Living in the Shadow of Your Father and Your Son — Gleanings from the Life of Isaac

Having moved my studious attention from Abraham to Isaac, I find Isaac to be an intriguing individual. He was not the giant of a hero as his father, of whom we know to be the “father of the faithful.” He lived in the shadow of his father. As the son of a preacher, I understand that quite well. It bothers me not at all to introduce myself as “the son of Glen Willcut.” On the other hand, he also lived in the shadow of his youngest son, Jacob. While the life of Abraham comprises some fourteen chapters of Genesis and the life of Jacob (Israel) comprises almost the latter half of the book of Genesis (with chapters also highlighting his son, Joseph), Isaac literally is caught in the middle. The most we read about his life is in a single chapter—Genesis 26. Overall, we see his birth, his marriage, his life of tending his flock, digging wells and his death. In other words, he lives in the shadow of both his father and his son. Yet, we are able to glean a few rich lessons about his life.

Isaac accepted a wife whom God would choose (Gen. 24). While arranged marriages may still be popular in some cultures and areas, most people do not arrange marriages for their children today. Nevertheless, in the days of Abraham, we find the selection of appropriate brides limited within the land of Canaan. Thus, Abraham took an active part in determining whom Isaac would marry. The best thing going for a young man or woman who desires to marry is godly parents who want to help in a positive way. Abraham loved God and his son, Isaac, too much to allow Isaac to marry the wrong woman. When he sends his servant back to his family, who brings back Rebekah, “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her” (Gen. 24:67). Isaac only had one wife (cf. Matt. 19:3-9), and he could look back over his life and thank God time and time again for the efforts his father made in arranging his marriage to Rebekah, because overall, he knew that God had a hand in selecting his mate. When Christian singles make the effort during the dating and engagement process to know their future spouse, and when they take the pattern that God has provided for marriage seriously, then I can see no greater application than for Christians to choose carefully Christians in marriage—in this way, we may rest assured that God has had a part in the selection process!

Isaac followed the lifestyle of his father—maybe a bit too closely. In both Genesis 12 (Egypt) and in Genesis 20 (Gerar), Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife so that these respective groups would not kill him. To Abimelech in Gerar, he explains, “And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife” (Gen. 20:12). Thus, Sarah was his half-sister. One can only wonder if Isaac, born in the next chapter, heard of the occasions when this took place, so that when he finds himself as an adult with Rebekah, his wife, in Gerar because of a famine, he makes the same mistake that his father made in deceiving the people about his true relationship with his wife. Nevertheless, Rebekah was the daughter of his cousin, Bethuel, (which would equate to her being his second cousin) and not his half-sister, much less his sister at all. One has heard the expression, “Like father, like son,” and as fathers, we should understand the importance of relaying our values and character down to our sons. They will pick up our bad habits as well as our instructions. This is why we have the great responsibility of teaching, training and disciplining our children (Eph. 6:4).

Isaac was concerned about carrying on the legacy of his father. It is of great interest that he dug again the wells that his father once created after the Philistines filled them with dirt (Gen. 26:15-18). Once he spent the time and effort of keeping alive what his father had done, he made sure that he called them by the same names as his father. What a wonderful portrait of extenuating that which is valuable from one generation to another. He never wavered with the thought, “Well, that is what my Dad did, but I could care less, because I am my own man.” Oh no, if it was important to his father, then he knew it should be important to him. This is what every home should strive to do also—relay values from one generation to the next!

These are just a handful of lessons we may glean from this obscure man. Nevertheless, we may benefit richly from his life and example. The church may have her members who are as Abraham or Jacob, but God also needs Christians who are as Isaac. One may not know us for our great accomplishments, but we can still do what God wants us to do, just as Isaac demonstrates. The greatest mistake in life is to do nothing. Isaac did what he could, and thus we see his name immortalized, nestled with the shadow of his father and son–“The God of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Jacob” (Acts 3:13).

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