Isaac


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 (Gen.22.1-Gen.22.24). His exact age then is not stated, but he is described as a “lad,” able to carry the wood for the burnt offering up the mountainside. In this whole experience his unquestioning submission and obedience to his father stand out almost as remarkably as his father’s faith. Bound on the altar and about to die, his life was spared when an angel of the Lord interposed and substituted for him a ram, which was offered up in his place. God’s purpose in this great test of Abraham’s faith is looked at in various ways, among the more important being the following: it is the last and culminating point in God’s education of Abraham regarding the meaning of sacrificial obedience; it is a rebuke by God of the widespread heathen practice of sacrificing human beings; it is an object lesson to Abraham of the great sacrifice of the Messiah for the redemption of mankind.

Sarah died at Hebron when Isaac was thirty-six years old (Gen.23.1). At the age of forty Isaac married Rebekah, a kinswoman from Mesopotamia (Gen.24.1-Gen.24.67); but he and his wife were childless until, in answer to prayer, twin sons, Esau and Jacob, were born to them when he was sixty (Gen.25.20, Gen.25.26). At a time of famine, God admonished him not to go down into Egypt, as he had thought of doing, but to remain in the Promised Land; and he pledged his word to be with him. He went to the Philistine city of Gerar, and there, fearing for his own life, he passed his wife off as his sister, as his father had done before him. He was justly rebuked by Abimelech the king for his duplicity (Gen.26.10). Isaac then pitched his camp in the Valley of Gerar and became so prosperous as a wheat-grower and herdsman that the envious Philistines began a systematic, petty harassment by stopping up the wells that his father had dug and he had opened again. Abimelech even advised him to leave the country in the interest of peace (Gen.26.1-Gen.26.35). Isaac subsequently returned to Beersheba. There the Lord appeared to him at night and promised to bless him for his father’s sake. Realizing that God was with Isaac, Abimelech then came from Gerar to make overtures of peace, and the two men formally entered into a covenant (Gen.26.26-Gen.26.31). Probably at a considerably later period, Esau, at the age of forty, brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah by marrying two women of Canaan (Gen.26.34-Gen.26.35).

The last prominent event in the life of Isaac is the blessing of his sons (Gen.27.1-Gen.27.46). Esau, the elder, was his father’s favorite, even though God had told him that the elder would serve the younger. Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob (Gen.25.28). When Isaac was over a hundred years old, and dim of sight, and perhaps thinking that his end was near, he wished to bestow his last blessing on his elder son; but through Rebekah’s cunning and guile Jacob the younger supplanted his brother, and the blessing of the birthright was given to him. To save Jacob from the murderous wrath of Esau, who determined to kill him after his father’s death, Rebekah induced Isaac to send Jacob into Mesopotamia, that, after his own example, his son might take a wife among his own kindred and not imitate Esau by marrying Canaanite women. Isaac invoked another blessing on Jacob and sent him away to Laban in Paddan Aram (Gen.25.27-Gen.28.5).

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 (Gen.35.27-Gen.35.29).


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


b

ISAAC ī’ zĭk (יִֽצְחַק; LXX ̓Ισαάκ, G2693). Meaning, possibly one will laugh. Son of Abraham and Sarah, half-brother of Ishmael, husband of Rebekah.

Outline

Etymology.

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 (Gen 17:17); Sarah, when after a long wait, she too hears that it will yet be true (18:12); also all persons who finally hear that the promise actually was fulfilled (21:6). Various shades of meaning are to be associated with these instances of laughter, the least acceptable being Sarah’s amusement. These instances are then summed up in the name finally given to the child. This approach may still be maintained, esp. if other cases of the use of the verb (like 26:8) are regarded, as long as only the obvious fact is kept in mind that the Biblical writers hardly engage in scholarly etymological studies, but do allow themselves a sort of popular etymology, or a play on words. Over against this approach a new attempt to explain the name of Isaac has gained prominence. This is the one which looks at Ugaritic texts in which the god ’el is said to laugh. If with this is coupled the fact that many Biblical names are, or originally were, theophorous, i.e. they were a verb-form having some name of a god as subject, then Isaac could mean “The god laughs.” However, to ignore all the historic instances of laughter in connection with the Isaac story and to have Israel, for all of its literary material go borrowing from its neighbors, would appear to put the emphasis in the wrong place. In other words, to have “Isaac” mean “Let God laugh,” puts an emphasis into the story for which there is no historical warrant.

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.

Early life.

Though not listed in the catalog of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, Isaac still deserves to be classed among the great fathers of the OT and has a character distinctive by itself and not devoid of some elements of greatness.

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 Genesis 12 on the wait continues, reënforced by divine words of encouragement, until the patriarch, at the age of 100 years, finally sees the fulfillment of God’s promise (Gen 21:21).

