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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ISAAC . Son of Abraham and Sarah. The meaning of the name is ‘he laugheth,’ and several reasons for bestowing it are suggested ( Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12; Genesis 21:6 ). The narrative as it occurs in Scripture was derived from three principal sources. J [Note: Jahwist.] supplied Genesis 18:9-15; Genesis 21:1-7; Genesis 21:24; Genesis 25:5; Genesis 25:11; Genesis 25:26 and the bulk of Genesis 25:27; to E [Note: Elohist.] may be attributed Genesis 22:1-14 with Genesis 27:11 f., Genesis 27:17 f., Genesis 27:20-22; while P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] was responsible for Genesis 25:19 f., Genesis 25:26 , Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:9 , Genesis 35:27-29 . Apparent discrepancies in the story, such as that Isaac, on his deathbed ( Genesis 27:1; Genesis 27:41 ), blessed Jacob, and yet did not die until many years afterwards ( Genesis 35:27 ), are evidently due to original differences of tradition, which later editors were not careful to remove. Viewed as coming from independent witnesses, they present no serious difficulty, and do not destroy the verisimilitude of the story. In outline the narrative describes Isaac as circumcised when eight days old ( Genesis 21:4 ), and as spending his early youth with his father at Beersheba. Thence he was taken to ‘the land of Moriah,’ to be offered up as a burnt-offering at the bidding of God; and if Abraham’s unquestioning faith is the primary lesson taught ( Genesis 22:12 , Genesis 26:5 , Hebrews 11:17 ff.), Isaac’s child-like confidence in his father is yet conspicuous, with the associated sense of security. His mother died when he was thirty-six years of age; and Abraham sent a servant to fetch a wife for Isaac from amongst his kindred in Mesopotamia, according to Genesis 24:1-67 , where the religious spirit is as noticeable as the idyllic tone. For many years the couple were childless; but at length Isaac’s prayers were heard, and Rebekah gave birth to the twins, Esau and Jacob. Famine and drought made it necessary for Isaac to shift his encampment to Gerar ( Genesis 26:1 ), where a story similar to that of Abraham’s repudiation of Sarah is told of him (ch. 20; cf. Genesis 12:10-20 ). The tradition was evidently a popular one, and may have found currency in several versions, though there is no actual impossibility in the imitation by the son of the father’s device. Isaac’s prosperity aroused the envy of the Philistine herdsmen ( Genesis 26:20 f.) amongst whom he dwelt, and eventually he withdrew again to Beersheba ( Genesis 26:23 ). He appears next as a decrepit and dying man ( Genesis 27:1; Genesis 27:41 ), whose blessing, intended for Esau ( Genesis 25:28 , Genesis 27:4 ), was diverted by Rebekah upon Jacob. When the old man discovered the mistake, he was agitated at the deception practised upon him, but was unable to do more than predict for Esau a wild and independent career. To protect Jacob from his brother’s resentment Isaac sent him away to obtain a wife from his mother’s kindred in Paddan-aram ( Genesis 28:2 ), and repeated the benediction. The next record belongs to a period twenty-one years later, unless the paragraph ( Genesis 35:27-29 ) relates to a visit Jacob made to his home in the interval. It states that Isaac died at Hebron at the age of 180. He was buried by his sons in the cave of Machpelah ( Genesis 49:31 ).

Isaac is a less striking personality than his father. Deficient in the heroic qualities, he suffered in disposition from an excess of mildness and the love of quiet. His passion for ‘savoury meat’ (Genesis 25:28 , Genesis 27:4 ) was probably a tribal failing. He was rather shifty and timid in his relations with Abimelech ( Genesis 26:1-22 ), too easily imposed upon, and not a good ruler of his household, a gracious and kindly but not a strong man. In Genesis 26:5 he is subordinated to Abraham, and blessed for his sake; but the two are more frequently classed together ( Exodus 2:24; Exodus 3:6 , Matthew 8:11; Matthew 22:32 , Acts 3:13 el al .), and in Amos 7:9; Amos 7:16 ‘Isaac’ is used as a synonym for Israel. If therefore the glory of Isaac was partly derived from the memory of his greater father, the impression made upon posterity by his almost Instinctive trust in God ( Genesis 22:7-8 ) and by the prevailing strength of his devotion ( Genesis 25:21 ) was deep and abiding. Jacob considered piety and reverent awe as specially characteristic of his father ( Genesis 31:42; Genesis 31:53 , where ‘the Fear of Isaac’ means the God tremblingly adored by him). The submission of Isaac plays a part, although a less important one than the faith of Abraham, in the NT references ( Hebrews 11:17 f., James 2:21 ).

R. W. Moss.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Isaac'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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