Gleanings In Genesis
27. The Man Isaac
In our last two articles we have been occupied more particularly with the person of Isaac, now we are to review his history. It is noticeable that though Isaac lived the longest of the four great patriarchs yet less is recorded of him than of the others: some twelve chapters are devoted to the biography of Abraham, and a similar number each to Jacob and Joseph, but excepting for one or two brief mentionings, before and after, the history of Isaac is condensed into a single chapter. Contrasting his character with those of his father and son, we may remark that of Isaac there is noted less of Abraham’s triumphs of faith and less of Jacob’s failures.
As we have seen in our previous studies Isaac, typically, represents sonship. In perfect consonance with this we may note how he was appointed heir of all things. Said Eliazer to Bethuel, "And Sarah my master’s wife bare a son to my master when she was old: and unto him hath he given all that he hath" (Gen. 24:36). Observe how this is repeated for sake of emphasis in Genesis 25:5—"And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac." In the type this pointed first to Abraham’s greater Son, "Whom He (God) hath appointed Heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). But it is equally true of all those who are through faith the children of Abraham and the children of God—"And if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). As with Isaac, so with us: all the wealth of the Father’s house is ours! But Isaac not only represented the believer’s sonship and heirship, but he also foreshadowed our heavenly calling. As is well known to most of our readers, the land of Canaan typified the Heavenlies where is our citizenship (Phil. 3:20) and our spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12). Hence it was that Isaac alone of the patriarchs is never seen outside the Land. This is the more noticeable and striking when we remember how that Abraham, Jacob and Joseph each did leave the Land, for a time at least.
Having looked at Isaac mystically we shall now consider him morally. The first thing we read about him after the remarkable scene pictured in Genesis 22 is that "Isaac came from the way of the well Lahai-roi; for he dwelt in the south country. And Isaac went out to meditate (or pray) in the field at the eventide" (Gen. 24:62, 63). This gives us a good insight into Isaac’s character. He was of the quiet and retiring order. He had not the positive, active, aggressive disposition of his eminent father, but was gentle and retiring and unresisting. In One only do we find all the Divine graces and perfections.
Isaac was essentially the man of the well. Abraham was markedly the man of the altar, Jacob specially the man of the tent but that which was most prominent in connection with Isaac was the "well." The first thing said of Isaac after he was bound to the altar (Gen. 22) is, "Isaac came from the way of the well Lahai-roi" (Gen. 24:62). This is very striking coming as the next mention of Isaac after we have seen Christ typically slain, resurrected and ascended (compare our last article on Gen. 22). Hence that which follows here in the type is the figure of the Holy Spirit’s operations as succeeding Christ’s Ascension! But returning to Isaac and the well. The next time he is referred to we are told, "And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi" (Gen. 25:11). And again we read, "And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. And Isaac digged again the wells of water which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them" (Gen. 26:18, 19). For further references see Genesis 26:20, 21, 22, 25. It is very striking and significant that the name of Isaac is associated with "wells" just seven times, not less, not more. Undoubtedly there is some important lesson to be gathered from this.
A well differs from a cistern, in that it is the place of running water. What a marvelous hint of the typical meaning of Isaac’s well is that found in Genesis 26:19!—"And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water," the margin gives, "of living water"! Water is imperative for the maintenance of the natural life; so, too, is it with the spiritual. The first need of the believer is the "living water," that is, the Spirit acting through the Word. "The way that water ministers to life and growth is indeed a beautiful type of the Spirit’s action. Without water a plant will die in the midst of abundance of food in actual contact with its roots. Its office is to make food to be assimilated by the organism, and to give power to the system itself to take it up" (F. W. G)
The first well by which Isaac is seen is that of Lahai-roi (Gen. 24:62; Gen. 25:11), the meaning of which is, "Him that liveth and seeth me" (See Gen. 16:14). It told of the unfailing care of the ever-living and ever-present God. And where is such a "well" to be found to-day? Where is it we are brought to realize the presence of this One? Where but in the Holy Scriptures! The Word of God ministered to us by the power and blessing of the Spirit is that which reveals to us the presence of God. The "well," then, typifies the place to which the son is brought—into the presence of God. His remaining there, practically, depends upon his use of and obedience to the Word.
We have just looked at Isaac by the Well of Lahai-roi; did he remain there? What do you suppose is the answer, reader? Could you not supply it from your own experience! "And there was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech, king of the Philistines unto Gerar" (Gen. 26:1). Isaac’s departure from the well Lahai-roi to Gerar typifies the failure of the son (the believer) to maintain his standing in the presence of God and his enjoyment of Divine fellowship. But is it not blessed to read next, "And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee, for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father" (Gen. 26:2, 3). Apparently, Isaac was on his way to Egypt, like his father before him in time of famine, and would have gone there had not the Lord appeared to him and arrested his steps. In passing, we would remark that here we have a striking illustration of the sovereign ways of God. To Isaac the Lord appeared and stayed him from going down to Egypt, yet under precisely similar circumstances He appeared not unto Abraham!