The other major incident in which Isaac figures during his father’s lifetime is the memorable one of the incomplete sacrifice at Moriah (ch. 22). There the son of promise, according to human insight, was all but lost. The providence of God interposed in a striking manner and the son was spared. That Isaac submitted as he did, when the father was making the preparations for the sacrifice, indicates one of the chief characteristics of Isaac: he was meek and submissive in all situations of life. Nor do we imply that his submission was of a merely weak and cowardly nature. He was by disposition quite unassertive.

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 (15:2). It apparently was customary in those days to a large extent for parents to arrange marriages for their children. Nor does the servant regard the assignment as a simple business transaction. He fulfills his task in the spirit of prayer. Isaac, no doubt entirely aware of the spirit that animated both his father and the servant, is totally in sympathy with the choice made in his behalf (24:67). It may properly be said that his attitude is one worthy of a good man and an obedient son. Under entirely different circumstances, Isaac’s son Jacob acted on his own initiative and made his own matrimonial arrangements.

Relation to those close to him.

Though Isaac and Rebekah were a loving couple (26:8) it still appears, esp. at the point where Isaac arranges to bless his sons, that the wife is the dominating personality. In his contacts with Ishmael, Isaac, being somewhat younger, was at a disadvantage. The elder lad dominated him to an extent, and Hagar and Ishmael had to be cast out. Whatever difficulties there may have been at an earlier date, it is interesting to observe that apparently the differences were resolved and the two men cooperated in the matter of the burial of their father (25:9).

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 (25:23). Over against Jacob, it appears that there was too wide a disparity of temperament for both to get along in the best of relationship. This led to Jacob’s being preferred by Rebekah, but Esau was the favorite of Isaac. It almost appears as though Isaac could not quite understand the spiritual aggressiveness of Jacob. It made him uneasy, being himself of a passive disposition and utterly unaggressive. For that matter, father and son failed almost completely to understand one another. After the imparted blessing Isaac would seem to have perceived the issues involved in sharper focus. All this goes on the assumption that when Jacob connived to obtain the blessing of the first-born one of the motivations involved was that he had some wholesome spiritual objectives, based in part at least, on the promises of God. It seems somewhat remarkable that the stolid Esau should have been closer to Isaac and preferred by him.

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 (26:1-5, 24f.). To Abraham he appeared a number of times. Isaac still, for all his shortcomings carried on the line of Abraham, and the promises made originally to Abraham are specifically referred to Isaac also. The spiritual stature of a man cannot be measured in all its aspects, by the number of times he is deemed worthy of a divine visitation. God never once appeared to Joseph. Isaac can be said to have been a man who also walked with God. If his gifts and capacities were less and fewer than those of his father, that is a matter of divine apportionment.

His life in summary.

Isaac was indeed blessed most abundantly by the Lord, reaping abundantly, even to the point of a “hundredfold” (26:12). He was equally blessed in his cattle and, adding to the wealth of Abraham, he became “very wealthy.” His household also increased proportionately, so much so that he became the object of envy of the land. Isaac, for the most part, lived on the fringes of the land, either close to Gerar or down by Beersheba. Abraham, on the contrary, moved freely up and down through the length and breadth of the land, seeking contacts rather than shunning them. Connected with Isaac’s retiring nature is the fact that he cannot be described as an innovator. Typical is the incident of 26:18, where after a more or less systematic harassment by the shepherds in the area of Gerar, including the filling in of certain wells, it is reported that Isaac “dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of Abraham, his father.” Still apparently he did dig one new well (v. 25).

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 Genesis 25:23, which had divinely assigned a secondary role to Esau. Even though this important word was spoken to Rebekah, there is every ground for believing that Isaac was apprised of what the divine intention was. With a stubbornness, which does him little credit, Isaac sought to circumvent this divine pronouncement. This can in no sense be condoned. It makes Isaac’s guilt in the whole episode appear as heavy practically as that of Jacob, who resorted to crafty deceit rather than to silent evasion.

Correction accepted.

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 (31:42, 53). This seems to have been one of the names that catches a different aspect of the divine being than the other patriarchs perceived in their day. The name, rightly construed, seems to accord well with the unique temperament of Isaac, his docile, retiring, unassertive attitude. For “Fear” is to be construed as “the object of fear and reverence” as Isaac knew him. In other words, He was the God before whom Isaac bowed in deep reverence, trembling often as he worshiped Him. It was to have been expected that each patriarch would catch a partial glimpse of the fullness of the divine being, each experience of this being giving rise to its own designation.

Death.

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.

Typology.

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” (Rom 8:32). That the Son acquiesced to this demand is a second factor that stands out. That the Son bore the very wood on which he was to be sacrificed is a third factor that is noteworthy. All this is typological. One can well understand why in the Early Church the sacrifice of Isaac was highly regarded as foreshadowing the sacrificial death of our Lord. Isaac is repeatedly ranked together with Abraham and Jacob (Exod 2:24, 25; Matt 8:11; 22:32; Acts 3:13, et al.). To this may be added one further aspect in which the Isaac image is used in Scripture (Gal 4:28): “We, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

Bibliography

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 (1Ch 4:15); probably to be read Ir, the syllable "-u" being the conjunction "and" belonging to the following word.

