Isaac is probably the least known of the Old Testament patriarchs. We know him best either as the son of Abraham or as the father of Jacob, but not so much as an individual in his own right. But what we do know we can admire. Isaac’s name means “laughter,” a reference to the fact that both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the promise of his birth. Their laughter of incredulity was turned into the laughter of joy in God’s giving them this “son of promise.”
It is hard to live in the shadow of a well-known and distinguished father. Many sons throughout history have wondered if they will measure up to their fathers’ reputations or expectations. However, the life of Isaac reminds us that God has a special place in His plan for every person of every generation.
On three important occasions during his life, Isaac demonstrated remarkable honor to his father and mother. His life provides a good example of the blessing of the “long life, and peace” that is promised to the honorable son.
1. Isaac honored his father when Abraham offered him to Jehovah.
The close bond between Abraham and Isaac is seen in the call of God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on the mountains of Moriah. “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Genesis 22:2).
Often, we focus upon Abraham’s faithful response to this call. But let’s look at the submission of Isaac. Isaac’s exact age at the time of this account is unknown. But clearly Isaac was old enough to walk, talk, reason, carry a heavy bundle of firewood, and to understand the significance of the absence of a lamb for the sacrifice.
God sent the father and son to Mount Moriah, which is the very same mountain where Solomon would one day build the Temple (II Chronicles 3:1). Leaving their servants with the donkey, Abraham and Isaac ascended the mountain together. As they walked, Isaac asked his father, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham wisely answered his son with faith and hope. “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). The verse concludes with a beautiful picture of trust and submission on the part of Isaac: “so they went both of them together.”
On the summit of the mountain, Abraham bound Isaac to the altar. Although Isaac was a strong young man, he did not resist, but honored his father through his submission. When Abraham raised his knife over his son, God spoke audibly from Heaven, halting the father’s obedience to a call, and then the Heavenly Father provided a ram as a gracious substitute for Isaac. Have you learned to thank God for the parents and circumstances He has given you, even when you do not understand why they say or do things that are contrary to your own opinion?
2. Isaac honored Abraham when his father gave him Rebekah for a bride.
Isaac also honored his father by trusting Abraham in the choice of a wife. In contrast to Jacob, who chose a bride and paid the dowry himself, Isaac submitted to his father’s choice of a bride and his father’s payment of the dowry. When Abraham sent his servant to find a bride for his son, Isaac was forty years old and could have easily protested against this procedure. Instead, he submitted to it.
Isaac is next mentioned upon the return of the servant from his successful search. Isaac “went out to meditate in the field at the eventide” (Genesis 24:63). Looking up, Isaac saw the camel caravan approaching. When the bride-to-be, Rebekah, saw Isaac, she dismounted from her camel and covered herself with a veil. With her modest gesture, Isaac received the bride of God’s choice. Perhaps there is a young, single man reading this article who needs to find rest in contentment. Similar to God working through Isaac’s father to find him a bride, so God can use your parents to counsel and guide you in finding a wife in His perfect timing.
3. Isaac honored Abraham by personally embracing God’s covenant.
Perhaps the greatest way that a son can honor a Godly father is embracing his father’s faith in God. It is not enough to have Godly parents. Each child must take personal responsibility for his own faith.
In Genesis Chapter 26, the Lord affirmed His covenant with Isaac. “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (verses 3–4). Perhaps there is a son reading this account about Isaac and, like Isaac, has a Godly father. But personally trusting the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation has not happened. If this is your situation, the greatest way you can honor your Godly father is to embrace your father’s faith as your own.
After his marriage to Rebekah, at some point Isaac became known for digging many wells in the Negev desert. God’s blessing followed Isaac wherever he went. According to the Bible, when Isaac sowed, his harvest was “an hundredfold” and that he “grew until he became very great” (Genesis 26:12–13). In this magnificent prosperity, Isaac personally affirmed God as his own. At Beersheba, where Isaac dug a well, it’s recorded in the Bible that he “builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 26:25).
The promise given by God in the fifth commandment is that, if a son honors his father, then he will live “long upon the land.” It is fitting that — of the patriarchs — Isaac lived the longest. Abraham died at the age of 175. Jacob died at the age of 147. Isaac lived to be 180 years old!
It would be remiss to conclude this study of Isaac without giving an appropriate caution. It is possible for a son to honor parents to an unhealthy extent. Isaac not only followed his father’s virtues, but he also followed his father’s vices. He lied about his wife Rebekah just as Abraham had lied about Sarah. Isaac also, like his father, failed to take personal responsibility for strife and turmoil in his family. While a son should honor his father, a son should never follow his father into sin. In Ephesians 6:1, the Apostle Paul summed up this matter: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”
This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.