Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Normal, but Faithful Isaac

I am teaching a class on Old Testament history and this week the students have been interacting online about the Patriarchs. One of the themes was about Isaac. image

The comment could be made (has been made!) that Isaac really doesn’t have much of a role in the book of Genesis on his own.  He is always the foil or the secondary player to bigger stores:  he is the promised son of Sarah, who came even though Abraham and Sarah had tried to bring about God’s will by  introducing Hagar into the equation.

He is the obedient son, whose faith in God (and in his father) is shown by the fact that he (perhaps) allowed himself to be tied up and laid on the alter to the point of watching the knife be raised above him to cut his throat and sacrifice him to YHWH.

Even the story about the search for a wife for Isaac isn’t really about Isaac.  It is about Abraham sending his servant to find a wife.  The servant found Rebecca and brought her back.  Isaac is pretty much in the background throughout the entire section of scripture.

Some have called Isaac (unfairly, I believe) a mothers boy because it says that Rebecca was able to comfort Isaac upon his mother’s death.

The only story where Isaac really appears on his own is the very odd story of Isaac hiding the fact that Rebecca is his wife when they come into the country of Abimelech. Even this story of duplicity is not really even Isaac’s, because in some strange way it has been told before:  when Abraham hid the fact that Sarah is his wife, claiming that she was his sister. 

In the last major scene in which Isaac appears, he again is a second string player in the competition between his sons Jacob & Esau.  He is blind and seen as a puzzled old man who is deceived by his wife regarding which son is which.

Compared to Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, Isaac plays only a secondary role.

But in saying that, we may be missing the point.  Often what we have recorded are many of the shenanigans of the Patriarchs.  Could it be that we don’t have a lot recorded about Isaac because he was simply a good husband and father who was a worshipper of JHWH?  In many ways he is the representative of many of us.  He has moments of splendor (almost being sacrificed by his father); he has moments of shame (trying to pass his wife off as his sister).  But mostly he is very normal.  He lives a very normal life (for the time).  He was (in this matrix) a simple man of God who did the very best he knew how given the circumstances.  He was not a Joseph, but neither was he Joseph’s brothers:  neither perfectly good nor reprehensibly bad.  He was a simple man who sought to be faithful to his God, to his wife and to his sons.  Those sort of men don’t get a lot of press: even in the Bible.  But that is the type of men & women that most of us are.  Neither perfect saints, nor reprehensible scoundrels.  But men and women who are doing the very best we know how given the circumstances of life. 

May their tribe increase.


daniel said...

have you ever read anything on this story regarding God's knowledge?

Deirreio Duncan said...

Greetings Professor,
Your article is very interesting. I believe Isaac experienced rejection just as Christ did on the cross for example, being "almost" sacrificed just to see if his father really loved God had to be devestating to him. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Hi teach,
Your insight into the life of Isaac is really great. You mention things that I've never considered nor heard preached before. He is mentioned so little except for him being sacrificed, the other points of his life basically get glossed over or ignored. I guess the importance of obedience is so profound in his story you can easily bypass the rest. Like you said, we all can see ourselves in him though, not completely perfect, nor completely corrupt. Walk out this life, looking to the cross.


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