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The next recorded event in the life of Isaac is connected with God’s command to Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice on a mountain in the land of Moriah (
Sarah died at Hebron when Isaac was thirty-six years old (
The last prominent event in the life of Isaac is the blessing of his sons (
Isaac is mentioned only once more—twenty years later, when Jacob returned from his sojourn in Mesopotamia, having married into Laban’s family. Jacob found his father at Mamre in Hebron. There Isaac died at 180 years of age, and his two sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him (
Of the three patriarchs, Isaac was the least conspicuous, traveled the least, had the fewest extraordinary adventures, but lived the longest. He was free from violent passions; quiet, gentle, dutiful; less a man of action than of thought and suffering. His name is always joined in equal honor with Abraham and Jacob.——SB
ISAAC ī’ zĭk (יִֽצְחַק; LXX ̓Ισαάκ, G2693). Meaning, possibly one will laugh. Son of Abraham and Sarah, half-brother of Ishmael, husband of Rebekah.
There is obviously a play on words, esp. on the root which signified “to laugh,” in the Isaac story. Different persons are said to have laughed: Abraham, when he is assured that in old age he is to have a son (
In this connection it may not be out of place to note that we fully concur with those who regard Isaac as a “historic individual” (eine historische Einzelperson—A. Weiser, in RGG, 1959), and not as an eponymous ancestor, as is so frequently the case.
Origin of the Isaac tradition.
Some thought may be given to the whole problem how the Isaac tradition came into being and was transmitted to later generations. The so-called sources (JE and P), all of which are thought to have contributed their share to the narrative, have been accepted on the strength of insufficient evidence. It could have happened, as some suppose, that there was an old sanctuary at Beersheba, where Isaac in his day worshiped, and where some basic tales regarding his life were perpetuated. The shrine continued to exist and around the original tales clustered others, which ultimately came to constitute the body of Isaac tradition now embodied in Genesis. The case hangs on slender evidence, but for want of a better approach, one may regard this as a reasonable possibility.
Though not listed in the catalog of the heroes of the faith in
He is the child long waited for according to the OT record and may in some sense in this respect be regarded as a type of Christ. When Abraham first appears on the scene he is already seventy-five years old and has a long futile wait for a son behind him. From
The other major incident in which Isaac figures during his father’s lifetime is the memorable one of the incomplete sacrifice at Moriah (
This fact comes to light also in Isaac’s acceptance of the wife that his father procures for him through the agency of the “old servant” of his household, presumably Eliezer (
Relation to those close to him.
Though Isaac and Rebekah were a loving couple (
Relation to Jacob.
Jacob is a unique child as Isaac was. Both were born, not after the flesh, but according to promise. Rebekah was barren for a long while as Sarah had been. The parents made it a matter of prayer and received a direct answer to their prayer, an answer which defined, from the divine point of view, the ultimate relation of the two sons to be born (
In his father’s footsteps.
When one of the periodic famines occurred in the land in the days of Isaac, he sought first of all to go to the land of Egypt. When God refused to let him take that journey and leave the land of promise, Isaac went to Gerar to the land later held by the Philistines. It is amazing that he resorted to the same stratagem as did his father when the problem arose as to how he was to safeguard his wife in a land of strangers. He represented her to be his sister, allowing for a broad usage of the term. Like his father, he then had to suffer the humiliation to be justly rebuked by the king of Gerar, a saint rebuked by a sinner.
In another respect similarity to his father appears to good advantage on Isaac’s part. The Lord appeared to him at least twice (
His life in summary.
Isaac was indeed blessed most abundantly by the Lord, reaping abundantly, even to the point of a “hundredfold” (
The big mistake.
