Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario, a physician and Bible teacher, continues his series on Genesis.
Copyright by Everyday Publications Inc.; used by permission.
In our biographical studies in Genesis thus far, we have considered men of outstanding faith and faithfulness, who attained great heights of spiritual success and had real mountain-top experiences with God. We may feel discouraged as we ponder their lives, realizing that the standard they have set is beyond us, and feeling that we can never soar in the realms of their communion with God, we succumb to their failures more often than we succeed in emulating their faith.
When we come to consider Isaac and Jacob, we seem to be on a different spiritual plane. Their lives appear to be on a level closer to our own. Isaac lived an ordinary type of life with no really outstanding incident. Jacob’s failures seem to stand out in the record of his life — he is portrayed to us as a schemer, yet an object of God’s blessing and grace. Perhaps, on this account, we can empathize more with them, and we can take encouragement from the fact that both receive honourable mention in God’s Hall of Fame, Heb. 11:20, 21.
The story of Isaac covers chapters 21 to 35 in Genesis — almost as long as the record of Abraham; yet in fact, much less is said of him. Of all these 15 chapters, only one is really devoted to Isaac, the others being more concerned with his father,
Abraham and his son, Jacob, whose lives impinge on Isaac’s. He is seen in Genesis as the ordinary son of a great father, and the ordinary father of a great son. We may, however, learn valuable lessons from each of the phases of his life, and indeed, may see in the record of Isaac some parallels with our own spiritual experience. We shall note briefly 10 successive experiences of Isaac, with their instruction for us:
Although quite an ordinary person, Isaac had quite an extraordinary birth, requiring a divine miracle. His father, Abraham, was 100 years old, and his mother Sarah, 90 years old when he was born (see Gen. 211:5; 17:17). From a natural standpoint, considering potential for offspring, Abraham’s body was dead, and Sarah’s womb was dead, Gen. 18:11; Rom. 4:19. The birth of Isaac then was supernatural — life from the dead. So is the miracle of the new birth. We, though quite ordinary persons, had quite extraordinary births. Life was imparted to us when we were dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1.
The name “Isaac” means “laughter,” or “one laughs,” and was given in view of Abraham’s laughter of joyful gratitude, Gen. 17:17, and Sarah’s laughter of sceptical cynicism, Gen. 18:12. Yet, significantly, it is this particular incident that the writer to the Hebrews selects as evidence of Sarah’s faith, Heb. 11:11. Evidently, while momentarily she doubted and laughed at God’s revelation, she accepted it by faith, and so was given supernatural strength to conceive … when she was past age, Heb. 11:11. She trusted God and judged Him faithful who had promised.
The conflict between Ishmael, born after the flesh, and Isaac, the child of promise, born after the Spirit —is used by Paul in Galatians 4:28-31 as an illustration of the conflict between Judaizers of his day and Christians. It is also a picture of constant warfare between the two natures in the believer, Gal. 5:16-25. We are not long born into God’s family till we realize that there is an enemy within us, and a continual battle between the old nature and the new, the flesh. and the Spirit.
Isaac’s submission to his father’s word and to God’s will prefigures the believer’s devotion to God’s Word and will. Like Isaac, we should be willing to present our bodies — in our case, a living sacrifice, Rom. 12:1. “Is your all on the altar?”
Among the varied lessons for the reader of this wonderful chapter is the example of Isaac’s acquiescence in his father’s choice of a bride for him — not taken from the nations round about (the world), but from Isaac’s father’s people, vv. 3, 4. This surely illustrates the teaching, oft-repeated through the Scriptures, that God would have His children take their partners — particularly in marriage, but also in business, etc. —from among His own people. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, 2 Cor. 6:14. Failure to heed this clear and definite Scriptural command has brought untold suffering and sorrow to God’s people.
For 20 years, Isaac and Rebekah lived together without a family (compare Gen. 25:20, 26). In his disappointment, Isaac did not resort to the method of Abraham, his father, Gen. 16:1-4. Perhaps Isaac had learned the lesson from the sad result of that action in his own life. Instead, he entreated the Lord for his wife — an obvious example to us in our disappointments and frustrations.
The evidence of favouritism on the part of Isaac and Rebekah for Esau and Jacob, respectively, is a warning to us, leading, as it did, to conflict in the home; and resulting, on Isaac’s part, from what Esau could bring to him for his personal gratification. We should beware of showing partiality in our home — or, indeed, our church — especially if our attitude is determined by personal gain.
In spite of a possible mistake and failure to trust God in going down to Gerar, v. 1, Isaac was given wonderful blessings by God; divine guidance, v. 2; presence, v. 3; promises, vv. 3, 4. It was not because of his own life and character that Isaac received all these blessings. They came to him because of the faithfulness of his father, Abraham, v. 5. So the blessings which God has provided for us are the result of the faithfulness of Another. It is interesting and encouraging to us to note that, in spite of Isaac’s subsequent backsliding and failure, God still fulfilled His promise of blessing to him. (v. 12, And the Lord blessed him.)
Isaac’s failure at this time was strikingly similar to Abraham’s on two occasions in similar circumstances (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-13) — like father, like son. His actions resulted from lack of faith in God to protect him and a selfish desire for his own preservation at the expense of Rebekah’s purity. This brought dishonour upon God’s name and a rebuke from the world.
Two characteristics of Abraham’s life, symbolic of his faith — a tent and an altar (Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:1, 4; etc.) — also characterized Isaac, Gen. 26:25. A further characteristic was a “well” — Gen. 24:62; 25:11; 26:15-22, 25). Isaac was kept busy digging wells to obtain supplies of water, while his enemies persisted in preventing him from obtaining the water by filling up the wells. In Genesis 26:19, it is significant that “springing water” is, literally, “living water.” Our enemy endeavours to keep us from finding the Living Water within God’s Word, and we require to be constantly diligent and busy digging — reading, meditating, studying, learning. Isaac’s meek, gentle spirit is again seen here in his attitude to the Philistines — not picking a quarrel with them, or standing up for his rights, but moving on to find water elsewhere — surely an example for us (see 2 Tim. 2:24, 25).
One of Isaac’s last recorded acts, blessing his children, is selected by the Spirit as evidence of his faith (Heb. 11:20). It is surely fitting that one who was blessed as Isaac was—richly and undeservedly—should bless others. We too have been blessed, infinitely beyond our merits, with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, Eph. 1:3, as well as with countless temporal and material blessings. Should not our lives be “channels of blessing” to others?