What is the biblical account of Isaac?
Isaac comes across as a somewhat passive character in the history of Israel, but he subtly shows signs of great faith that many others lack.
Subscribe to our Compelling Mail Newsletter:
The year before Isaac was born was a busy one for his parents. God gave Abram the covenant of circumcision and changed his name to Abraham ("father of many"). God reiterated His promise that Abraham's wife Sarah would bear Abraham's heir in a year's time — and when Abraham laughed at the thought of 91-year-old Sarah giving birth, God named their son Isaac, or "laughter." God also promised that Ishmael, Abraham's son with Sarah's handmaiden Hagar, would father twelve princes.
Shortly after Abraham circumcised his household, God struck down Sodom and Gomorrah, saving only Lot and his daughters. Then Abraham moved his family to the Negev where he, once again, lied to a king, telling him the beautiful Sarah was his sister. God warned King Abimelech of Sarah's true position, and Abimelech and Abraham reconciled.
Finally, when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 91, Isaac was born. Upon his birth, his mother drove out his 14-year old half-brother Ishmael and Ishmael's mother (Genesis 21).
The Bible doesn't say how old Isaac was when God called Abraham to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). We do know that during the ordeal, Isaac showed a faith in God that was surpassed only by that of his father. There's no sign that Isaac struggled while Abraham bound him or of surprise when God provided a ram instead. The test of faith seemed to have been for both Abraham and Isaac, and they both passed with flying colors.
When Isaac was 38, Sarah died (Genesis 23). Abraham purchased a field with a cave and buried her there. As Abraham grew older, the thought of Isaac's progeny grew in his mind, but he knew better than to find a wife for Isaac amongst the ungodly Canaanites. He had heard that his brother, Nahor, had fathered several sons, so he sent his servant to his family's home in Haran in modern-day Turkey to find Isaac a wife. After the servant made a show of Abraham's riches, Nahor's granddaughter Rebekah agreed to return with him and marry Isaac. Isaac fell in love and was comforted two years after Sarah's death (Genesis 24).
When Isaac was 75 years old and Abraham was 175, Abraham died (Genesis 25:1-11). By then, Abraham had six other sons by his second wife, Keturah. Isaac was Abraham's sole heir, but before he died, Abraham prevented conflict by providing for his other sons and making sure they settled far from Isaac. It must have worked, as when Abraham died, Isaac and Ishmael buried him together with Sarah with no sign of animosity.
Like Sarah, Rebekah was barren. Isaac prayed for her and when he was 60 years old she became pregnant with twins. Very active twins, prenatally speaking. When she asked God why they were so active, God revealed to her that each boy would be the father of a nation, but it is the younger who would be Isaac's heir (Genesis 25:19-28). The boys could not be more different. Esau had ruddy skin and a lot of body hair, and loved to hunt. Jacob, who was born holding Esau's heel, was quiet but conniving. Jacob did his part to ensure God's prophecy when he convinced a hungry Esau to trade his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew and a piece of bread (Genesis 25:29-34).
With the land in famine, God convinced Isaac to keep his family in the Negev, near King Abimelech of the Philistines, instead of traveling to Egypt. Once he was settled, he followed in his foolish father's footsteps by claiming Rebekah was his sister. After some time, Abimelech discovered the truth and scolded Isaac soundly, then put out an edict ensuring the protection of Isaac's life and Rebekah's virtue (Genesis 26:1-11).
God's blessings ensured Isaac's crops and livestock flourished, even to the point that the Philistines got concerned and Abimelech kindly requested that they leave. Isaac moved to the land where Abraham had dug several wells, and cleared them of the Philistines' attempt to bury them. After some drama with locals who wanted the wells and a peace treaty with Abimelech, Isaac's servants dug one final well and they founded the city of Beersheba (Genesis 26:12-33).
When Esau was 40 and Isaac was 100, Esau married two Hittite women who promptly made life bitter for both Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 26:34-35). Despite this, Esau was still Isaac's favorite. He told Esau to hunt game and make a stew, and he would give Esau the blessing of the firstborn. Rebekah had other ideas. Anxious to ensure her favorite Jacob received the blessing and knowing Isaac's senses were fading, she made a stew of goat meat and put the goat skin on Jacob's hairless arms. An old coat of Esau's was all that needed to convince Isaac that Jacob was Esau, and Jacob received the blessing. All that's left for Esau was the promise that although his people would be wild warriors, they would eventually break out from under Jacob's rule (Genesis 27). Esau's descendants went on to be the Edomites who loved to bring the Israelites trouble any chance they got.
Fearful of Esau's fury, Rebekah told Jacob he must flee to her brother Laban in Haran, then told Isaac she was sending him there to find a wife. Isaac blessed Jacob and sent him on his way (Genesis 28:1-5). Meanwhile, Esau realized that his parents didn't want their sons to marry Canaanites, including his two wives, so he married a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:6-9).
By the time Jacob returned with two wives, two concubines, and a whole bunch of children, Esau had cooled down. The brothers reconciled in time to bury their 180-year-old father with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 35:27-29).
What is the biblical account of Abraham?
The Abrahamic covenant – What is it?
What are the twelve tribes of Israel?
What is the biblical account of Jacob?
Why should we read the Old Testament?
Truth about Everything Else