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2100-2000 BC



CHAPTER I. Isaac’s Birth at Beersheba

CHAPTER II. Isaac’s Bringing Up

CHAPTER III. First Great Trial

CHAPTER IV. Marriage

CHAPTER V. Early Married Life

CHAPTER VI. Second Great Trial

CHAPTER VII. Domestic Troubles

CHAPTER VIII. Closing Years of Isaac's Life—his Death and Burial



Jacob and Esau

This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac,  and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb.  The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[e] Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.  The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents.  Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.  He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” That is why he was also called Edom. Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”  “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”  But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

Isaac and Abimelek

Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” So Isaac stayed in Gerar. When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.” Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.  The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.  He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.  So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”

So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

 From there he went up to Beersheba.  That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.  Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.

Jacob Takes Esau’s Blessing

When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”  “Here I am,” he answered. Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin.  What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob.  She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.  Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied.  Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”

After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting.  He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”  Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”  When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”  Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud. His father Isaac answered him,

“Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”

Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day? Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”





Antecedents of the birth—Isaac "the child of promise"—Circumstances under which the birth took place—The name Isaac and its meaning— How the birth affected (1) Abraham—(2) Sarah—(3) Hagar—(4) Ishmael.


The promise of seed—of seed in which “all the families of the earth should be blessed ”—was made to Abraham before his departure from Haran. It was not till a quarter of a century later that the promise was fulfilled. Meanwhile, however, from time to time, fresh intimations came from the Divine Source of life and light, confirming the original promise, and adding to it continually more gracious and more glorious assurances. Abraham, in his impatience, had concluded at one time, that the “seed” was to be an adopted one, and looked for a while on Eliezer of Damascus as his heir ; but this delusion was dispelled, and he was plainly told—“He that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir”. The “great nation” of the earlier prophecy was expanded into a countless multitude—“Look now towards heaven,” it was said to him, “and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: so shall thy seed be”; and Canaan was declared to be the land in which the “great nation” would grow up. Canaan, moreover, was explained to mean the entire tract intervening between the Euphrates and the river of Egypt—the land of “the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaim, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites”. When ten years bad gone by without any further result from the promises made, and Sarai had reached the age of seventy-five, and deemed herself altogether beyond child-bearing, she suggested to Abraham that he should take a secondary wife, and look for the fulfilment of the announcements that had been received by him, to a semi-legitimate issue. Hagar the Egyptian became the patriarch’s concubine, and in due course Ishmael was born ; and now for thirteen years it would seem that Abraham contentedly acquiesced in the notion, that here was the fulfilment of the original promise made to him, and that it was through Ishmael that all the generations of men would obtain their blessing. But at length the time had come when God’s intention was to be made fully known—“ Sarai thy wife,” Abraham was told, “shall bear thee a son indeed” , and “with him"—not with Ishmael—“will I establish My covenant for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” And a definite date for the birth of the son was assigned—“My covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year”. Then there was waiting and expectation. The “child of promise” was now definitely known. Sarah shortly found herself about to become a mother. Whatever incredulity had been hitherto felt, passed away; and the patriarch and his wife awaited, in patient faith and full assurance of hope, the “set time” which was to crown their marriage with the blessing of offspring.

As the “set time” approached, Abraham desisted from the ordinary wanderings of the nomadic life, and pitched his tent (probably) at “the Well of the Seven”—Beersheba. Here was an altar which he had erected to “the Everlasting God,” and here was the tamarisk-tree, or “grove,” which he had planted, to mark the spot as his own. The tent of the great chief would be of large size, containing many compartments— a special chamber for Sarah, another for Hagar and her son, others for the numerous attendants who would perform the domestic offices for the sheikh and his family. Round about would be scattered over a large space the smaller habitations of the “trained servants”—more than three hundred in number—who served the sheikh as shepherds and herdsmen, or, if need were, as soldiers. They, with their families, would amount to above a thousand persons, and their tents would be dotted about the Beersheba valley, and its slopes on either side, for a considerable distance. The patriarch had reached his hundredth year. Sarah was ninety. Doubtless there was joy and rejoicing in the great tent as the critical time approached, but there must also have been excitement and anxiety. Even in the East, where the dangers attendant upon child-birth are comparatively slight, the first accouchement of a nonogenarian must have been recognized as hazardous. But Sarah, “judging Him faithful who had promised”, did not allow herself to be dismayed, but “ through faith having received strength to conceive,” also through faith bore up against natural weakness, and natural apprehension, and finally against the keen pangs of travail, giving birth to a man child “at the set time of which God had spoken”, and hailing the fulfilment of the promise with a burst of delight. “God,” she cried, “hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear me will laugh with me. Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have borne him a son in his old age ”. Orientals exhibit their feelings in a way that is not natural to the colder people of the West. “When the tidings arrived that Xerxes was master of Athens, such was the joy of the inhabitants,” says Herodotus, “that they forthwith strewed all the streets with myrtle boughs, and burnt incense, and fell to feasting and merriment''1 So now Sarah’s gossips and her handmaidens gathered about her, and in their joy “ laughed with her” at the auspicious event, congratulating her, and each other, on the crowning blessing that had been granted to their master and mistress—a blessing which, under the circumstances of their advanced age, was almost miraculous. And then came the question as to the naming of the wonderful child. No doubt many names were suggested, for the secret commandment given by God to Abraham would probably not have been generally known : but the father and mother had laid up the injunction in their inmost hearts, and when the day for circumcising the child, and for naming him, came, they called him “Isaac”—literally, Jitskhak—which means “ He laughs,” or “The Laughing one.” They felt, as Zacharias and Elisabeth felt and as Joseph and Mary doubtless felt, that-a God-given name carried with it a blessing to the recipient, and could not possibly be set aside. They recognized also, it is probable, the appropriateness of the name, partly to the antecedent circumstances, which had so often connected laughter with the child,1 but also, and still more, to the relation in which the child stood to the scheme of Redemption, as he in whom “all the families of the earth should be blessed”—he through whom should come upon the earth the joy of deliverance from sin and Satan, the restoration of peace, and the right to bask once more in the smile of a reconciled God. Of course, we cannot tell the extent to which “the Father of the Faithful,” and his faithful wife, realized the scheme of Redemption, or understood how the whole world was to be blessed in their son and his seed ; but we may presume that they had sufficient knowledge to make their joy and rejoicing not the mere natural delight of parents at the birth of a legitimate heir, but a religious uplifting of the soul in gratitude and thankfulness to God.

Abraham’s position as the sheikh of a tribe was not greatly altered by the birth of Isaac. He had already a son, who might have succeeded him in the chieftainship—the actual issue of his loins, and towards whom he felt all the tenderness of a warm-hearted father. He had been quite content for years to look on Ishmael as his successor. But, as soon as Sarah had conceived, his views and intentions were, as a matter of course, changed. The child of the true wife in the East always takes precedence of the children of concubines, and Hagar was not even, in the full sense of the word, a concubine. She had become the partner of Abraham’s bed without, so far as appears, any legal ceremony. Isaac, as the son of the legitimate wife, was entitled to the succession, and, as “ the son of promise,” was, if possible, even more entitled to it. To Abraham it must undoubtedly have been a high satisfaction to have a thoroughly legitimate heir ; but, as in the world wherein we live there are few advantages without their drawbacks, he must have felt at once that in his cup of  joy there would be likely to be a dash of bitterness. Surgit amari aliquid. The disadvantages of polygamy are brought out especially in connection with the conflicting claims of the several wives’ children, and the higher the position of the father, the more likely are such claims to cause trouble and disturbance. Without undue anticipation of occurrences which will be considered in another chapter, we cannot but glance here at a shadow which must have somewhat dimmed, even from the first, the patriarch’s joy, and produced within him a certain amount of anxiety.

To Sarah, on the other hand, the event would have been one producing unmixed delight and wholly unalloyed satisfaction. First, there would be the gratification of the maternal instinct, the more keen perhaps for having been so long suppressed and dormant. Next, there would be the peculiar delight and exultation which all Hebrew mothers felt in the possession of offspring, from the shame that rested, on barrenness, and the taunts and jeers to which childless wives were exposed at the hand of their adversaries. Further, there would be the sense of gratified pride, in that now at length she was indeed a “princess”—the mother of “kings of people”—the undoubted mistress of the tribe, whom none could presume to rival. And lastly, there would be the religious exaltation arising from the gracious and glorious, even if obscure, promise, that in the babe whom she had borne “all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” Sarah’s status in the tribe could not but be improved by the mere fact of her becoming a mother ; and the circumstances of the case would secure her an almost religious reverence. It is not on record that any other woman ever became a mother at so advanced an age, and the astonishing occurrence would be likely to impress the simple shepherds and herdsmen very sensibly. They would see in their chieftain’s wife one specially favoured of Heaven, and would regard her as a probable channel through which blessings of all kinds might be expected to descend upon the tribe. She would thus become a personage of extraordinary importance, whose wishes would be consulted in every way, and who would be held in the highest honour.

The case would be very different with Hagar. Nay, it would be the exact reverse. All that Sarah gained by her new position, Hagar lost Hitherto, Hagar had been generally looked upon and treated as the mother of the heir-apparent, the coming mistress of the tribe, when Abraham should have departed this life, and Ishmael should have taken his place. Tradition says that she was a king’s daughter and though in the slave condition, since her mother had been a slave, yet well known to have royal blood in her veins. No doubt this fact had gained her from the first a certain amount of respect in the tribe, and had made her connection with Abraham appear to the tribesmen neither unfitting nor incongruous. When Abraham consorted with her, this respect increased, and when a son was borne by her to the hitherto childless chieftain, the satisfaction of the tribe must have been extreme, and their regard for the mother of their (supposed) future lord and master must have deepened and been intensified. Flattery and adulation, we may be sure, followed; and for thirteen years the “handmaid” was, more or less, a rival to the legitimate wife, by many probably more courted and looked up to than Sarah, considered to be the rising sun, before whose beams the lesser light would pale and sink into obscurity. With the birth of Isaac all this was changed. Hagar dropped back into a wholly secondary position ; her parasites fell away from her ; the customary obeisances ceased; she was once more the mere “slave-wife”—the handmaid, whom her master’s favour had distinguished for a while, but whose importance was now ended. Very bitter to Hagar must have been the consciousness of this great change. Hitherto she had, either openly, or secretly, “despised” her mistress, looked upon her as already her inferior, and as one day to be subjected to her rule: now she saw her mistress firmly fixed in her exalted place for the rest of her life, first in her husband’s affection, first in the regards of the tribesmen—surrounded with a sort of holy halo on account of the strangeness of what had occurred to her, and of the promises whereof her child was the object. Hagar must have felt herself

“Fallen, fallen, fallen—

Fallen from her high estate"—

and, as a woman of a high and haughty spirit, must have been filled with bitter grief and keen resentment.

But on Ishmael probably the blow fell with the greatest severity. He had reached his thirteenth year, and was consequently just at the age which in the East is regarded as incipient manhood. He was of a proud, hot, and overbearing temper, ambitious, and impatient of restraint. From his infancy, all through his boyhood, for thirteen long years, he had lived under the conviction that he was his father’s heir, the hope of the tribe, their coming leader in war and judge in peace. He had been the delight of the tribesmen, whose labours and sports he had shared, who had admired his courage and fierce spirit, and made him as true a child of the desert as any of themselves. Hagar had exercised no restraining influence over him, but had rather fostered his ambitious hopes, encouraged his proud temper, and taught him to cherish the feelings and assume the airs of a young chief. To him Isaac’s birth must have been the most cruel disappointment, upsetting all his illusions, and toppling him down from the high place which he had hitherto occupied, not in his own thoughts only, but in the thoughts of all with whom he was intimate, into a position of dependence, and (as he would feel it) of degradation. We cannot but sympathize with the poor youth thus suddenly disillusioned, waking from the daydreams in which he had so long very naturally indulged himself to the conviction that they were empty visions, and that the reality was wholly different. As Abraham’s only son, Ishmael was his successor, his heir, the assured head of the tribe when his aged father should die, the ancestor (by promise) of a long line of kings, the prince, in whose seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. As one merely of two sons, whereof the other was son of the legitimate wife, he lost the succession, he lost the heirship, he stood outside the promises, he sank back into “the son of the bondwoman”, without rights, portionless, prospectless, not very much better in position than a purchased slave. So great a change could not but be a sore trial to any youth. To one of Ishmael’s temper it must have been feh as almost unendurable. None could be surprised if it led to some outbreak, and to a disruption of the family which had hitherto been united, if not contented.





Position and surroundings of Beersheba—Infancy of Isaac—Tent life— Rude conduct of Ishmael towards his brother—Special insult on the day when Isaac was weaned, and consequent expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael—Isaac's boyhood—Influences of his outward life—Influences of his close companionship with his father.


Beersheba lies at the southern extremity of the Holy Land, on the very verge of the desert. It is far away from the coast, in E. Long. 34° 47' nearly. Eastward, between Beersheba and the Dead Sea, lies the high rocky desert of Paran, which extends also far to the south, running parallel with the Red Sea and the Arabah. To the west is the low sandy tract, called in Abraham’s time “the Desert of Shur,” the region commonly traversed by those who proceed from Gaza (Ghuzzah) to Egypt. A watercourse, known now as the Wady es Seba, runs down from the high ground, which is a continuation of the Highland of Judaea, with a course that is at first from east to west, but, after pursuing this direction for some miles, it turns towards the north, and effects a junction with the Wady Ghuzzah a little to the south of the great Philistine city. The Wady es Seba is a well-watered and fairly fertile district. In winter it “contains a running stream, which drains a large area, and many springs rise in the western part of the plain into which it opens.” In almost any part of the Wady water may be found by digging, and generally it is tolerably near the surface. Beersheba derived its name from the well which Abraham dug, when he was sojourning in Gerar, and was on friendly terms with the Philistine chief, Abimelech. The name has clung to the place, and the modern Bir-es-Seba, so remarkable for its two great reservoirs, marks beyond any reasonable doubt the site of Abraham’s favourite abode in his later years and of the birthplace of Isaac.

