The Odyssey Life of Isaac

Isaac’s life, much like that of legendary movie figure Forrest Gump, was an odyssey – part of several historical events, but not the focus of the story. He is mentioned in the middle of the common Bible bookend 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 figures, not having the same high profile recognition.

God’s monumental blessing of Abraham is quoted 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 his and his wife from Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah and promised they would miraculously become parents of a boy in their old age, a son whom He 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 with his mother away.[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]

Abraham’s faith was tested by God placing Isaac’s life at great risk as a youth. Unbeknownst to Isaac, he was to be sacrificed to God on a Moriah mount by Abraham.[10] Carrying the wood for the sacrifice, Isaac suspected something wasn’t right and pointed it out to Abraham – 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 in the act of killing his only son and instead provided an entangled ram nearby for the substitute sacrifice. 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. [13]

Mount Moriah from that point forward would become the centerpoint location of holiness to God. King David would later purchase the land, build an alter and offer forgiveness sacrifices to God on Mount Moriah for his sin as King. Greatly moved when fire came down from Heaven and consumed the burnt offering sacrifice, David announced this very place on Mount Moriah would become the location of the Temple eventually built there by his son Solomon.[14]

Marriage of Isaac to Rebekah 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; emphasized God’s value of virginity and is the first of only three appearances in the Bible of the rare Hebrew words, ha-almah.

Judaism traces a fundamental marriage tenet back to Abraham, the marriage 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.[15]

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? Devised by the servant, the miraculous answer to his complex sign served as the divine revelation of Rebekah as the chosen one for Isaac.

Rebekah is the first of only three women in the entire Bible to be referred to as ha-almah, “the virgin.” Second was Miriam, the sister and savior of Moses. Third is the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 foretelling the birth of a son to ha-almah. The Genesis story of finding Isaac’s bride is the codex for defining the Hebrew word meanings for ha-almah (the virgin), betulah (virgin), na ‘arah (girl) and `ishshah (woman).[16]

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.[17] 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.

Jacob liked to cook while Esau loved to hunt. One day Esau returned home famished from a hunting trip. The aroma of Jacob’s stew was a magnet to Esau who asked, if not begged, for a helping. Jacob recognized an opportunity and struck a bargain with Esau to exchange his firstborn birthright for some stew.[18] The repercussion would manifest itself many years later.[19]

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.

One day Philistine King Abimelech saw Isaac caressing Rebekah and realized they were married. After confronting Isaac, the King issued a command, under the penalty of death, that no one was to touch the couple.[20]

About this time, while still dwelling in the land of the Philistines, God blessed Isaac as he had his father, Abraham: [21]

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, who was nearly blind, announced to Esau the time had come for his firstborn blessing. He sent Esau on a hunting trip to get meat for the event.

Rebekah, Isaac’s wife and mother of Esau and Jacob, heard the conversation and quickly went to Jacob with a plan to swindle the blessing from Isaac before Esau returned home. Skeptical at first, Jacob went along with the plan and used sheep skin to fool Isaac who felt and smelled the imposter pelt believing the earthy scent to be Esau.

Thinking he was blessing Esau, Isaac 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 heard what had happened. Esau wanted to kill his twin brother, but Rebekah 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, the 12th son of Israel, Benjamin, was born. Sadly, Rachel died during childbirth near Bethlehem.[22]

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 be legitimate, fulfilled without the life of Isaac?

 

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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] I Chronicles 21:18, 2 Chronicles 3:1, 2 Samuel 24:15-25.
[15] Genesis 24:7-8, 57-58.
[16] Genesis 24:16-44.
[17] Genesis 25:21, 27.
[18] Genesis 25:29-34.
[19] Genesis 27:37-38.
[20] Genesis 26:1-10.
[21] CR Genesis 17:21, 25:11, 26:3-5, 24, 35:12; 1 Chronicles 16:16.
[22] 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.”
[23] Genesis 35:28-29.

Abraham – Patriarch of Jews, Muslims and Christians

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, irony in all the major world religions is that Jews, Muslims and Christians have a common religious patriarch – Abraham. Muslims trace their lineage back to Ishmael, son of Abraham.[i] Jews trace their ancestry back to King DavidJacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Similarly, Christians trace the lineage of Jesus through the line of David all the way back to Abraham.[ii]

A Chaldean being born in the Chaldees, a future region of Babylon, Abram moved with his father, Terah, and their entire family to Haran in the land of Canaan.[iii] Decades later as a 75-year old man, God told Abram to move his own family to an unnamed destination promising “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[iv] Faithfully, Abram eventually resettled not far from the mounts of Moriah near a city named Salem.

Abram one day asked God how His blessing would be honored since he and his wife, Sarai, were childless and very old. They had already second guessed God by agreeing that Abram would produce a child through Sarai’s maid servant, Hagar, their son being named Ismael.

