Isaac, the promised son, finally arrives long after it is naturally possible. Certainly prefiguring the ultimate son of promise, Isaac, whose name means “laughter,” seems at odds with the meaning surrounding Jesus Christ, who was characterized as a man of sorrow. Indeed, the actual meaning of the name Jesus, “Lord of Salvation” and Christ, “The Anointed One” suggest hope and joy of the most tremendous and enduring kind. The good news is often maligned by unbelievers simply because they cannot imagine it to be as good as purported; viewing everything from their narrow perspective, they dismiss as superfluous, everything that seems incredible to them. Sarai and Abram both initially laughed at the prospect of having a child in their old age when once God spoke it to them; but “…He who sits in the heavens laughs…” last (Psalm 2:4, partial). Laughter, however, comes in different forms: Abraham’s laughter was not rebuked except it seems to have prompted God to require that the promised child be named after it; Sarah’s laughter was rebuked by God and intimated to Abraham that it had been rebuked. According to Oswald Chambers (p. 884):
Abraham’s laughter had in it no intermixture of wrong. Laughter and weeping are the two intensest forms of human emotion, and these profound wells of human emotion are to be consecrated to God. The devil is never said to laugh. Laughter that is not laughter of the heart right with God, a child heart, is terrible; the laughter of sin is as the crackling of burning thorns. Whenever the angels come to this earth they come bursting with a joy which instantly has to be stayed (cf. Luke 2:13). The earth is like a sick chamber, and when God sends His angels here He has to say –“Now be quiet; they are so sick with sin that they cannot understand hilarity.”
And hilarity really is the touchstone here; its visceral display often says more than a sea of words. It reveals exactly what we believe and is very hard to feign. What and when we laugh, the kind of laugh, and how often we laugh is personality specific; it says volumes about us and what we believe. A happy-go-lucky soul has a faith that all is well; whether that faith is misguided, or not, is a different matter. Conversely, a dour or morose individual –one that hardly ever laughs –must have a faith that all is not well with themselves, at least, and with the world and beyond, at most. Evil sardonic laughing seems to have a mixture of natural joy and wrong intent. Any way you look at it, laughter is very telling and extremely complex. I love G.K. Chesterton’s observation about Jesus Christ and the absence of laughter in the Gospel records; he ended his book Orthodoxy with these lines:
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon on our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth (Chesterton, p. 160).It seems that Chambers and Chesterton both agree; Scripture bears it out as well: and as Cowper once said, “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” Just as mercy triumphs over judgment, so hilarity (laughter) will triumph over sorrow and tears. “Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many” (Ecclesiastes 11:8, partial, emphasis mine). And it is these days of darkness that must not permeate our souls and deceive us; the foundation of our joy –with its consequential peals of laughter –must be made in heaven (but can be realized on earth if we only will). Yet, mirth or joy, expressed in thunderous laughter was absent in the record of our Lord; I imagine it was too much for even our Lord, clothed in human flesh, to express joy unspeakable until He had accomplished His grueling and hurtful mission upon the cross and beyond. Remember, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4). Still, it was “…for the joy set before Him…” that He “…endured the cross…” being not shortsighted, but seeing beyond the veil of earth’s canopy (Hebrews 12:2, parts). When the apostle Paul told us to rejoice always –and again (he said) rejoice –it is because we are already seated in heavenly places and ought to –at least in some measure –be enjoying our tearless faces now. Indeed, even secular opinion agrees with the sacred proverb which declared: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22, partial); as Robert R. Provine wrote in his article “Laughter:”
Clearly, laughter is a powerful and pervasive part of our lives - an important component of that biobehavioral bedrock of our species known as human nature. Laughter's significance has been recognized at various times and in various ways by such scientific and philosophical dignitaries as Aristotle, Kant, Darwin, Bergson and Freud. Yet aside from a general appreciation that laughter is good for us -"the best medicine" - and is somehow associated with humor, we know little about laughter itself.
But, as (Chambers, p. 884) said, it is assuredly only “Whenever the veil is lifted [that] there is laughter and joy. These are the characteristics that belong to God and to God’s order of things; somberness and oppression and depression, are the characteristics of all that does not belong to God.” Somberness, oppression/depression and sadness are essentially lies; a foreign and false reality that was never meant to hold permanent sway over us. A repentance not to be repented of is a repentance that ceases to look back in perpetual sorrow; we must not allow ourselves overmuch sorrow –it is only good as a spur to good works, not as a constant reminder of past indiscretions and sin. We foolishly allow too much space for these ungodly characteristics; their illegal existence will surely lead to doubt, and eventually, flagrant unbelief. All doubt, however, is to be eradicated; and the rising day-star within us assures us that all doubt will go in due course.
