Isaac’s father Abraham uprooted his family in obedience to God, and departed for an unknown land. By comparison, Isaac lived a lackluster life governed by circumstances. In spite of his dull and mediocre lifestyle, Isaac’s life is full of many examples of fellowship with God, about whom very little was known at that time. Abraham, full of vitality and faith, had an encounter with God at the age of 75. God promised him a son who not only would be born to him in his old age, but also would be the first of a mighty nation that would eventually possess the land to which Abraham would go. And through his descendents blessing would come to all nations (Gen. 12:1-8). Abraham waited 25 more years for his promised son. As time passed he became anxious and, on the advice of his barren wife, tried to work out God’s promise his own way (Gen. 16). That illegitimate plan ended in failure, and Abraham’s descendents are still suffering its effects to this day. When Abraham was 99 the Lord told him that in the following year Sarah, just a few years younger, would bear him a son (Gen. 18:1-15). Hearing this, Sarah laughed as she was well past childbearing age. The Lord rebuked her for this laugh of disbelief which later became a laugh of joy at the birth of their son whose name Isaac means “to laugh.” Abraham’s Faith Tested When Isaac was about 12 years old, God appeared to Abraham again and tested his faith to the extreme: “God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about’” (Gen. 22:2). We don’t see Abraham questioning God, but we do see his faith shown by his obedience: “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him ... his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about” (Gen. 22:3-4).
As we follow this story of Abraham and Isaac, we see one of the most remarkable pictures of Christ – the promised Messiah who would become the Savior of the world. Abraham depicts the loving Father, giving his beloved Son as a sacrifice to meet the demand of a holy and righteous God (1 Jn. 4:10). Isaac typifies the submissive and obedient Son, willing to give His life as the Lamb of God’s provision. As they ascended the mountain Isaac asked his father, “The fire and wood are here … but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer was prophetic: “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:7-8). His words epitomize God’s salvation plan which had its fulfillment in the coming of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose death is the basis for our forgiveness and reconciliation with a Holy God: “John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (Jn. 1:29).
We don’t read of any negative reaction from Isaac as his father bound him on the altar; neither do we know what was said after God stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac. It must have been horrifying, yet Isaac was submissive, and Abraham was faithful to God. Isaac heard God’s voice when He called out, “Do not lay a hand on the boy … Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me … your only son” (Gen. 22:11-12). This was probably the first time Isaac heard God speak out loud, and it would be indelibly imprinted in his mind. As the son of God’s promise, the promises to Abraham were confirmed to Isaac years later (Gen. 26:2-6).
Isaac Gets A Wife
Isaac was attached to his aged mother, and was happy living at home until he was in his late thirties. He was grief-stricken when Sarah died at the age of 127, and was comforted only when, at age 40, his father got him a wife. It was not unusual for Abraham to do this.
Knowing of the idolatry and sin of the neighboring Canaanites, he sent his servant back to his own country to find a suitable wife for Isaac (Gen. 24). The servant had explicit instructions and journeyed to the place where Abraham’s relatives lived. As he rested by a well outside of the town, he prayed and asked the Lord to show him who the woman would be, by her attitude and willingness to help. When Rebekah came to draw water from the well, he asked her for a drink. She not only gave him a drink, but offered to water his camels, fulfilling the sign the servant had specified to the Lord (Gen. 24:18-19).
We often take matters into our own hands without ever asking God for direction and help. Then, when things go wrong, we pray. Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th. 5:17). We should be in constant communication with God, and bring Him into every situation of our lives. This is an important lesson for us to learn and practice.
Just as Abraham was careful to see that Isaac married someone in the family of his people, believers today should seek a lifelong partner from among those in the family of God. “Do not be mismated with unbelievers … what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15 RSV). Rebekah agreed to go with the servant, and together with her maids left on the journey to Canaan to wed Isaac. We aren’t told much about the wedding customs at that time, but we are told this: “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent … and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67).
We don’t see much dynamism in Isaac’s life. He seemed happy to accept whatever others planned for him. This may account for some of the problems he had as the father of a dysfunctional family. As parents we need to be decisive, especially when setting the spiritual standards of the home.
