This morning we return to study another Bible character. We find him recorded in Genesis 21 through 28. His name is Isaac. He is the son promised by God to Abraham.
Connie emailed me with enthusiasm, “I’m looking forward to Isaac’s story. Usually, Isaac is presented as the son of a famous father and the father of a famous son. … that Isaac was probably a below average guy, just the kind God is looking for to display His greatness.”
In Genesis 15, God told Abraham He would give Abraham a son and promised that Abraham’s offspring will be as numerous as the stars in heaven. About 10 years later, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, still did not conceive. So Sarah decided to help God out by setting up her husband to conceive a child with their housemaid, Hagar. As a result, Ishmael was born.
This act of impatience and self-reliance created heartaches for Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael. Impatience and self-reliance continue to create heartaches for people today. We know God wants to bless us, but we don’t want to wait on His timing. So we take things into our own hands, leaving in our path broken relationships, unfulfilled commitments and unnecessary burdens.
But God is gracious. He keeps His promise despite Abraham, Sarah and us. When Abraham turned 99 years old and Sarah was past the age of childbearing, God told them He would do the impossible, “Sarah will have a son next year.”
When Sarah heard the news, she laughed with disbelief and cynicism. But sure enough, Sarah gave birth to Isaac exactly one year from the date God said she would. The name Isaac is a play on the Hebrew word, “laughter.” More than the laughter of disbelief, Isaac became the demonstration of God’s laughter: The hearty laughter of victory.
Isaac really was an average guy. No victory in battle. Not even a battle; rather he was a pushover. No great steps of faith. Even the wealth he had was inherited upon the death of his father, Abraham. Some people make things happen; others have things happen to them. Isaac was the latter.
So why is Isaac known as one of the three great patriarchs of God’s chosen people? Why is his name associated with the God of the Jewish people? Why does God commit almost 1/6 of the book of Genesis to record the life of Isaac?
Isaac was an easily frightened person.
Some might suggest that his fear came from the traumatic childhood experience of almost being slain by his own father as a sacrifice to God. I disagree. I believe what Isaac learned from that episode in Genesis 22 is obedience to God and the provision of God. He did not leave with the idea that God was some kind of monster who delighted in human sacrifice. He left with the knowledge that what God demands, He supplied.
Nevertheless, Isaac is a fearful person. We read in Genesis 26 Isaac’s dealing with Abimelech, the king of the Philistines. Like his father, Isaac, lied to Abimelech, saying that Rebekah was his sister rather than his wife. When Abimelech found out that Rebekah was Isaac’s wife, he was furious. He asked Isaac, “Why did you lie to me?”
Isaac replied, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”
How would you like to be Isaac’s wife?
Isaac wasn’t just afraid of the Abimelech. He didn’t like confrontations at all. He was easily bullied. Time and again, the Philistines moved him and his family out of the land they had settled.
Isaac was not a fighting man like his Dad. Isaac was a farmer blessed by God. Everything he touched reaped 100 fold. And the Philistines became jealous. Thinking the land was blessed instead of the person, the Philistines took over Isaac’s farm each time he resettled and replanted.
Isaac was not one of the three great patriarchs because of his courage. He was not associated with the God of the Jewish people because of his courage. His life was recorded in Genesis not because of his courage.
Isaac was also a fairly feeble person.
In his late 30s, Isaac’s Mom died and his Dad was very old. Isaac became depressed and troubled. His Mom was not longer there to defend him, and his Dad was about to die. In order to comfort Isaac, his Dad sent a servant to get a wife for him. Rebekah was her name, and she was a comfort to Isaac.
We see Isaac growing even feebler as he aged. He lost his eyesight. His own wife and younger son, Jacob, plotted and succeeded in deceiving him. Isaac intended to bless Esau, the older son, but he ended up passing the blessing onto Jacob instead.
Finally, Isaac was a rather finite person.
By finite, I mean, he did not accomplish much with eternal value during his lifetime. He got married. He had a family. He had a farm. But he really didn’t have much to show for at the end of his life. Yet, he was known as one of the three great fathers of the Jewish people.
Was Isaac a patriarch simply because he was Abraham’s son? A frightened, feeble and finite character is not much to brag about. Why is God committed to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Why not just the God of Abraham and Jacob?
Because Isaac was God’s laughter. Through Isaac’s life, we can see God’s victories and hear God’s laughter. God delights in doing the impossible through the improbable. God is pleased to help His people. He laughs when He turns our mountains into molehills, and He laughs when He turns our weaknesses into displays of His strength. The Apostle Paul said, “[God’s] grace is sufficient for [me], for [His] power is made perfect in weakness.”
We see in Isaac’s life that God’s power is not hindered by our fear. We read in Genesis 26 that Abimelech’s reverence for God caused him to spare Isaac’s life even though Isaac lied to him about Rebekah being his sister. And we read that although Isaac was a pushover, God blessed him with a great harvest anyways.
Maybe you are easily frightened. Maybe you are afraid of what others will do to you, your boss or your landlord? Maybe students in your school or co-workers at your job bully you. As in Isaac’s fear, when you are afraid, remember that God’s power will prove sufficient. God’s display of power is not dependent upon our display of courage.
We see in Isaac’s life that God’s plan is not hindered by our feebleness. We read in Genesis 24 that in Isaac’s weakness, God provided Rebekah as a wife to comfort Isaac. God was the one Who granted Abraham’s servant success in finding Rebekah.
God even worked His plan into Isaac’s feebleness at old age. Traditionally, the first-born, Esau, would be the one to receive the blessing from the father, but we read in Genesis 25 that God wanted to reverse this. As a result, God permitted Rebekah and Jacob to succeed in their scheme to trick Isaac.
Maybe you are not strong. Maybe the people in your life who are your strength have been taken from you. Maybe you are easily overwhelmed by life’s circumstances. Our feebleness will not hinder God’s plan. God will comfort you. He will bless whom He wants to bless. God’s strength to carry out His plan is not dependent upon our strength to carry out our part.
We see in Isaac’s life that God’s purpose is not hindered by our finitude. This is to say that not even our death will prevent the fulfillment of God’s purpose. God’s purpose was to bless every nation in the world through Abraham’s offspring. At Isaac’s death, the blessing had not even gone outside the family, not to mention into the world.
Yet, today, every nation in the world is blessed by Abraham’s offspring. The genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew tells us that Jesus came from the line of Abraham. Galatians 3:29 affirms this truth, “If you belong to [Jesus] Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The fulfillment of God’s purpose is not dependent on our staying alive to carry out His purposes.
You may feel like you’ve wasted a large part of your life before you committed your life to Christ. Or maybe as a believer, your life appears quite ordinary, even boring. Realize that what God wants to do through your life, He will. What God begins, He is quite capable of bringing to completion.
I was talking with someone from church last week who said to me, “Dana, if God can use you, He can use anybody.” We laughed, and I agreed with that statement. But just as true is that if God can use a frightened, feeble and finite man like Isaac to be a blessing to the world, God can use you. Each of our lives can be an echo of God’s laughter of victory. God is pleased to do the impossible through the improbable.