All doubt, however, is not alike. Doubt that is adhered to even when evidence to the contrary has been repeatedly presented is a lethal kind of doubt –without any foundation; not only does God condemn it, but He will condemn and ultimately damn all those who persist doubting in this fashion. Incredulity, however, is doubt born not out of perpetual and convincing proofs, but out of imagination overload. Incredulity is hard to overcome and somewhat hard to distinguish between the other doubt that God condemns; actually, it is nothing more than elevated doubt, but I would suggest, a legal doubt that God obligates Himself to prove. The Lord’s statement to the multitudes that followed Him that they would not believe unless they saw signs and wonders was not entirely an indictment; He knew their capacity for both the credible and the incredible, and was under obligation to accommodate their nature in accordance with the limitations of their capacities. When God declares to any soul that they are without excuse, it is because He has made it plain to them; persistent doubt in this light is of the damnable kind and will be forever groundless.
Isaac’s birth is recorded sequentially after the devastating horror of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and after Abraham’s initial encounter with Abimelech. After Isaac is circumcised and weaned, Abraham holds a great feast. This feast must have evoked tremendous jealousy in Ishmael; he begins to take on a mocking disposition that quickly leads to his and his mother Hagar’s removal from the home. “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwomen and her son (Galatians 4:30, partial).” Immediately after this removal of flesh, however, Abraham makes a covenant of flesh with Abimelech. Either way, Abraham is not compromising with flesh; he removes what he can and lays out ground rules for what he cannot. Likewise, we are to remove that which exacerbates the deeds of the flesh but discipline the natural appetites. Then, having ordered our household, we commence walking in the spirit which consequently mortifies the deeds of the flesh and transfigures our conversation of life. Now the life is ready to be forever imprinted, forever sealed up within the makeup of its being; faith must be tried by fire to solidify it and eliminate all the dross of doubt and deception.
“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham…” by requiring that he give up the very thing he had been given (Genesis 22:1, partial). Even Job declared: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away (Job 1: 21, partial).” Before we accuse God of being an Indian giver, however, it would do us well to see the “outcome of the Lord’s dealings” with his people. “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (James 5:11, partial).” God, likewise, is looking for an opportunity to express this compassion to Abraham. Knowing what He had placed within Abraham, God orchestrated a scenario and circumstances in which to draw it out. Indeed, “The very nature of faith is that it must be tried; faith untried is only ideally real, not actually real. Faith is not rational, therefore it cannot be worked out on the basis of logical reason; it can only be worked out on the implicit line by living obedience. God proves Abraham’s faith by placing him in the most extreme crisis possible, because faith must prove itself by the inward concession of its dearest objects, and in this way be purified from all traditional and fanciful ideas and misconceptions (p. 899).” In other words, only God knew the extent and actuality of the promise that Isaac represented to Abraham; the test he was commissioned to perform caused him to stretch the promise outside the confines of Abraham’s mind and imagination. God’s gift to Abraham through this trial was to enlarge his vision to see beyond the seemingly immeasurable quantity of earthly dust and heavenly stars into the actual immeasurable riches found only in Christ. “Faith according to the Bible is confidence in God when He is inscrutable and apparently contradictory in His providences (p. 901).” Abraham, however, did not demur or consult with flesh and blood; he passes this rigorous test easily because his faith is not fixed upon principle but upon God alone. “Abraham was there to obey God, no matter to what he went contrary. Abraham was not a pledged devotee of his own convictions, or he would have slain his son and said the voice of the angel was the voice of the devil. There is always the point of giving up convictions and traditional beliefs. If I will remain true to God, He will lead me straight through the ordeal into the inner chamber of a better knowledge of God (p. 903).”
Not much is said and made of Isaac in the first forty years of his life outside of those early years that culminated in the sacrifice he nearly became. After the death of his mother, however, Abraham goes about securing a wife for him; he sends his servant back to Ur of the Chaldeans to seek a wife for Isaac from among his relatives. Isaac, himself, could never return nor ever leave the Promised Land; his name is never changed like that of his father’s, or later, of his son Jacob’s. He is a constant, a centerpiece, representing the moral compass between God and man; he represents Christ that is the lone and only perfect center of mediation between God and man. There is no back or forward, no regress or progress here; increments off center are completely off center and any rectitude is an absolute rectitude or it is not rectitude at all. There is no budging the snapshot of Isaac’s life; everything is done and provided for him. He represents the passive side of faith that originates nothing but is content to do only that which he sees and hears his father do. Watchman Nee (p. 91) said it like this:
Not only do we have to know God as the Father, but we have to know Christ as the Son. What is the meaning of God as the Son? It means that everything is received and nothing is initiated by Him. In Abraham we see God’s purpose. In Isaac we see God’s power. In Abraham we see the standard which God requires of His people. In Isaac we see the life which enables God’s people to reach that standard. Many Christians have one basic problem: They only see God’s purpose but do not see God’s provisions. They see God’s standard but do not see God’s life. They see God’s demands, but do not see the power that meets these demands. This is why we have to consider Isaac as well as Abraham.
