Isaac, God’s ‘Grandchild’
They say that God has no Grandchildren! But is that really true? I mean kids who grow up in Christian homes and just seem to ‘morph’ their way into the Kingdom!
When you ask them when did they come to know Christ they genuinely answer that the really don’t know, they just always knew him and talked with him as a friend! They know he’s their saviour, yet they don’t know when or how! He just is!
To you and me it might sound far fetched, after all we’ve probably both been brought up in the good old Protestant tradition of ‘salvation by faith and not by works of the flesh!’ Yet I think there are some problems with accepting that view unreservedly. One of them is called Isaac!
Isaac was an unusual character in some ways, born to an old man and woman long after they were past child bearing age He was promised to them by God but the promise was so ‘out there’ to them that Sarah actually laughed in disbelief Yet the promise came about.
‘Isaac’ means ‘Laughter’ and some say that the reason for the name was because of the joy they felt at the birth of the child of the promise, but I can’t help thinking that part of it was to remind them that they laughed at God!
What was the thought when they named their child? was it joy at finally having a son to call their own? Or was it tinged with a little bit of sorrow at the fact that they didn’t really believe God. Matthew Henry brings out the fact that while it was Abraham who named Isaac he only gives the name that God has told him to
In Middle Eastern culture a name means so much more than it does in Western culture, in Eastern culture the name often describes the character. Abram had his name changed from ‘Father of many’ to Abraham meaning ‘Father of Nations.’ Even Isaac’s own son had his name changed by God from Jacob (meaning trickster because of his deceitful nature) to Israel (meaning contended with God) so for him to be named Isaac (meaning he laughs or laughter) was prophetic of his life.
Isaac may have been born into luxury, and to godly parents, but there must have been a time when he took ownership of his own walk with God. We don’t know when it would have been but it must have happened. Maybe that happened on Mount Moria!
The story is found in Genesis chapter 22. Some time after Abraham was forced to send Ishmael and Hagar away God decides to test him and tells him to go to Mount Moria and offer Isaac up as a burnt offering.
This is one of the lost famous stories in the whole Bible, but the idea that God would require a human sacrifice would be a real shock to us today. However it woudn’t have been such a shock to Abraham and Isaac, or would it?
Both of them grew up and lived in a place where Human sacrifice was the norm. One of the chief ‘gods’ of Canaan was ‘Molech’ the name literally means ‘King’ and that is what he was regarded as- King of the Canaanites! His worship was that of child sacrifice . As such Abraham and Isaac would have been familiar with the worship of this deity. But he wasn’t the ‘god’ they worshipped! The God that Abraham had learned from his fathers about was one that accepted animal sacrifices, but had never accepted Human ones.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Abraham really believed that even if Isaac paid with his life he would be literally raised from the dead 17 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, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death
That’s all very well for Abraham, but he wasn’t the one on the altar about to forfeit his life! What was it that kept Isaac on that altar, was it love and trust in his dad? Was it love and trust in his God?
Dr Chuck Messler in his ‘through the Bible in 24 hours series points out that when you look at Mount Moria using a topographical map you see that there is actually a saddle there, the lower part of the saddle is Mount Zion and the Temple is built there. But he points out that Abraham and Isaac would have headed for the ‘High Place’ which is further up and is actually shaped like a skull (sound familiar!). If that is correct then you have Abraham being tested to sacrifice Isaac in the same place where 2,200 years later Jesus would himself pay the price of sin
Isaac was a background man; he wasn’t the leader that his father was . He was always in the background, but there was something about him, he was the kind of man God called and needed him to be.
He’s important to us in that without him there would have been no promise to Abraham. Without his willingness to follow both God and his father in the Mountains of Moria there would have been no dramatic climax and God the Father would not have seen just how far Abraham was willing to go in his obedience.
Finding a wife.
This is a fascinating passage because it simply goes against all that we practice in the West. Yet in many ways it’s still a standard practice in many parts of the East! The arranged marriage!
Abraham is getting on in years. It’s about three years after the death of Sarah and maybe Abraham is getting worried that he hasn’t seen any Grandkids yet! (After all, what’s happened to the promise?) Anyway Abraham wants Isaac to have a ‘good wife’ and he knows just where to get one so he sends his servant back to Haran to find his Brother’s family.