"And Isaac dwelt in Gerar" (Gen. 26:6). Gerar was the borderland midway between Canaan and Egypt. Note that God had said to Isaac, "Sojourn in this land" (verse 3), but Isaac "dwelt" there (verse 6), and that "a long time" (verse 8). Mark now the consequence of Isaac settling down in Gerar—type of the believer out of communion. He sinned there! "And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon" (Gen. 26:7). Isaac thus repeated the sin of Abraham (Gen. 20:1, 2). What are we to learn from Isaac thus following the evil example of his father? From others we select two thoughts. First, the readiness with which Isaac followed in the way of Abraham suggests that it is much easier for children to imitate the vices and weaknesses of their parents than it is to emulate their virtues, and that the sins of the parents are frequently perpetuated in their children. Solemn thought this! But, second, Abraham and Isaac were men of vastly different temperament, yet each succumbed to the same temptation. When famine arose each fled to man for help. When in the land of Abimelech each was afraid to own his wife as such. Are we not to gather from this that no matter what our natural temperament may be, unless the grace of God supports and sustains us we shall inevitably fall! What a warning!
"Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year a hundred-fold: and the Lord blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great" (Gen. 26:12, 13). Most of the commentators have had difficulty with these verses and have resorted to various ingenuities to explain this prosperity of Isaac while he was out of communion with God. But the difficulty vanishes if we look at the above statement in the light of Genesis 5:3, where the Lord had said, "I will bless thee"—a promise given before Isaac had practiced this deception upon Abimelech. That this is the true interpretation appears from the word "bless." God had said, "I will bless thee" (verse 3), and Genesis 5:12 records the fulfillment of God’s promise, for here we read, "And the Lord blessed him." The failure of Isaac between the time when God made promise and its fulfillment only affords us a striking illustration of that blessed word," He is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:23)! Yes, blessed be His name, even "if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13).
Next we are told, "And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we" (Gen. 26:16). Was not this God speaking to Isaac, speaking at a distance (through Abimelech) and not yet directly!
"And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them" (Gen. 26:17, 18). In digging again these wells of Abraham which had been stopped up by the Philistines, Isaac appears to typify Christ who, at the beginning of the New Testament, dispensation re-opened the Well of Living Water which had, virtually, been blocked up by the traditions and ceremonialism of the Pharisees.
"And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. And the herdsmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, The water is ours . . . And they digged another well and strove for that also . . . And he removed from thence and digged an-other well" (Gen. 26:19-22). Again we would ask, Was not this "strife" God’s way of leading his child back to Himself again! But note also the lovely moral trait seen here in Isaac, namely, his nonresistance of evil. Instead of standing up for his "rights," instead of contending for the wells which he had dug, he quietly "removed" to another place. In this he beautifully points out the path which the Christian should follow: "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, ye suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Pet. 2:19, 20). We need hardly remind the reader that the attitude displayed by Isaac, as above, was that of the Savior who "when He was reviled, reviled not again."
"And he went up from thence to Beersheba" (Gen. 26:23). Mark here the topographical reference which symbolized Isaac’s moral ascent and return to the place of communion, for "Beersheba" means the Well of the Oath. In full accord with this behold the blessed sequel "And the Lord appeared unto him the same night and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father; fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham’s sake" (Gen. 26:24). On the very night of Isaac’s return to Beersheba the Lord "appeared unto" him!
"And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac digged a well" (Gen. 26:25). Mark how the "altar" is mentioned before the "tent"—there was no mention of any altar in Gerar! How striking, too, that next we read, "Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahurzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army" (Gen. 26:26). Personal blessings from the Lord was not the only result of his return to Beersheba. Abimelech seeks him out, not now to distress him (we no longer read of any "striving" for this last well), but to ask a favor. And they said, "We certainly saw that the Lord was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee" (Gen. 26:28). Now that our patriarch has entered again the path of God’s will, those who formerly were his enemies seek him and bear witness to the presence of God with him. An illustration is this that "when a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7).
"And he (Isaac) made them a feast, and they did eat and drink. And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace" (Gen. 26:30, 31). Above we called attention to how meekly Isaac suffered wrong when the Philistines strove for his wells, but here we may mark his failure to manifest another grace which ought always to accompany meekness. There is a meekness which is according to nature, but usually this degenerates into weakness. The meekness which is of the Spirit will not set aside the requirements of righteousness, but will maintain the claims of God. And here Isaac failed. To forgive is Christian, but with that there must be faithfulness in its season. "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). Abimelech had clearly wronged him, but instead of dealing with Abimelech’s conscience, Isaac made him a "feast." This was amiable, no doubt, but it was not upholding the claims of righteousness. Contrast the conduct of Abraham under similar circumstances—"And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away" (Gen. 21:25)!