So strongly did Isaac sympathize with his son Esau that finally, when he became ill and took to his bed and decided to give his final blessing to his sons, he singled out Esau for his blessing, and gave him directions accordingly, directions which were overheard by Rebekah. Esau was to be designated to be the major member of the family, carrying the rich tradition and promises for the future. All this was done in spite of
It seems that the plan to send Jacob into Mesopotamia, to be removed from the reach of the anger of Esau, originated with Rebekah and met with the total approval of Isaac, who seems to have recognized his mistake and was seeking to remedy it. One objective specified in the plan was that the trip to Mesopotamia was to be for the purpose of enabling Jacob to obtain a wife of his own relationship, one with whom the knowledge of the Lord still remained. The parting blessing on this occasion apparently originated with Isaac. He sought to confirm the blessing which had by trickery been diverted to Jacob. This was a tacit admission of his own mistake and a comfort to Jacob, who after all had been divinely designated as the heir of the line of the promise of Abraham.
“The Fear of Isaac.”
One feature that reaches into the theology of Genesis ought yet to be examined briefly, the unusual designation of God that appears to date from the days of Isaac, the divine name “the Fear of Isaac” (pahad yişhaq). This name appears twice in Genesis (
Contrary to expectations Isaac did not die soon after he had blessed his sons. If all the dates be sifted, it would appear that Isaac lived another thirty or forty years and finally died at the age of 180, having lived the longest of the three great patriarchs.
There remains the necessity of evaluating the typological aspects of the life and career of Isaac: to what extent may Isaac and his life be construed as having some Christological undertones? There is first of all the overall picture of a father giving his son into death. That factor came to full realization in the fact that “God spared not his own son” (
Among the many commentaries on Genesis, of the older ones, Keil (Keil and Delitzsch Commentary) still deserves attention; among newer ones Gerhard von Rad is exceptionally good; Interpreter’s Bible (Genesis), Cuthbert A. Simpson; among Encyclopedias: RGG, Mohr, Tuebingen (1959); The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, (1962) (article “Isaac”); Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, 2nd. ed. Edinburgh (1963).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
i’-zak:oIT- (CS:HebrewIT+`iruIT-/CS): Eldest son of Caleb (
1. Root, Forms, Analogues
II. FAMILY AND KINDRED
1. Birth and Place in the Family
2. Relation to the Religious Birthright
3. Significance of Marriage
III. STORY OF LIFE
1. Previous to Marriage
2. Subsequent to Marriage
IV. BIBLICAL REFERENCES
1. In the
2. In the
V. VIEWS OTHER THAN THE HISTORICAL
1. Root, Forms and Analogues:
This name has the double spelling, yitschaq, and yitschaq (Isaak), corresponding to the two forms in which appears the root meaning "to laugh"--a root that runs through nearly all the Semitic languages. In Hebrew both tsachaq and sachaq have their cognate nouns, and signify, in the simple stem, "to laugh," in the intensive stem, "to jest, play, dance, fondle," and the like. The noun yitshar, meaning "fresh oil," from a root tsahar ("to be bright, conspicuous"), proves that nouns can be built on precisely the model of yitschaq, which would in that case signify "the laughing one," or something similar. Yet Barth (Die Nominalbildung in den semitischen Sprachen, 154, b and c) maintains that all proper names beginning with yodh prefixed to the root are really pure imperfects, i.e. verbal forms with some subject to be understood if not actually present. Hence, Isaac would mean "laughs": either indefinite, "one laughs," or "he laughs," namely, the one understood as the subject. There are some 50 Hebrew names that have a similar form with no accompanying subject. Of these sometimes the meaning of the root is quite obscure, sometimes it is appropriate to any supposable subject. Each is a problem by itself; for the interpretation of any one of them there is little help to be gained from a comparison with the others.
What subject, then, is to be understood with this imperfect verb yitschaq? Or is no definite subject to be supplied?
(1) ’El, God, may be supplied: "God laughs." Such an expression might be understood of the Divine benevolence, or of the fearful laughter of scorn for His enemies (
(2) Some human person: "he laughs." So, for example, he himself, namely, the child who receives the name; or, the father; or, the brother (not the mother, which would require titschaq). In the light now of these possibilities we turn to the narratives of Isaac’s birth and career and find the following subjects suggested:
(b) indefinite, "one laughs" (not "she laughs," see above),
(c) "mock" (?), and
We find this same verb in these senses in
II. Family and Kindred.
The two things in Isaac’s life that are deemed worthy of extensive treatment in the sacred narrative are his birth and his marriage. His significance, in fact, centers in his transmission of what went before him to what came after him. Hence, his position in his father’s family, his relation to its greatest treasure, the religious birthright, and his marriage with Rebekah are the subjects that require special notice in this connection.
