Named Before Birth – Isaac

Named Before Birth – Isaac

Named Before Birth – Isaac.

“God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah, which means princess. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man 100 years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of 90?’ Then God said, ‘Yes, your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you shall call him Isaac, which means laughter.'” (Genesis 17:15-19).

In this prenatal naming ceremony, God shows a sense of humor. That shouldn’t surprise us, since God invented humor. Abraham could only laugh in wonder when the Lord told him about having a son with Sarah. Seemingly in honor of Abraham’s laughter, God told him to name the boy Isaac, which means laughter. Perhaps the name reflects the fact that both Abraham and Sarah laughed when they heard the baby news from the Lord. Or maybe Isaac’s name reflects the unspeakable joy that an unexpected miracle child will bring to a childless couple in old age. Or perhaps naming the boy laughter reflects the joy of bearing a son who is a promised child of the Covenant, the boy who will produce countless descendants, blessing the world in a promised relationship with the Almighty God. Isaac will continue the line of God’s chosen people, which would surely bring the joy of laughter to anyone’s heart.

Unsurprisingly, Isaac grew up as a protected, if not coddled, only child. Even his marriage to Rebekah was arranged by father Abraham. But Isaac seemed to accept the way he was raised, he tended to mind his own business, and was not an initiator like his father. Isaac was content to stay at home, raise a family, and increase the family’s wealth as an owner of much livestock. Isaac was a very patient man, and a first-rate husband to Rebekah. He faithfully grew into his enduring role of Jewish patriarch, and is a major hero in Biblical history.

One wonders, though, how that dramatic, historic episode on Mt. Morah impacted Isaac’s life. Think of it… As a teenager he was stretched out on a sacrificial altar, bound, expected to just lie there submissively like an obedient child. The knife was in his father’s raised hand, ready to slay him, and was only stopped at the last minute by a heavenly messenger. What was Isaac thinking during that near-death experience? Was he wondering what he had done so wrong that he would be executed? Was he mystified that the father he loved and trusted would kill him for no apparent reason? Did he doubt the very God that had been so close to his family growing up? If he was at all human, and he was, his whole world must have turned upside-down. He would certainly have been shaken to the core for who knows how long. The question is, did Isaac ever get over his experience on Mt. Moriah with his father? Did it effect his relationship with father Abraham in any way?  Did he have a difficult time trusting his father after this incident? We don’t know, since the Scripture never tells us about this incident from Isaac’s perspective.

It’s interesting that Isaac’s life had a huge impact on the spirituality of the Jewish faith. In Jewish tradition, their afternoon prayers were inspired by Isaac’s spiritual life. The Jewish sages based each of the weekday prayers on the character and actions of the three Patriarchs. Abraham represents the morning prayer, since he often “rose early in the morning to the place where he has stood before God.” (Gen. 19:27, 22:3). Isaac inspired the midday prayer, since he “went out to converse with God, to meditate, in the field toward evening.” (Gen. 24:63). And Jacob represented the night prayer, since his powerful encounters with God were all in the night, including the visions and dreams and his momentous wrestling with the mysterious angel all night (Gen 28:11, 32:22).

Isaac’s life seemed to symbolize the midday prayer, because he, like the afternoon itself, was a gradual transition from one time to the next. “Isaac’s is the quiet heroism of continuity, a link in the chain of the Covenant, joining one generation to the next.” (Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Covenant and Conversation: Genesis). Isaac was not the prime mover like his father. His role was to continue in the transitional virtues of steadfastness, loyalty, and the will to persevere. Isaac’s afternoon prayer was described in rabbinic tradition as a dialogue, a conversation between God and himself. Isaac went off by himself into a field and talked with God, reflecting about faith in the middle of the day. He continued the faith of his father Abraham. And in his own way, he apparently did so responsibly and dependably. Isaac lived out the spirit of transition, and he handed down the faith to his sons. What they did with that faith culminated in his son Jacob initiating the nation of Israel. After much painful drama between his sons Esau and Jacob, Isaac died at the age of 180 years. It was notable that both his sons were at peace when they buried their father Isaac. (Gen. 35:29).

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