Isaac – the Odyssey Life

Isaac’s life was an odyssey much like that of legendary movie figure Forrest Gump – he was part of several Biblical historical events, but not the focus of the story. Still, he is mentioned in the middle of the common Scriptural phrase, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”[1]

Abraham , the father of Isaac, is the patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity having been blessed by God to be the father of many nations and kings.[2] Jacob, Isaac’s son, had his name changed by God to Israel and became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.[3] Isaac’s life fell between these two iconic Biblical figures without the same high profile recognition.

God’s monumental blessing of Abraham appears in Genesis when several religiously fundamental actions took place.[4] Not only was Abraham promised to be the father of nations and kings, God changed the names of both him and his wife – from Abram to Abraham and Sarah and Sarai – and promised they would miraculously become parents of a boy in their old age, a son whom God named Isaac.[5] At the age of 90, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, her only child.[6]

As one might expect, Sarah was very protective of Isaac, to the point she pressed Abraham to remove his half-brother, Ishmael, from the picture. Although he loved Ishmael very much, Abraham sent him away with his mother, Hagar.[7] Ismael went on to become the patriarch of the Muslim world.[8] Isaac and Ishmael would meet again when they buried their father.[9]

Ipex goat, Negev Desert

Abraham’s faith was tested by God placing Isaac’s life at great risk as a youth. Unbeknownst to Isaac, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son on a Moriah mount.[10] Carrying the wood for the sacrifice, Isaac suspected something wasn’t right and pointed it out to his father – they didn’t have an animal to sacrifice.[11] “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering,” Abraham told Isaac.[12]

Drama peaked at the final moment when Isaac was ready to be slain on the sacrificial alter. An “angel of the Lord” stopped Abraham from killing his only son and instead provided a ram entangled in a nearby thicket for the substitute sacrifice.[13] Known in Judaism as “The Binding of Isaac,” the event is also is mentioned in the New Testament Book of Hebrews as an example of faith.[14]

Mount Moriah from that point forward would become the centerpoint location of holiness to God. Hundreds of years later, King David would purchase the land on Mount Moriah, personally offer a sacrifice, then announced this very place on Mount Moriah would become the location of the Temple eventually built there by his son Solomon.[15]

Rebekah and Isaac’s marriage was a much less remarkable occasion than the significant events surrounding it. The multifaceted story involved the miraculous revelation of a bride for Isaac; established a traditional Jewish marriage right; and emphasized God’s value of virginity.

Judaism traces a fundamental marriage tenet back to Abraham, the right of refusal by a potential bride. Abraham’s servant had been instructed to find a bride for Isaac back in his homeland with only one requirement – she had to be willing to accept or decline the marriage offer.[16]

With no other expectations, guidance or clues, what was a servant to do in a strange land looking to find a bride for his master’s son? The servant prayed for a specific sign so complex and unusual, when it happened it left no doubt Rebekah was the chosen one for Isaac.

Issac’s bride, Rebekah, would become the first of only three females in the Bible described by the rare Hebrew words, ha-almah, “the virgin.” The Genesis story serves as the codex for defining the Hebrew word meanings for ha-almah (the virgin), betulah (virgin), na ‘arah (girl) and `ishshah (woman).[17] Second appearance of ha-almah, was in reference to Miriam, the sister and savior of Moses.[18] Third is the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 foretelling the birth of a son to ha-almah.

Prayers of Isaac and Rebekah to give them children after 20 years of marriage were answered with the birth of paternal twins, Esau the older and Jacob the younger.[19] Not only was their appearance vastly different, so was their personality and interests. The twins were a handful for their parents even in their sons’ adult years and the repercussions would manifest themselves many years later.

To escape a famine, Isaac moved his family to the land occupied by the Philistines. Rebekah was very beautiful, so much so, that Isaac feared someone might kill him to steal his wife. As a safeguard, the couple lived under the pretense that Rebekah was his sister.[20]

One day Philistine King Abimelech saw Isaac caressing Rebekah and realized that she was married to Isaac. After confronting Isaac for his deception, the King issued a command, under the penalty of death, that no one was to touch the couple.[21] This became the lead-up story to Isaac’s blessing from God the dovetailed Abraham’s blessing:[22]

Gen 26:3-5 “Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” (NKJV)

In his old age, Isaac announced to Esau the time had come for his firstborn blessing and sent him on a hunting trip to get meat for the occasion. Rebekah overheard the conversation and quickly went to Jacob with a plan to swindle the blessing from Isaac. Skeptical at first, Jacob went along with the plan where he used sheep skin to fool his blind father who felt and smelled the imposter pelt believing the earthy scent to be that of Esau.

Thinking he was blessing Esau, Isaac instead blessed Jacob and in doing so, passed along God’s blessings of his father, Abraham. Esau soon returned from hunting and became enraged when he learned what had happened. Esau wanted to kill his twin brother, but Rebekah had tipped off Jacob who fled the country.

