Isaac (“laughter”, “he will laugh”) was the only son Abraham had with his wife Sarah. Ishmael was actually Abraham’s firstborn son (by Hagar), but Isaac was treated as Abraham’s firstborn son… and was the heir through which God would continue the lineage of His people. Isaac was the father of Jacob and Esau, and was 1 of the 3 patriarchs of the Israelites.
Isaac was the only biblical patriarch whose name was not changed, and the only one who did not leave Canaan. Compared to those of Abraham and Jacob, Isaac’s story relates fewer incidents of his life. He died when he was 180 years old, making him the longest-lived patriarch.
According to the biblical narrative, Abraham fell on his face and laughed when God imparted the news of their son’s eventual birth. He laughed because Sarah was past the age of childbearing; both she and Abraham were advanced in age. Later, when Sarah overheard 3 messengers of the Lord renew the promise, she laughed inwardly for the same reason. Sarah denied laughing when God questioned Abraham about it.
Birth (Genesis 21:1-21)
It was prophesied to the patriarch Abraham that he would have a son and that his name should be called Isaac. When Abraham became 100years old, this son was born to him by his first wife Sarah. Though this was Abraham’s second son (Ishmael by Hagar), it was Sarah’s first and only child.
On the eighth day from his birth, Isaac was circumcised, as was necessary for all males of Abraham’s household, in order to be in compliance with Yahweh’s covenant.
After Isaac had been weaned, Sarah saw Ishmael mocking him, and urged her husband to cast out Hagar the bondservant and her son, so that Isaac would be Abraham’s sole heir. Abraham was hesitant, but, at God’s order, he listened to his wife’s request.
Think about your name… does it fit you? What did Isaac’s name mean? “He laughs”.
Maybe it reminded Sarah how she laughed at the audacity of God’s will.
Maybe it reminded Abraham of the incredible ways God can answer prayer.
Maybe it reminded Isaac of the joy he brought his elderly parents.
But, Isaac’s name testified to God’s power! God overcame every human “no” with a joyous “yes”.
God still says “yes” to what many would assume must be a “no”.
Binding (Genesis 22:1-24)
At some point in Isaac’s youth, his father Abraham brought him to Mount Moriah. At God’s command, Abraham was to build a sacrificial altar and sacrifice his son Isaac upon it. After he had bound his son to the altar and drawn his knife to kill him, at the very last moment an angel of God prevented Abraham from proceeding. Rather, he was directed to sacrifice a nearby ram, that was stuck in thickets instead. This event served as a test of Abraham’s faith in God, not as an actual human sacrifice.
Family Life (Genesis 24:1-67; 25:19-34)
When Isaac was 40, Abraham sent Eliezer, his steward, into Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac, from his nephew Bethuel’s family. Eliezer chose Rebekah for Isaac. After many years of marriage to Isaac, Rebekah had still not given birth to a child and was believed to be barren. Isaac prayed for her and she conceived. Rebekah gave birth to twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when his 2 sons were born. Isaac favored Esau, and Rebekah favored Jacob.
Occupation (Genesis 26:1-33)
At the age of 75, Isaac moved to Beer-lahai-roi after his father died. When the land experienced famine, he moved to the Philistine land of Gerar where his father once lived. This land was still under the control of King Abimelech, as it was in the days of Abraham. Like his father, Isaac also deceived Abimelech about his wife and also got into the well business.
In an area where water was as precious as gold, Isaac’s jealous Philistine neighbors plugged up his wells, and threatened to drive him away. Plugging a well was a serious crime, but Isaac didn’t retaliate. Instead, he and his men simply dug another well… and then more. Finally, it was decided there was enough room for everyone… and things settled down.
Isaac’s willingness to compromise for the sake of peace headed off a bloody showdown.
It seems Isaac was generally a quiet man who kept to himself. But he was capable of taking action when needed.
Would you be willing to give up an important position or a valuable possession just to keep the peace? There are times you are justified to be angry. But, are your rights the only issue at stake?
You may be in conflict – even now – with family, friends, or co-workers. Ask God to give you the wisdom to know when you should back down… and when you should stand tall.
* Keeping the peace sometimes means giving up your right to be “right”.
Birthright (Genesis 26:34—28:9; 35:27-29)
Isaac grew old and became blind. He called his son Esau and directed him to hunt some venison for him, in order to receive Isaac’s blessing. While Esau was hunting, Jacob, after listening to his mother’s advice, deceived his blind father by misrepresenting himself as Esau and thereby obtained his father’s blessing, such that Jacob became Isaac’s primary heir and Esau was left in an inferior position. According to Genesis 25:29-34, Esau had previously sold his birthright to Jacob for “bread and stew of lentils”. Thereafter, Isaac sent Jacob into Mesopotamia to take a wife of his mother’s brother’s house. After 20 years working for his uncle, Laban, Jacob returned home. He reconciled with his twin brother, Esau, then he and Esau buried their father, Isaac, in Hebron at the age of 180.
According to tradition, the graves of Isaac and Rebekah, along with the graves of Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and Leah, are in the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Isaac’s greatest claim to fame seems to be that he was the son of Abraham, and the father of Jacob. He was a connector… one who carried on.
We sometimes think we’re unimportant if we’re not making waves… making a big splash. But, the simple faithfulness of Isaac should remind us some of us are simply called to be devoted followers… faithful managers of the things given to us.
You can read Isaac’s story in Genesis 18-35.