The situation is a remarkable one. Beersheba lies on one of the two great highways to Egypt. It is the last outpost on the skirts of the cultivable ground upon the more inland of these two routes, and looks back on the one side to the soft-swelling hills of Judaea, while on the other it gazes down upon a green plain which gradually fades into the desert. The traveller may imagine that he sees Egypt in the far hazy distance. Around him and about him is an “undulating plain,” without forest trees, but “sprinkled with shrubs,”’ and in the spring clothed with the innumerable wild flowers, which make the lands adjacent to the desert for some weeks a carpet of the most brilliant and varied hues. There is excellent pasture for flocks during the greater part of the year ; and if, on the whole, the landscape has a bleak appearance, yet good crops of grain can be raised without difficulty on the lower slopes of the hills, and in the beds of the valleys. Wells are necessities, for in the summer the torrent-courses are dry, and even the springs mostly fail, while, if we except an occasional thunderstorm, rain is for many months almost unknown. The wells are consequently a feature of the district. They are “dug far into the rocky soil, and bear upon their stone or marble margins the traces of the long ages during which the water has been drawn up from their deep recesses.” The famous Beersheba sources are reservoirs, rather than wells—one is five feet, the other twelve and a half feet in diameter; the larger of them is excavated through sixteen feet of the solid rock, and the water commonly lies at the depth of forty feet below the level of the soil at the mouth.4 Drinking-troughs for cattle are still, as in the days of old, clustered around the margins of the pools, and the water is still daily drawn up by hand and poured into the troughs for the flocks of the neighbouring Arabs. It is cold and of good quality—pure, sweet, and refreshing. There are remnants of an ancient village on the hills immediately north of the wells, but they do not show much trace of antiquity, and are consequently of but little interest. Still, they probably mark the site of the hamlet which grew up on the spot, and was reckoned the last village of Palestine upon the south, as Dan was the last towards the north.

In Abraham’s day the village had not yet sprung into being, and Isaac’s first experience was not of life in a house, but of life in a tent. He was suckled by his mother for some considerable time, probably for the full “ three years,” which appears to have been the customary period with the Hebrews of a later age.’ During this space he was no doubt carefully looked after, and had his own special attendant or attendants, besides being the peculiar object of his mother’s regard and protection. The tent life brought him into frequent contact with his brother, Ishmael, whose resentment at his birth was in no way appeased or softened by the infantile prattle, or the witching ways of “the Laughing one,” but grew with his growth, and strengthened with his strength, until it attained the dimensions of an active and continuous “persecution.” “He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit was insolent to him, perhaps “mocked” him, derided his childish speech, and made sport of his weakness and inexperience. The merry boy, safe in his mother’s, or his nurse’s, arms, may not have greatly heeded, or even understood, his half-brother’s insolence ; but Sarah took it to heart ; and the day came when she could no longer patiently endure her infant’s wrongs, but resolved on proclaiming and avenging them. The time for weaning the child had at last arrived, and Abraham, in the joy of his heart at the troubles of infancy being so far surmounted, had “made a great feast” in honour of the occasion, which probably was felt by Ishmael as a special grievance, since when (he would ask himself) had a great feast been made for him? Hereupon, to vent his rage and his disappointment, the rough, ill-mannered youth indulged his mocking vein freely and openly, deriding the young heir in the actual presence of his mother. Naturally, she was greatly vexed. Allowing her anger no time to cool, she made immediate appeal to her husband, told him what had occurred, and preferred a peremptory demand, that a stop should be put at once, and for ever, to Ishmael’s rude impertinence. “Cast out,” she said, “ this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” In judging her conduct, much will depend on the view that we take of Ishmael’s previous action. If the mockery of the weaning day was a mere piece of boyish petulance, an isolated act caused by a special provocation, then to insist on the dismissal of Hagar, and the expulsion of her son from the family, on account of it, would certainly seem to have been a severe proceeding, indicative of a harsh and spiteful temper. But if, as St. Paul’s language shows him to have understood the matter, the mockery on the particular occasion was no isolated act, but part of an established system of persecution, in which the rough boy was abetted by his passionate mother, in that case Sarah may well be exonerated from blame, and regarded as having merely pointed out the course which justice, and a. prudential consideration for the welfare of the family, required. The disruption of a household is, at the best, a sad and sorrowful thing ; but if the discontented son had his feelings permanently embittered, if he was determinately set on thwarting, and vexing, and in every way causing annoyance to the legitimate heir, and if his mother was likely to aid and abet him in the line of conduct whereon he was bent, then it is plain that to have kept the family together would have been injudicious, would have led to continual bickerings and jars, would have caused Ishmael’s character to deteriorate, and have exposed Isaac to trials for which his quiet and gentle nature was unsuited. Clearly, the Divine approval, which would not have been given to spite3 or to injustice, rested on Sarah’s demand ; and it was not because his wife urged him, but because God endorsed her words, that Abraham adopted the course which Sarah had recommended, and sent his concubine and her son to seek their fortunes in the desert of Paran.

A strange lull must have followed their departure. The jars and bickerings, the taunts and jeers, the persecution and the complaints that persecution naturally arouses, suddenly ceased. Sarah found herself without a rival, unquestioned mistress of the whole domestic establishment, with none to thwart or vex her, or spy upon her actions, or divide with her the affection of her husband. Isaac, no longer mocked or bullied, but on all sides flattered and made much of, experienced a pleasing, if not altogether a salutary, relief. Abraham exchanged a condition of perpetual disquiet and annoyance for one of domestic tranquillity and repose, only shadowed by occasional regret at his separation from a companion who had grown dear to him, and from a son whom he tenderly loved. But sacrifices made at the command of God, however grievous, are always followed after a time by compensations ; and the disappearance from his life of the two, who had possessed so much of his heart, enabled the patriarch to concentrate his affections upon the legitimate wife and the legitimate heir, and to give them a deeper, fuller, and intenser love than had been possible previously. In the hushed calm of so profoundly happy a family life Abraham’s spirit doubtless gathered strength and refreshment, while Isaac profited vastly by a change which not only freed him from constant spiteful annoyance, but brought him so much nearer to his father, and made him the one object of that father’s tender solicitude.

Isaac’s boyhood, after the departure of Hagar and Ishmael, must have been a peculiarly delightful one. He was the apple of their eye to both his parents, known to both as “ the son of promise ” through whom God would do great things for. mankind at large, the “ only son ” left to Abraham, absolutely the only child of Sarah, gentle, affectionate, tenderhearted, a boy to love and to be proud of. Like other Eastern children, he was no doubt until the age of eight or nine brought up in the female apartments, under the charge and under the careful supervision of his mother. He would then become bis father’s charge, and his constant companion. He would wander with the patriarch over the swelling slopes of the grey featureless hills, seeing that the flocks were rightly cared for, and that no danger threatened them; or he would rest at noontide under the shadow of a “ white chalk cliff; ”1 or he would return at even to the patriarchal tent, with the shepherds, who led their flocks back to the sheepfolds. He would become familiar with nature, as she shows herself on the verge of the desert, in all her varied aspects. The beautiful verdure of spring, the brilliant flowers of a thousand different hues, the pink and white blossom which covers the broom or “juniper”, the numerous “ tufts of plants and shrubs,” the feathery tamarisk trees, now single, now clustered in a “grove," the showers, and “ fierce rains,” and occasional dense sand-storms of the spring season,’ would be known to him so intimately as scarcely to obtain conscious notice. He would hear the lark carol in the bright blue sky, or even when seated on the ground, and see the plovers and the sand-grouse running along the chalky soil, and the pigeons and turtle-doves flying from tree to tree, and the jerboa peeping from its burrows and then hastily concealing itself, and the vultures wheeling in wide circles through the sky on the outlook for a strayed lamb or a sick kid. As spring advanced into summer, he would see the flowers wither, the rich herbage shrink and pale, the hill-sides grow brown, the torrent courses dry up, the springs cease to flow, the hot air quiver and palpitate. Then, every evening, would the flocks and herds, weary and athirst, be collected by the herdsmen to the great wells at Beersheba and elsewhere, and boys and men would set to work to draw the precious liquid in buckets of skin from the deep recesses, the drawers keeping time together by the help of a rude chant, and waking the echoes of the rocks with a sound harsh and wild, yet musical. Soon the stone troughs would be filled, and the impatient animals be allowed to satiate their thirst, before being led away to be folded and secured for the night. Now and then, on such occasions, strife might arise. Though Abraham had made a covenant with Abimelech, the Philistine prince, and had had the property in certain wells conceded to him, yet the rude nomads may not always have adhered to the compact, but, as when Isaac had become the chief of the tribe, the “ herdsmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdsmen ”, so in his boyhood Isaac may have witnessed scenes of contest when water was scarce, and finding their own wells fail them, the Philistines, not over scrupulous about the difference between meun and tuum, may have made a raid upon the wells of their neighbours. As summer passed into autumn, and autumn deepened into winter, the season of heavy rains, and even that of snow, would arrive ; the torrent courses would be filled from time to time with a loud rush of turbid water, rendering them temporarily impassable ; the flocks would require the carefullest tending to save them from the baneful effects of snow and frost upon the uplands, and of heavy rain on the plains; sometimes they would have to be housed in some of the many caves with which the chalky cliffs are penetrated ; above all, they would have to be guarded from the wolves, hyaenas, and jackals, which are ever on the look-out for prey, and are most ravenous and most daring in the winter time. Isaac would grow familiar with all these sights and sounds as he gradually advanced from boyhood towards manhood, and would doubtless bear his part in much of the rough work that had to be done by the tribesmen ; for the sons of sheikhs are not more delicate than their daughters, and, as the latter draw water for the household use and for the flocks, so the former act as shepherds on occasion, and lead out the sheep and goats, and bring them home, and watch the folds, and take part in the shearing, and are ready to lend a hand whenever there is important work to be done and an extra hand is of value. Nurtured on the simplest food—milk and cheese principally— and passing the greater part of his time in the free and open air, engaged in healthful occupations, he would naturally grow up into a strong, active, vigorous youth, not perhaps so daring or adventurous as Ishmael, but still a youth of promise, with his physical nature well developed, his frame braced by exercise, his moral qualities such as the air of the desert is apt to produce in those who breathe it—brave, high spirited, cheerful, capable of endurance—well suited to be the prop of his father’s declining years, and to succeed him as sheikh of the tribe, which, after passing through great dangers and difficulties, was now entered upon a period of tranquillity.

But, if Isaac’s character was formed in part and fixed by the outward circumstances of his life during these years, in all its most essential qualities it was still more determinately settled by the close relation into which he was brought with his father, Abraham—the “father of the faithful,” and the “Friend of God.” Great must have been the privilege, in those days, of close and continuous contact with one so deeply religious as Abraham, so full of an abiding trust in the Almighty, so perpetually conscious of the Divine Presence, so self-denying, so reverent, so full of high and holy aspirations. God-fearing men were few. It was Isaac’s happy lot to have in his father one of God’s specially chosen ones, and to have him almost wholly to himself, to be the main object of his care, with one exception his best-beloved, and his most constant companion. Good men have an atmosphere of piety around them which affects all who come within the sphere of their influence. Isaac dwelt in this atmosphere. Naturally, and without effort, he became partaker of those high thoughts concerning God which filled the patriarch’s soul, shared his spirit of faith and of obedience, shared probably with him whatever knowledge God had vouchsafed him of the scheme of Redemption. It was an exceptionally happy boyhood. If the infancy of Isaac had been troubled by the petulant provocation of his rough and arrogant brother, at any rate his passage from infancy to manhood was a calm and placid time, a time to be ever remembered with devout thankfulness, as beyond the ordinary lot of man—tranquil, peaceful, and, above all, pure—free from those fleshly defilements which are the ruin of so many, free from all storms of passion and all sufferings of a violent kind—in thorough harmony with the name which bad been given him by the direct command of God—the name of “ the Smiling one.”





Isaac called upon to accompany his father to Mount Moriah—The Journey —His outward behaviour during the journey—His probable inward feelings—Isaac's question and Abraham’s ambiguous response—The scene on Mount Moriah—Severity of Isaac’s trial—His release— Influences and thoughts that sustained him during the trial.


The tranquil life which Isaac had led from the age of three to, probably, that of about twenty, was suddenly broken in upon by a strange and terrible trial. Early one spring morning 1 he was summoned to sally forth with his father from the patriarchal tent, still pitched at Beersheba, on a journey of which the object was at first wholly unknown to him. Abraham had risen from his bed, had saddled the ass which he usually rode; had cleaved with his own hands a quantity of wood, had arranged it upon the back of the animal, had roused two of his men-servants from their sleep, and had then sent for his son Isaac, and together they had all started on a journey into the north country. He seems to have given no explanation of his purpose either to Isaac, or to anyone else. Sarah certainly cannot have been apprised of it, or she would at least have bidden her loved ones adieu. Most likely she would have remonstrated, and made a scene; and this Abraham would naturally have been desirous of preventing, so that his departure without any notice to his wife is not surprising. The route taken was probably that which led north-eastward, over the bare limestone hills, by way of Anab and Debir (Dhaberiyeh) to Hebron, where Abraham had friends, and thence nearly due north, by Bethlehem, to Jerusalem. The counter-theory, that Mount Gerizim was the point aimed at, though it has in its favour some great names, as those of Bleek, De Wette, Dean Stanley, and Tuch, is scarcely more than a fancy, without support either from Scripture or from any tradition at all worthy of trust. “ Moriah” is not “Moreh”, which is rather the name of a man than of a place . The word “Moriah” means “the Vision of Jehovah,” the place where Jehovah was seen and worshipped, and is applied in Scripture to no other place but that sacred hill on which Solomon built his Temple, where the Shechinah, or “Glory of God,” was from time to time wont to appear.