A Family For Isaac
Rebekah’s barrenness posed a problem for fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac. No doubt Rebekah was anxious, as Isaac prayed that they would have a child. And the answer came quickly, as we are told in the same verse that “the LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant” (Gen. 25:21). Isaac prayed according to God’s will and received a quick response (1 Jn. 5:14-15). Not only was Rebekah pregnant, but two “babies jostled within her,” causing her to ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” (Gen. 25:22). There’s nothing wrong with asking God “why” if it is with a genuine desire to know His will and not with a rebellious spirit.
Rebekah was told that there were two nations in her womb, that there would be problems between the two, and the older would serve the younger. Is this why Rebekah favored Jacob the younger, and helped him cheat his way into taking the firstborn’s blessings? Esau, the firstborn, became a hunter and outdoorsman. Jacob couldn’t match Esau’s physical skills, but had a very determined nature and used his mind to get what he wanted. This was seen even at birth when he came out grasping his brother’s heel (Gen. 25:26).
Favoritism in Isaac’s family became a real problem that led to irreversible conflict. Isaac favored Esau the hunter, who brought home tasty wild game for the cook pot (Gen. 27). Some fathers favor the child who is good at sports, while ignoring the studious one. Some mothers delight in a child who loves to cook and help with housework, but isn’t as attentive to the one who loves to read, study and hang out with friends. When parents favor one child over another they are asking for trouble. We don’t know if Isaac realized that Rebekah favored Jacob and that he favored Esau, but he should have set the standard of loving each child equally and should have made sure his wife did the same. All family members suffered the consequences of their actions later on.
Rebekah led Jacob to deceive his aged and nearly blind father into thinking he was Esau in order to get the firstborn’s share of the inheritance. The trick worked, but Esau learned the truth and threatened to kill Jacob. Isaac did not even realize how bad the situation was. To save Jacob’s life, Rebekah again set Isaac up, played on his weakness, blamed Esau’s unruly Canaanite wives, and suggested that Jacob travel to her brother’s home to find a wife from among their relatives. Isaac remembered the reasons why his father had gotten his wife from their own kin, and agreed. Rebekah suffered as a result of this manipulation to protect Jacob, and never saw him again.
In His Father’s Footsteps
There was a famine, and Isaac thought he would seek food in Egypt (Gen. 26). However, the Lord commanded him not to return to Egypt, so he went to Gerar where Abimelech was king. There he made the same mistake that Abraham made in Egypt. Because Rebekah was beautiful, Isaac feared that Abimelech might want her for a wife and kill him to get her. He told the Philistines that she was his sister. It’s no wonder that Rebekah had no qualms about deceiving Isaac when he, to protect himself, was ready to sacrifice her to another man to save his own skin. What a contrast to the New Testament command: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Unfortunately, today we find that the same sort of self-love exists, even among believers. The selfishness of spouses is so pronounced that couples are getting divorced at an alarming rate. In Isaac’s situation God over-ruled and protected Rebekah, but she never forgot her husband’s lack of loving care at that time. This may account for her divided loyalty to Isaac when he was old and feeble, and her readiness to deceive her husband and work against his plan to bless Esau.
An Important Positive
Isaac, however, did something which we should emulate: “Isaac re-opened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them” (Gen. 26:18). Isaac acted on his father’s example. He knew that his family and servants depended on a supply of refreshing water. Water in Scripture is an illustration of the Word of God (Eph. 5:26, Ti. 3:5-6) and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power (Jn. 7:37-39). Re-digging the wells Isaac’s father had dug is a wonderful example for us. Every generation needs to dig into the Word to benefit from that refreshing water.
Opening the Word under the Spirit’s guidance (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-15) results in blessing. Once Isaac redug the wells, the Lord confirmed His promises to Abraham – and Isaac was blessed for his obedience. “That night the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you’” (Gen. 26:24). We too can expect God’s blessing when we open the Word and let it quench our thirst for knowing Christ.
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org