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.

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