We begin our discussion of Scripture’s teaching concerning various young people who are noted in the Bible for being children of God’s Covenant. I begin with Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah.
Scripture doesn’t say a lot about his youth, but some things are important for God’s purpose in the life of Isaac and for our instruction. I hope you will read all the Bible says about Isaac so that you may have the material Scripture gives us in your minds. There are passages in the New Testament that speak of Isaac’s youth as well as the history recorded for us in Genesis.
Let us remember before we begin that the entire history in Scripture of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob revolves around God’s promise to send to His people the “Seed of the Woman” who was Christ. What is included in Scripture about these patriarchs is only the material that has to do with God’s faithfulness to His promise to send Christ.
This same interest of Scripture in the coming of Christ is evident in the Genesis narrative of Isaac’s birth. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was born. He was truly a son of his parents’ old age. God deliberately waited so long before giving them a son that both Abraham and Sarah were much too old to have. God was showing them that the true seed of the woman would be born only by a miracle—as Isaac was. Human beings cannot bring forth one who saves us from hell; it takes a miracle of God’s working. Isaac was truly a miracle child. Isaac himself knew that. He knew he was born by a miracle; he knew that he was the promised seed of the woman of whom God had spoken to Adam. He knew that he was the heir of the birthright blessing. (You will remember what we learned about the birthright in our forum discussion of Jacob.) But he not only knew it; he dedicated his life to being a faithful Covenant son.
Isaac did this even though he was persecuted because of it.
You will recall that Abraham had another son, named Ishmael, a child born out of the union of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah’s slave. Both Abraham and Sarah thought they would help the Lord along, because the Lord seemed to be remiss in fulfilling His promise. So they decided that Abraham should marry Hagar and have a child with her: that would help God bring into the world the promised seed for Ishmael could be that promised seed.
But Ishmael was not the seed of the woman. He thought he was and he acted as though he was. He claimed the birthright for he was the firstborn; and he hated Isaac when Abraham and Sarah made Isaac the heir of the birthright. He mocked and taunted Isaac even when Isaac was still a baby, but also as he grew older. He probably said something like this: “Ha, ha; you think you’re the heir. I’m the firstborn and I’ll get the blessing.” The Bible says that he persecuted Isaac (Galatians 4:29-31). It was so bad that he had to be expelled from Abraham’s house. But Isaac bore the persecution in the assurance that he was in the promised line of Christ, and he insisted that he alone had the right to the birthright. Isaac was faithful to his calling.
It sort of makes me think of the believing youth of our own times. Those who belong to the true church of Christ and believe that they are saved are afraid to let other people know that they belong to the true church, and to tell others outside the church that their membership in a false church is wrong. They sometimes hide their commitment to God’s truth for fear of being mocked. How quick those outside say to us, “Oh, you people think you’re the only ones going to heaven.” They mock and ridicule us if we stand for the truth. We are persecuted for it. Here in America we run up against this very thing time and time again.
What if Isaac had said to Ishmael, “Well, you are a child of God’s Covenant too; you have part of the birthright too. We need not fight about it. Let’s be friends”? Persecution would have ended and Isaac and Ishmael would have gotten along well together. We need only compromise a bit and we can be friends with people from all kinds of churches. It’s the easy way, because we escape persecution that way—and we are frightened by the thought of persecution.
But there is one more part of Isaac’s life that we need to know about and emulate. A Covenant child is well aware of his calling to marry and have children. (I know: this is under usual circumstances. God sometimes calls us to remain single and He usually has a special place for us in His Covenant when He prevents us from marrying.)
There is a sort of analogy here between Isaac and today’s believing youth. Believing Israelites wanted children, because having children was a sure sign of their desire to have a part in the coming of Christ. Think of those mothers who feared they could not have children. Hannah is an outstanding example of this. And this was even true of Isaac’s wife, Rebekah (Genesis 25:21).
The same is true of Covenant young people today. They know that Christ will not come back until all the elect are born and brought to faith in Christ. They know too that God has promised to save them and their children. They bring forth children in the assurance that they are bringing forth the church. They therefore, express their desire for Christ to come by having children, Covenant children, elect children, the church.
I know, too, that things are different today than they were in Bible times. Abraham fetched a wife for Isaac—as in some countries today parents pick out the spouses for their children. But it doesn’t make any difference: parents may not pick out the spouses for their children today, but they must and do teach their children what kind of a spouse they must seek out: a spiritual and godly spouse! And children must listen to their parents.
Abraham absolutely forbad Isaac to marry a girl from Canaan. God didn’t save Canaanites and these women were wicked (Genesis 24:1-9). Instead he sent his trusted servant nearly 200 miles away where some of Abraham’s relatives lived, for these relatives, though outside the Covenant lines, were still believers in God. In other words, Abraham insisted that his son Isaac marry a believer.
This is the obligation and calling of Covenant youth. They must find a wife that loves the Lord and holds to His truth. Their marriage must be a picture of the marriage between Christ and His church. To attain that, husband and wife must be united in the truth. If they are not, their marriage and home will never be blessed, because the whole spiritual character of a home is determined by the unity of faith in the parents. Apart from unity in the truth there is only strife, disagreement, bitterness and division. When husband and wife agree in the truth, they agree in what church they attend, in the Covenant instruction of their children, in teaching their children to walk in God’s paths, and how to discipline the children when they do wrong.
My father insisted that we marry someone in the church. When told that we could not find anyone in the church, his answer was: “If you are absolutely convinced that God does not have a mate for you in the church, then look outside, but insist that your first date be to go to church together, and it had better be a Protestant Reformed Church. And settle the matter of church membership before you even think about marriage.”
Isaac was content with this. He, too, wanted a God-fearing wife. Read Genesis 24:63-67. No doubt Isaac was in the field meditating when Rebekah came, because he was pondering the will of God for him in maintaining the line of the Covenant.
And do not let it escape your attention that Isaac married her. He did not know her; he had never even heard of her before she came; he had no opportunity to “date” her and see whether they were compatible.
She was a God-fearing woman who loved God’s Covenant. That was what counted. He had no opportunity to “date” her and see whether they were compatible.
The Chinese have a proverb that I like. It goes like this: “A kettle does not sing until it has been on the stove for a while.” By this saying, they meant that true love does not have to and should not come between a man and a woman until they have been married for a while. They do not marry for love; that comes later.
I am not sure that this is always the case, but it was emphatically the case with Isaac and Rebekah. They married in the Lord even though they were strangers.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 39