1. Birth and Place in the Family:
The birth of Isaac is represented as peculiar in these respects: the age of his parents, the purity of his lineage, the special Divine promises accompanying. What in Abraham’s life is signalized by the Divine "call" in the from his father’s house, and what in Jacob’s life is brought about by a series of providential interpositions, seems in Isaac’s case to become his by his birth. His mother, who is not merely of the same stock as Abraham but actually his half-sister, is the legal wife. As her issue Isaac is qualified by the laws of inheritance recognized in their native land to become his father’s heir. But Ishmael, according to those laws, has a similarly valid claim (see Abraham, iv, 2), and it is only by express command that Abraham is led to abandon what was apparently both custom and personal preference, to "cast out the bondwoman and her son," and to acquiesce in the arrangement that "in Isaac shall thy seed be called."
2. Relation to the Religious Birthright:
But the birthright of Isaac was of infinitely more importance than the birthright in the family of any other wealthy man of that day. All that limitless blessing with which Abraham set forth under God’s leadership was promised not only to him but to his "seed"; it was limitless in time as well as in scope. To inherit it was of more consequence to Isaac than to inherit any number of servants, flocks or wells of his father’s acquisition. A sense of these relative values seems to have been a part of Isaac’s spiritual endowment, and this, more than anything else related of him, makes him an attractive figure on the pages of Gen.
3. Significance of Marriage:
The raising up of a "seed" to be the bearers of these promises was the prime concern of Isaac’s life. Not by intermarriage with the Canaanites among whom he lived, but by marriage with one of his own people, in whom as much as in himself should be visibly embodied the separateness of the chosen family of God--thus primarily was Isaac to pass on to a generation as pure as his own the heritage of the Divine blessing. Rebekah enters the tent of Isaac as truly the chosen of God as was Abraham himself.
III. Story of Life.
Previous to his marriage Isaac’s life is a part of the story of Abraham; after his marriage it merges into that of his children. It is convenient, therefore, to make his marriage the dividing-line in the narrative of his career.
1. Previous to Marriage:
A child whose coming was heralded by such signal marks of Divine favor as was Isaac’s would be, even apart from other special considerations, a welcome and honored member of the patriarchal household. The covenant-sign of circumcision (which Isaac was the first to receive at the prescribed age of 8 days), the great feast at his weaning, and the disinheritance of Ishmael in his favor, are all of them indications of the unique position that this child held, and prepare the reader to appreciate the depth of feeling involved in the sacrifice of Isaac, the story of which follows thereupon. The age of Isaac at the time of this event is not stated, but the fact that he is able to carry the wood of the offering shows that he had probably attained his full growth. The single question he asks his father and his otherwise unbroken silence combine to exhibit him in a favorable light, as thoughtful, docile and trustful. The Divine interposition to save the lad thus devoted to God constitutes him afresh the bearer of the covenant-promise and justifies its explicit renewal on this occasion. From this point onward the biographer of Isaac evidently has his marriage in view, for the two items that preceded the long 24th chaper, in which Rebekah’s choice and coming are rehearsed, are, first, the brief genealogical paragraph that informs the reader of the development of Nahor’s family just as far as to Rebekah, and second, the chapter that tells of Sarah’s death and burial--an event clearly associated in the minds of all with the marriage of Isaac (see
2. Subsequent to Marriage:
The dismissal of the sons of Abraham’s concubines to the "East-country" is associated with the statement that Isaac inherited all that Abraham had; yet it has been remarked that, besides supplying them with gifts, Abraham was doing them a further kindness in thus emancipating them from continued subjection to Isaac, the future head of the clan. After Abraham’s death we are expressly informed that God "blessed Isaac his son" in fulfillment of previous promise. The section entitled "the toledhoth (generations) of Isaac" extends from
For 20 years Isaac and Rebekah remained childless; it was only upon the entreaty of Isaac that God granted them their twin sons. A famine was the usual signal for emigration to Egypt (compare
But Isaac had also received from his father traditions of another sort; he too did not hesitate to say to the men of Gerar that his wife was his sister, with the same intent to save his own life, but without the same justification in fact, as in the case of Abraham’s earlier stratagem. Yet even the discovery by the king of Gerar of this duplicity, and repeated quarrels about water in that dry country, did not suffice to endanger Isaac’s status with the settled inhabitants, for his large household and great resources made him a valuable friend and a dangerous enemy.
