Isaac [Ī'zaac] he laugheth or laughing one. The son of Abraham and Sarah, who was born at Gerar when Abraham was one hundred years of age and Sarah was about ninety years old (Gen. 17:19, 21; 21:3-12; 22:2-9).
The Man Whose Birth Caused a Laugh
Isaac is one of the few cases in the Bible in which God selected a name for a child and announced it before he was born. In the Old Testament we have Isaac, Ishmael, Solomon, Josiah, Cyrus and Isaiah’s son; in the New Testament, John the Baptist and Jesus.
Isaac’s beautiful and suggestive name, “he laughed,” commemorates the two laughings at the promise of God—the laughing of the father’s joy and the laughing of Sarah’s incredulity which soon passed into penitence and faith (Gen. 21:6). Isaac was the child of the covenant, “I will establish My covenant with him.” To three patriarchs in succession was this covenant specifically given: to Abraham, as he left Chaldea (Gen. 12:3); to Isaac, when in Canaan during the famine (Gen. 26:4); to Jacob, at Bethel (Gen. 28:14). Isaac, however, was the first to inherit the covenant, and to him God gave the whole inheritance of Abraham (Gen. 24:35).
We have no record of Isaac’s early life apart from the fact that he was circumcised when eight days of age (Gen. 21:4). Doubtless as a lad he became God’s child in heart and life, ever mindful of the covenant he was heir to. When, according to Josephus, Isaac was twenty-five years of age, he was taken from Beer-sheba to the land of Moriah, where, as the burnt offering, Abraham presented him to God. While we have Abraham’s unquestioning faith in his submission to the divine command to offer up his only son, we must not forget Isaac’s supreme confidence in his father and also his willing consent to become the victim (Gen. 22:12; 26:5; Heb. 11:17). Thus in Isaac we have a type of Him who gave Himself for our sins. From the day of his surrender to death, Isaac became a dedicated man. “The altar sanctified the gift.”
When his mother Sarah died, Isaac was a man of thirty-six, and was deeply grieved over the death of his mother. Comfort was his when he took Rebekah as his wife to help fill the vacant place in his heart. To the credit of Isaac it must be said that he was the only one of the patriarchs who had but one wife. It is also perfectly clear from the ancient idyll, one of the most beautiful in all literature, that Isaac left the choice of his wife to God. When the caravan bearing Rebekah neared home, Isaac was in the fields meditating or “praying,” as the margin expresses it (Gen. 24:63).
For many years Isaac and Rebekah were childless, but God heard Isaac’s prayers and Rebekah gave birth to twins, Jacob and Esau. Isaac seems to have outlived his wife, and died at the age of 180 (Gen. 35:28). For some fifty years Isaac was almost blind, a sad and pitiful lot for God’s chosen one.
The character of Isaac, beautiful though it was in many ways, yet carried a few blots. He followed his father, Abraham, in deceitfulness when he called his wife his sister, bringing upon himself the rebuke of Abimelech. He also loved “savoury food,” which should have been alien to a man so calm and still, lord of his passion and himself. Then in the matter of Esau and the blessing, Isaac surely rebelled against the Lord’s purpose.
Among the commendable features of his character, mention can be made of Isaac’s submission (Gen. 22:6, 9); meditation (Gen. 24:63); instinctive trust in God (Gen. 22:7, 8); deep devotion (Gen. 24:67; 25:21); peaceableness (Gen. 26:20-22); prayerfulness (Gen. 26:25); faith (Heb. 11:16, 17). “The fear of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42, 53), means the God tremblingly adored by the patriarch.