Over the next 20 years of exile in Abraham’s homeland, Jacob fathered 11 sons. After returning to the land of Canaan and reconciling with Esau, Jacob who had been renamed “Israel” by God, became the father of his  12th son named Benjamin. Sadly, Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died during childbirth near Bethlehem.[23]

After Isaac blessed Jacob, the Genesis account over the next 7 chapters focuses on the life of Jacob.[23] Briefly mentioning the end of Isaac’s life, Genesis records that he lived a full life until the ripe old age of 180 years. His twin sons buried him thus bringing to an end the odyssey life of Isaac.

Isaac received the blessing of God given to his father Abraham where “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Like a link in a chain, if one link is broken, the chain is broken. Could any Messiah prophesy legitimately be fulfilled without the life of Isaac?

 

Updated August 25, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] NetBible.org. Word search for “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.” 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=god%20of%20abraham%20Isaac%20jacob&page=1>
[2] Genesis 17:5-8.
[3] Genesis 32 :28, 35 :10.  Qur’an Surah 3:84, 4:163, 12:38,19:58, 38:45. Pratt, John P.  “Divine Calendars Testify of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” JohnPratt.com. 2003. <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2003/abraham.html>
[4] Genesis 17-18, 21.
[5] Genesis 17-18.
[6] Genesis 21:1-8.
[7] Genesis 21:8-20.
[8] Qur’an Surah 2:127-128, 133.
[9] Genesis 25:9.
[10] “Human Sacrifices.”  Bible-history.com. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/human_sacrifice.html>  Hefner, Alan G. “Baal.”  Encyclopedia Mythica. 2004. <https://web.archive.org/web/20140822080410/http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html>  “Sacrifice.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12984-sacrifice>
[11] Genesis 22:7.
[12] ESV, NASB, NKJV, NET.
[13] Hebrews 11:17-19. “The Binding of Isaac.” MyJewishLearning.com. 2020. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-binding-of-isaac>
[14] Shuchat, Chaya. Smithsonian Magazine. “Ibex Mountain Goat seen while touring the Negev Desert in Israel.” Aug. 2015. <https://photocontest.smithsonianmag.com/photocontest/detail/ibex-mountain-goat-seen-while-touring-the-negev-desert-in-israel>
[15] I Chronicles 21:18, 2 Chronicles 3:1, 2 Samuel 24:15-25.
[16] Genesis 24:7-8, 57-58.
[17] Genesis 24:16-44.
[18] Exodus 2:8.
[19] Genesis 25:21, 27, 29-34;
[20] Genesis 26:1-7.
[21] Genesis 26:8-10.
[22] CR Genesis 17:21, 25:11, 26:3-5, 24, 35:12; 1 Chronicles 16:16.
[23] Genesis 35:10, 16-20; 48:7. 33:18.  “The Story of Abraham.” The History of Israel. n.d. <https://web.archive.org/web/20190827032818/http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/story-of-abraham.html>  Pratt. “Divine Calendars Testify of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
[24] Genesis 35:28-29.

John the Baptist – Does His Existence Validate the Gospels?

Fierce opponents of Christianity are among secular sources who recognize John the Baptist as a real historical figure. Does the historical existence of John the Baptist lend credibility to the Gospels where he is a featured prominent figure in the life of Jesus of Nazareth?
Mark begins its Gospel immediately by declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, then declares John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 preparing the way for the LORD.[1] Malachi 3:1 is another prophecy foretelling a messenger would prepare the arrival of the Messiah.

John, the eyewitness Gospel, recognizes John the Baptist as the one who testified about the Light identified as Jesus Christ.[2] Denying he is the Messiah, the Priests and Levites then questioned him about his true identity. Quoting Isaiah 40:3, John the Baptist said it was a prophecy about himself:

JN 1:26, 29 “’I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal!’

“On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, “‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” (NET)

Affirming the existence of John the Baptist is a fierce opponent to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah – the Muslim religion. John the Baptist aka Yahya is referenced in four different books of the Quran. He is described as respectful and obedient to his parents; a devout, noble and chaste person – a prophet and a witness to the truth of the “Word” of God.[3]

Luke’s Gospel and the Quran both describe the miraculous circumstances of the birth of John the Baptist to the barren, aging Elizabeth. Her husband, Zachariah (Zakariya), was struck dumb when an angel delivered the message he was to be a father.[4]

Surah: 21:89-90 “And (remember) Zakariya, when he cried to his Lord… So We listened to him: and We granted him Yahya: We cured his wife’s (Barrenness) for him.”

