(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. Some days there will just be a simple thought / tweet, if I can get it into 140 characters; other times a blog post for longer thoughts; whether these are more coherent or not I’ll leave my readers to judge.)
Today we move on from Abraham to Isaac, and to what at first seems an umpromising passage about digging wells (Genesis 26:17-33). As always, Maggi’s comments are insightful, open up depths, and shine new light on this story – a bit like opening up the wells themselves, perhaps!
Two things in particular struck me, and led me off on a bit of a tangent before coming back to the story itself: the idea that Isaac exemplifies “being an in-between generation”, and the question whether he was “too much of a pushover”.
This episode is about the only thing we learn of Isaac as an individual. He comes in between the more colourful stories of his father Abraham and his sons Esau and Jacob, and most of what we read about Isaac is in relation to these. From his experience of almost being sacrificed as a child (Gen 22) to being deceived as an old blind man (Gen 27) he does seem to be not necessarily a pushover, but perhaps a victim of others, or at least a passive player.
Even his name is not really his own. Names in the Bible often have personal significance: Abram is renamed Abraham to reflect God’s promise that he will be the father of many nations; Esau and Jacob are named for their appearance and behaviour at birth. Isaac means “laughter”, but it is not his own laughter; it is the laughter of his mother Sarah, first in disbelief and then in joy.
In this story, Isaac seems to spend his time being pushed around by others, from one well to another; but he accepts what happens without complaining. You could say that when one well closes, another opens …
For many of us, being active, taking the initiative, making something of our life, can be very important. Yet sometimes this is not possible, especially for those struck down with illness, whether this is for a short time or long-lasting. We are forced into being less active than we were or would like to be; we become passive, while others around us take action, action which often affects our own lives. Like Isaac, our choices may be limited.
But this needn’t stop us from being faithful servants of God: as John Milton put it, “they also serve who only stand and wait”. (This is explored wonderfully in W. H. Vanstone’s book, “The Stature of Waiting”.) There are still things we can do, even as we wait – but each of us needs to find these for ourselves.
Isaac may represent an in-between generation, often a passive player at the mercy of others; but he was still faithful to God, and kept on doing what he could. His simple actions moved forward the story of God’s people and God’s promise, and are still an example to us today.