I. NAME

1. Root, Forms, Analogues

2. Implication

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 Old Testament

2. In the New Testament

V. VIEWS OTHER THAN THE HISTORICAL

I. Name.

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.

2. Implication:

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 (Ps 2:4), or, euphemistically, of the Divine wrath, the "terrible glance," as of Moloch, etc. (so Meyer, Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstdmme, 255).

(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:

(a) father, Ge 17:17;

(b) indefinite, "one laughs" (not "she laughs," see above), Ge 18:12-15; 21:6; (c) brother, Ge 21:9; (d) himself, Ge 26:8. Of these passages the last two show the verb in the intensive stem in the signification of

(c) "mock" (?), and

(d) "dally."

We find this same verb in these senses in Ge 19:14 and 39:14,17, in the stories of Lot and of Joseph, and it is possible that here also in the story of Isaac it has no more connection with the name Isaac than it has there with the names Lot and Joseph. However, this may be, there is obviously one interpretation of the name Isaac, which, required in two of the passages, is equally appropriate in them all, namely, that with the indefinite subect, "one laughs." Consideration of the sources to which these passages are respectively assigned by the documentary hypothesis tends only to confirm this result.

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 Ge 24:3,16,67). Divine interest in the choice of her who should be the mother of the promised seed is evident in every line of the chapter that dramatizes the betrothal of Isaac and Rebekah. Their first meeting is described at its close with the tender interest in such a scene natural to every descendant of the pair, and Issac is sketched as a man of a meditative turn (Ge 24:63) and an affectionate heart (Ge 24:67).

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 Ge 25:19 to 35:29. At the opening of it Isaac is dwelling at Beer-lahai-roi (25:11), then at Gerar (26:1,6) and "the valley of Gerar" (26:17), then at Beer-sheba (26:23; 28:10), all localities in the Negeb or "South-country." But after the long narrative of the fortunes of Jacob and his family, occupying many years, we find Isaac at its close living where his father Abraham had lived, at Hebron.

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 Ge 12:10; 42:2); and Isaac also appears to have been on his way thither for the same cause, when, at Gerar, he is forbidden by God to proceed, and occasion is found therein to renew to him the covenant-promise of his inheritance: land, posterity, honor and the Divine presence (Ge 26:1-4).

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 (Ge 49:31), and where’ his place of sepulture is still honored.

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 (Jos 24:3 f; compare Koran, Sura 6 84). The "house of Isaac" is used by Amos as a parallel expression for "Israel," and "the high places of Isaac" for "the sanctuaries of Israel" (Am 7:16,9), in the same way as "Jacob" is often used elsewhere Septuagint in Am 7:16 reads "Jacob"). Other references to Isaac are simply as to his father’s son or his children’s father.

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 (Ac 7:8); his position as first of the elect seed is set forth (Ro 9:7); his begetting of two sons so unlike in their relation to the promise as were Esau and Jacob is remarked (Ro 9:10); the facts of his being heir to the promise, a child of old age, and, though but one, the father of an innumerable progeny, are emphasized in Heb (11:9-12), which also discovers the deeper significance of his sacrifice and restoration to his father (11:17-19; compare Jas 2:21); and in the same context is noticed the faith in God implied in Isaac’s blessing of his sons. But Isaac receives more attention than anywhere else in that famous passage in Ga (4:21-31), in which Paul uses Isaac and his mother as allegorical representations of Christians who are justified by faith in the promise of God, and are the free-born heirs of all the spiritual inheritance implied in that promise. Even Isaac’s persecution by Ishmael has its counterpart in the attitude of the enemies of Paul’s gospel toward him and his doctrines and converts.

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 (Am 7:9,16) .... the material here is not mythical (as in Ge 1-11) but national." And just as Israel plus Edom had little or no significance in national customs or political events, when compared on the one hand with Israel alone (= Jacob), and with Israel plus Edom plus Moab and Ammon (= Abraham) on the other hand; so likewise the figure of Isaac is colorless and his story brief, as compared with the striking figures of Jacob on the one hand and of Abraham on the other hand, and the circumstantial stories of their lives.

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 Ge 31:42,53 as the name of this god used by his worshippers, the Terror Isaac, Isaac the terrible god. For the sense of Isaac in that case see above under I, 2, (1). Meyer (loc. cit.) defends the transfer of the name from a god to the hero of a myth, by comparing the sacrifice of Isaac ("the only story in which Isaac plays an independent role"!) with the Greek myth of Iphigenia’s sacrifice (Hesiod, Euripides, etc.), in which the by-name of a goddess (Iphigenia) identified with Artemis has passed to the intended victim rescued by Artemis from death.

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