Study Guide

Isaac in Book of Genesis

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Isaac has some big shoes to fill. We're talking about Abraham's son here. Anyone remember George Washington's son? No? That's because he couldn't outshine his dad—or maybe it's because he didn't exist (G Dubs had no biological children).

In any case, the shadow of Abraham hangs over Isaac's whole life and leaves its profound imprint on everything the poor guy tries to do. Whenever Isaac does something, it's likely that his father did it first. That can't be very good for the kid's self-esteem. Here are a few of the repeats we're talking about:

  • God promises Isaac the very same things as his father: land, lots of descendants, and general protection (26:2-5, 23-24; compare 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 17:1-8).
  • Isaac goes to Gerar and lies to Abimelech that Rebekah is his sister, not his wife (26:6-12; compare 12:10-20; 20:1-18).
  • Isaac fights with Abimelech over wells (26:15-22; recall 21:22-34).
  • Abimelech and Isaac make a treaty (26:25-31; compare 21:22-34).

Second time's a charm?


To make things worse, Isaac doesn't really get to be the star of many episodes. He's more of an in-between who's overshadowed by Abraham before him and Jacob after him. And when he is present in stories, he's usually being manipulated or abused:

  • Exhibit A (22:1-19): When Isaac was just a kid, his father Abraham almost killed him as a sacrifice to God.
  • Exhibit B (24:1-67): When Isaac is ready to get married, Abraham sends a steward to find him a wife. Apparently Isaac couldn't handle it on his own?
  • Exhibit C (27:1-46): When Isaac is an old, nearly blind man, Rebekah and Jacob dupe him into blessing the wrong kid with the inheritance. Now that's just mean.

Why does Isaac gets such short shrift in Genesis? Is it just that he spawned fewer traditional narratives? Or is there some more literary or psychological reason for the whole thing? Maybe Isaac's too traumatized by his near-sacrifice to come into his own as a patriarch should. What do you think?

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