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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Isaac

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I´saac, son of Abraham and Sarah, born in his parents' old age. The promise of a son had been made to them when Abraham was visited by the Lord in the plains of Mamre, and appeared so unlikely to be fulfilled, seeing that both Abraham and Sarah were 'well-stricken in years,' that its utterance caused the latter to laugh incredulously. Being reproved for her unbelief, she denied that she had laughed. The reason assigned for the special visitation thus promised was, in effect, that Abraham was pious, and would train his offspring in piety, so that he would become the founder of a great nation, and all the nations of the earth should be blessed in him.

In due time Sarah gave birth to a son, who received the name of Isaac, in reference to the laughter occasioned by the announcement of the Divine intention (comp. ; ; ).

The first fact that we read of in the history of Isaac, is the command given to his father to offer the youth—'thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest'—for a burnt-offering on a mountain in the land of Moriah. Abraham proceeded to obey the Divine direction, and was on the point of slaying Isaac, when his hand was withheld by the interposition of God, a ram for sacrifice being provided instead.

This event has found no few detractors, and various attempts have been made to explain it away. But the only proper way is to consider it as it is represented in the sacred page. The command, then, was expressly designed to try Abraham's faith. Destined as the patriarch was to be the father of the faithful, was he worthy of his high and dignified position? If his own obedience was weak, he could not train others in faith, trust, and love: hence a trial was necessary. That he was not without holy dispositions was already known, and indeed recognized in the Divine favors of which he had been the object; but was he prepared to do and to suffer all God's will? Religious perfection and his position alike demanded a perfect heart: hence the kind of trial. If he were willing to surrender even his only child, and act himself both as offerer and priest in the sacrifice of the required victim, if he could so far conquer his natural affections, so subdue the father in his heart, then there could be no doubt that his will was wholly reconciled to God's, and that he was worthy of every trust, confidence, and honor. The trial was made, the fact was ascertained, the victim was not slain. What is there in this to which either religion or morality can take exception? This view is both confirmed and justified by the words of God (, sq.), 'because thou hast not withheld thy only son, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.'

Isaac passed his youthful days under the eye of his father, engaged in the care of flocks and herds up and down the plains of Canaan. At length his father wished to see him married. Abraham therefore gave a commission to his oldest and most trustworthy servant to the effect that, in order to prevent Isaac from taking a wife from among the daughters of the Canaanites, he should proceed into Mesopotamia, and, under the divine direction, choose a partner among his own relatives for his beloved son. Rebekah, in consequence, becomes Isaac's wife, when he was now forty years of age.

Isaac having, in conjunction with his half-brother Ishmael, buried Abraham his father, 'in a good old age, in the cave of Machpelah,' took up a somewhat permanent residence 'by the well Lahai-roi,' where, being blessed of God, he lived in prosperity and at ease. One source of regret, however, he deeply felt. Rebekah was barren. In time, two sons, Jacob and Esau, are granted to his prayers. As the boys grow, Isaac gave a preference to Esau, who seems to have possessed those robuster qualities of character in which his father was defective, and therefore gratified him by such dainties as the pursuits of the chase enabled the youth to offer; while Jacob, 'a plain man dwelling in tents,' was an object of special regard to Rebekah—a division of feeling and a kind of partiality which became the source of much domestic unhappiness, as well as of jealousy and hatred between the two sons.

A famine compels Isaac to seek food in some foreign land. Divinely warned not to go down to Egypt, the patriarch applies to a petty prince of Philistia, by name Abimelech, who permits him to dwell at Gerar. Here an event took place which has a parallel in the life of his father Abraham. Rebekah was his cousin: afraid lest she should be violently taken from him, and his own life sacrificed to the lust of Abimelech, he represented her as his sister, employing a latitude of meaning which the word 'sister' admits in Oriental usage. The subterfuge was discovered, and is justified by Isaac on the grounds which prompted him to resort to it.

Another parallel event in the lives of Abraham and Isaac may be found by comparing together , sq., and 21:22, sq. If these parallels should excite a doubt in the mind of any one as to the credibility of the narratives, let him carefully peruse them, and we think that the simplicity and naturalness which pervade and characterize them will effectually substantiate the reality of the recorded events, and explode the notion that fiction has had anything to do in bringing the narrative into its present shape.

Isaac, in his old age, was, by the practices of Rebekah and the art of Jacob, so imposed upon as to give his blessing to the younger son Jacob, instead of to the first-born Esau, and with that blessing to convey, as was usual, the right of headship in the family, together with his chief possessions. In the blessing which the aged patriarch pronounced on Jacob, it deserves notice how entirely the wished-for good is of an earthly and temporal nature, while the imagery which is employed serves to show the extent to which the poetical element prevailed as a constituent part of the Hebrew character (, sq.). Most natural, too, is the extreme agitation of the poor blind old man, on discovering the cheat which had been put upon him:—'And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said (to Esau), Who? where is he that hath taken venison and brought it me, and I have eaten, and have blessed him? Yea, and he shall be blessed.' Equally natural is the reply of Esau. The entire passage is of itself enough to vindicate the historical character and entire credibility of those sketches of the lives of the patriarchs which Genesis presents.

The stealing, on the part of Jacob, of his father's blessing having angered Esau, who seems to have looked forward to Isaac's death as affording an opportunity for taking vengeance on his unjust brother, the aged patriarch is induced, at his wife's entreaty, to send Jacob into Mesopotamia, that, after his own example, his son might take a wife from among his kindred and people, 'of the daughters of Laban, thy mother's brother.'

This is the last important act recorded of Isaac. Jacob having, agreeably to his father's command, married into Laban's family, returned, after some time, and found the old man at Mamre, in the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. Here, 'being old and full of days' (180), Isaac 'gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him' (, sq.).

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Isaac'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/i/isaac.html.

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