In a rare angelic birth announcement, God promised Abram and Sarai she would miraculously have a son at her old age of 90, the newborn to be named Isaac.[v] An “angel of the Lord” blessed Abram, changed his name to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and promised Abraham that his descendants would produce nations and kings, a seemingly difficult concept for a man who had no nation to call his own:

Gen. 17:5-6 “And your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you.” (Complete Jewish Bible)

After Isaac was older, God tested Abraham’s faith once again instructing him to sacrifice his only son without whom the promise of a royal legacy would also die.[vi] Horrific human sacrifices, such as to the pagan gods Baal and Moloch, were not uncommon in that era. On the sacrificial alter, Isaac was spared at the last moment by the Angel of the Lord and was redeemed with a substitute sacrificial ram entangled in a thicket.[vii]

Isaac went on to marry Rebekah, a story in its own right. To them was born a set of paternal twin boys, Esau and Jacob, with completely opposite personalities. Eventually Jacob, the second born, would deceive his blind father and steal Esau’s firstborn blessing.[viii] Isaac unwittingly passed along to Jacob his inheritance blessing that he received from his own father Abraham.

Enraged, Esau planned to kill his twin brother, but Rebekah tipped off Jacob who fled the country. Over the next 20 years in exile, Jacob fathered 10 sons through his first wife, Leah, and one to his second wife, Rachel. Jacob decided to risk returning to his homeland with all his family and possessions still believing Esau might want to kill him.[ix]

Ratcheting up the fear factor, the night before entering his homeland Jacob received word that Esau was coming to meet him with a band of 400 men – certainly not the appearance of a friendly welcome home party. In a dream that night, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.[x] The next day, Israel entered the land of Abraham and much to his relief, Esau welcomed him with open arms.[xi]

Rachel would die during the childbirth of Israel’s last and 12th son, Benjamin. She was buried near Ephrath, in the district of Bethlehem, a very short distance from Salem, one day to be called Jerusalem.[xii] Israel’s sons would live to become known as the fathers of the 12 tribes of the Children of Israel.[xiii]

Years later, Israel still often called Jacob, and his sons were forced to flee their enemies. Returning with his clan to the site of Bethel, the place where God had changed Jacob’s name, he offered a sacrifice. God reappeared to Jacob reinforcing that his name had been changed to Israel and blessed him saying:

Gen 35:11 …”I am the Almighty God; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a multitude of nations shall come into existence from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins. (CJB)[xiv]

A severe famine in the land of Canaan compelled Israel to send his sons to Egypt in search of food as his grandfather Abraham had once done. The second most powerful man in Egypt turned out to be their long lost brother, Joseph, whom the jealous brothers had sold into slavery years before lying to their father he had been killed by a wild animal.[xv]

Returning home to get their father and families, eventually all would be joyfully reunited in Egypt with Joseph where they lived out their lives under his protection. Before Israel died, he gave a blessing to each of his sons. For only one son, Judah, did he provide a blessing of power and royalty describing him as a lion:

Gen 49:8-10 “Judah, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you.  A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah.  From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?  The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the student of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him will be a gathering of peoples.” (CJB)

Rabbi Rashi, one of Judaism’s most revered scriptural interpreters, identified Shiloh as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs” and the scepter refers to the royal lineage of David and thereafter.”[xvi] According to Rashi, the prophetic blessing of Judah was a pretext to the establishment of the kingdom of David.

Jesus of Nazareth is a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,  all of whom were blessed by God to produce a kingdom – was it merely by chance that Jesus was born in this lineage, one prophesied for the Messiah?

 

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

REFERENCES:

[i] Qur’an Surah 2:127-128, 133; 3:68, 84.  Cross reference Qur’an passages about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Surah 3:65; 4:163; 6:84; 19:47-52; 29:27; 33:7; 38:45-47.
[ii] I Chronicles chapter 1. Matthew 1. Luke 3. Qur’an Surah 3:33; 19:58.
[iii] Genesis 11- 12.
[iv] Genesis 12:3.  NASB, NKJV, NRSV.
[v] Genesis 15, 17, 21.  Qur’an Surah 11:69-73; 14:39; 21:72; 37:109-112.
[vi] “Human Sacrifices.”   Bible-history.com.  n.d.  <http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/human_sacrifice.html>  Hefner, Alan G. “Baal.”  Encyclopedia Mythica. 2004.  <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/baal.html>  “Sacrifice.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.
[vii] Genesis 22.
[viii] Genesis 25, 27, 29.
[ix] Genesis 29-30.
[x] Genesis 32, 35.
[xi] Genesis 33.
[xii] Genesis 35.
[xiii] Genesis 35; I Chronicles 2.  Qur’an cites the “Children of Israel” 41 times – Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
[xiv] Cross reference Qur’an Surah 19:6; 21:71
[xv] Genesis chapters 37; 39-47.  Qur’an 12:4-102, 111.
[xvi] Rashi. The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary.  Commentary on Gensis 49:10.  “Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki).”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2017.  Mindel, Nissan. “Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki – Rashi.”  Chabad.org. 2017.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111831/jewish/Rabbi-Shlomo-Yitzchaki-Rashi.htm>