The favoritism which Isaac showed for one son and Rebekah for the other culminated in the painful scene when the paternal blessing was by guile obtained for Jacob, and in the subsequent enforced absence of Jacob from his parental home. Esau, too, afforded no comfort to his father and mother, and ere long he also withdrew from his father’s clan. The subsequent reconciliation of the brothers permitted them to unite at length in paying the last honors to Isaac on his decease. Isaac was buried at Hebron where his parents had been buried (
IV. Biblical References.
There is a great contrast between Abraham and Jacob on the one hand, and Isaac on the other, with respect to their prominence in the literature of the nation that traced to them its descent. To be sure, when the patriarchs as a group are to be named, Isaac takes his place in the stereotyped formula of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," or "Israel" (so 23 times in the Old Testament, 7 times in the New Testament).
1. In the Old Testament:
But apart from this formula Isaac is referred to in the Old Testament only as follows. During the lifetime of Jacob the names of Abraham and Isaac are repeatedly linked in the same way as are all three subsequently: they form for that age the dynasty of the covenant. But several times Jacob calls Yahweh the God (or, the Fear; see infra) of Isaac, because Isaac is his own immediate predecessor in this chain of the faithful. Isaac is called the "gift" of God to Abraham, in the farewell address of Joshua, just as Jacob and Esau are called God’s "gifts" to Isaac (
2. In the New Testament:
He fares better in the New Testament. For, besides the genealogical references, Isaac’s significance as the first to receive circumcision on the 8th day is remembered (
V. Views Other than the Historical.
Philo, the chief allegorizer of Scriptural narratives, has little to say of Isaac, whom he calls "the self-instructed nature." But modern critics have dissolved his personality by representing him as the personification of an ethnic group. "All Israel," writes Wellhausen (Prol., 6th edition, 316), "is grouped with the people of Edom under the old name Isaac (
Other scholars will have none of this national view, because they believe Isaac to be the name of an ancient deity, the local numen of Beersheba. Stark, whom others have followed, proposes to interpret the phrase translated "the Fear of Isaac" in
The most recent critical utterances reject both the foregoing views of Isaac as in conflict with the data of Gen. Thus Gunkel (Schriften des Altes Testament, 5te Lieferung, 1910, 41) writes: "Quite clearly the names of Abraham, Isaac, and all the patriarchal women are not tribal names. .... The interpretation of the figures of Ge as nations furnishes by no means a general key." And again: "Against the entire assumption that the principal patriarchal figures are originally gods, is above all to be noted that the names Jacob and Abraham are proved by the Babylonian to be personal names in current use, and at the same time that the sagas about them can in no wise be understood as echoes of original myths. Even Winckler’s more than bold attempt to explain these sagas as original calendar-myths must be pronounced a complete failure." Yet Gunkel and those who share his position are careful to distinguish their own view from that of the "apologetes," and to concede no more than the bare fact that there doubtless were once upon a time persons named Abraham Isaac, etc. For these critics Isaac is simply a name about which have crystallized cycles of folk-stories, that have their parallels in other lands and languages, but have received with a Hebrew name also a local coloring and significance on the lips of successive Hebrew story-tellers, saga-builders and finally collectors and editors; "Everyone who knows the history of sagas is sure that the saga is not able to preserve through the course of so many centuries, a true picture" of the patriarchs.
See also ABRAHAM, end.
J. Oscar Boyd