Starting off then from the encampment at Beersheba, Isaac, in company with his father and the two servants, and the ass bearing the cleft wood, proceeded to mount that rugged and rocky plateau, seamed with water-courses, which stretches from Beersheba to Hebron, and again, at a lower level, from Hebron to Jerusalem, forming a continuation of the great Samaritan and Judaean upland, which has been called “the backbone of Palestine.” The table-land consists for the most part of open downs and arable soil of soft white chalk; but much of it rises up into rounded hills, from the sides and tops of which the bare limestone “stands out in huge sheets and rough masses, giving the whole landscape a ghastly white colour.” For some distance from Beersheba there are no trees. The land continually rises, sometimes in great sudden steps difficult to climb ; and the ascent is so considerable and so constant that on the hills north of Hebron the traveller finds himself at an elevation of 2,700 feet above that from which he started at Beersheba. Water is scarce; for many miles from Beersheba there are no streams and no springs. The traveller depends wholly upon wells, unless he has brought water with him, and so do the flocks and herds of the district during the greater part of the year. In spring, however, there is a burst of verdure, accompanied by the usual carpet of flowers, and if the journey was made in the latter part of March, or the beginning of April, Isaac would see the upland plains and the hill slopes covered in many places with the loveliest tints, and would find the air scented with the sweetest perfume. At all times of the year there would be pasture. As Hebron was approached—especially if it was approached, as is likely, by way of El-Dilbeh—the general aspect of the country would improve. There are at El-Dilbeh fourteen springs, gathered into three groups, which form together a considerable brook, and the waters of which, if there were energy to utilize them, would suffice to turn the whole valley into a paradise.1 Beyond El-Dilbeh the hills begin to show a clothing of trees and bushes; dwarf oak and arbutus appear, and on nearing Hebron are seen vineyards and olive-grounds, together with orchards of pear, fig, quince, pomegranate, apricots, and other fruits, extending in some directions for miles. Anciently it is not to be supposed that there would have been so much variety, but still Hebron would have had special charms, with its grove of terebinth trees, and its rich vineyards, and probably its figs and olives; and the tired travellers, having journeyed a distance of twenty miles over the hot hills, would naturally halt there, and refresh themselves in preparation for their further travel.

From the hills north of Hebron the country has a gentle descent, not of course without frequent interruptions, but still tolerably persistent, so that while near Hebron an elevation is attained of 3,500 feet above the sea level, the elevation at Bethlehem, fifteen miles further to the north, is no more than 2,550 feet. The decline is thus one of very nearly a thousand feet. A rugged pathway, very direct, and sometimes paved with rough stones, but which can never have been passable for wheels, connects the two places, and has every appearance of having been always the highway between them. The scenery is still bleak and bare to a Western eye; but occasionally there are patches of verdure; a low scrub often clothes the sides of the hills, hiding the bare chalk; fine vineyards are to be seen growing on terraces here and there ; olive grounds are frequent; and in places the soil is suitable for the cultivation of grain or vegetables. Water is supplied no longer from wells, but from natural founts and sources, which are sometimes really copious. At Urtas, a few miles south-west of Bethlehem, are the extensive “Pools of Solomon,” supplied by a number of springs, while at the same site “a fountain sends forth an abundant supply of fine water, which flows in a bright murmuring stream, all the year round, down the valley.” “Along its sides there are at the present day “gardens of citrons, pomegranates, figs, oranges, pears, apples, and cherries, intermingled with plots in which grow cauliflowers, turnips, and potatoes.” Further north, as Bethlehem is approached, the hills are now “terraced into a succession of hanging gardens, rich with olives and other fruit trees, great walls running along the ascent to form the level breadths. Down the valley rich groves flourish everywhere, till, as the eye follows them, green fields and ploughed land, in some directions, gradually take their place.” At the end of their second day’s journey Abraham and Isaac may probably have found themselves in this locality, and have passed the night at Ephrath, which became Bethlehem. From the height on which Bethlehem stands they would have looked down on less cultivation, and less variety of foliage than the eye now rests upon, but probably upon a richer natural vegetation; dwarf oak would have covered the hill-sides, abundant grass and flowers the valleys. Still the general features of the scene would have been the same. Grey rock would have predominated in the view, whichever way the eye was turned; but the purple-pink Moabite ridge would show to the east, aglow with the bright tints of sunset, and the deep blue waters of the Dead Sea would be seen at their base, sunk in the shades of evening.

The third day was come, and the travellers once more set off, probably in the cool morning air, still shaping their course northward, and most likely pursuing the route that continues in use to the present day. They would pass the site of “ Rachel’s Tomb,” not as yet hallowed by the reception of her earthly remains, and would scarcely note it as in any way remarkable; and they would then, after a short descent, begin to mount the longer and steeper incline, which leads to the summit of the ridge now crowned by the “ Monastery of Great Elias.” Here, on the top of this ridge, their steps were suddenly arrested. Abraham, lifting up bis eyes, saw “afar off”—at the distance of about three miles—“the place of which God had told him”, and at once recognized it. The rocky summit stood up, directly opposite to him,1 seen distinctly in that clear air, though as yet unoccupied by any building, and, with a thrill of anguish, he beheld the goal of his long journey, the place whereto he had been commanded to come, the spot as yet undistinguished, but now about shortly to attain its first distinction, and destined in the course of ages to become the most sacred spot on the entire earth’s surface.

The journey, however, was not yet ended—it had but entered upon a new phase—a phase which demanded fewer witnesses, greater secrecy. “Abide ye here with the ass,” said Abraham to his young men, “and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you ”. And Abraham took the wood, which he had cleaved, from off the back of the ass, and laid it upon Isaac, and took fire in his hand—a pan of burning charcoal probably—and a knife also ; and the two descended the gentle decline on the northern side of the ridge, where the road sinks and sinks gradually, passing across the “Valley of Rephaim,” by stony slopes that yet can produce fair crops of grain, and leading into the “Valley of Hinnom,” or deep cleft on the western side of the Holy Mountain. Then a last ascent had to be made. A steady rise of two hundred feet up the limestone hill would bring the father and the son to the summit of the platform on which the Sacred City was afterwards built, and then a short walk over a slightly undulating surface would conduct them to the culminating point of the eastern hill, the “ Mount Moriah ” of the Bible.

What, we may now ask, was the outward conduct, and what must have been the inward thoughts, of Isaac, during this long journey? His father, it would seem, was preoccupied, did not take him into his confidence, went on his way in silence, oppressed with secret grief. Isaac, so far as his outward conduct went, was for the first two days simply acquiescent. We need not suppose that no words passed between the son and father, but the root of the matter was not touched upon. Neither Isaac nor the “young men” made any inquiry as to the object of the journey, or its probable duration, or the goal to which it was directed. Isaac, however, must have soon begun to form conjectures. It is not in the nature of active, lively, effervescent youth to be devoid of curiosity, contentedly to do whatever it is called upon to do without speculating on what is to come of it, calmly to await issues, and make no sign : or, at any rate, if it makes no sign, it does not any the less turn over in its secret thought all the various probabilities—nay, even the possibilities— of the situation. Isaac must soon have concluded that his father was bent upon a sacrifice. To what other purpose the cleft wood, and the knife, which no doubt hung from his girdle? Abraham had in the past erected altars in various places—at Sichem, at a spot between Hai and Bethel, at the oak grove of Mamre, near Hebron— might he not be intending to revisit one of these well-remembered scenes, and to make an offering on one of these long-disused altars ? All the places lay towards the north; and it would not be till the second day, when Hebron was left behind, that the possibility of the journey being terminated by a sacrifice upon the altar at that place would have been eliminated. As the second day progressed, gloomier thoughts may have suggested themselves. If Abraham travelled on for the most part in absolute silence, bearing on his countenance the marks of a secret consuming sorrow, if he glanced at his son from time to time with looks that spoke of almost uncontrollable love and pity, if he was moody and unapproachable, wrapped in meditation and taking small heed of external objects, then it would be only natural that suspicion should arise in Isaac’s mind as to the nature of the sacrifice that was contemplated. The Canaanitish nations, in contact with whom he had been brought up, were undoubtedly in the habit of offering their children—by preference their eldest sons—to the deities whom they worshipped.’ Isaac could scarcely have grown to manhood without some knowledge of this horrid custom. Was his father contemplating a human sacrifice ? And, if so, who was to be the victim? An inward thrill of pain, an awful shudder, must have passed over him when the idea first occurred, if it did occur, that the victim was perhaps to be himself. But as yet he said nothing—he asked no question—probably he put the thought away as a suggestion of the evil one. No—bis father, his tender, loving father, from whom he had hitherto received nothing but protection, kindness, and anxious care, could not surely be meditating in his heart anything so unkind, anything so dreadful, as his own destruction ! Was he not his father’s best-beloved—the apple of his eye—his darling ? And again, was he not the child of promise, the destined father of nations, he with whose seed God was about to establish an everlasting covenant? He could not be about to be cut off in his prime, before he had any children, before he was even married; for so the promises of God would be made of none effect, the distinct pledge—“In Isaac shall thy seed be called” —would fail. By such considerations and arguments Isaac may have calmed his fears for the first day, and the second day, but on the third day they must have revived again.

His father laid the wood upon him—separated him from the two faithful servants who had been his companions thus far— would have no witnesses of the deed that he was about to do—left the servants with the ass, and took with him his son only. And why? On what plea? “Abide ye here with the ass, while I and the lad will go yonder”. But the ass was surely as much needed now as ever, to carry the heavy burden of wood up the steep side of the Holy Mountain. It must have been a grievous toil to Isaac to do so—a toil prefiguring that grievous trial of our Lord under which tradition says that He fainted. And the servants’ strength might well have been utilized in bearing some of the wood, and in collecting the stones for the altar and building it up, instead of Abraham undertaking the task  at his advanced age. The patriarch’s plea could satisfy none of those who heard it, and his words had probably an untrue ring.  I and the lad will go yonder and worship and come again to you.” He did not expect that both would “come again.” Isaac was probably quick to note both unsatisfactory plea and false tone. More than ever must his fears have been aroused. At length, therefore, speech is wrung from him—“ My father,” he says, “behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Ah I where is the lamb? Does he not feel, as he stands so lamblike by his father's side, that he is himself the lamb? Does he not at any rate suspect that this may be so? If he does, the reply will scarcely disarm suspicion—“My son, God will provide Himself a lamb fora burnt offering”—it is too oracular, too ambiguous, too obscure. But Isaac, in his gentle humility and submissiveness, accepts it, and says no more. “ So they went both of them together.”

Moriah was at length reached, and all further concealment on the part of Abraham was necessarily laid aside. Abraham collected stones, and built an altar, and arranged the wood upon it, as was proper for a burnt offering, and then proceeded to “bind Isaac his son”. Now Isaac’s trial reached its culminating point. He had suspected for days, but had hoped against hope, had half persuaded himself that his suspicions could not be well-founded, and had therefore kept his thoughts to himself, had appealed to no one for help, had made no attempt to escape. Now there could be no longer any doubt. If he submitted to be bound, he would be at his father's mercy, and could look for nothing but death. Should he then submit? “It is certain that he was old enough to resist his father’s will had he been so minded, and that it must have been with his own free consent that he had allowed himself to be bound hand and foot with cords, and laid upon the altar.” He was in the full vigour of youth, probably about twenty years of age; Abraham was verging upon a hundred and twenty. Nothing would have been physically easier than to have snatched -the cords out of his father’s hands, and carried them off, or flung them down the nearest precipice. He could have quitted the Mount, and thrown himself into the desert, as Ishmael had done before him, or he could have returned to Beersheba, and have appealed to the tribe to judge between him and his father. But he did not take either of these courses. On the contrary, he submitted himself unreservedly, allowed his limbs to be shackled with the constraining cords, made no resistance as he was lifted from the ground and placed upon the altar, lay there impassive, tranquil, without an attempt to struggle—waiting the blow that was to end his life on earth, and either bring his existence to a close, or give him entrance into a new state of being.

Thus was Isaac tried on this great occasion, and thus he bore the trial. Attention has been so much concentrated on Abraham’s part in the tremendous scene, that Isaac’s has scarcely attracted any great share of men’s thought or consideration. But, if the attitude of the father is grand, that of the son is not less so. Endurance is always more difficult than action. The father’s faith, and enthusiasm, and zeal, nerved him to an almost superhuman deed of devotion. But the son was set a harder task. He had to “suffer and be still.” It has been said, that “we scarce know which most to admire—the brave spirit of the patriarch, or the meek resignation of the youth ”; but certainly the son “exceeds in humble endurance.” He is the type of that Perfect Humanity, which, upon the cross, bore the worst that could be inflicted, patiently, uncomplainingly. His suffering, it is true, was in the spirit only, not in the flesh ; but mental agony is sharper than any bodily anguish. Isaac’s is the glory of having come near to his Lord’s patience and uncomplainingness, and to have done so before the example was set, of his own proper notion as to how it was fitting to act.

The last agony was spared him. As the knife gleamed before his eyes, he heard the angelic voice which cried, “ Abraham, Abraham”, and arrested his father’s arm, and went on to say, “ Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him ; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me” . Then Isaac was released by his father, and the substitution of the ram made, and the scene was ended.

Can we to any extent conjecture what thoughts, feelings, or influences sustained Isaac under his trial, and produced his calm submissiveness? First, there would be the habit of obedience. Isaac had all his life been accustomed to obey his father absolutely in all that he commanded, and his instinct would be to obey and submit, unless some very strong emotion prompted an opposite course. Secondly, there would be his implicit confidence in his father’s care and love for him, his feeling that, whatever were the appearances, his father must really have his welfare in view, and would not hurt him unnecessarily. Thirdly, as Abraham must have thought human sacrifices permissible in certain cases, when he “ took the knife to slay his son”, so Isaac may have thought; and he may even have reached the surmise, that it was God’s will which his father was executing. Fathers were in ancient times regarded by many nations as having the power of life and death over their children. We know too little of early Semitic beliefs and customs to be sure what were the Semitic ideas on this subject; but it is quite conceivable that they held the view which was common to many Asiatic peoples with the Romans. As a Roman son would have quietly submitted to death at his father’s hand, so Isaac may have regarded it as his duty to submit. Finally, he may have been upheld in his patient unresisting submission by the thought and hope of a future life. It has been too much the habit of modern theologians to accept the arguments of Warburton in his “ Divine Legation,” and to regard the patriarchs generally as looking only for transitory promises; but the discoveries of modern times have shown, that, not in Egypt alone, but in Assyria and Babylonia also, the expectation of a future life prevailed from the very earliest times; and it is inconceivable that Abraham, with his spiritual leanings, should not have gone as far at least as the Chaldaeans, with whom he was brought np at Ur, in the expectations and longings which constitute a main part of natural religion, and which were certainly a part of the Chaldaean primitive belief. If then Abraham “looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker was God”, so must Isaac have done ; and this belief, and confident outlook, would have been a very powerful support and stay to him, when his trial came, and he had to choose between yielding himself wholly to his father’s will, and making an unseemly and desperate resistance.





