram became Abraham and Jacob became Israel, Isaac’s name remained the same (one possible reason for that is that God named him – Genesis 17:19).

When a famine plagued the land, “Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines.” The LORD told Isaac not to go to Egypt, but to settle in the land that the LORD will show him. He was to stay in Gerar “as an alien,” and he would be blessed; the LORD promised to fulfill the oath that was made with Abraham (the covenant was repeated).

When the men of Gerar asked Isaac about his wife, like his father before him, he claimed she was his sister, because he was afraid they might kill him and take Rebekah, because she was so attractive. After Isaac had been in Gerar for a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines happened to see Isaac fondling Rebekah. So Abimelech questioned Isaac if she was his wife and why he said she was his sister. Isaac confessed that he thought he “might die because of her.” Abimelech was appalled and asked why he would have done such a thing. One of Abimelech’s men “might have lain with your wife,” and that would have brought guilt upon them. So Abimelech warned all the people, that anyone who touched Isaac or Rebekah would be put to death.

Isaac farmed the land and reaped a bountiful harvest. The LORD blessed him and he became so wealthy that the Philistines envied him. For spite, apparently, the Philistines stopped up and/or filled all the wells that Abraham’s servants had dug. And Abimelech told Isaac to leave their country because he had “become too powerful.”

So Isaac left, but only went to “the valley of Gerar and settled there.” He (most likely his servants) re-dug the water wells that had been dug in the days of Abraham and Isaac and “gave them the names that his father had given them.” The sheep herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, claiming the water was theirs. So they dug another well but they quarreled over that one, too. Next Isaac moved from there and dug another well that did not cause a quarrel.

Next Isaac went up to Beer-sheba where the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So Isaac built an altar and called on the name of the LORD. Isaac’s servants also dug a well there.

Abimelech, along with his adviser and army commander, visited Isaac. Isaac asked why they came since they hated him and sent him away. They answered that they had notice that the LORD had been with him, so they proposed a treaty with him so that they would not be harmed. They claimed that they did not harm him and sent him away in peace. So Isaac had a feast prepared and they ate and drank. In the morning they pledged a covenant and departed in peace. That same day Isaac’s servants reported that they had found water, so the place was named “Shibah,” which became the city of Beer-sheba (Beer-sheba has been mentioned several times previously as if it already existed).

When Isaac was old, blind, and feared he was near death, he requested that Esau hunt game and prepare a meal of “savory food” so he could bless him before he died. Rebekah overheard them, so she instructed Jacob to get two choice kids from their flock and prepare a meal for Abraham so he would bless him instead. Jacob was worried that Isaac would know he was not Esau: Esau was hairy, while Jacob had smooth skin. His mother said, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my word,” so he got the kids and she prepared the food just like his father loved. Then Rebekah dressed Jacob in Esau’s best garments and put the skins of the kids on his hands and on his neck. Then Jacob took the food and bread that she had prepared to Isaac. Jacob fooled his father and through this deception received his father’s blessing.

When Isaac was 180 years old, he died. His sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him. (Genesis 35:28-29)

Like many sons of great men Isaac lacked the necessary qualities of greatness; he was a good man, but was very passive.

Even though there are no great achievements to enumerate in Isaac’s life, God apparently chose him to continue the covenant line. For many generations the Jewish nation has described God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

As far as can be determined, Isaac accepted Abraham’s method of selecting his bride. Of course, arranged marriages were common. According to Genesis, Isaac loved her. However, because of Isaac’s tendency to be passive, he allowed his wife to run the family and the lives of their sons.

In comparison to almost all of the males in this patriarchal society who had multiple wives and sired children by multiple wives and concubines, Isaac only had one wife and only had children with her. Even when Rebekah seemed to be barren, Isaac did not follow his father’s example and impregnate his wife’s concubine. From a modern perspective, Isaac was a loving, monogamous husband. Isaac’s low point, in my opinion, was when he claimed his wife was his sister, because he was afraid the men of Gerar might kill him and take Rebekah because she was so desirable. Couldn’t the men just as easily have killed Isaac and taken his sister? The only thing I can think of that might be worse than Abraham and Isaac denying their wives was Peter’s denials of Jesus.

Isaac was not an ideal parent since he favored his eldest son, Esau. Perhaps Esau was more like his father – he loved to hunt – while Jacob was, perhaps, not a man’s man. He was his mother’s favorite and her favoritism was carried to extremes. Such favoritism is a certain formula for family strife.

When Isaac was deceived by Jacob, as directed by his mother, and received the blessing that, according to the accepted custom was supposed to be given to the eldest son, Isaac apparently considered it God’s will. He accepted it and did not appear to hold the deception against Jacob.

Topics: Bibles and Bible Study, Biography and Memoir, and God. 8 Points: Point 5: Non-Dogmatic Searchers. Ages: Adult. Texts: Genesis. Resource Types: Articles and Read.

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