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“Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death.””
~ Gen. 27:2
Isaac would have been about 123 years old at this point. Certainly his health was beginning to fail; his eyesight was already going if not gone completely, and the text tells us he had to rise up to eat, which may indicate he was bedridden to some extent – we do not know for sure.
Ever since the flood had occurred, life spans began to reduce rapidly. A Midrash tells us that children do not necessarily expect to reach the age their parents did, which was likely part of Isaac’s concern. Abraham lived to 175 years, however Sarah only lived to 127. In reality, Isaac lived another 57 years and died at age 180 (Gen. 35:28-29)
“Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” Gen. 26:1-2
The famine and the encounter with Abimelech are just the first two of many parallels between the Isaac and Abraham narratives. And just as with Abraham, Isaac was going to head to Egypt due to the famine, by way of Gerar.
We may make the assumption that God did not want Isaac to go to Egypt due to what transpired between Abraham and Pharaoh regarding Sarah, that perhaps the people of Egypt are more wicked than Gerar. However The second time that Abraham was not honest about Sarah being his wife, the same thing happened here, in Gerar, with king Abimelech, in very similar fashion.
Despite this, it appears God was alright with Isaac going to Gerar. Gerar is still within the land of Canaan, the area that would become known as the Promised Land.
Previously in Genesis 24, Abraham calls upon his oldest servant to go and find a wife for Isaac. The servant then asks “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” (Gen. 24:5)
Abraham’s response explains much:
Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there! “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. “But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” (Gen. 24:6-8)
Abraham was so adamant about Isaac not going, that he would rather his son be without a wife, despite having a great promise from God concerning the number of his descendants. This appears to be less about preventing Isaac from going to Egypt and more about Isaac staying in Canaan. Abraham’s point is that his journey led up to this: he is now in Canaan, the land promised to him and his descendants; thus he wants Isaac to establish himself here thoroughly, and does not want him to leave.
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 64:3) explains that an offering to God must stay in the temple courtyard, and thus, because Isaac was an offering to God, he must stay within the bounds of the Promised Land.
“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.” Gen. 22:6
Genesis 22:6 is yet another verse that gets glossed over in an effort to move the story along, causing us to miss a significant detail. To the Jewish reader, we have the dramatic irony that Isaac is carrying the very wood that he himself is to be sacrificed upon. To the Christian, this is a foreshadowing of Christ carrying His own cross to His crucifixion.
Surprisingly, there is a midrash (Jewish rabbincal writing) from after the time of Christ that points out this very parallel, first quoting from this verse, it then reads “like one bearing his own cross.” (Gen. Rabbah. 56:3)
The phrase “So the two of them walked on together.” appears twice to build the tension leading up to the event (v. 6 and 8). In verse 7, Isaac will ask Abraham where the sacrifice is, since they have all the other provisions. He can probably deduce from Abraham’s answer that he will be the offering. The phrase is then repeated – “the two of them walked on together.”
According to Rashi, the implication is that Abraham and Isaac were together ‘in one purpose’. Isaac went willingly, even though he was aware of what was coming. The general belief is that Isaac is between 25 and 37 years of age a this point, and Abraham is 100 years older than Isaac. Isaac could have easily overpowered Abraham, or simply ran away if he wished to. Instead, Isaac is a willing participant.
In the New Testament writings, we see that Christ also willingly laid down His own life (John 10:18, 1 John 3:16). There are many more parallels between Isaac and Jesus.
““Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.” Gen. 21:18-19
Ishmael is about to die, and suddenly Hagar turns and sees a well. This was not a miracle well that magically appeared, but rather a well that was present the whole time, it just was not seen by Hagar until this moment. We may think, how did they not see a well when they are dying of thirst in a desert?
While most common translations use the phrase “she saw a well”, at least one translation uses the phrase “she perceived a well”, so perhaps this speaks to our spiritual condition at times. The Midrash teaches that God always provides what we need; it is us who must be ready to open our eyes to see it.