"And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite: which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah" (Gen. 26:34, 35). This is sad, and points a solemn warning to us. Marriage is a momentous undertaking, and for one of the Lord’s people to unite with a worlding is to court disaster as well as to dishonor Christ. Jehovah’s instructions to Israel were very pointed: under no circumstances must they marry a Canaanite (Deut. 7:3). In the times covered by the book of Genesis, though apparently no divine law had been given respecting it, yet the mind of God was clearly understood. This is evident from the care which Abraham took to secure Isaac a wife from among his own people (Gen. 24), thus did he prevent Isaac from marrying a daughter of Canaan. But Isaac was careless about this matter. He failed to watch over his children so as to anticipate mischief. Esau married a daughter of the Hittites. God could not say of Isaac as he had of his father, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Gen. 18:19). However, that Isaac had within him a righteous soul to be "vexed" is clear from the words, "which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah" (Gen. 26:35).
We reserve for our next article a detailed examination of Genesis 27. Suffice it now to refer barely to the incident which is well known to our readers. Isaac was one hundred and forty years old and was fearful that death might soon overtake him. He therefore prepares to perform the last religious act of a patriarchal priest and bestow blessing upon his sons. But mark how that instead of seeking guidance from God in prayer his mind is occupied with a feast of venison. Not only so, but he seeks to reverse the expressed will of God and bestow upon Esau what the Lord had reserved for Jacob. But whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Isaac acts in the energy of the flesh, and Rebekah and Jacob deal with him on the same low level. And here the history of Isaac terminates! After charging Jacob not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan (Gen. 28:1) he disappears from the scene and nothing further is recorded of him save his death and burial (Gen. 35:27-29). As another has said, "instead of wearing out, Isaac rusted out," rusted out as a vessel no longer fit for the master’s use.
"Was Isaac, I ask, a vessel marred on the wheel? Was he a vessel laid aside as not fit for the Master’s use? or at least not fit for it any longer? His history seems to tell us this. Abraham had not been such an one. All the distinguishing features of ‘the stranger here,’ all the proper fruits of that energy that quickened him at the outset, were borne in him and by him to the very end. We have looked at this already in the walk of Abraham. Abraham’s leaf did not wither. He brought forth fruit in old age. So was it with Moses, with David, and with Paul. They die with their harness on, at the plough or in the battle. Mistakes and more than mistakes they made by the way, or in their cause, or at their work; but they are never laid aside. Moses is counseling the camp near the banks of the Jordan; David is ordering the conditions of the Kingdom, and putting it (in its beauty and strength) into the hand of Solomon; Paul has his armor on, his loins girded. When, as I may say, the time of their departure was at hand, the Master, as we may read in Luke 12, found them ‘so doing,’ as servants should be found. But thus was it not with Isaac. Isaac is laid aside. For forty long years we know nothing of him; he had been, as it were, decaying away and wasting. The vessel was rusting till it rusted out.
"There is surely meaning in all this, meaning for our admonition. And yet—such is the fruitfulness and instruction of the testimonies of God—there are others in Scripture, of other generations, who have still more solemn lessons and warnings for us. It is humbling to be laid aside as no longer fit for use; but it is sad to be left merely to recover ourselves, and it is terrible to remain to defile ourselves. And illustrations of all this moral variety we get in the testimonies of God. Jacob, in his closing days in Egypt, is not as a vessel laid aside, but he is there recovering himself. I know there are some truly precious things connected with him during those seventeen years that he spent in that land, and we could not spare the lesson which the Spirit reads to us out of the life of Jacob in Egypt. But still, the moral of it is this—a saint, who had been under holy discipline, recovering himself, and yielding fruit, meet for recovery. And when we think of it a little, that is but a poor thing. But Solomon is a still worse case, He lives to defile himself; sad and terrible to tell it. This was neither Isaac nor Jacob—it was not a saint simply laid aside, nor a saint left to recover himself. Isaac was, in the great moral sense, blameless to the end, and Jacob’s last days were his best days; but of Solomon we read, ‘It came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods,’ and this has made the writing over his name, the tablet to his memory, equivocal, and hard to be deciphered to this day.
"Such lessons do Isaac and Jacob and Solomon, in these ways, read for us, beloved—such are the minute and various instructions left for our souls in the fruitful and living pages of the oracles of God. They give us to see, in the house of God, vessels fit for use and kept in use even to the end—vessels laid aside, to rust out rather than to wear out—vessels whose best service is to get themselves clean again—and vessels whose dishonor it is, at the end of their service, to contract some fresh defilement." (J. G. Bellett, "The Patriarchs.")