Chapter 6 – Isaac, or the Patience of Faith

The life and character of Isaac is one of the quiet pictures of the Old Testament. He is not an actor in great or exciting events, but rather, he moves in a placid, passive sphere, acted upon rather than acting, and yielding and suffering rather than aggressive and strong.

And yet this gentle and shrinking man, more than any of the patriarchs, was the chosen type of Jesus Christ, and the example for us of the very hardest and highest thing in our Christian life, namely, the death of self and the love that suffers long and endures all things.

God has appointed our path to life through the gates of death. Some one has sung:

“Life evermore is fed by death
And joy by agony,
And that a rose may breathe its breath
Something must die.”

The Great Master and Martyr said of Himself and us: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” Our Christian life is not the culture but the cutting down of the old plant, and the engrafting of a new nature born from above and rooted in Christ. Anything less than this must end in failure, and a far worse death. Of the old Adamic life it can be said, uncompromisingly, as the old general said of the opposing army, as riding down the ranks he pointed to their banners, and cried, “Soldiers, there is the enemy, if you don’t kill them they’ll kill you.” There can be no compromise. The old man must die in us, or we will die with him for ever.

When God led His people out of Egypt He caused them, in symbol, to pass through four deaths. First, the Red Sea, the type of death to the world. Secondly, the Jordan, the type of death to the old wilderness life. Thirdly, Circumcision, the type of death to the flesh in its vital and self-propagating principle. Fourthly, Joshua’s vision of the Captain of the Lord’s Host and His absolute prostration at His feet, a type of death of our self-confidence in the work of God.

Now, this is the lesson of Isaac’s life, the death of self, and the life of meekness, patience, and lowliness:

1. His first experience as a child was one of painful trial. He was the younger brother and rival of Ishmael, and was persecuted and scorned by him for his faith. At length Ishmael was cast out, and Isaac was delivered from that which was a type of the earthly and fleshly man.

2. But soon he must die in a much more radical way. We hear much of the obedient faith of Abraham, but do we think enough of the faith of Isaac in yielding up himself. That was a real death on Mount Moriah, the death of the will, and this is ever the real self which has to be slain. That scene was not only the foreshadowing of Christ’s death, but also of yours and mine. Have you died? Will you? It is not your vices, your tempers, your sins, but YOUR SELF.

3. We next see him in the same beautiful aspect in the yet deeper life of his heart, in the matter of his affections, in connection with his marriage. There is no part of our life which so influences our character and destiny and so tests our real consecration as the determination of our affections. Therefore, God has from the beginning made the most stringent provisions for the regulation and government of marriage. Knowing so well that the entangling of our hearts with unholy alliances will draw them away from Him, and our tenderest earthly ties must be linked with His love and blessing, He has strictly forbidden the intermarriage of His people with the wicked or worldly, and requires that their choice should be made in and for Him, and ever with His direction and approval.

It was the intermarriage of the sons of God with the daughters of men that brought about the corruption that preceded the Deluge. It was the intermarriage of the Israelites with the Canaanites that led them back to bondage in the days of the Judges. It was Solomon’s marriage with heathen wives that corrupted his heart and destroyed his kingdom. And many a life has been blighted and separated from God by a selfish and worldly friendship, and many a consecration sealed and consummated in the sacrifice of an affection that could not be held in harmony with the will of God.

Many a sacrifice might have been saved by waiting to know God’s will before making a choice. This was just what Isaac did. He put his will in abeyance to the will of God, and allowed God to choose for him the companion of his life and the mother of God’s futureIsrael. It was a beautiful instance of self-renunciation, and it was honoured by God’s most signal interpositionin directing the instrument employed — the faithful Eliezer. Eliezer stands in this, as his name signifies, as a type of the Holy Ghost, just as Abraham does of the Father. It is not meant that in a matter so delicate and important we are to submit our hearts and happinessto the decision of any man or woman, but committing our way and will to the Father, and holding our hearts subject to His choice, we are to ask and expect the Holy Ghost to guide us, and form all our attachments, friendships, and relationships only in and for Him. This is true self-renunciation, and the ties thus formed will be more strong, pure, and happy than mere earthly passion.

The affections enkindled by the Holy Ghost glow with the calm, deep strength of a divine love, and the gift dedicated to God will be made by God a tenfold blessing to the heart that consecrates it.