Isaac’s return to Beersheba—Death of his mother—His grief—His marriage determined on—Abraham’s servant sent to Haran—Scene between the servant and Rebekah—Communications between the servant and Laban —Rebekah’s willingness—The return journey—Meeting of Rebekah and Isaac—Marriage.


Isaac and Abraham returned together to Beersheba, their mutual affection probably enhanced by the terrible trial which both of them had undergone. Isaac, no doubt, recognized the truth, that the trial was from God, and that his father was in no way to blame for its bitterness and severity. The two were drawn the more closely together by the threatened separation. The son had seen his father’s anguish ; the father had witnessed his son’s submissiveness ; each had become more convinced than before of the strong love borne him by the other ; each was probably henceforth more regardful of the other’s feelings, more tender, more anxious to please. It would seem that they continued to live together, first at Beersheba, and later on at Hebron, for about seventeen years, before any further event happened to disturb the domestic peace and tranquillity. Then Sarah died. At the age of a hundred and twenty-seven, thirty-seven years after she had given birth to Isaac, the pattern wife and—may we not add ?—pattern mother, so jealous for her child, so careful of his interests, passed away. The death of a parent at so advanced an age could not greatly shock or surprise ; but it was felt nevertheless deeply, poignantly; and Isaac continued for three years after his mother’s death, sad and uncomforted. Then Abraham, either because he took note of his son’s prolonged grief, and thought the time had arrived for checking a feeling that was in danger of becoming morbid, or because he himself wished to remarry, and deemed it right that Isaac should be settled in life, and have his own household before his father’s household should undergo so great a change and one that would be naturally so distasteful to him, resolved to make arrangements for his son’s marriage. Marriage in the East is rarely left to the mere personal preference of the individual. Great sheikhs, especially, arrange the marriages of their sons with extreme care, determining both the time of life at which they shall marry, and very frequently selecting the individual. Purity of blood is held in high esteem; and, as there is a general rule not to marry out of the tribe, so, in many tribes, there is a strong inclination to seek for the wife who is to carry on the family among near relations. In Abraham’s case there was more than ordinary difficulty in procuring a suitable bride for his only legitimate son, first of all, from the fact that the nations of his immediate neighbourhood were, one and all, worshippers of idols, and secondly, from the circumstance, that the collateral branches of his family, to which he would naturally look, according to the ideas of the time and social phase, resided at so great a distance. Haran, or Harran, from which Abraham had come to Palestine, and where he had left all his near relatives, was distant from Beersheba at least four hundred and fifty miles, and by any practicable route must have been distant at least fifty miles further. The most direct route, that by way of the Hauran (Auranitis), Damascus, and Tadmor, was in great part destitute of water. The route most ordinarily used, at any rate in later times, up the Coelesyrian valley to the site of Antioch, and then by Aleppo and Bir to Harran, was very circuitous. Consequently, from the time of Abraham’s removal into Palestine there can have been but little intercourse between the different branches of the Terahites, though it appears that there was some intercourse, since Abraham knew that his brother, Nahor, bad a large family of sons, and at least one grand-daughter . Under all the circumstances, Abraham came to the conclusion, that his best course would be to re-open communications between his branch of the Terahites and those which had remained in Mesopotamia, and to seek a wife for his son among the unmarried females belonging to the houses of Haran and Nahor.

He did not, however, deem it right to send Isaac himself on this quest. It is not improbable that the perils of the journey were considerable, since wild tribes roamed freely in those early days over all the Syrian and Mesopotamian lowlands, which do not seem to have been as yet under any settled government. Isaac’s life was too valuable to be risked. The task was therefore confided to a trusty servant, “the eldest servant of the house, and the ruler over all Abraham’s substance”, in whom most commentators have seen the “steward,” who once filled the position of heir-presumptive, Eliezer of Damascus. Eliezer’s local knowledge might point him out for the service on which he was sent, and it is even possible that he may have had relations with some of the desert tribes, which made it safer for him than for another to adventure his person among them. He was not allowed, however, to set forth as a mere private person, but took his departure with some pomp, as an envoy sent from chief to chief, with an important-business to negotiate. Ten camels accompanied him, laden with provisions and presents for the bride and for her family—“ all the goods of his master”—and no doubt he had a sufficient escort of guards and attendants, always necessary in those regions? Nothing is told us of the route which he selected, or of the manner in which he crossed the Euphrates ; but as in the spring, before the melting of the snows, the river between the thirtieth and thirty-second parallels is fordable in places, we may suppose that the camels were able to pass it with their loads, and that the men who accompanied them either constructed rafts or got across by swimming.

The envoy, at any rate, reached his destination, and arriving near the city of Harran towards the evening, halted by a well of water outside the town, as a Bedouin or nomad would naturally do, and, making his camels kneel down, relieved them of their loads and prepared to water them. But first, he must think of his errand. He knew he was at the place where, “at the time of the evening,” the women would “go out to draw water”. So he waited, and while waiting prayed, not in any spirit of advanced faith, but as a Bedouin of the time would be likely to pray—“O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water, and let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that 1 may drink, and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also; let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac ; and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shewed kindness unto my master” It would have been simpler and more straightforward to go into the city, and ask for Nahor, or his nearest male representative, and open the matter to him privately. But the Bedouin mind likes indirect courses, rejoices in signs and omens, and does not feel it to be irreligious to leave to the arbitrament of chance even the most important issues. Eliezer therefore, or whoever was the messenger, took the course sketched out in his prayer. He waited, and when a damsel came out of the city, carrying a pitcher, and “ went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up”, he addressed her as he had proposed to do, and carefully noted her reply. Without corresponding exactly to the terms which he had laid down, it was sufficiently near them to make him suspect that his prayer was answered; for after saying, “Drink, my lord,” and putting the pitcher to his lips, she added, “I will draw for thy camels also". And the word was followed by the deed. “She hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.” A charming picture of combined simplicity and kindliness ! The messenger stood awhile wondering, whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not and then put the crucial inquiry, “Whose daughter art thou? tell me, I pray thee”—to which he received the answer that he had hoped for, but scarcely ventured to expect—“I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor.” Of Abraham’s kindred on both sides, uniting the blood of Nahor with the blood of Haran, and having in her veins no admixture of any foreign element, she was exactly the bride that was wanted by Abraham for his son. The messenger felt that his steps had been divinely guided, and that his way had indeed prospered : so he brought forth from his treasures adornments suitable for a bride—a nose-ring,1 probably, of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for the hands of ten shekels weight of gold, and put them on the blushing maiden, who could not fail to half understand, and who ran away to hide herself in her mother’s arms  after proffering to the stranger the hospitality of her father’s residence.

Eliezer, however, if we may so call him, was in no haste to avail himself of the invitation. He still remained by the well. It would not have been consonant with Oriental etiquette for him to have thrust himself over-readily on the hospitality of one wholly unconnected with him. He therefore waited. His errand would, he felt, be guessed from the presents which he had made to the damsel. If the dispositions of the damsel’s nearest male relatives were favourable to it, they would come out and press their offers of entertainment on him. If not, he could abide where he was.

In the residence of Bethuel, Rebekah’s news produced considerable stir. Laban, her brother, appears to have been favourably impressed. Bethuel, her father, was perhaps ill,’ perhaps imbecile. Laban was, practically, the head of the household, and had to determine what should be done. He at once gave his orders, had apartments prepared for the stranger and his retinue, and room made for the camels. He then went in person to the spot where he understood the stranger to be, and warmly pressed him to become his guest. “Come in,” he said, “thou blessed of Jehovah ; wherefore standest thou without? For I have prepared the house, and room for the camels”. His invitation was accepted—“the man came into the house, and ungirded his camels”; and Laban provided straw and provender for the beasts, and had water brought for the stranger and his retinue to wash their feet, and refreshments prepared and set before them. But Eliezer refused to eat: he must first tell his errand. So he proceeded to set forth who he was, and what instructions he had received from Abraham, and what had happened between him and Rebekah at the well, taking occasion also by the way to enlarge upon the wealth of Abraham in flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses, to notify that Isaac, for whom he was seeking a wife, was heir of all, and to imply that he was not too old for Rebekah, since he was the child of Sarah’s old age. The result was that Laban was persuaded; and he and Bethuel gave their formal consent to the marriage—“ The thing,” they said, “ proceedeth from the Lord”—we can say nothing “we cannot speak unto thee good or bad. Behold Rebekah is before thee ; take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken.” Then the faithful steward, having done his master’s bidding, and procured him the wish of his heart, proceeded to return thanks to God for his good success—“he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself down to the earth’’. And his duties towards God and man being thus properly discharged, he consented at length to think of himself, and to accept the proffered entertainment—“They did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night” in Bethuel’s house.

The marriage had been negotiated. The customary presents, whereby a bride was bought of her relatives by the bridegroom, had been handed over; but the consent of the maiden had not been asked. Oriental custom assigns to the father, or brother, the duty of arranging for the marriage of each maiden of the house as she becomes marriageable, and takes the acquiescence of the maiden herself for granted. It would be indelicate on her part to have an opinion. But in this case it so happened that the bride was able to show something more than her mere acquiescence in the disposal made of her. Eliezer, having concluded the compact, and rested himself and his company for a single night under the hospitable roof of Bethuel, was eager to be gone, so soon as the morning broke, in order to shorten the term of suspense and anxiety for his master. He asked, therefore, to be allowed to take his departure, and carry away with him the bride, at once. But the relations protested. Their feelings must be considered. They must be allowed time to brace themselves for the parting. “ Let the damsel,” they said, “ abide with us some days, at least ten”: “after that, she shall go.” But Eliezer was not to be persuaded : he still urged his request, that he might be permitted to set forth without delay. At last it was agreed to refer the matter to Rebekah herself, and let her decide it. “ So they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man ? And she said, I will go.” Though her affections could not yet have been touched, her imagination at any rate was pleased with the prospect opened to her, and she accepted her new position willingly. It was something to have been sought in marriage from such a distance for the son of so great a sheikh ; it was more to have been the object of special Providential care and guidance. She was therefore willing to go, and to go at once. Hereupon her relations yielded, and sent her away, with her attendant maidens, and her old nurse, Deborah, invoking blessings on her head, and exclaiming—“ O our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them”.

The bridal party went forth from “the city of Nahor,” Eliezer, and his men, and the ten camels, and Rebekah, and Deborah, and Rebekah’s maidens, in a long procession. The women were made to mount upon the beasts, in consideration of the weakness of their sex; and their gay dresses and golden ornaments and trinkets shone brightly in the morning sun. Camel followed camel in a long string, each probably led by his own special driver, intimately acquainted with his temper and bis ways. Eliezer, with the rest of his retinue, brought up the rear, the old man probably seated upon an ass, or upon the hindmost camel. Slowly they journeyed southward or south-westward, for the tender maidens would scarcely be able to endure the jolting of the camels for many hours at a time. Safely they passed the Euphrates at one of the well-known fords, probably either at Bir, or Thapsacus (Tiphsach), and steadily, if slowly, they pursued their journey, by the longer or the shorter route," to Palestine.

Meanwhile Isaac had remained at Beersheba or in its neighbourhood, still dwelling with his father Abraham, and with the varying seasons moving from place to place. He had just returned one evening from visiting the well Lahai-roi, and had gone out alone into the plain, either to meditate, or to gather sticks for the evening fire, when, lifting up his eyes, he saw a caravan of camels approaching from the north, which at once arrested his attention, and caused him to bend his steps in their direction. If they proved a caravan of strangers, it would be his duty to offer them hospitality ; but he may at once have suspected that they were not strangers. Calculations had been doubtless made, by himself or Abraham, as to the time at which Eliezer might be expected to return from Haran, and the time must have been known to be approaching. A small caravan, coming from the north, was, exactly what had been looked for, and Isaac would no sooner discern it on the far horizon, than he would conjecture that here was Eliezer bringing home his bride. When the camels came near enough to be counted, conjecture would become conviction, and when female figures were seen mounted on most of the camels, conviction would pass into certainty. Isaac quickened his steps. Rebekah, on her part, seeing a man of a dignified presence approaching, put a question to Eliezer— “What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?”; and Eliezer, who had recognized Isaac, replied, “It is my master.” Then Rebekah did “just as an Arab bride would do now on being brought to her future husband”—she hastened to veil herself with “the long cloak-like veil” with which Eastern women cover, not the face only, but the whole body, since she must not appear unveiled in the presence of the bridegroom before marriage ; and she “lighted off the camel”, not so much because she saw before her a man of distinction, as because it would have been unseemly for her to continue to ride while her future husband was on foot. She acted in every way suitably ; and Isaac, having heard what Eliezer had to tell, and seen the maiden’s modesty and grace, was content, and had her conducted to the portion of Abraham’s tent which had been his mother’s, and there installed as its mistress.

The marriage ceremony would follow. We do not really know what were the ceremonies of a Hebrew wedding at this early date. But the following description by one intimately acquainted with the East may be accepted as probably giving no very untrue account: “Rebekah would be led to the tent by her nurse and her maids who had come with her ; but, one by one, these would leave her, till she was all alone with the nurse, wondering whether she would please Isaac when he came. After a time the nurse would throw a shawl over her head, and, a signal having been given, the curtain would be pushed aside for a moment, and the bridegroom would enter and the nurse withdraw'. Now came the moment for removing the veil, or shawl, that hid the bride’s face. If he had been a modern Oriental, Isaac would have said, ‘In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful,’ and then raising the shawl would greet his wife with the words, ‘Blessed be this night,’ to which her answer would be, ‘God bless thee.’ This was the first time Isaac had seen Rebekah unveiled; and it would be an anxious matter for the nurse and the maids, and, above all, for Rebekah herself, whether she pleased or disappointed her husband, for there might have been an anticipation of Jacob's trouble, by finding a Leah instead of a Rachel. But Rebekah’s face pleased her future lord, as indeed the face of a bride generally does a bridegroom; and he would announce this fact to the anxious women outside, who forthwith, no doubt, set up a shrill cry of delight, just as their sisters who stand in the same relation to a young wife do now. To the Semitic races this shout of the triumphant and satisfied bridegroom is one of the most delightful sounds that can be uttered, and has been so for immemorial ages; and it is to this that our Saviour alludes when He says, He that bath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.”





