The biblical patriarch Isaac was the promised son of the aged Abraham and Sarah and the father by Rebecca of the twins Esau and Jacob. When Isaac was a boy, he was almost sacrificed by his obedient father, but God spared the boy. This story (Genesis 22) may illustrate ancient Israel's rejection of child sacrifice. Serving as a bridge in the patriarchal tradition, Isaac is also an important character in the Jacob story. According to Genesis 27, Jacob and his mother, Rebecca, deceived the old and feeble Isaac into giving his final blessing to Jacob instead of the firstborn Esau. In the Bible, God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
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(1.) Israel, or the kingdom of the ten tribes (Amos 7:9, 16).
(2.) The only son of Abraham by Sarah. He was the longest lived of the three patriarchs (Gen. 21: 1-3). He was circumcised when eight days old (4-7); and when he was probably two years old a great feast was held in connection with his being weaned. The next memorable event in his life is that connected with the command of God given to Abraham to offer him up as a sacrifice on a mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen.22).
When he was forty years of age Rebekah was chosen for his wife (Gen. 24). After the death and burial of his father he took up his residence at Beer-lahai-roi (25:7-11), where his two sons, Esau and Jacob, were born (21-26), the former of whom seems to have been his favourite son (27,28). In consequence of a famine (Gen. 26:1) Isaac went to Gerar, where he practised deception as to his relation to Rebekah, imitating the conduct of his father in Egypt (12:12-20) and in Gerar (20:2). The Philistine king rebuked him for his prevarication. After sojourning for some time in the land of the Philistines, he returned to Beersheba, where God gave him fresh assurance of covenant blessing, and where Abimelech entered into a covenant of peace with him.
The next chief event in his life was the blessing of his sons (Gen. 27:1). He died at Mamre, "being old and full of days" (35:27-29), one hundred and eighty years old, and was buried in the cave of Machpelah. In the New Testament reference is made to his having been "offered up" by his father (Heb. 11:17; James 2:21), and to his blessing his sons (Heb. 11:20). As the child of promise, he is contrasted with Ishmael (Rom. 9:7, 10; Gal. 4:28; Heb. 11:18). Isaac is "at once a counterpart of his father in simple devoutness and purity of life, and a contrast in his passive weakness of character, which in part, at least, may have sprung from his relations to his mother and wife. After the expulsion of Ishmael and Hagar, Isaac had no competitor, and grew up in the shade of Sarah's tent, moulded into feminine softness by habitual submission to her strong, loving will."
His life was so quiet and uneventful that it was spent "within the circle of a few miles; so guileless that he let Jacob overreach him rather than disbelieve his assurance; so tender that his mother's death was the poignant sorrow of years; so patient and gentle that peace with his neighbours was dearer than even such a coveted possession as a well of living water dug by his own men; so grandly obedient that he put his life at his father's disposal; so firm in his reliance on God that his greatest concern through life was to honour the divine promise given to his race." Geikie's Hours, etc.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
The son of Abraham and Sara. The incidents of his life are told in Genesis 15-35, in a narrative the principal parts of which are traced back by many scholars to three several documents (J, E, P) utilized in the composition of the Book of Genesis (see ABRAHAM).
According to Genesis 17:17; 18:12; 21:6, his name means: "he laughs". He was circumcised eight days after his birth, weaned in due time, and proclaimed the sole legal ancestor of the chosen people (21:1-12). His early years were spent in Bersabee, whence he was taken by his father to Mount Moria to be offered up in sacrifice, and whither he returned after his life had been miraculously spared (21:33; 22:19). His mother died when he was thirty-six years of age (cf. Genesis 17:17; 23:1). A few years later, he married Rebecca, Bathuel's daughter, whom one of his father's servants had, according to Abraham's directions, brought from Mesopotamia (24). The union took place in "the south country", where Isaac then lived, and continued to live after he had joined with Ismael in committing the body of Abraham to burial in the cave of Machpelah (24:62, 67; 25:7-11). Many years elapsed before Isaac's longing entreaty to God for children was actually heard. Of the twins to whom she then gave birth, Esau was beloved by Isaac, while Jacob was Rebecca's favourite (25:21-28). Drought and famine made it necessary for Isaac to take the road down to Egypt, but, at Yahweh's bidding, he stopped on his way thither and sojourned in Gerara, where an incident similar to that of Abraham's disavowal of Sara is recorded of him (26:1-11). We are told next how, through envy of Isaac's prosperity as a husbandman and a herdsman, the Philistines among whom he dwelt began petty persecutions, which the Hebrew patriarch bore patiently, but on account of which he finally withdrew to Bersabee. There he was favoured with a new vision from Yahweh, and entered a solemn covenant with Abimelech, King of Gerara (26:12-33). During the last years of Isaac's career, there occurred the well-known incident of his conferring upon Jacob the Divine blessing, which he had always intended for Esau (27), followed by Isaac's concern to protect Jacob from his brother's resentment and to secure for him a wife from his mother's kindred in Mesopotamia (28:1-5). After Jacob's return, Isaac died at the age of one hundred and eighty, and was buried by his sons in the cave of Machpelah (35:27-29; 49:31). As delineated in Genesis, the figure of Isaac is much less striking than that of Abraham, his father. Yet, by his manner of life, always quiet, gentle, guileless, faithful to God's guidance, he ever was the worthy heir and transmitter of the glorious promises made to Abraham. He was pre-eminently a man of peace, the fitting type of the Prince of Peace, whose great sacrifice on Mount Calvary was foreshadowed by Isaac's obedience unto death on Mount Moria. The New Testament contains few, but significant references to Isaac (cf. Matthew 8:11; Luke 12:28; 20:37; Romans 9:7; Galatians 4:28; Hebrews 11:17 sqq.; James 2:21).
The legends and various details concerning Isaac which are found in the Talmud and in Rabbinical writings are of no historical value.
Publication information Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
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