Isaac’s story is unusual in that it began 25 years before he was conceived. His father Abram (Abraham) was 75 years old and childless when he answered Jehovah’s strange call to leave his native Ur in Chaldea (southern Iraq today) to become the father of a countless nation in a land he knew nothing about, except that Jehovah would lead him there. Hebrews 11:8 says: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” True to His word, Jehovah led Abram and his wife Sarai to Canaan. Immediately He appeared and made a promise: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7 NIV). And there Abram established himself as an exclusive Jehovah-worshiper by building an altar to His name. Bad Choices However, because of a severe famine, Abram moved to Egypt, though he had no instruction from God to go there. It’s a consistent lesson in Scripture that where the Lord leads His devotees He also provides for them. Abram would need time and sad experience to learn that lesson. The insecurity of finding himself off God’s map for his life led Abram to compromise his integrity – and his wife’s security. Fearing the pagans would kill him to have her, he lied that she was his sister, not his wife. Sure enough, Pharaoh himself took Sarai into his harem, and “treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels” (Gen. 12:10-16). From a moral perspective it was a bad bargain, and even worse from the faith perspective.
After the Lord got him out of that crisis, Abram returned with his new-found wealth to Canaan and his altar. But another faith crisis arose. Abram and Sarai were not getting younger, and they were still childless. How was Jehovah ever going to fulfill His promise of innumerable descendants? Then Sarai had an idea: she persuaded Abram to have a child by a young slave girl she had brought back among their Egyptian acquisitions. But this child, Ishmael, born when Abram was 86 years old, was not the child God had promised. He was trouble, as was his mother who now had a status which her mistress did not have.
God Fulfills His Promise
Jehovah insisted that he would give Abram a son by Sarai. Eventually, after more tests of Abram’s faith and another “she’s-my-sister-not-my-wife” escapade, God fulfilled His promise. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah (God changed their names) was ninety. What joy to finally hold in their arms the promised son for whom Abraham waited one fourth of his life!
Now 14-year-old Ishmael was jealous and mean to his newborn brother. So, to Abraham’s great grief (the result of doing things his way), he had to expel Ishmael and his mother from his home by his wife’s and God’s order. Ishmael – and his descendants – became a perpetual enemy to Isaac and his descendants, right up to this century.
Stronger Faith, Bigger Test
No doubt Abraham nurtured his son in the faith and told of his own adventures and failures. But the greatest test of faith for both father and son was just ahead. One day God told Abraham to take Isaac to a distant mountaintop and offer him as a sacrifice! Because he had learned to trust God without question, there is no hint of hesitation in the inspired account. Isaac, too, would find his faith tested and strengthened through the experience.
Abraham took Isaac and some servants on a three-day trek to the mountain. His faith was evident when he said to his servant: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Gen. 22:5). Come back? Wasn’t he going to sacrifice his son? As father and son climbed, Isaac said, “Father? The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham’s heart was breaking, but his faith was strong: “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (22:8).
Hebrews 11:17-19 comments: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”
The story is rich with prophetic meaning when we compare Abraham to God the Father sacrificing His only Son. That Son, Jesus Christ, went “as a lamb to the slaughter and … did not open His mouth” in protest (Isa. 53:7).
Though he went on until the Lord stopped him, Abraham had an inner confidence that the God who led him, provided for him and never failed to keep His promises, would somehow give Isaac back to him, even if through death. All this time we hear no complaint from Isaac. As his dad laid the firewood on the altar, then tied up Isaac and laid him on the wood, what was going through the boy’s mind? Did he ask his father what he was doing? Did Abraham tell him? We must conclude that Abraham’s unwavering faith was mirrored in Isaac’s own trust of his father. Although we don’t read much about Isaac’s faith, we can’t fail to see it in his quiet submission as his father raised the knife. What a lesson for us when we are tempted to think that God is neglecting or abusing us.
Years later, when Isaac was 40, his father sent a servant to bring a wife for him from his ancestral family back in Mesopotamia. He trusted his father and waited. Today, Isaac might be seen as a “mama’s boy” who didn’t marry until after Sarah died, and who was too dependent on his father to act on his own. But it seems God is teaching us lessons: Trust God’s timing. Trust God’s plan.
Even Abraham’s servant-administrator shared his master’s faith. Sent to fetch a bride for Isaac, he asked for God’s guidance and a clear sign, and praised God for the answer (Gen. 24). And God put together another miraculous chain of events to bring Isaac and Rebekah together. This story also is prophetic: as Abraham sent his servant to get Isaac’s bride, so God has sent the Holy Spirit to earth to gather Christ’s bride, the Church, to bring her home to Christ. Isaac waited almost as long as his father did to have a son – 20 years. He was 40 when he married Rebekah and 60 when his twins were born (Gen. 25:20, 26).
There was not always harmony in Abraham and Sarah’s home, but Isaac’s home seemed even more divided. Before their birth, the twins Esau and Jacob struggled in Rebekah’s womb. Stressed, she prayed to the Lord, and He told her: “Two nations are in your womb … two peoples … within you; one … will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Their personalities were established from birth. The first came out red and hairy, and thus was named Esau, which means “red.” The other came out grasping his brother’s heel, so he was named Jacob, which means “heel grabber” and implies deception and manipulation. Jacob became a scoundrel.
The main division in the home was that “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob,” a homebody (Gen. 25:28). Parents who play favorites among their children put a major crack in a home’s foundation. Apparently God’s prophecy to Rebekah about the younger serving the elder became an obsession which she passed on to Jacob, who connived to “steal” birthright privileges from his older brother. Grandfather Abraham had learned that you make trouble when you try to help God fulfill His promises. Each generation seemed to want to learn its lessons the hard way.
At some point, Isaac repeated his father’s mistakes. In a time of famine he went down to Egypt, and there he also lied about his wife to save his neck. Thus son, like father, made a fool of himself. In Abraham’s case, the lie was a half-truth, since Sarah was actually his half-sister (Gen. 20:11-13). In Isaac’s case, Rebekah was not his sister, but she was his second cousin (Gen. 22:20-23). Repeated mistakes become more complicated and serious.
Isaac’s later blindness and premature expectation of death (Gen. 27:2-4) seem to suggest spiritual weakness and faithlessness in his later years, which left him vulnerable to Jacob’s scheming theft of the birthright. An Abraham-like faith relationship with God probably would have spared him the deception and resulting frustration. One frustration for Isaac was that he missed most of his grandchildren by Jacob. It’s not clear just when Jacob returned home, but he seemed to be in no hurry, living for a time in Succoth, Shechem, Bethel and Eder. The narrative suggests he arrived about the time his father died (Gen. 33:17-20; 35:6,21-22,27-29).
What Can We Learn?
Isaac was a son of promise, born by God’s intervention. Most likely his parents told him of the miraculous circumstances of his birth, emphasizing God’s hand in it, and the superiority of His plan and of trusting Him. Parents are responsible to know God intimately and bring their children into that intimacy.
As a boy, Isaac evidently shared his father’s faith and willingly submitted to being offered as a sacrifice to God. Often parents today dedicate their newborns to God. How good when the children follow their parents’ faith.
Isaac knew of the God-directed circumstances surrounding the selecting of his bride. The Word says he loved Rebekah (Gen. 24:67), but sadly their relationship deteriorated into a routine in which their children became the central focus. This damaged all family relationships.
In later years, Isaac’s faith declined to near irrelevance in his life. It faded with age, and he finished weakly – a sad example of what happens to many even today. There is so much we can learn from Isaac’s life. The question is, will we?
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org