PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “A Plain Heroic Breed that Loved Heaven’s Silence More than Fame”.
One of the greatest ways to study the Bible is to do a study of Bible Personalities. There is much to be learned about God, and about ourselves, as we delve into the narrative of how God was involved in the lives of men and women of Scripture. Probably the classic example of such studies is Alexander Whyte’s volumes Bible Characters. These six volumes, written in the 1800’s covers 159 Bible characters, both the well known, and the little known. In recent days a noted Evangelical author, Charles Swindoll, has given us some real biographical Bible Character masterpieces covering such personalities as David, Paul, Esther, Joseph, and others. But one of the well-known, yet little-known characters of Scripture is the intriguing figure of Isaac. What we mostly know about Isaac is that he was the mircacle baby given by God to Abraham and Sarah. We also know that God demanded that Abraham sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah, and that was one of the first glimpses of John 3:16 in all of the Bible. But other than those facts, and the fact that his narrative covers Genesis 17-35, we know very little about Isaac. He is listed in the Hall Of Fame and Faith in Hebrews 11 with only these words-“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau about things to come”. Yet we know so little about this hero of the faith. One reason may be that biographies do not always tell the real story of a life. Mark Twain pointed this out when he said, “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those of other things, are his history. These are his life, and they are not written. Everyday would make a whole book of 80,000 words-365 books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man-the biography of the man himself cannot be written”. That being said, I think we can learn alot by taking a look at Isaac’s “clothes and buttons”, as painted for us in Scripture.
I went first to check on what Alexander Whyte had to say about Isaac. I was a little dumbfounded. He wrote, “When I read Isaac’s whole history over again…it becomes clear as a sunbeam to me that what envy was to Cain, and what wine was to Noah, and what lewdness was to Ham, and what wealth was to Lot, and what pride and impatience were to Sarah…venison and savory meat were to Isaac…Old Isaac…is the father of all those men who make their god their belly”. Really? After reading Genesis 17 through 35 the most glaring thing about Isaac is that he enjoyed some venison made for him by who he thought was Esau, though it was actually Rebekah, and served by Esau? I have not so read the story of Isaac. Granted, his life was not to be compared to his father’s, (Abraham), or to his son’s, (Jacob), or even to his grandson’s (Joseph), for that matter. But the epitome of those whose “god is their belly?” I think that is a little gilded! I prefer W.H. Griffith Thomas’ summary of Isaac a little better. He says Isaac “was the ordinary son of a great father, and the ordinary father of a great son”. That more adequately reflects the true picture! But having acknowledged that fact, we have to conclude that there was a certain “glory to that commonplace life” which all of us who call ourselves Christians would do well to emulate. Isaac was a man that could embrace the description that James Russell Lowell mentioned in his poem All Saints. He speaks of some saints being “a plain heroic breed that loved Heaven’s Silence more than fame”. Both of those descriptions are fitting for Isaac. He shows us the “glory of the commonplace”. He shows us that you can be a “plain heroic breed” not basking in the “applause of heaven” necessarily and still make an impact.
In Genesis 26:24-25, God, after Abraham’s death, is renewing His covenant with Isaac. The Holy Spirit shows us that ‘the clothes and buttons’ of Isaac had some spiritual design to them. We read, “The LORD appeared to him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy fahter: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake. And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac…digged a well”
What a paragraph! At once, that text introduces us to the revelation which Yahweh gave to this commoner, in which He confirmed His covenant with Abraham’s miracle son! But it is Issac’s response that I believe the Holy Spirit of God recorded for us, as Paul said in I Corinthians 10, was “written for admonition”. It is behavior we would do well to emulate-not literally of course, but in what each stands for. First of all, Isaac “built an altar”. In the Old Testament times, altars were many and varied. Their importance may be gleaned from the fact that the term appears in the Old Testament over 433 times. It appears first in the days of Noah. When Abraham took Isaac as a lad to go to Mt. Moriah he explained that they were going to worship the LORD. The first thing they did on arrival was “build an altar”. The altar is a vital part of Worship. But then quickly Isaac learned that the altar was a place of sacrifice. Total sacrifice for him and his father. Their worship pictured the Greatest Sacrifice of all-Jesus on the Cross, and their worship involved a proper response of giving themselves back to God in total surrender, as Paul referenced as a “living sacrifice”. Paul said that in response to Calvary that is our only “reasonalble worship”. isaac was an example of that kind of worship. We must not miss that! Isaac had been taught by his father that “sacrifice is total” and that God’s claim on us comes FIRST! Call Isaac commonplace if you must, but there is something glorious about a son that learns from his father that true worship involves recognizing God’s rightful claim on our lives!
After the altar was in place, it tells us that “Isaac pitched his tent”. That tent intrigues me; there must be more to it than the skins and stakes which formed the materials. May it not mean that the Spirit of God was trying to inform us that Isaac had learned that “this world was not his home-he’s just a passing through?” That tent symbolizes a life of spiritual pilgrimage. He was confessing to all who knew him that he was a stranger here, on his way to something better. Where had he learned this? Hebrews 11: 9 tells us that “By faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”. Do you see that we must cast our lot with this dear man and his fathers? Have we forgotten the admonition of Peter, writing to Christians facing persecution at the hands of the Romans, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (I Peter 2:11). You see we are in the world but not of it! This world is not our home we are just passing through! For that reason, we must not drive down our tent pegs so firmly as to suggests that we intend to stay here forever In the Greek New Testament there are two words for “dwellers”. One is the word “Kataoikos”. Kata means down. These are those who have settled down-moved in permanently-driven in their stakes deeply, with intentions of remaining. But a second word is the “Paroikos”. We get our word “parochial” from that. Para means “beside”. It means someone who dwells beside, but is not a permanent resident. That is what Isaac epitomized. We would do well to emulate him. A word from C.S. Lewis, from his great work Mere Christianity, is quite convicting here. He wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next one. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this”. That is the lesson that our friend Isaac has so effectively exemplified for us. Loosen up those tent stakes!
But Issac’s spiritual “clothes and buttons” have one last piece. It says that “Isaac…digged a well!” To a modern reader who lives with the commonplace luxury of “running water” that may not seem like much. But in Isaac’s day a well was a source of life giving water. There was no living without the necessity of the well. That motley crowd of families with their flocks that Moses led to the promised land was accutely aware of water. God had provided water miraculously out of the rock, but on the occasion of digging a well we read in Numbers 21 about the occasion of community rejoicing and singing. “Then sang Israel this song; Spring up, Oh well; sing ye into it: the well that the princes digged, which the nobles of the people delved with scepter and staves!” (Num. 21:17). What a blessing, then, that well that Isaac dug must have been to him, to his family, the community, and for generations to come! In John 4 we read of the woman at the well. She asks Jesus if he was a great as Jacob, who dug this well at Sychar, and drank from it, his family, and flocks. That well was still blessing others two thousand years later! (John 4:12). Jesus affirmed the physical blessing of the well that Jacob had dug, but suggested we dig deep into our relationship with God, through Himself, and we would then tap into a spiritual source of life giving water that would spring up into everlasting life to all we extend a drink to. That too is what Isaac epitomizes for us. Ever feel like “a plain heroic breed…experiencing Heaven’s silence more than fame”? Build your altar! Pitch your tent! Dig some deep refreshing spritual wells. That is how to transform the commonplace into the glorious and make an impact that will leave a lasting legacy…JUST LIKE ISAAC DID! Don’t let anyone mistake you for someone whose “god was their belly”..i.e. physical appetite over spritual appetite. Emulate Isaac.