It has been said that the salient feature of Isaac’s life is that it has no salient features. He is a passive and unoriginal character. The events and incidents recorded are few and in those that are, Isaac is overshadowed by the other personalities in the story.
He is the longest lived of the patriarchs, his 180 years being mostly tranquil and undisturbed. Abraham’s journeys included those from Ur to Haran, Haran to Canaan, Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, Beersheba, Gerar and Egypt. Isaac travelled few miles from his birthplace.
When an enemy took possession of his wells he simply dug others, Gen. 26. 17-22. He cleaned out the old wells left by his father, but dug new ones of his own also. We should realise that whilst there is need to draw from the past, it is vital to find new springs for the future.
Although the emphasis here is on Abraham’s faith, there must have been obedient consent on Isaac’s part; he was no longer a stripling lad but a full grown man. His was a passive faith; “so they went both of them together”, v. 8.
Here we find other instances of his passive character. He agreed with the principle not to marry a woman of Canaan, 24. 3, and accepted the partner found by the servant, 24. 67. Unlike his father Abraham, he resorted not to a bondwoman but “intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived”, 25. 21.
We listen to the fleshly words of the passive Isaac to his favourite son, Esau, “make me savoury meat, such as I love… that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die”, v. 4. In spite of the prophecy that the elder should serve the younger, 25. 23, Isaac determined to give the blessing to Esau. In the quiet Isaac, there was a silent resolve to thwart the divine choice. Rebekah and Jacob were equally wrong in using human efforts to bring about God’s plan. The means is as important as the end.
There are many more practical lessons to be learned from Jacob’s life. We may note
Whilst in Jacob we see man’s depravity and crookedness, the history also clearly presents God’s electing grace. The Lord said prior to his birth “the elder (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)”, v. 23. How forcefully Malachi uses this fact to challenge the people of his day; God’s people could never question His love for “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob”, Mal. 1. 2; cf. Rom. 9. 12-13.
Many look at Jacob’s life critically without realising that we have no cause for confidence in the flesh ourselves. Even Paul exhorts believers to put away lying and speak every man truth with his neighbour”, Eph. 4. 25. Here then we hear Jacob say to his father “I am Esau thy firstborn , Gen. 27. 19. Later, his father said to Esau “Thy brother came with subtilty”, v. 35. Then we hear Esau say “Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times”, v. 36. The meaning of Jacob is “one who follows upon another’s heels”, 25. 26. It was Esau who first gave it a bad meaning. “Supplanter” is derived from planta, the sole of the foot.
As a result of this sin, Jacob had to leave the home which he loved and was away for some twenty years in all. Let us remember that large doors swing on little hinges.
“And Isaac called Jacob … and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan”, v. 1. To choose a partner in life is still a solemn thing; only “in the Lord” can a marriage be crowned with blessing.
“And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee … and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of”, v. 15. Such was the promise of God to Jacob, who was utterly lonely and away from home. There was still a way from earth to heaven, a ladder back to God, and Jacob is reassured of the companionship of the Mighty God. Note here the threefold “behold”; in connection with Christ they point to
At Haran in the school of Laban, Jacob found scope for his ability to bargain. His wives and his wages were settled by this means, Laban had found his equal in Jacob. Finally Jacob, true to himself, steals away unawares and flees. He has not learnt the lesson of Bethel yet.
This was the turning point in Jacob’s history; “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him”, v. 1. The grace of God still followed him, and still he continued to plan and scheme his way. He would appease Esau with a present, v. 20, and at the same time appeal to God for deliverance, v. 11. Prayer and plans bore little resemblance; why not leave it all to God?
But then we read “Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day”, v. 24. Jacob must be vanquished before he is a victor; he must be crippled ere he can be crowned. From this time “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed”, v. 28. God still changes men by divine grace and power.
“These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph . . ”, v. 2. The generations of Jacob are mostly occupied with the history of Joseph, because through him the divine purpose was carried on. He found his satisfaction in Joseph and “when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent … Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die”, 45. 27-28. He was satisfied with the one whose bow abode in strength, and whose arms were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, 49. 24. When our wanderings cease we, too, shall be satisfied, when we awake, with the likeness of the One of whom Joseph is but a type.
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