Abraham gives Isaac a step-mother in Keturah—Her sons—Rebekah's barrenness and Isaac’s prayer with respect to it—Prophecy given to Rebekah—Birth of Esau and Jacob—Abraham with his grandsons— His death and burial—Probable reconciliation between Ishmael and Isaac—Isaac’s removal to Labai-roi, and life there—Contrast of disposition between his sons—Parental leanings—Esau sells his birthright to Jacob—Consequences.


Shortly after Isaac’s marriage had been concluded, and Rebekah received into the tribe as the legitimate wife of the heir-apparent, Abraham allowed himself the solace of a second “concubine-wife”, by name Keturah. The idea that this Keturah was really Hagar, whom Abraham received back under a new name,’ is a mere Jewish fancy, quite inconsistent with the plain words of Scripture, which tell us of Abraham’s “concubines,” in the plural, and assign to Keturah six children only, of whom Ishmael is not one. She was probably a young woman, such as aged sheikhs seek to comfort their old age; and she bore to Abraham in rapid succession six sons, who received the names of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. The birth of these sons made, however, no difference in the affectionate terms on which Abraham and Isaac still lived together; Abraham continued to regard Isaac as his sole heir; and, as the sons of Keturah grew to manhood, he portioned them sufficiently, and “ sent them away from Isaac his son”,  that they might in no way trouble or molest him. Their dwelling-place was the East country, or the tract east and south-east of Palestine, which is chiefly desert, but has some fertile oases. Isaac remained at Beersheba, or in its neighbourhood, leading a peaceful and eventless life from the age of forty to that of sixty, happy in the affection of his father, and in the warm love which he bore to his young wife, only disturbed in mind on one account, namely, that Rebekah appeared to be, like Sarah, barren, no child having been borne to him by her for above nineteen years from their wedding-day, and no prospect of a child showing itself. Doubtless, Rebekah herself was deeply distressed. Like Sarah, like Hannah, she felt her barrenness as a sign of the Divine disfavour, as well as a reproach, lowering her in the eyes of men. What had she done that God should “shut up her womb?”. Was she not worthy to bear the promised seed, and through her unworthiness was the promise to be made of none effect? When she caught her husband’s eye resting sorrowfully upon her, or saw him cast envious glances at the children of happier men, with a sharp pang of anguish would wring her soul. How bitterly would she feel the disappointment of the husband she so tenderly loved, and of the father-in-law, whom she could not fail to respect! Abraham, we may be sure, when he sought a wife for his son Isaac, had hoped to clasp in his arms, and dandle on his knee, an infant grandchild, one further link in the sacred chain that was to connect him with the “Desire of all nations,” the special “seed” in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. Rebekah’s failure to bear children would grieve him almost as much as Isaac. Isaac, however, was the first to seek, and to seek in the right quarter, a remedy for the misfortune. He “ intreated the Lord for his wife”. Greatly desiring issue himself, and perhaps moved by the spectacle of Rebekah’s silent sorrow, he in the twentieth year after his marriage, when he had reached the age of sixty, took the cause before God, and pleaded earnestly on his wife’s behalf and on his own. It is thought that he made a formal solemn sacrifice before the altar at Beersheba, offering incense upon it, and praying before it at great length, urging his request importunately. And the request was granted. Not long after, Rebekah conceived . When the new life began to stir within her, the unaccustomed movement at her time of life caused her so much pain and discomfort, that she repented of having desired a child, and petulantly exclaimed’—“If it was to be thus with me, why did I conceive?” So it is often with foolish, impatient, ungrateful humanity. We pray for what we regard as a blessing, without counting the cost. It is granted us, and at once we begin to complain and to repine. We had not reckoned on the drawbacks that are attached to every earthly advantage, and would buy relief from a little present annoyance by the sacrifice of the far more important future benefit of which we had once thought so much.

Rebekah, however, had too much natural piety, and was too far advanced in the school of grace, through contact with such characters as those of her husband and father-in-law, to be petulant in act, even if she was now and then petulant in speech. She knew where every trouble should be taken, and, alarmed at movements which, she thought, portended evil to herself or offspring, she determined to “inquire of the Lord”. There must have been some recognized mode of making such inquiry at the time in the family of Abraham, and some way in which those who inquired obtained a Divine response. Perhaps, priests of God, like Melchizedek, or prophets, like Abraham, were consulted, and empowered by inspiration to give replies. Perhaps, there was a method by which an inquirer passed into the ecstatic state, and while in that state saw visions, or heard words, which conveyed to him a message from God. In the present instance the response was in the recognized prophetic form of “antistrophic parallelism,”  and ran as follows :—

Two nations are in thy womb,

And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels:

And the one people shall be stronger than the other people;

And the elder shall serve the younger"—

but whether it was heard in ecstasy, or delivered from the mouth of Abraham, or Melchizedek, or made known to the anxious mother in any other way, it is impossible to determine. She would gather from it that she bore twins in her womb, that both would come safely to the birth, that each would be the progenitor of a nation, and that God’s special blessing would rest upon the younger. The movements that she felt typified the strife of the two kindred peoples, but did not portend any immediate ill result, either to herself or to her offspring.

Time went on. “Her days to be delivered were fulfilled”; and the prophecy received a first accomplishment. Twin boys proved to be in Rebekah’s womb, and came to the birth, one after the other : and she was safely delivered of them. There was a physical contrast between the two. “The first came out ruddy, all over like a hairy garment” ; and Rebekah, or her attendants, “called his name Esau,” i.e., “hairy.” The second had neither a red skin, nor any hair upon it ; but his hand had hold on his brother’s heel when he was born, and therefore he was named Jacob, i.e., “he that takes by the heel”—or, as the word came to be understood at a later date, “the Supplanter,” “he who takes by the heel to trip up.” Great must have been the joy of both parents, and great the joy of Abraham, at the double birth. Such births are uncommon in the East, as elsewhere, and, when they occur, are reckoned a special blessing. Rebekah could not but deem herself happy in having thus not only escaped her reproach, but placed herself in the rank of women favoured by God above others. Her husband’s affection towards her; and pride in her, would be stimulated ; and the domestic circle would—at any rate for some years—be enlivened, brightened, and made happier.

It would seem that Abraham’s life was prolonged sufficiently for him to see bis grandsons grow up almost to manhood. Chronologists calculate from the Biblical numbers, that he was alive till Esau and Jacob had attained their fifteenth year.

Thus, the boys “grew up under their grandfather’s eye.” During so long a space he was enabled to experience the joys for which he had in past years sighed—the delight of “beholding his children’s children,” and amusing himself with them, and instructing them, and waking up to life their nascent intelligence. There is a curious sympathy, for the most part, between grandparents and grandchildren. Special traits of character drop out for a generation, to reappear in the third degree of descent; and the grandfather is apt to understand and appreciate his son’s children more than the son himself, who has the burden and responsibility of them, and feels anxieties which the grandsire does not share.

It would not be difficult to draw in some detail a pleasing picture of this grandfather and these grandchildren. The aged patriarch, with his long white beard and snowy hair, still hale and hearty at the age of a hundred and seventy years, sitting on the ground outside his tent in the cheerful light of the sun, in spring or autumn, his grandchildren playing at his knee, stroking his cheek or his beard, and plying him with the incessant questions—questions so hard to answer— with which the innocent curiosity of childhood tries the patience and sagacity of old age. Fondly would his eye rest on each—each in some sort the child of promise—each destined to share in the great and often-repeated blessing—“I will multiply thee exceedingly, and make thee exceeding fruitful, and thou shalt be a father of many nations, and kings shall come out of thee ; and thy seed will I multiply as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore ; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” Curiously would he speculate upon the different fortunes awaiting the two children, of whom the elder was to serve the younger, and of whom, while both were strong, the younger was to be the “stronger.” Little reeking of such distant matters, the twin boys would be engaged in games, or quarrels, or mimic fights, each striving to surpass the other, and appealing at intervals to their grandsire for his judgment as to which of them had shown himself the superior. But historians are not allowed to give free flight to their fancy. It is at most permitted them covertly to indulge it within limits for the enlivenment of their narrative, which would otherwise be, it is to be feared, to most of their readers, “ weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.”

When Isaac’s twin sons had reached the age of fifteen, Abraham died. He had lived to the great age, as we now regard it, of one hundred and seventy-five. But his father, Terah, had exceeded this length of life by thirty years, and it did not perhaps, either to himself or to his contemporaries, appear extraordinary. The physical strength of man was greater in those early days than it has now become, the conditions of life were more healthful, and the approaches of decay slower. Isaac, as we shall find, had even a longer life than his father, and Jacob, who considered .his days to be “few and evil”, reached the term of a hundred and forty-seven years. It is likely that Abraham retained his faculties to the last, and not impossible that, as the legend of his death tells us,1 his great desire upon his deathbed was to bless, instruct, and impress the dearer of his two grandsons, Jacob, whom he knew to be the heir of the promises. The particular lessons of piety and morality recorded in the “Book of Jubilees’' have but little claim on our attention ; but it may well be that the aged saint was occupied during his last hours with thoughts respecting the future of his race, and that it was to Jacob especially that he gave his latest words of counsel, warning, and encouragement. Isaac was present, and perhaps Ishmael, who at any rate bore a part in the funeral ceremony; and the two sons, brought together by the sad occasion after having been separated for so long a time, may probably have been softened by the common affliction and reconciled to one another. At any rate, conjointly they conducted the solemn ceremony of the interment, took their father’s body to the cave of Macpelah at Kirjath-Arba or Hebron, and laid it in the tomb, purchased long before of Ephron the Hittite, by the side of the mortal remains of Sarah. There it is possible that the bodies rest to this day, perhaps not yet resolved to dust, in the dry air of the caverns.

Isaac, after the death of his father, appears to have removed from Beersheba, and transferred his residence to the neighbourhood of the well Lahai-roi. We are told that “God blessed him”, and we may regard him as living prosperously and contentedly in the Negeb, “or South country,” growing continually richer in flocks and herds, beloved by all the tribesmen for his gentle and amiable disposition, and enjoying a more than ordinary share of domestic peace and tranquillity. One of his- chief pleasures must have been to watch the development of his twin sons’ characters, and check or encourage their several tendencies. Unlike most twins, who are remarkable for the extreme affection which they bear one another, as well as for general similarity of disposition, the sons of Isaac exhibited from the first a marked contrast of temperament and inclinations, such as the physical difference between them, which had been noted at their birth, perhaps indicated. Esau resembled his uncle, Ishmael. He, too, was a “wild man.” Tent life had no charm for him; the sports of the field formed his sole delight and his constant occupation. Roaming from morn to night over the Negeb, and the still more savage tracts, on which it adjoins, he passed his time in the chase of the wild animals that inhabited those regions, then probably much more numerous and more varied than is the case at the present day. A modern sportsman will scarcely find much to engage his attention, either on the high upland of the Negeb, or even in the desert of Tih; but in ancient times lions may have wandered into these parts from Philistia ; leopards and lynxes may have been more common; the antelope tribe, represented in Scripture by “ the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the pygarg, and the chamois”, may have bounded freely over the plains or hidden themselves among the tangled rocks, and the ibex and wild sheep may have frequented the desolate valleys Esau threw himself into the wild and half savage life of the primitive hunter, consorted with the wholly unsettled tribes which came and went as the seasons changed, now shadowing the thin verdure of the southern plains with their dark tents of goats’ hair, anon transported to the skirts of Gilead or to the vicinity of the Euphrates. His enterprise and daring charmed bis peaceful father, who naturally admired in another the qualities in which he himself was deficient. Esau became his father’s favourite, and perhaps returned his affection—at any rate was careful to foster it by small attentions, which Isaac did not fail to appreciate. When he returned at evening from his long hunting expeditions, tired in every limb, he would nevertheless see that some of his venison was set before his father, who delighted in the “savoury meat”, “longed for it,” and “loved” Esau all the more on account of it. A strange mixture of worthy with unworthy motives! The father admires his son’s activity and daring, is pleased by his attentions, but “loves him because he did eat of his venison”, giving evidence thereby of a spirit, which, lapped in a life of ease, had become in a certain measure tainted with sensuality, not of a gross kind, indeed, but still such as seriously to weaken his character, and to place him on a lower level of spiritual development than either his father Abraham or his son Jacob.

The leanings of Jacob differed wholly from those of Esau. He was “a plain man, dwelling in tents”. Hunting had no attractions for him. “He was a man of steady, domestic habits.” Instead of wandering abroad over the wild country, on the verge of which he dwelt, and engaging day by day in the excitement of the chase, “he stayed at home, attending to the pasturing of the flocks and the business of the family,” “so gaining a reputation the exact opposite of Esau’s— that of “a plain man,” quiet, homely, unadventurous—plodding, it might be, but safe. To a son of such a temper—which in a great measure reflected her husband’s—Rebekah was irresistibly attracted ; and the favour of the father towards the elder, was balanced by the inclination of the mother towards the younger, twin. Unfortunately, the mother’s influence was, in this case, not wholly for good. Jacob grew up with high notions of the rights and privileges that attached to him as the future lord of the tribe and the inheritor of the promises, but not inclined to be very scrupulous as to the methods which he should employ in securing his rights and accomplishing the ends of Providence. His mother probably stimulated his ambition by often repeating to him the oracle which she had received of God—“Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one nation shall be stronger than the other nation; and the elder shall serve the younger”. At the same time she would recommend him to watch and wait—to do nothing hastily—above all, not to think of resorting to violence, or of matching his undeveloped physique against the exceptional strength of the trained hunter and athlete, hardened by continual exercise, by exposure to the extremes of heat and cold, by daily toils and nightly watches, and by frequent encounters with wild beasts. The woman’s weapon is art, not force ; and Rebekah’s influence would be used to impress on Jacob that it was art on which he must rely. A time would come, sooner or later, when an opportunity would show itself. Only let him be quick-witted enough to take advantage of it, and not, through stupidity or timorousness, suffer it to slip by.