One of the four Quran references shockingly provides common ground with Judaism and Christianity. John the Baptist is placed in the same company of revered Godly Jewish leaders Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and…Jesus.[5]

Another passionate opponent to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah is Judaism. Nevertheless, the Jewish Encyclopedia in its article for the “New Testament” makes references to the life and teachings of Jesus first starting with John the Baptist:

“The whole picture of John the Baptist and of Jesus as bearers of good tidings to the poor has the stamp of greater truthfulness.”– Jewish Encyclopedia[6]

Formerly a Pharisee member of the Sanhedrin chosen as a general to lead the Jewish military was Flavius Josephus. After his capture by the Romans, he became a Jewish historian for Rome. In Antiquity of the Jews, he specifically wrote about John the Baptist using nearly 300 words.[7]

“…John, that was called the Baptist for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purifications of the body; supporting still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.”
Corroborating the Gospel accounts, Josephus details more unseemly circumstances behind the execution of John the Baptist. The initial setting starts with Tetrarch Herod Antipas being married to the daughter of Arabian Petra King Aretas.

During a trip to Rome, Herod Antipas stayed with his half-brother Herod Philip (their father was the late King Herod); met and fell in love with Philip’s wife, Herodias, sister of Agrippa the Great.[8] The two paramours conspired to move in together after they returned from Rome with the agreement Antipas would divorce his current wife.

“…Herodius took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother of the father’s side; he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married to Philip, the son of Herod, and tetrarch of Galilee…”[9]

Unbeknownst to Herod Antipas, his current wife discovered the tryst. In a preemptive move, she requested to be sent to the castle of Macherus which was near her Arabian king father. Insulted by the infidelity against his daughter, King Aretas sent his army to do battle with the troops of Herod Antipas allegedly over a boarder dispute. Aided by the secret troop support of his offended brother Herold Philip, King Aretas defeated the army of Herod Antipas.[10]

Reasons for why John the Baptist was beheaded can be two distinctly different things, yet both can be true. Matthew and Mark attribute the reason for the execution of John the Baptist to a grudge held by Herodias for being shamed by him.[11]

An insider source to the Gospel authors may very well have been Joanna, household manager of Herod Antipas.[12] She would have had inside contacts with intimate knowledge of the Herod Antipas family thinking.

Josephus attributed a political reason for the beheading of John the Baptist due to the perception that he was a problematic political threat to Antipas:

“…Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death…” – Josephus [13]

Interestingly, Josephus used the word “repent,” a word in Judaism that carries a specific religious connotation, especially for a Pharisee.[14] To repent first requires an act against God’s Law followed by the transgressor’s confession, regret and a promise not to repeat it.[15]

Repentance for violating God’s Law of adultery certainly fits the concept of redemption. On the other hand, execution by a ruler was not necessarily a sin against God, nevertheless, it could not be undone. Antipas had no desire to change his ways and chose to solve the problem with execution.

Twice stated by Josephus, some of the Jews believed the reason for the destruction of Herod Antipas’ army was a punishment from God for killing John the Baptist:

“Now, some of the Jews thought that the destructions of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, called the Baptist, for Herod slew him, who was a good man…” [16]

Judaism, Islam and Christianity, intense opponents of each other’s beliefs, all agree as a fact that John the Baptist was a real historical figure sent by God. With the role of John the Baptist being an integral part of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, does it validate the truthfulness of the Gospels and their accounts about Jesus of Nazareth?

Updated March 31, 2022.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.>

REFERENCES:

[1] Mark 1:2-4. NASB, NKJV.  NetBible.org. Footnotes #5, #7. < http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Mar&chapter=1>
[2] John 1:1-8. NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSB. <http://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Joh&chapter=1>
[3] Quran. Surah 3:39; 19:13-14.
[4] Luke 1:8-25. Quran. Surah: 3:38-41; 19:2-6; 21:89-91.
[5] Quran. Surah: 6:84-86.
[6] “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament> CR Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus, et. al.  The Jewish Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1912. “Luke.” p 251.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=lfoOtGOcIBYC&lpg=PA594&ots=6qoCfVVUz7&dq=wave%20sheaf%20encyclopedia&pg=PA594#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[7] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1. Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Herod Antipas.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624>
[11] Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:17-29.  CR Luke 9:7-9; John 3:24. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4. Bunson. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Herod Antipas; Herodias.”
[12] Luke 8:3.
[13] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2.
[14] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2; Book VIII, Chapter XII.3. Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #22. Trans. and Commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book V, Chapter IX.4; Book VI, Chapter 2.1. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book III, Chapter I.5; Book IV, Chapter III.14, Chapter VIII.2; Book VI, Chapters II.3, III.4; Book VII, Chapter XII.3; Chapter XIII.8.>
[15] Maimonides, Moses. Sefaria.org. Mishna Torah, Repentance 1. <https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Repentance.1?lang=bi> “Teshuvah, or Repentance.” MyJewishLearning.com. 2020. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/repentance>
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2.