Isaac: 1. Introduction

Genesis 12‑24  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Having already sought to weigh the history of Abraham, I desire to consider what scripture gives us to learn of Isaac. It is true that much less is said of him than of Abraham on the one hand or of Jacob on the other, even less than of Joseph among the many sons of Jacob. Yet there is not a little, in the spiritual account of him who came between the two chief fathers, distinguished by his own equable, retired, and peaceful way, and indicative of great principles in God's word and ways, not in the O. T. only but also in the New.
Isaac was the pattern of sonship, the child of promise and as Abraham was its depositary, elect, called out, blessed, and to be a blessing universally for the earth at the end, though himself looking higher by faith. Sovereign grace wrought as to both father and son. “For the promise that he should be heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through law, but through righteousness of faith.” Thus only could it be, as it was, according to grace; that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of Abraham's faith, who is father of us all, before the God Whom he believed, Who quickens the dead and calls the things which are not as though they were.
But the progress of revelation as to this is as interesting as instructive. It was when Lot's choice of the well-watered plain of Jordan severed him from the one to whom all the land was promised that Jehovah renewed the assurance of it all not only to Abraham but to his seed (Gen. 12:7; 13:157And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. (Genesis 12:7)
15For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. (Genesis 13:15)
). Still had the patriarch to wait; and when, after his disinterestedness on the occasion of his victory, he lays his childlessness before Jehovah, the word came that not Eliezer, his steward, should be his heir, but he that should come forth out of his own bowels, seed numerous as the stars (15). Then after the episode of Hagar in chap. 16 comes the revelation of God Almighty, El-Shaddai, in chap. 17, and under the outward rite of circumcision, death to the flesh imposed on him and his seed, with a new name to his wife as well as himself; for she too has the promise of the son, whose name was given. Thus however great and fruitful He would make Ishmael, His covenant was to be established in Isaac, whose birth had a time set for it.
The exceptional interest Jehovah took in the birth of Isaac has a still more striking witness in Gen. 18 There in the guise of man He Himself appeared with two angels (compare chap. 19:1) to Abraham, and deigned to partake of the meal he prepared and set before them under the tree in Mamre. Thus and then He specified the precise certainty of the time when Sarah should have a son. For the difficulty lay, humanly speaking, yet more in the wife than in the husband, and her unbelief was reproved. But Abraham as the “friend” of God heard, not of his son's birth only but of the world's judgment, which drew out his soul in intercession for his righteous kinsman and his house in ungodly and lawless Sodom. If his advocacy stopped short, “God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the overthrow.”
After another failure in chap. 20 (more guilty than the first occasion in chap. 12, Jehovah visited Sarah as He had said, and Jehovah did to Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Him on the eighth day Abraham circumcised; and Sarah's laughter was now of overflowing joy and gratitude. But the great feast on the child's weaning drew out Ishmael's mockery, and the expulsion of the bond-maid and her son on Sarah's remonstrance, an allegory to which Gal. 4 gives us the key.
The great change is then adumbrated. For instead of Abimelech reproving Abraham justly, Abraham now reproved the Gentile king; who with the chief captain of his host owns God with him in all that he does. Yet Abraham swears to show him kindness; and they make a covenant. And as the well of the oath was not without significance, so neither was the grove planted there, or the calling on the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God. The day was anticipated when “in the wilderness shall waters break out,” and “the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it.” The blessedness of the coming age for the earth is thus typified.
After these things, and quite distinct from them, God tried Abraham. What is not here for God as well as man! It is the picture, which blind unbelief alone fails to see, of the Only-begotten Son given, of the Lamb which God would provide Himself for a Burnt offering. Here Isaac gave himself up to die, as Abraham was ready at God's word to sacrifice his beloved son: the sign of a far better thing.
But Jehovah arrests his hand when his heart was proved, and confirms to the son raised from the dead in a figure, that in Christ, the antitype, should all the nations of the earth be blessed, as the apostle reasons in Gal. 3
Then after the passing away of Sarah (the covenanted mother of the child of promise), we have the call of the bride for the bridegroom and heir of all. Next are given certain details of Isaac's history, as we shall examine in due time after this preliminary notice. Yet we may notice here the “moderation” of Isaac made known to all men in the question of the wells his servants found (chap. 26); and the crisis of his ways when his foot had well nigh slipped in the matter of his two sons (chap. 27). Grace here overruled; and he was saved yet so as by fire. How striking it is that such a scene should be singled out to his praise in Heb. 11:2020By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. (Hebrews 11:20)! “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau even concerning things to come.” Isaac lived many years after this; but Scripture records only his death and burial.