The time came, suddenly, and in a way that no one could have anticipated. Esau had gone, as usual, to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, while Jacob had stayed at home, and, as the day advanced and he became hungry, had made himself a rich soup of the red lentil. The food is one that is still a favourite dish in many parts of the East, and is said not only to be palatable to the taste, but to exhale an agreeable odour, “very tempting to a hungry man.” At the moment when the pottage was ready for the table, Esau returned from his hunting, faint and weary, and rushed into the tent. He was ravenous, exhausted—perhaps he had been engaged in the chase all night. Seeing the smoking dish in his brother’s hand, and probably tempted by the delicious odour of which travellers speak, he exclaimed—“Feed me, I pray thee, with that red, that red”—“Give me,” i.e., “some of it, here, now, at once”—“for,” he added, “I am faint.” Then the reply came, cold and calculating, devoid of any touch of tenderness—“Sell me this day thy birthright”. The famished hunter, deeming himself “ at the point to die,” and feeling that, if he dies, his birthright will certainly be no profit to him, asks no time for consideration or for taking advice, but promptly consents—at Jacob’s demand, ratifies his assent with a solemn oath, sells his birthright, and receives in exchange the soup which he so greatly desires—“Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way ”.

The father and mother seem to have been, both of them, absent from this scene. Apparently the father, on hearing of it, refused to regard the transaction as serious.2 Appreciating, as Esau could not, or, at any rate, did not do, the privileges attached to the birthright, not so much generally, as in this particular case, Isaac declined to admit that they could be bartered away for a “mess of pottage.” His first-born son was still his firstborn son to him, and entitled to a firstborn’s blessing. Esau does not even seem to have sunk seriously, if at all, in Isaac’s regard, or to have lost his place in his affections, on account of the folly, whereof he had been guilty. Perhaps he regarded it as excused by the necessity in which Esau stood at the time, since “Necessity has no laws”; perhaps he held that such an important change could not be made without the formal assent of the family, and the tribe. His own consent, at any rate, he might deem to be required, and he had not given it. Thus the sale of the birthright by Esau to his brother made no ostensible difference in the relations of the several members of the family one to another. Jacob was not allowed to assume any novel state or rank; Esau suffered no outward degradation, on account of it. The main difference was, that enmity set in between the brothers, each of whom thought that he had a right to complain of the other— Esau of Jacob for having taken an unfair advantage of him in his dire need, and extorted a consent, and an oath, by what was practically compulsion ; Jacob of Esau, for comporting himself as if the birthright were still his, and continuing to claim the status of the elder brother. A note of discord was thus struck which disturbed the harmony that had hitherto prevailed in the household—“ a little rift within the lute ” appeared, destined to lead on to violent and dangerous discord.





Famine in Palestine—Isaac, by the Divine direction, goes to Gerar—Description of Gerar—Isaac repeats his father's evasion with respect to his wife—He is rebuked by Abimelech—Degree of his culpability— After relations of Isaac with Abimelech—Required to quit Gerar—His return to Beersheba and covenant of peace with the Philistines.


The placid life of Isaac glided peacefully away. Happy in his unalterable love for Rebekah, which never wavered, never wearied, never strayed from its first object, and happy in a warm affection, at any rate, for his elder son, content to live a life without adventures and seldom enlivened by any change, Isaac passed a term of years, the length of which cannot be exactly measured, in the vicinity of Lahai-roi, while his sons grew to full manhood, but still remained inmates of his tent. The dispositions of his sons did not alter to any appreciable extent. Esau continued the energetic hunter, who delighted to roam the desert plains in search of game, and, when he had brought the quarry down, to bring it home for the delectation of his father. Jacob occupied himself with the folds and with the flocks, giving them the careful superintendence, which Isaac could no longer conveniently give, and at the same time being always at his mother’s beck and call, ready to do whatever she required of him. But the even tenor of these various lives was suddenly interrupted. “There was a famine in the land besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham”. Palestine is very liable to famines,1 which are ordinarily produced by drought, the rains failing in the winter, or spring, or both, and the brooks then ceasing to flow, the wells shrinking or drying up, and pasturage altogether disappearing from the hills and even from the valleys. Especially is the Negeb, “the South country,” where Isaac was now settled, liable to this scourge, being the least fertile part of the Holy Land, and the most scantily supplied with water. When the rains fail in the Negeb, it becomes scarcely distinguishable from the Desert on which it abuts ; the torrent courses are wholly dry; the crops fail; the hill-sides are covered with a sapless, straw-coloured herbage, from which even goats can extract no nourishment; the stunted bushes and shrubs, which dot the plains and slopes, grow dry and leafless ; and the scanty population is forced to seek shelter and sustenance elsewhere. Under ordinary circumstances, Isaac with his family and tribesmen, would naturally have done, as Abraham did on a similar occasion, that is to say, would have taken refuge in Egypt, always a land of plenty, and the refuge for the distressed of neighbouring nations, in any time of famine. And we may gather from the narrative of Genesis that he contemplated this course. But, for some reason which is not declared to us, he was forbidden thus to act. “The Lord appeared unto Isaac and said, Go not down into Egypt.” Perhaps a king ruled, who would have been less hospitable than the Pharaoh of the time of Abraham, and would have refused to receive him into the country, or have permitted his entrance and then ill treated him. Perhaps the country was in a state of anarchy and confusion, the troubles having commenced which led on to the Hyksos conquest. At any rate, the Divine Wisdom saw it to be unfitting that Egypt, the destined oppressor and afflicter of the people of God, should for a second time be their refuge in the hour of distress, and interposed to prevent it. “Go not down into Egypt,” was the Divine mandate conveyed to Isaac; “dwell in the land which I will tell thee of: sojourn in this land.” And then the promises were repeated to Isaac which had been so often given to Abraham—“I will be with thee and will bless thee ; for unto thee and thy seed I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore 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

Gerar, as a district, would seem to have been the tract lying west and north-west of Beersheba, watered by two wadys—the Wady-es-Seba, and the Wady-esh-Sheriah. These two watercourses collect all the rains which fall on the highland of Southern Palestine between the thirty-first and thirtieth parallels, and during the rainy season convey a large body of water to the Mediterranean. The course of the Wady-es-Seba for a considerable distance from Beersheba is nearly due west, after which it becomes north-west to its junction with the Wady-esh-Sheriah, and so continues until, as the Wady Ghuzzeh, it reaches the sea. A little below the junction of the two water-courses, on the right bank of the Wady Ghuzzeh, lay the city of Gerar, next to Gaza the chief town of these parts, and still known as Umm-el-Jerrar, a ruined site ten miles to the south of Gaza. The country in the vicinity is a “ succession of rolling pasture-land, seamed with dry water-courses, some small, others showing that large streams rush through them in winter.” It is at all times a moister district than the more inland plateau, in the first place because the vapours which float in from the Mediterranean are here first arrested, and further because the winter rains which rush down from the plateau, as they flow off, sink into the sandy or chalky soil, and lie in it, at a lesser or a greater depth, all the summer-time. The country about Gerar is famous for its numerous wells and cisterns. The ruined site itself “has a dozen cisterns on the top of a low swell,” their breadth from four to five feet, and their depth, when not filled up, from six to eight feet. On the great map issued by the Palestine Exploration Fund, twenty-four wells are marked within a circle of two miles, nearly all close to the great Wady Ghuzzeh or to the subordinate torrent-bed, Wady-esh-Sheriah, which runs into it. The scene from Gerar at the present day “reminds the traveller of Salisbury Plain; flocks here and there; the country undulating; the chalky soil sprinkled, rather than covered, with grass. To the east the limestone crops out here and there, as the land rises in long round-topped waves towards the distant mountains.” There is cultivation in barley and melons ; and the whole district, though infertile to a European eye, is, under ordinary circumstances, an excellent pasture country, capable of supporting large flocks of sheep and goats, though scarcely suited for cattle of the larger kind.

Apparently, the Philistines had continued on friendly terms with the family of Abraham since the time when the great Patriarch “made a covenant” with their king, Abimelech, at Beersheba. Eighty years had elapsed since that event; but Isaac, when the Divine intimation came to him, that he was to sojourn in Gerar, and not to go down into Egypt, seems to have found no difficulty in making an arrangement with the existing king of the country, whereby he and his people were permitted to reside in it until the pressure of the famine should be past. The king is given the same name as Abraham’s contemporary, viz., Abimelech, and may possibly be the same person, considering the longevity that prevailed at the period; but perhaps it is more probable that he was a son, or grandson, of the former monarch, and that “Abimelech” was an official title of Philistine kings, as Pharaoh of Egyptian, Syennesis of Cilician, and Arsaces of Parthian sovereigns.

While his people were no doubt scattered far and wide over the territory of Gerar, Isaac and his family took up their residence in the city of the same name. And here it was that Isaac experienced his second great trial. Rebekah was, like Sarah, “fair to look upon”. Though probably not less than fifty years old, she still retained her personal attractions ; and Isaac, on entering the foreign city, was beset with the same doubts and fears which had tried his father on two several occasions, first when he went down into Egypt, and again when he too “sojourned in Gerar” with the first Abimelech. Isaac feared, like Abraham, lest his wife’s beauty should attract the regard of some among the men of the place, who would wish to contract a marriage with her, and, if they knew that he was her husband, would kill him in order to make the marriage lawful. In a rude state of society there can be no doubt that such a course of proceeding was quite possible, and that Isaac’s apprehensions were far from visionary. The lives of foreigners were seldom held as of much account in ancient communities, and the Philistine community of Gerar was Certainly not one in which the reign of law and order could be regarded as firmly established. Isaac therefore might reasonably consider that his life would be in danger if the real nature of his relations with Rebekah were known. Would it not be best to conceal them? Isaac persuaded himself that it would ; and consequently, “when the men of the place asked him of his wife, he said, She is my sister; for he feared to say, She is my wife”. Both the people of Gerar, and Abimelech the king, appear to have accepted the statement in simple good faith, and for “a long time” nothing happened to undeceive them.

But, at last, it chanced that Abimelech, looking out of one of the windows of his palace, saw Isaac and Rebekah, probably on the roof of their house, so comporting themselves as only married people would do, and felt certain that he had discovered the real relation between the two. Upon this, he sent for Isaac, and taxed him with his duplicity—“Behold, of a surety she is thy wife : and how saidst thou, She is my sister? What is this that thou hast done?”. What evil consequences might not have flowed from such deceit? What guiltiness might not have been brought upon the entire Philistine community? Any one might have asked Rebekah in marriage, and Isaac could not have refused, if the suitor were a fitting one, and the marriage might have been consummated, and then what sin would there not have been, and what disgrace ? A stranger wronged—the marriage tie violated—an adulterous connexion established, which might have brought down upon the whole city and people the wrath of God ! Isaac had not a word to say in his defence. The man of God, the representative of the chosen race, stood rebuked by an uncircumcised Philistine, one outside the covenant, a mere heathen, probably an idolater! In his second trial Isaac had failed, had fallen; instead of maintaining the high standard of his youth, he had sunk to a lower level, and had given the enemies of Jehovah occasion to blaspheme.

The root of Isaac’s evil-doing on this occasion was selfish, faithless, fear. “They will kill me,” he thought, “for Rebekah”. Well, what if they should? He did not flinch from death, when he was a lad of eighteen or twenty—why flinch now? “Let right be done, though the sky fall.” What was death, that he should fear it so, especially now? Now he was a father—the child of promise was born—the seed was come through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Why should his life be so precious to him? It may be said, and said with truth, that the patriarchal idea of the future state was sombre and unattractive—that as yet no revelation had been made to man of the transcendent bliss which awaits the glorified saint in the life beyond the grave—and that naturally human nature shrinks from death and shudders at the mere thought of it; but why is the aged saint timid, when the neophyte was so bold? Must we not admit with sorrow that Isaac’s calm, placid life had not been elevating—that he had not gone on “ from strength to strength,” but that, on the contrary, through growing sensuousness and self-indulgence,1 his moral and spiritual nature had deteriorated, so that his character in advanced age fell far short of the promise of his youthful prime? No doubt, truthfulness had not yet been laid down by any positive law to be a duty; and the nations among which he dwelt—Arab and Syrian for the most part—regarded skilful evasion and equivocation as cleverness, and did not much scruple about attaining their ends by actual open lying. But there is an instinct in the heart of man which protests against all falsehood and deceit. The light of nature bids him to “ speak truth with his neighbour.” Ever one who has any nobility of character feels a contempt for lies and deceit; and Isaac’s inability to justify his conduct when reproached by Abimelech shows that he was himself conscious of wrongdoing. It has been sought to excuse him on the ground that Rebekah was really his “sister” in the wider sense of the word,’ being his first cousin once removed, and therefore a very near kinswoman; but this defence clears him, at the utmost, of direct verbal falsehood, while leaving him guilty of deceitfulness and equivocation. The suppressio veri is a suggestio falsi. When the men of Gerar inquired of Isaac what were his relations towards Rebekah, the question meant primarily, “Are you husband and wife, or not?” and to answer, “She is my sister,” was tacitly to imply that this was their sole relationship, and that they were not married. It is a mistake to suppose that the Old Testament saints, or indeed that any of the saints of God, are to be vindicated in all their actions. All human goodness is imperfect, and “even the just man falleth seven times”. Isaac certainly, on the occasion of this, his second trial, was “overcome of evil,” fell below the standard which he might have been expected to have maintained, and brought religion into discredit. Christians at the present day bring religion still more into discredit, if they justify or palliate action which the moral sense of mankind at large condemns.

