Isaac Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: It means “laughter.” This takes on two meaning when you consider the background of when Isaac was born. His mother, Sarah, laughed in mockery that she would be able to have a son at her old age. From this angle calling her son “laughter” could serve as a daily reminder that nothing is too difficult for God. Yet in Genesis 21:6-7 Sarah ascribes the reason for giving this name as the happiness which God had brought her (and everyone else) by giving them a son.
Ancestry and family life: Isaac was the eleventh generation from Noah. He was descended from Shem. His grandfather was Terah, and his father Abraham. He had one older half-brother, Ishmael, and eventually several other younger half-brothers which Abraham had after Sarah’s death.
When and where he lived: Isaac lived primarily in the land of Canaan. He lived as a sojourner moving around often, which was needed for feeding his large herds. He lived near the region which was controlled by the Philistines, showing that their influence dated back to well before the time of David. It was a time in the world when there were almost no followers of the one true God. Polytheism was the common practice of the day and there were many difference false gods and idols in the lands where he lived.
Isaac lived around 1900+ B.C.
Events surrounding birth: Genesis 21:1-7 Isaac’s birth is probably the second most amazing in the Bible, and perhaps in the history of the world (second to Jesus’ virgin birth). His mother was 90 and Abraham was 100. His birth was the fulfillment of a promise God had made to Abraham roughly 20 years before, showing that if we wait for God in faith He will always keep His promises to us. Nothing is too difficult for Him.
Training and occupation: Genesis 26:12-14 – Isaac inherited his father’s wealth. And it kept growing. He was the head of something like a clan. They planted crops and raised flocks of animals. Many speculate that Abraham was at one point a trader/businessman. Since Isaac inherited everything of his fathers’ he would have also inherited the family business. Genesis 25:5.
Place in history: Isaac is a patriarch of the Jewish people. He was one of the first post-flood committed followers of the one true God. Isaac serves as a type of Christ. Hebrews 11:17-19. Abraham received him back as from the dead as a type of Christ’s future resurrection. He and Jesus were both only sons and sons of promise. They were both descended from Abraham. They both carried the wood for their sacrifice (Genesis 22:6, John 19:17-18). They were both obedient to their father’s will, even to the point of being willing to die. They were both delivered up by the power of God.
Special traits: NA.
1. Genesis 25:28 – Isaac and Rebekah both made the same mistake of showing favoritism to their children. Isaac liked Esau better. Rebekah liked Jacob better. Why? Evidently Isaac had more in common with Esau while Rebekah had more in common with Jacob. This led Isaac to prefer Esau over Jacob. Is this sin? Why or why not? What problems did this lead to?
2. Genesis 26 – Isaac followed his father’s example of claiming his wife was his sister for the purpose of trying to save his own life. The saying “like father like son” is very often true. It seems unlikely that Abraham would have taught Isaac he SHOULD do this. Both times Abraham did it, it was clearly a mistake and nearly led to disaster. If Issac did know of these examples (and they appear to be before he was born), it is likely that he knew of them as examples of “This is what you should not do.” That then begs the question, “why did Isaac make this same mistake?” What do you think? The most likely answer to me is that this was a common cultural practice at that time. Perhaps husbands occasionally referred to their wives as their sisters in order to proctect themselves. At least the lying part was certainly a common cultural practice. Yet at the same time, this lie reveals a deeper character flaw. What? That flaw is that Abraham and Isaac (at least at this moment) valued themselves higher than their wives. They were willing for their wives to suffer if it meant they wouldn’t. They were willing to put their wives into danger if it meant they would be safe. For all the current or potential husbands here, we must never do this. As leader of your family, you should be the one taking the risk and danger, not your wife. Put your own neck/reputation/safety on the line, not hers.
3. Not a strong leader of his family – There is not one verse that indicates this is a weakness of Isaac’s. Rather it is inferred from all the goings on of his household. (Genesis 27). There is a lot of manipulation, bitterness, scheming, and hurt feelings bubbling up in Isaac’s family. Rebekah and Jacob scheme together to get Isaac’s blessing. Jacob schemes against Esau to get the birthright. Esau later schemes against Jacob to try to kill him. When this plan is known, Rebekah is the one who comes up with a solution, and that is to send Jacob to her family. Genesis 27:41-46. She then once again manipulates her husband into doing it. Isaach appears to be in the dark about a lot of things going on his house. Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau are taking turns running the show while he is reduced to the role of spectator. In the Bible, the role of husband is that of head of the family (see Ephesians 5). Some women believe their role is the neck, to turn the head wherever they want it to go. In the case of Isaac and Rebekah, this appears to be the marriage they have. Isaac fails to take action to stop all of the quarreling and scheming in his family. He doesn’t show strong leadership in solving these problems and he basically failed in raising his sons. Esau completely abandons the faith as shown by his marriage with Caananites (Genesis 26:34-35). Jacob is a believer in name for a lot of his life until he finally commits to God, not really due to Isaac’s influence.
1. Obedient – Genesis 22. As a child Isaac was part of Abraham’s greatest test. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and Abraham was obedient. How about Isaac? At no point in the story does he run away or throw a temper tantrum. He obeys his father and even helps carry the wood for the sacrifice. He probably didn’t know he would be sacrificed until they arrived and his father tied him up. But even at that point, we don’t see any resistance. He likely trusted his father so implicitly that he knew everthing would be OK.
2. Patient – Genesis 24:62-67. Unlike Esau, Isaac was willing to wait for God’s will in marriage. He didn’t take things into his own hands. He surely knew of Abraham’s plan of providing a wife for him and obeyed it implicitly. He submitted to his father’s plan, because he trusted his father. Rebekah was not a perfect woman and no woman is, but we can see a good character, servant’s heart, faith in God, and submissive attitude in Genesis 24.
3. Faith in God – Genesis 26 (cf: 3-8, 35) – Isaac carried in in faith towards God even after Abraham died. God appeared to him and gave him commands and Isaac obeyed, demonstrating his faith. Throughout chapter 26 we see that Isaac’s faith in God is very real and personal. He built alters to God. He talked with God on more than one occasion. When things went well, he gave God the glory (26:22). It is easy to focus on Isaac’s weaknesses, but we should remember that all people are sinners. We are too. Imagine yourself in Isaac’s place. Imagine living at a time when there are virtually no followers of God anywhere in the world. He is the leader of the only group which he knows about following God. He is surrounded by idol worship, pagan practices, false deities, and evil. There is no church or fellowship to attend for encouragement. There is no Bible with a clear guide on what you should or should not do. Isaac faced all of these challenges, but still followed God (albeit with some mistakes) until he died.
4. Peace maker – Genesis 26:12-22. The Philistines often provoked Isaac’s men. They treated them unfairly. After Isaac dug out a well, they move in and claimed it as their own. Instead of pridefully fighting or demanding that his rights be satisfied, Isaac wisely saw a simpler and more peaceful course. That is, he just moved away and dug out another well. This happened two times and both times he let it go. This demonstrates a lot of wisdom and humility.
Important acts and events: Many of the important events from Isaac’s life were things that happened to him, rather than things he initiated. This fits in with what we see of Isaac in that he was a bit passive.
1. His birth
2. His sacrifice
3. His marriage
4. His blessing to Jacob
How he died: Genesis 35:28-29. Isaac lived to be 180 years old.
Lessons from his life:
What lessons can you learn from his life? What do you think you need to do based on what you have learned in this lesson? Which mistakes should you avoid? How can you avoid them? Which areas of strength do you need to imitate?