This was the way that things were done in the Ancient World, it was the Patriarch of the family who would make the decisions on whom the sons would marry and where they were to live. While the son remained under the roof of the Patriarch, even if he was married with children you are still under the authority of the Patriarch of the family! In fact, until Rebecca shows up at the entrance to the tent Isaac has nothing to do with the story, apart from the fact that the bride was for him! Could it be that he actually didn’t know what Abraham was doing? Did he care? (I mean, if he cared then you’d expect some input from him right?)
The way that this takes place is in line with the ancient practices of the East as well as the modern day practice in some parts of the world today! Isaac’s mind wasn’t clouded by the Greek notion of ‘Love’ (it was the Greeks who first thought up the idea of linking Love and marriage at the beginning, all the other cultures said that Love came after marriage and was a result of it! Both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia saw Marriage as of little more than social or legal importance for producing children
Sins of the fathers
How else can you describe a situation where the son commits the same sin as the father and still tells the tale?
Some Theologians have seen this as evidence that the stories were written down much later than when they actually took place and the compiler got the stories mixed up. But we have already seen in our discussions about Abraham that he probably could read and write, and if he couldn’t then certainly his scribes could (They were not solitary wanderers, they had sheep, cattle, donkeys etc, in other words they were very wealthy!)
Famine strikes the land and Isaac thinks about moving to Egypt but God tells him to stay in the land so he moves to Gerar to stay with Abimilech the King there. Josephus tells us that the Abimilech who had been a good friend to Abraham previously. At first everything went well. But Isaac had committed the same mistake Abraham had and had told everyone Rebecca was his sister! Josephus argues that Abimilech sent Isaac away out of jealousy for the way God blessed Isaac, but the scripture paints a slightly different picture that Abimilech sent Isaac away because he was afraid what God would do to him if someone took Rebecca ‘for a wife’ in other words if they violated her and God intervened!. Clearly he was not happy!!
I’m so glad that the Bible tells is ‘warts and all!’ I mean, if we were to make a story up then this one part you would leave out, unless it was in a written record handed down to you from generation to generation!
Digging the ‘Wells of the father’
Here is the crux of the matter. Isaac is still in the land that had been promised, yet he’s no nearer to receiving the promise, so what does he do? He sets off and digs wells. Each time he digs a well Abimilech sends men to steal the well from him, so he sets off and digs another well!
The scriptures tell us that this all happened in a time of famine and while Isaac was there he sowed seed and (in a time of famine) he reaped a hundred fold reward for his work. Both Josephus and Matthew Henry say that what happened next was out of jealousy as they were struggling but Isaac had plenty, soon hw was powerful enough to be a threat to them so Abimilech forced Isaac to move,
Isaac, for his part moves what he thinks is an appropriate distance and digs a well only to find that the shepherds from Gerar think he’s not moved far enough and come to claim the well.
Isaac knew that the Promised Land may be promised to him and his children, but he knew it’s not the right time and he shows patience in waiting. Matthew Henry points out that Isaac’s household at this time would have been like a Royal Court and probably bigger than the King’s
Finally, we read that Isaac re-dug the wells of his father. Actually, in the spiritual sense he was doing this all his life. As he slowly took on the role of Patriarch from Abraham, he also took on the faith of his father and made it his own. At the start of his life he relied on the faith of his father (he was God’s Grandchild) but there came a time when he showed that faith to be his own and moved forward with God.
As far as we know, Isaac never had a powerful encounter with God like Abraham and Jacob both did. He was a much more sedate person preferring to be in the background, yet God had a plan for him and used him.
He was very much a man of his time, he was also a man we can learn about the times from and from whom we can learn how we should react when the promise seems so far off!
Genesis 21: Abraham was 99 years old when Isaac was born and Sarah was 90.
Genesis 18 verse 12: the Hebrew actually says that she mocked under her breath saying ‘I’m worn out and I’m going to get the pleasure of an OLD MAN!’
Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible:: Genesis chapter 21 Matthew Henry says that Abraham laughed for joy when he was first heard the promise. Genesis 17 verse 19 was where God commanded him to name Isaac.
Hebrews chapter 11 verse 17
Through the Bible in 24 hours: CD Hour seven. Abraham tested.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia: ‘Isaac’
Civilisations of the Ancient World: Edited by Professor Dominic Rathbone: Thomas Hudson Publising: 2009: Pge 226. Even today in Egypt you are not considered fully adult until you are married with three Children.
Civilisations IBID: Page 28 also see the following website and follow the links for Marriage in Ancient Egypt http://womenshistory.about.com/od/marriageancient/Marriage_History_Ancient_World.htm
Josephus: Antiquities. 1. 18.2
Matthew Henry: Genesis chapter 26 verses 12-25
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