It is possible that, to himself, Isaac justified his conduct by the example of his father. Abraham’s lapses into duplicity had indeed taken place before his birth, so that he could not be personally cognizant of them ; but the facts were no doubt handed down among the traditions of the tribe, and Abraham may even have spoken of them in the conversations which he held with the son whom he loved. He had perhaps excused them, or at any rate had not condemned them very severely, his standard of morality not being the Christian one. If this were so, Isaac’s behaviour, though still blameworthy, would not be deserving of very severe censure. It would be the fault of a well-meaning but timid man, not strong in faith, easy-going, not deeply impressed with the sacredness of truth, not rigidly attached to any very lofty or unbending rule of right and wrong.

The after relations of Isaac and Abimelech were not seriously affected by the patriarch’s deviation from truth on the occasion which we have been considering. No actual harm had come of it. Abimelech, on discovering the real relation between the parties, had solemnly “charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man, or his wife, shall surely be put to death” . Henceforth, Isaac knew himself secure. Abimelech continued his friend and protector. The patriarch dwelt in the land, not only pastured his flocks on it, but also “sowed in that land ”, raised crops of corn and vegetables, as do the Bedouins of the present day, and obtained an abundant return, measure a hundred measures for each sown, it would seem, which is a very unusual, though not a wholly unprecedented, increase. He and his people flourished greatly. “The man” (i.e. Isaac), “waxed great, and grew more and more until he became very great: and he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household, and the Philistines envied him”. The native inhabitants of the land, not unnaturally, began to feel jealous of the incomers, whose skill and industry were probably greater than their own, and who, under God’s blessing, certainly prospered more than they, and grew wealthier and wealthier. Disputes and quarrels began to arise. Abimelech’s native subjects filled up the wells which Abraham’s servants had dug when he sojourned in Gerar, and which were claimed as their own by Isaac’s herdsmen. Such a measure is one of extreme hostility, implying great bitterness of feeling, and foreshadowing an internecine war, unless something were done to appease the angry temper that had been called into existence on both sides. Abimelech saw the peril of the situation, and met it in what was probably the best way. “Go from us,” he said to Isaac, “for thou art much mightier than we”— “Go,” i.e., “from the near vicinity of the city—withdraw to a greater distance—remember that thou art here on sufferance— it is my country, not thine—thou wert received into it as a sojourner, under the pressure of a famine—the famine is now over—is it not time for thee to retire and leave us?” Isaac did not fully acquiesce; but he made no remonstrance. Abimelech was within his right—his words could not be gainsaid. Isaac therefore retired, first to “the valley of Gerar,” probably a portion of the Wady-es-Seba between Gerar and Beersheba, then further eastward and south-eastward, and finally to Beersheba itself. For a while the hostility of the Philistines pursued him. They complained that he was still within their borders, and claimed that the water which he found was theirs, even although the wells from which he procured it were freshly dug by his own servants. But at last they considered that he had withdrawn far enough, and was beyond their limits, which they did not regard as extending more than about thirty miles from the coast. When Isaac reached Rehoboth, the modern Ain-er-Ruheibeh they were contented, and still more, when he went northwards, and once more established his headquarters at Beersheba.

Abimelech, however, the Philistine monarch, was vexed and disturbed by the rupture of the friendly relations so long established between his people and the family of Abraham, whose goodwill he was reluctant to lose. His intercourse with Isaac had convinced him that the blessing of the Almighty rested in some peculiar way upon that chieftain and his followers. He desired, therefore, to have them for friends, not for discontented neighbours, far less for enemies. To secure this end, he resolved to pay Isaac a visit. Not long after the return of the patriarch to Beersheba, the king of Gerar, accompanied by Phichol, the commander-in-chief of his army, and Ahuzzath, one of his friends—possibly his vizier or chief minister—arrived unexpectedly at Isaac’s encampment, and desired an interview. They were at first received with coldness. “Wherefore come ye to me,” was the patriarch’s greeting, “ seeing that ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?”. Ungracious words, indicative of soreness and offence. Isaac had evidently felt aggrieved at his dismissal, and, rightly or wrongly, a sense of injury still rankled in his breast. The Philistines, by sending him away, had shown that they “hated” him—why now affect friendship? To feel as he did was scarcely just, but it was natural. A favour long enjoyed is apt to become, in the eyes of the recipient, a right, and its withdrawal is frequently resented. With true wisdom Abimelech took no notice of the ungraciousness of the answer given him, but proceeded to unfold the object of his coming, and the reasons which had prompted it. He put in the forefront his conviction, that Isaac and his people were “ the blessed of the Lord”. He claimed that he had laid them under an obligation—negatively, by doing them no harm, when he might have done them harm —positively, by doing them good, and “nothing but good and he asked in return simply for a negative engagement—a covenant that they, on their part, would abstain from doing his people any injury, would neither fill up their wells, nor damage their crops, nor carry off their cattle, nor in any way harass or disturb them. The two tribes would, he assumed, continue to be neighbours, they would be in perpetual contact—without a covenant, alien tribes, in the then-existing state of society, lived in a condition of hostility, lifted each the other’s cattle, received each other’s runaway slaves, stole each other’s water, damaged each other in every way that was possible. Abimelech proposed that Isaac, on the part of his people, should covenant to do none of these things ; though it is not so expressed, he no doubt intended that the engagement should be reciprocal— neither tribe should injure the other—and he proposed that the covenant should be confirmed on either side by an oath. Whatever had been Isaac’s feeling at the first, his sense of wrong passed away as he listened to the fair, friendly, and in fact flattering, speech. The Philistine king and his suite were invited to partake of his hospitality—were feasted and given a lodging for the night. In the morning the covenant was concluded; the oaths were sworn; and the guests departed in peace.





Marriages contracted by Esau—Isaac’s sight fails—He proposes to give the blessing of the firstborn to Esau—Deceit practised on him by Rebekah and Jacob—Jacob gets the blessing—Scene between Esau and Isaac— Esau also blessed—Contrast between the two blessings—Esau's resentment—Plot and counterplot.


During Isaac’s stay at Gerar, his sons appear to have reached middle age. Esau was the first to enter into the estate of matrimony. Contrary to the wishes of both father and mother, he contracted marriages with women belonging to the idolatrous races of Canaan, which lay under the Divine displeasure, and were about to forfeit their land on account of their iniquities. There is some difficulty with respect to the names, and number, of his Canaanitish wives, and even as to the exact race whereto they belonged; but, on the whole, it seems to be most probable that, at the age of forty, he took to himself two wives, Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah, son of Zibeon, a Horite, otherwise called Judith, the daughter of Beeri, and Bashemath, otherwise called Adah, the daughter of Elon, a Hittite.’ These unions were “a bitterness of spirit” to Isaac and Rebekah, who were totally opposed to any intermixture of the blood of the chosen race with that of the people whom God had appointed them to succeed. Such intermarriages were contrary to the ancient tribal spirit; they imperilled the purity of the religious faith, which was the ground of Abraham’s selection to be the progenitor of God’s people; and it might reasonably be feared that the curse of God would rest upon them. Considering the evil results which followed upon idolatrous marriages in later times, as especially on those of Solomon and Ahab, we must approve and admire the instinct, which set the patriarchs and their wives against them before they had been forbidden by any positive law, and when the verdict of condemnation had not yet been delivered by history.

Time went on, and Isaac felt the infirmities of age creeping upon him. He was a hundred years old when Esau contracted his unsatisfactory marriages. Sometime after this, but how long after there are no means of determining, having found his sight beginning to fail him, he bethought himself of his latter end. Ere he died, he wished to bestow a formal blessing—a blessing which would have a prophetic force and efficacy—upon his elder and favourite son, who had not, even by his hateful marriages, alienated his father's affections from him. As a preliminary, he summoned Esau to his presence, and communicated to him his intention. It was the admitted privilege of the father to dispense to his progeny blessings and curses. Isaac, as inheriting the prophetic office that had been Abraham’s, would speak with extraordinary prescience and authority. His words would not be mere good wishes, but effectual to bring about what they foreshadowed. Both he and Esau felt the solemnity of the occasion. But, as prophets in after times needed music to develop the prophetic afflatus, so Isaac felt that he required a certain amount of physical comfort to cheer and warm him to a satisfactory delivery of the thoughts that stirred his heart. He begged his son, therefore, to take his weapons, and go out into the hunting-grounds, and procure him venison, and dress it, and bring him the “savoury meat, such as he loved,” that in the glow of satisfied desire he might pronounce a worthy blessing upon him.

Esau quitted the tent, to do his father’s bidding. But it so chanced, or rather it was so arranged by the providence of God, that the wife and mother, the partisan of the younger son, overheard all that her husband had said, in secret as he thought, to the elder one. At once her keen wit went to work. She must frustrate Isaac’s design. She must contrive that the blessing, which the father intends to bestow upon the elder, shall, in point of fact, be bestowed upon the younger son. Rebekah, no doubt, was convinced that her end was good. She had accepted, in fulness of faith, the Divine intimation given her before her children were born—“The elder shall serve the younger.” She had always looked upon her youngest born as “the child of promise.” She had set her affections upon him, partly, perhaps, on that account. She had probably heard, and heard with pleasure, of her reckless elder son selling his birthright to her astute younger son, and had rejoiced at the transaction as entitling the latter to those superior rights and privileges which she desired for him. The will of Heaven was, in her judgment, declared. But now her husband was about to do his best to frustrate the will of Heaven—to make the promise of God, “The elder shall serve the younger,” of none effect. Would she not be justified—nay, would she not be doing her plain duty—in stepping in to thwart her husband’s self-willed action, and forward the designs of Providence even by means which a rigid moralist might consider to be wrong, or at any rate questionable ? But Rebekah perhaps scarcely argued the case. More probably, she acted on impulse. Her extreme partiality for her younger son swept before it all minor considerations, and made her resolve unhesitatingly, that Jacob’s rights, as she regarded them, should not be filched from him, if by any action of hers she could prevent it. There was scant time for plotting and planning. Esau had started forth upon his quest, and, if fortunate in falling in with game, might be back in an hour or two. She must utilize this little breathing space. At once she devises a scheme—that with which we are all so familiar. She takes Jacob into her confidence—tells him what she has heard his father say, and so reveals to him the peril in which he stands of losing his father’s principal blessing —she then bids him “obey” her—taking upon herself, so far as possible, all the responsibility, she sketches for him a plan of action, which he has only to follow out, and all will be well—let him hasten to the flock, and bring her a couple of kids, and she will make a savoury dish that shall readily be mistaken for venison—let Jacob pretend to be Esau, and take this in to his father and so vindicate his rights, and get the blessing that will otherwise slip from him. Jacob objects, but his objections are overruled—“Upon me be thy curse, my son : only obey my voice.” And Jacob obeys; and the trick is played; and the blind and half imbecile father is successfully imposed upon, albeit he has a suspicion that “the voice is Jacob’s voice, though the hands”— roughly covered with the skins of the kids—are seemingly “ the hands of Esau". Convinced at last by the smell of Esan’s clothing, in which Rebekah has-taken care to dress Jacob, the aged chief accepts the meat as venison brought by his elder son, eats and drinks, feels the prophetic afflatus descend upon him, and at length utters the blessing

“See the smell of my son

Is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed

And God give thee of the dew of heaven,

And of the fatness of the earth,

And plenty of corn and wine: 

Let peoples serve thee, 

And nations bow down to thee : 

Be lord over thy brethren, 

And let thy mother's son bow down to thee: 

Curseth be every one that curse thee,

 And blessed be he that blesseth thee.”

Very sad, very pitiable is the picture of the blind father cozened by his wife and child. But sadder and even more pitiable the scene which follows. All unconscious of what has happened, Esan returns from the chase successful, joyous, happy. He has found his game, and killed it, and brought it home, and made it into a dish of savoury meat, such as he knew that his father loved; and he comes in to his father, radiant, and expectant of good—“Let my father,” he says, “arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me.” Isaac is astonished, confounded—what strange thing can have happened? what mean the words that he hears? “Who art thou?” he ejaculates. Is it Jacob, seeking such a blessing as his father can spare to him after the best promises have been lavished on his brother? Or is it, can it be Esau, only now just returned? The answer makes all clear—“I am thy son, thy firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac comprehends the situation. He has been overreached, cheated. His dearly-loved elder son, his darling, has lost, finally lost, the blessing of the firstborn, for that, once given, can never be retracted. And this has been done by the wife of his bosom in league with his younger son. His foes have been “ they of his own household.”

As such thoughts passed through his mind, Isaac “trembled with a great trembling greatly”. “Who then is he,” he exclaims, “That hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou earnest, and have blessed him?—yea, and he shall be blessed.” But he has no need to ask, he knows too well; it is the brother, who “has come with subtilty,” and taken away the firstborn’s blessing. Then the truth bursts also upon Esau, and he raises “ a great and exceeding bitter cry”—a cry of rage, and grief, and disappointment—and asks that he at any rate may be blessed, as well as his brother. Isaac hesitates, but is at last prevailed upon by the touching, melting appeal—Hast thou but one blessing, my father ? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” Then, such blessing as he could, Isaac gave :—

“Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be thy dwelling,

And of the dew of heaven from above ;

And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother ;

And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt break loose, 

That thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck. ”

Each son, we see, was promised “of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven”—a fertile territory, that is, with the blessing of God upon it, and therefore much temporal prosperity; but while “peoples and nations” were to serve the one, the other was simply to maintain his existence by his sword; above all, the posterity of Esau was to “serve” that of Jacob— not, however, for all time. Ultimately, the yoke was to be thrown off, and both nations—Israelites and Edomites—to be equally free and independent. It is needless to say that the prophecies were accomplished in all particulars.

