Other than nearly being sacrificed by his father, Isaac's life seems pretty boring. He can't keep his sons straight, has trouble controlling "bad boy" Jacob, and generally doesn't seem as if we can learn too much from him. Wrong, as Catholic Scripture Study showed me. I fell into that same old trap of thinking that there is only a lesson if something is interesting. But God doesn't work that way.
|"And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel.(KJV);|
illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible
The life of Isaac seems insignificant next to the careers of his father Abraham and his son Jacob. There are few chapters of Scripture devoted to Isaac, and most of his story is entwined with the story of the other Patriarchs. Even the Catechism moves from "God chooses Abraham" (59-61) to "God forms his people Israel" (62-64) without mentioning Isaac by name. Yet he is a Patriarch, his name forever included when Israelites call on the name of God, the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.
Isaac's main role seems to be one of a bridge between Abraham, father of those who believe, and Jacob, father of Israel. Isaac safeguards and transmits the promise through his own faithful obedience. He embodies the continuity of God's promise, the link through whom it passes from generation to generation. But there is more significance to him than that:
- Isaac waits for God's promise, as indeed do all of the Patriarchs. Those 20 years spent praying for a son not only helped form Isaac in faith, they became an example for Israel as it waited for God's promised Messiah. As it is pointed out in Dei Verbum, "through the patriarchs...[God] taught this nation to acknowledge Himself as the one living and true God,...and to wait for the Savior promised by Him. In this manner He prepared the way for the gospel down through the centuries (DV3)."
- Isaac is also the fruit, the evidence of God's promise. He is the impossible child, born of two people well past the age of childbearing. His name means "laughter," and his name is a perpetual reminder that God promises the impossible and keeps His promises.
- And as the obedient son of the promise, Isaac prefigures Jesus Christ, the promised Son of God. He walked willingly and obediently up the hill to be sacrificed, even as Christ would so many years later. His life is a living testimony to "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17)." He is the loving son and father and husband, the obedient son through whom God pours His blessing on a nation and on the world.