The story of Abraham’s servant diligently seeking to fulfill his master’s command in finding a wife for Isaac is poignant, heartwarming and amazingly selfless considering that he was once considered by Abraham to be the one to inherit his fortune. On one hand, Eliezer of Damascus is treated with great respect even though he symbolically represents a slave in the house that can never inherit the promises of a son. On the other hand, he is like a Christian that arises from the harsh constraint of servitude and command to the voluntary restraint of service and the gentle demands of admiration and love. At some point in the past it may have even been supposed that he would “…share in the inheritance among brothers,” and he emerges with a perfect heart; he has undoubtedly accepted the idea of everything going to Isaac alone (Proverbs 17:2, partial). Chambers (p. 909) insightfully said this about what Eliezer represents:
Eliezer in many respects stands as a picture of a disciple of the Lord; the whole moulding of his life is his devotion to another, not to a sense of right or duty, but to his master (cf. John 13:13-14). We know very little about devotion to Jesus Christ. We know about to right and to duty, but none of that is saintly, it is pure natural. My sense of duty and of right can never be God’s. If I can state what my duty is, I have become my god in that particular. There is only One Who knows what my duty is as a Christian, and that is God.
Indeed, this portrayal of Eliezer is one of a devotion to a man and not a cause. He has learned from the faith of his master Abraham; he operates with wisdom and humility ever leaning upon God and fate rather than his own mind.
Isaac is now forty years old (40 is the number of trials and testings); destined to birth the nation of Israel, a spiritual house, and the seedbed of all those stars and grains of sand promised to his father Abraham. Along comes Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor (Abraham’s brother) to wed Isaac; a division, however, is destined to occur within her, a separation made between spirit and flesh. Rebekah means “to clog or tie up, esp. at the fetlock; fettering (by beauty);” Bethuel means “virgin of God or separated of God;” Nahor means “to snort, to breathe hard through the nose.” Spiritual Israel, which begins to be realized in the fourth generation from Nahor, is significant; it is in the fourth generation removed that enough separation has occurred to bring about a spiritual walk with God. The snorting of Nahor is symbolically a last breath of natural life—and this gives birth to a virgin or separated son who gives birth to a beautiful daughter that derives her beauty from this separation; she in turn captivates Isaac with her spiritual beauty and becomes the womb of another and final separation: removing Jacob from Esau. “Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 24:62, partial);” this is the name of a well of water, which is representative of us, and, more specifically, our spiritual eye. Beer-lahai-roi means “a well of the living One who sees me.” While Isaac is praying and meditating Rebekah materializes before him displacing a void that the death of his mother created. He had drunk from the knowledge that God sees Him, and then ruminated upon all the implications of such knowledge; it is while thus engaged in the Lord’s work that his wife is sent to him. Though she is the vehicle or method of delivery from which every subsequent promise shall arise and be fulfilled, he does not seek after her directly. It may be true that those that find a wife find a good thing and find favor from the Lord (as the Proverbist said), but a headlong pursuit after even good things is not seeking God. Since a woman is the glory of a man, and it is not becoming or right to seek out one’s own glory, a search for a wife must always be an incidental search. A wife is a precious gift from God, and a glory that God no doubt wants a healthy man to enjoy; however, any gift, no matter how precious, can never eclipse the Giver. Only the wife found while seeking God’s face brings favor; she can never be more than an incidental and secondary glory to the purposeful and primary glory of Christ.
When Isaac was commanded by God to not return to Egypt during a time of famine in the land, he settled in Gerar (an oxymoron, because Gerar means “sojourn” or “to be a stranger”). In other words, settle while in a state of exile or pilgrimage, viz., occupy till I come. Isaac’s first attempt to obey God’s word about remaining in Gerar resulted in digging a well at Esek, which means “contention.” Then he ups and tries again at Sitnah, which means “enmity.” Is warring and enemies our lot? Will we ever reach pay-dirt? Will we ever win? Oh, up and try just one more time! And Isaac does; at Rehoboth, which means “plenty of room.” Indeed, “…At last the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land (Genesis 26:22, part).” But, even after this, he ups and removes one more time to Beersheba, which means “well of the oath.” It is from here that God speaks to Isaac –reaffirming the words he spoke to his father Abraham; likewise, His mandate for us is really only a reaffirmation of what He spoke to our forefathers.
“Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac” (Genesis 25:5).