Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Isaac

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The son of Abraham and Sara. The incidents of his life are told in Genesis 15-35, in a narrative the principal parts of which are traced back by many scholars to three several documents (J, E, P) utilized in the composition of the Book of Genesis (see ABRAHAM).

According to Genesis 17:17; 18:12; 21:6, his name means: "he laughs". He was circumcised eight days after his birth, weaned in due time, and proclaimed the sole legal ancestor of the chosen people (21:1-12). His early years were spent in Bersabee, whence he was taken by his father to Mount Moria to be offered up in sacrifice, and whither he returned after his life had been miraculously spared (21:33; 22:19). His mother died when he was thirty-six years of age (cf. Genesis 17:17; 23:1). A few years later, he married Rebecca, Bathuel's daughter, whom one of his father's servants had, according to Abraham's directions, brought from Mesopotamia (24). The union took place in "the south country", where Isaac then lived, and continued to live after he had joined with Ismael in committing the body of Abraham to burial in the cave of Machpelah (24:62, 67; 25:7-11). Many years elapsed before Isaac's longing entreaty to God for children was actually heard. Of the twins to whom she then gave birth, Esau was beloved by Isaac, while Jacob was Rebecca's favourite (25:21-28). Drought and famine made it necessary for Isaac to take the road down to Egypt, but, at Yahweh's bidding, he stopped on his way thither and sojourned in Gerara, where an incident similar to that of Abraham's disavowal of Sara is recorded of him (26:1-11). We are told next how, through envy of Isaac's prosperity as a husbandman and a herdsman, the Philistines among whom he dwelt began petty persecutions, which the Hebrew patriarch bore patiently, but on account of which he finally withdrew to Bersabee. There he was favoured with a new vision from Yahweh, and entered a solemn covenant with Abimelech, King of Gerara (26:12-33). During the last years of Isaac's career, there occurred the well-known incident of his conferring upon Jacob the Divine blessing, which he had always intended for Esau (27), followed by Isaac's concern to protect Jacob from his brother's resentment and to secure for him a wife from his mother's kindred in Mesopotamia (28:1-5). After Jacob's return, Isaac died at the age of one hundred and eighty, and was buried by his sons in the cave of Machpelah (35:27-29; 49:31).

As delineated in Genesis, the figure of Isaac is much less striking than that of Abraham, his father. Yet, by his manner of life, always quiet, gentle, guileless, faithful to God's guidance, he ever was the worthy heir and transmitter of the glorious promises made to Abraham. He was pre-eminently a man of peace, the fitting type of the Prince of Peace, whose great sacrifice on Mount Calvary was foreshadowed by Isaac's obedience unto death on Mount Moria.

The New Testament contains few, but significant references to Isaac (cf. Matthew 8:11; Luke 12:28; 20:37; Romans 9:7; Galatians 4:28; Hebrews 11:17 sqq.; James 2:21).

The legends and various details concerning Isaac which are found in the Talmud and in Rabbinical writings are of no historical value.

FRANCIS E. GIGOT