Some people get overlooked by other people. Here, I am not referring to the great mass of common people in contrast to stars and celebrities. Instead, I am talking about ordinary people that are ignored by other people like them. It is not that they lack attractive or beneficial qualities. It is also not the case that they are necessarily trying to fade into the background. They are in our local churches, but too often unnoticed by others. They are there, and thank God they are there, or the rest of us would struggle without them. If we wished, this could develop into a long discussion about the reasons such people are disregarded by others and the need for better community. But let’s see how God’s story works through the lives of people we might unfortunately ignore.
Isaac is often overlooked, though God reveals himself in the Bible many times as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were the Patriarchs of God’s old covenant people, Israel. Surely, being part of this line would qualify Isaac for our attention, but his part in the story of God’s glory in Christ gets easily passed by. He is sandwiched between his very prominent father, Abraham, and his scheming son, Jacob. Much more is written about Abraham and Jacob than Isaac. Could that be the reason we overlook him?
The twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis is not the first time Isaac is in the narrative. In one sense, there is no story without Isaac, because he is the promised child. Abraham and Sarah were childless for decades, and their faith in God and their struggles in their faith are a prominent part of the outworking of God’s story. Chapter twenty-four presents how Abraham’s chief servant was sent on a long journey to find a bride for Isaac, but Isaac is not mentioned until he married Rebekah. (Ladies, how would you enjoy this “destination wedding”? You take a long camel ride far away from your family and friends only to end up in the tent that had belonged to your mother-in-law!) Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years for children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer (Genesis 25:21) and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. However, the twins became a source of controversy in the family when Rebekah loved Jacob, and Isaac loved Esau (Genesis 25:28). Isaac should have paid careful attention to the revelation of God’s plan told to Rebekah (Genesis 25:23). Isaac sadly wanted the son he loved to have the preeminent place. This means he acted contrary to the revealed will of God.
Yet God graciously included imperfect Isaac in his purposes. Isaac was in God’s story and God acted through him in the pursuit of his wise plan. To keep Isaac on track before the Scriptures were given, God appeared to Isaac, as he had previously appeared to Abraham, to give him instructions. Why did God do this? He did not want Isaac to imitate his father’s course by going down to Egypt. Eventually, Israel would go to Egypt and end up in bondage, but it was not yet God’s time for that.
This is one of the ways of God that we must learn to be content with. God works out his plan in his time, not ours. We might want something to happen very much, but we might find ourselves waiting and waiting and waiting. In this case God chose to use a famine in the land (perhaps the phrase “a famine in the land” would provide someone with a beneficial Bible study) to develop the character and faith of Isaac. God lets us see Isaac’s choices so that we might profit from his experience. When Isaac was faced with the hardship of a famine in the land, what did the Lord tell him?
- God ordered Isaac not to go to Egypt (26:2). He did not explain his reasons. Too often we want to hear “reasons” about the twists and turns in our lives. We act like three-year-old children who constantly ask, “Why?” Do we think that God simply wants us to trust him without endless explanations? In all decisions about where he lived, he would be subject to God’s word.
- God hinted that Isaac might be making some moves, though not to Egypt (26:3a). The Lord does not tell his children everything at once. We will usually experience a gradual unfolding of God’s purposes. If we are wise, we will walk closely with the Lord to be ready for our next steps.
- God promised to be with Isaac and bless him (26:3b). Isaac would not have to face the famine alone. He could count on God’s presence. This is God’s basic promise to his people; yes, it’s his promise to us today. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age… Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you (Matthew 28:20b; Hebrews 13:5b HCSB). Although we face trials of many kinds, God is with us during them. His reality should kindle hope in our souls.
- God included Isaac in all the promises made to Abraham (26:4-5). It was not till many years later that the apostle Paul explained that offspring or seed referred to one person, the Messiah (Galatians 3:16). This was the promise that Christ would come through Isaac’s descendants. The other blessings would also be his, because of the obedient faith of his father, Abraham.
How did Isaac respond to the word of God? He trusted and obeyed and stayed in the land (26:6). His faith did not mean that the famine ended immediately. His faith kept him where the Lord God wanted him to be, and that was the best place for Isaac to be, whether there was famine or plenty.
Grace and peace, David