But this, let us remember, was the meekness not of nature but of faith. It was because Isaac trusted implicitly that he committed his happiness absolutely to God. We cannot commit our lives to God unless we trust Him to do better for us than we could for ourselves. So let us trust Him:

Our times are in Thy hand:
O God, we trust them there,
Our hearts, our lives, our all we leave
Entirely to Thy care.
Our times are in Thy hand,
Why should we doubt or fear?
A Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.”

4. We next see Isaac’s faith and patience in relation to the trials of life. Famine first drives him from his home to take refuge with Abimelech, king of Gerar. Next his very wife is threatened with dishonor, and in an hour of weakness he repeats the sin of his father Abraham and denies her. God blesses him with great prosperity, but like many another rich man, the Philistines envied him, and at last asked him to leave them. Meekly and patiently he went away and left even the wells of water which he had opened in the valley. Again he opens the wells in the valley of Gerar which his father had dug, but the Philistines again strive with him and claim the wells, and again he yields and moves away. A third time he moves to a new home and digs again the wells which, to an Oriental, are more than food to us; and yet again contention vexes his patient spirit and compels him to move once more. The fourth time the wells are unmolested, and patience has its reward. The Philistines are subdued by a man they cannot quarrel with, and his enemies are killed with the sword of kindness, the wells of Esek and Sitnah recompensed in Rehoboth and Shebah. The Lord has made room for him and brought him into a large place, and soon his old enemies are coming to him requesting his alliance and declaring, “We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee, and we said, let there now be an oath betwixt us, and let us make a covenant with thee that thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace, and thou art now the blessed of the Lord.” That is worth a hundred wells. Yes, consistency and meekness will win the day. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This is the fruit of faith. It can trust the Lord to fight its battles and vindicate its innocence, and it can wait its time, through shame and loss and the triumph of wrong and pride. The men and women who fight so hard have no God to fight their battles, and no faith in Him for it. But let us who know His name put our trust in Him. Let us who know His love and faithfulness and power stand still and see the salvation of our God:

“Leave to His sovereign will
To choose and to command,
So shall thy soul with rapture know
How wise, how strong His hand.”

5. Isaac’s last trials were with his children. He was himself to blame for many of them. Had he believed as fully as his wife the divine promises and predictions that preceded their birth, he would have better known the will of God for them, and been saved the vain struggle he afterward had, to carry out his own preconceived ideas. Looking at the natural rather than the spiritual, he set his heart upon the first born, the bold, manly, generous Esau. Ah, Isaac, you must die once more to all the pride of earth, and all your ideas and preferences must be given up for God’s will and word about your children. How many parents have died to the world in themselves but not in their offspring !How many plans and prospects they have that are not of God! How often God has to humiliate and disappoint them in the very objects of their idolatrous love or worldly compromise?

So Isaac had to see his plans shattered and hear the bitter cry of his eldest born, and give the covenant blessing to Jacob. But when he saw the divine will he struggled no more, he acquiesced at once, and added his own amen, “Yea, and he shall be blessed.” Isaac had to die more than once, but when he did, he did it gloriously. He plunged right into the will of God and there was no more about it. The trial did not soon end, but the obedience was complete. Esau continued to be a deep grief by his worldly marriages and earthly-minded life. Jacob went forth for more than a score of years, to see his face no more till both he and Esau gathered at his dying bed. The shadow of a deadly hate between the brothers filled his heart, no doubt, with keenest bitterness, but not once do we see a shadow upon his spirit.

Patience had its perfect work. He became in age as well as youth the type of the suffering Savior, the meek and lowly in heart, and the pattern of those graces which God burns into willing and waiting souls by fiery suffering, but which rank in the first and last places in the divine procession of love. “Love suffereth long and is kind, love beareth all things, love endureth all things.”

“But what has all this to do with faith?” you ask. Ah, this is the work of faith. “How oft shall my brother trespass against me and I forgive him — until seven times? I tell you, not until seven times but until seventy times seven.” What was their answer ? “Lord, increase our faith.” Why did they not say, “Lord increase our love?” Because they saw that only stupendous faith could bring such love; only Christ’s own love in us, received by faith, could thus triumph. And so the Apostle says to the Colossians, “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all,” — what, work? No, but “unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.”