It is not surprising that the successful plot of Rebekah and Jacob resulted in further domestic troubles. Esau, though he had obtained a blessing, was none the less aggrieved at his brother’s proceedings. He does not seem to have expected that the sale of his birthright was really to result in his being supplanted, or to subject him to practical loss or disadvantage of any kind. But now Jacob had proved himself an effectual “supplanter.” He had stepped into the position of the elder son. He was “lord over his brethren,” and “his mother’s sons” were bound to “bow down to him.” The fiery, impetuous Esau could not endure such a position, and at once deter' mined on what he would do. His father would, he supposed, not live very long. As soon as the grave closed over Isaac, and the days of mourning for him were accomplished, Esau made up his mind that he would be content with no half measures, but would take his brother’s life. Nor was this a mere secret resolution, which he kept locked up in his own heart. On the contrary, he divulged his intention to his friends, and it was talked about so openly that Rebekah heard of it. Here was the first stroke dealt by the avenging Nemesis, which, sooner or later, is sure to punish evil-doing. The over-partial, over-ambitious mother is made to tremble for the very existence of her favourite, is made to feel that his life is in peril, and that the peril which threatens it comes of her own act. If there should be a secret assassination, or a fratricidal conflict, in which, as the weaker, Jacob would be certain to succumb to his brother, it will be her plotting that has brought about the calamity. She will have put the knife to her son’s throat. Nay, the trouble will be even worse. If Esau slays Jacob, he will be a murderer, and must either suffer death himself at the hand of justice, or become an outlaw and a vagabond, like Cain. And so Rebekah will “be deprived of both her sons in one day”. It is a melancholy outlook, and she has once more to set her keen wit to work, in order to meet the perils which threaten, and especially in order to preserve the life of her favourite son, for whom she has ventured so much.

Ere long she forms her plan—her counterplot to Esau’s plot. Like Esau, she seems to have looked for Isaac’s early death, and to have thought it necessary, or at least prudent, to remove Jacob out of his brother’s reach without delay. She therefore at once reveals his danger to Jacob himself, and warns him that he will have to take a distant journey. She has steeled her heart to endure his prolonged absence, provided only that she can save his life; but she makes light to her son himself of the parting and the absence, which, she says, is only to be for a short time—“Flee thou to Laban my brother, to Haran; and tarry with him a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away; until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done to him : then will I send, and fetch thee from thence”. It was doubtless easy to persuade Jacob under the circumstances; but there was something more to be done. Rebekah bad to persuade Isaac also. It is difficult to realize Isaac’s condition of mind at this juncture. We can scarcely conceive that he was not greatly vexed at his deception. He must have been angry with both Rebekah and Jacob; but, so far as appears, he made no complaint. Not only did they still live with him—still abide in his tent—but he appears still to have been on friendly terms with them. Perhaps he excused Rebekah’s deception to her mother’s heart, and Jacob’s to Rebekah’s influence over him. At any rate Rebekah does not hesitate to apply to Isaac in her difficulty; and, though she does not venture to put before him her real trouble for fear of arousing unpleasant reminiscences, yet she imparts to him a secondary trouble, as though sure of sympathy, and at once evokes it, and obtains his help. “I am weary of my life” she says, “because of the daughters of Heth : if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” We may suppose that Esau’s Hittite wives had continued to be a vexation to Rebekah, and had daily brought it more home to her, how evil a thing it was to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Isaac also may have been vexed and annoyed by them, since Esau, we are told, “saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father”. At any rate, when Rebekah made her appeal to her husband, he immediately came into her views. Jacob must not be allowed to marry a daughter of Heth. He must be sent elsewhere. So “ Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother. And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of peoples; and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee, that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” Isaac evidently has accepted it as the Divine appointment that Jacob, and not Esau, is to be the heir of the promises. He has learnt the Divine will, and has submitted himself to it. If he has not wholly forgiven Jacob for deceiving him, he has at any rate determined to act as if he had forgiven him. In sending him away to a foreign land for an indefinite term, when he is himself so advanced in years, and thus running the risk of never seeing him again, he feels that he cannot let him go without a blessing ; and if a blessing is to be given, he feels that it should be that to which Jacob is by the Divine decree entitled. He therefore devolves upon him “the blessing of Abraham”—voluntarily and freely he gives him all that Jacob had previously extorted by deceit—the blessing of abundant posterity, the blessing of the inheritance of Canaan, the blessing finally of all that was understood to go with that inheritance—glory, precedency, dominion—ultimately, “a seed in whom all the inhabitants of the earth should be blessed”.

So Jacob departed ; and Rebekah was left to mourn the separation, which she had brought upon herself. There is reason to believe that she never saw her favourite son again.





Isaac's later years uneventful—Esau’s third marriage—Isaac's bereavements—Death of his brother Ishmael—Death of Rebekah—Death of Rachel—Re-union with Jacob—Death—Burial—Character.


ISAAC lived, after Jacob had left him and departed to stay with his uncle Laban, according to one calculation, forty-three, according to another, sixty-three years. He did not quit the earth until he had reached the great age of a hundred and eighty years, thus living forty-three years longer than his brother, Ishmael, and five years longer than his father, Abraham. But these later years of his life were very uneventful. He remained in the south country, at Beersheba, Lahai-roi, or Hebron, still the patriarchal chief, but of weak vision, perhaps blind, perhaps imbecile. The last act that we find ascribed to him is his blessing Jacob and sending him away to Padan-aram, “to take him a wife from thence”; the last influence which we find him exerting is an influence over Esau, which induced that affectionate but self-indulgent person to select his third wife from a less objectionable quarter than that which had furnished the two earlier ones, “ since he saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac”. Esau, on this occasion, “went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth". It was, no doubt, well done, if he must have a third wife, to take his first cousin, and the marriage probably pleased Isaac. Esau still lived with his father, and his household soon became a large one, since all his wives bore him children, both sons and daughters.  It appears not to have been until his reconciliation with Jacob, that Ishmael removed from Canaan altogether, and transferred his permanent residence to Mount Seir.

Isaac, however, soon after Esau’s third marriage, began to suffer the bereavements which must happen to all who attain an advanced period of life. At the age of one hundred and twenty-three, six years after Jacob’s removal to Haran, he lost his elder brother, Ishmael. Then Rebekah would seem to have died, and to have been buried in the cave of Machpelah at Hebron. Next, in his hundred and fifty-eighth year, he lost his daughter-in-law, Rachel, whom he had never seen, while in his hundred and sixty-eighth year his grandson, Joseph, disappeared, and was thought to have been devoured by wild beasts. At last, his own end approached. He had removed from Beersheba, and fixed his residence at Hebron, the favourite abode of Abraham, and the last resting place of the family. Here Jacob “came to him’’, and, we may presume, cheered and comforted his latter days. It is remarkable that Jacob, though he had now returned from Padan-aram, and been reconciled to his brother for above twenty years, made no effort, so far as appears, to see his father, until towards the very close of his life. He resided at Succoth in the valley of the Jordan, at Shalem near Shechem, at Luz or Bethel, and at the tower of Edar, near Bethlehem, but there is no indication of his having proceeded any further south until a short time before Isaac’s death, when he “ came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned”.

It may be hoped that the meeting was peaceful and happy. While Jacob’s long delay may seem to point to some coolness as still existing between the father and the son, his frequent moves, all in one direction, show that he was being gradually drawn by the cords of affection nearer and nearer to the author of his being, in spite of what had occurred, in years that were now long past, to separate them. Before Jacob left him, Isaac had practically forgiven him his treachery. It was perhaps not so easy for Jacob to forgive himself. We may see, in his long holding back, a sense of shame and of injury done, which rankles in the heart and conscience far more than injury received. Affection, however, overcame shamefacedness ; and finally the guilty son drew close to his injured father, and gave him the solace of his company and his care. When Isaac died at length, “old and full of days”, Jacob was still with him, to the last his support and stay.

It is uncertain whether Esau was also with him. As the son whom his father especially loved, he certainly should have been there. But the narrative is silent upon the point. He may have been summoned to his father’s deathbed, or he may have come without being summoned ; but we are not told whether he was there or not. It appears, however, that he was present at the burial. When Isaac “gave np the ghost and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days, his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Parted as they had been in life, death brought the family together; and the twin sons, no longer enemies, joined in paying the last rites to the mortal remains of their father.

Isaac was buried, like Abraham, and Sarah, and Rebekah, in the cave of Machpelah, at Hebron, which Abraham had bought for a burial-place. His tomb is still shown at the present day.1 In the great mosque of Hebron, in the body of the sacred building, on the righthand side as the traveller enters from the porch, occupying the centre of a small domed chapel, and separated off from the nave of the edifice by iron gates, is an oblong square monument, which the guardians of the place declare to be “the tomb of Isaac.” The monument corresponds exactly with another on the opposite side of the nave, which is known as “the tomb of Rebekah.” It is not pretended, however, that the bodies of the personages named rest within these tombs. They are, admittedly, cenotaphs, or monuments in honour of the dead, who repose at some distance beneath them. Under the floor of the mosque, and of the area in front of it, is a dark cavity, to which the only present access is by a species of shaft inside the mosque, down which it is thought that a man might be lowered by a rope. No European, however, has entered into this subterranean vault, at any rate within the memory of man; and nothing can be said to be known of it, except the little that was revealed, when, on the visit paid to Hebron in 1881 by two English princes, a lamp was let down by a string into the cavity through the above mentioned shaft. Then the dim light revealed a chamber about twelve feet square, and fifteen feet below the floor of the mosque, which was bare and empty, but which evidently led, by a square-headed doorway on its south-eastern side, into a further inner chamber, which probably represents the original cave, and the actual patriarchal burying-place. The mystery of this inner chamber remains still unpenetrated; but it is believed that within it are the actual tombs, perhaps loculi, perhaps sarcophagi, which once received the bodies of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Joseph.

When the Prince of Wales and his suite, in the year 1862, were admitted within the mosque of Hebron, and allowed to inspect, more or less closely, the several cenotaphs, the guardians of the place, who had thrown open to them the shrine of Abraham, intreated them not to insist on entering that of Isaac. On seeking an explanation of what seemed to them so unaccountable a distinction, they were told, that “the difference lay in the characters of the two Patriarchs—Abraham was full of loving-kindness; he had withstood even the resolution of God against Sodom and Gomorrah ; he was goodness itself, and would overlook any affront. But Isaac was proverbially jealous, and it was exceedingly dangerous to exasperate him. When Ibrahim Pasha on conquering Palestine had endeavoured to enter into his shrine, he had been driven out by Isaac, and fallen back as if thunderstruck.”

It is difficult to understand how the gentle Isaac can have left behind him such a character. “The child of laughter and of joy”—his portrait, as drawn for us by the author of Genesis, is one full of softness and amiability, with scarcely a single harsher trait in it. As a boy, he is not the persecutor, but the persecuted ; as a youth, he is the willing, uncomplaining victim, type of Him, who “was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth”. As a man, he is the loving son, the faithful husband, the tender father. Deeply attached to his mother, it is long before he can be comforted after her decease . Filled with love for his wife, he gives no thought to any other woman. Alone of the Patriarchs, he stands aloof from the prevailing polygamy and affords it no countenance, becoming thus an example to Christian husbands. As a father, he is not wholly free from blemish, since he allows himself in favouritism; but, even to the son whom he least loves he is gentle and forgiving. Quiet, patient, unadventurous, he passes his life in a circumscribed space—the Negeb—does not travel, has little contact with foreigners, engages in no war, scarcely leaves his mark upon the page of history. He is not a “hero,” like Abraham and, if we except his one great act of submission and self-abnegation, when he let himself be bound for sacrifice, there is little in his life or character to provoke our admiration. But he makes appeal to our affections. How touching his words on the ascent to Mount Moriah—the only words of expostulation that he utters—“My father, behold the fire and the wood : but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” How kindly his resolve to “intreat the Lord for his wife, because she was barren”. How deep his sympathy with his supplanted firstborn, when, on surmising the truth, he “trembled very exceedingly! How gracious his behaviour to the trickster, Jacob, when, on sending him away, he freely “blessed him with “the blessing of Abraham” Even his very faults and lapses have something in them which moves our sympathy, with which we have, more or less, a fellow feeling. “Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison”. What father among us has not felt a special tenderness for a child who afforded him special gratification?  Isaac feared to say of Rebekah, She is my wife, lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah. Do not we feel that we might have done the same under similar circumstances? Isaac is unheroic ; he is far nearer than Abraham to the level of ordinary humanity. He shrinks from death, and does not scruple much about the means he uses to escape from it. He is devoid of any stern sense of the duty of veracity. He likes “creature comforts,” and unduly favours the son who provides them for him. But though falling short of the moral standard, which some Old Testament saints attain, in some points and on some occasions, taking his character as a whole, it attracts us more than that of many who were made of sterner stuff. He is so kindly, so gentle, so patient, so loving, so sensitive. Once only does he show resentment, when the Philistines, who have driven him from among them, come to him with professions of special regard and friendship. And even then, his resentment soon passes away, and be “makes a feast for them”.

Religious feeling is far less prominent in Isaac than in Abraham. Once only do we hear of him as “ building an altar to God . Once he prays to God on behalf of Rebekah his wife, and with such faith and earnestness that he obtains his request, and the “barren” one becomes “a joyful mother of children”. Once only is it recorded that God appeared to him and spoke with him, renewing with him the covenant that He had made with Abraham. Once only are we told that he “called upon the name of the Lord”. Too much, however, must not be inferred from the mere fact that no more than this is put upon record. Isaac certainly remained all his life a faithful worshipper of the God of Abraham, believed in the promises which Abraham had received from God, obeyed God’s will when it was clearly signified to him , an looked to God as the source whence proceeded every blessing. He had no leaning to idolatry, even in its mildest forms,” no inclination to desert the worship of Jehovah for that of “the gods of the nations.” But he is not presented to us as an eminently religious man. He has no special title, like that given to Abraham—“the Friend of God.” No formal eulogy is bestowed upon him, either in Genesis, or in the rest of Scripture. The Apocryphal writers, who delight in lauding the worthies of early times, pass him over almost in silence. Isaac is, like his son Jacob “a plain man”. He has many virtues and graces—faith, obedience, affectionateness, conjugal fidelity, gentleness ; but he is not among the foremost of the Bible saints. His goodness is passive rather than active, draws forth our sympathy rather than our admiration. Still, there is something peculiarly touching and attractive about his character ; and, as it is impossible that we should all be heroes, we may be thankful to have set before us in the Second of the Patriarchs a type of excellence, not so unattainable, not so remote from ordinary humanity, as that presented to us in the First.