Isaac, promised yet dull son

God promises Abraham and Sarah a son and descendants and they wait and wait and wait. Finally, Isaac is born and seven verses tell the story. (Genesis 21:1-7). We are ready for the story to develop.  We have read about the relationship between God and Abraham. We wonder what will God and Isaac do? We are expecting great things. What are the great things Isaac does? Do you remember?  Think about the stories we have about Isaac. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Isaac (ch 22), Isaac gets married (ch 24), all though his father’s servant is really the focus of this story. Isaac, along with Ishmael  buries his father (ch 25). He has two sons, Esau and Jacob (ch 25). Isaac pretends Rebekah is his sister (ch 26). Isaac blesses Jacob, mistaking him for Esau (ch 27). He sends Jacob away to find a wife and to escape the wrath of Esau (ch 28).  And then Isaac dies (ch 36).

Odd, don’t you think? We might have expected that the promised son, the one through whom God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled, would do some great things. But we don’t have any stories of greatness. We don’t have a lot of stories about Isaac at all and in most of the stories we do have, Isaac is fairly peripheral to the story. He doesn’t initiate much. He is present. But mostly he reacts. The stories are more about Abraham and Jacob and Esau and Rebekah than they are about Isaac. Isaac’s lack of achievement is striking. Isaac is a bit of a let down after the dramatic stories of Abraham’s trust and belief in God. The stories of Jacob are full of drama and intrigue. Isaac is, by comparison, well, dull.

And in a way, reassuring. In Isaac, God is at work in an ordinary life. What does Isaac do? He grows up, gets married, has a couple of kids, takes care of his family. Nothing great. Nothing fabulous. And yet, Isaac is an important part of the history of Israel. If Isaac isn’t faithful, if Isaac doesn’t do his ordinary things, there isn’t a Jacob, or Joseph, or David.

So, if you are not the modern-day equivalent of Abraham, or Jacob or David, don’t feel too badly. Maybe you are more like Isaac and his mostly ordinary life. Don’t be discouraged.  Isaac’s role is important even in its ordinariness.  We don’t know what might come out of our ordinary lives. We don’t need to compare ourselves to those who came before or to those who will come after us. All we need to do is be who we are called to be.

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