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Of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the least is recorded about Isaac, not because he was any less important or righteous (see Isaac's Faith And Obedience), but because he lived in a more settled time between that of Abraham's coming to the new land from Iraq (see On His Own Two Feet and Settlers and Invaders From Iraq) and that of the establishment of the tribes of Israel, the Children of Jacob, who found themselves in Egypt in the centuries before the Exodus. Nevertheless, Isaac knew times of good and bad.
As happened in the time of his father Abraham ("there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham," Genesis 26:1 RSV), famine forced Isaac to relocate for a while - and like his father Abraham (Genesis 20:11; see also Abimelech), Isaac was forced into a ruse regarding his wife.
"So Isaac dwelt in Gerar.
Upon leaving Gerar, Isaac retraced his father Abraham's return route and experienced some of the same property conflicts that Abraham did in his time.
"So Isaac departed from there, and encamped in the valley of Gerar and dwelt there. And Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names which his father had given them.
Nevertheless, again like his father Abraham, the more militarily powerful people of the land realized that The Lord was with Isaac and that The Lord would defend Isaac with overwhelming force (see also "Strong Is He Who Has Come Down") if he were threatened.
"They said, "We see plainly that The Lord [see also YHVH, Adonai, Jehovah, LORD] is with you; so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of The Lord." So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank." (Genesis 26:28-30 RSV)
Genesis Chapter 27
When Isaac became elderly and aware that his death could happen any time, he decided that it was time to pass on the family blessing to the eldest son, according to custom. As stated earlier however, the parents of Jacob and Esau were playing favorites, so Rebekah formulated an elaborate masquerade in which Jacob, not Esau, would receive the blessing from the nearly-blind Isaac.
"Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your first-born. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that you may bless me." (Genesis 27:19 RSV)
Jacob had just received the blessing when Esau returned and discovered what Jacob had done. Isaac too became extremely upset.
"As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. He also prepared savory food, and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, "Let my father arise, and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me."
Jacob had now bested Esau twice; first for the eldest son's birthright that Esau foolishly sold for a mere bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34) and then the eldest son's blessing which was apparently irrevocable despite the deceptive means that Jacob, at the instigation of his mother Rebekah (Genesis 27:5-10) had obtained it. Esau's response was a plan to kill his brother for vengeance, but perhaps also as a means to then claim the birthright and blessing from a dead brother (and as the surviving head of the family, would not prosecute himself for the crime of fratricide). Rebekah was told of the plan however and made Jacob flee to her brother Laban for "a few days" stay that would last many years (see Jacob and Laban).
"Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
Rebekah facilitated Jacob's move to Haran under the guise that he not marry any of the local women.
"Then Rebekah said to Isaac, "I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?" (Genesis 27:46 RSV)
Genesis Chapter 28
Isaac's anger at the deception subsided; he then approved of the plan to have Jacob marry within the clan.
"Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, "You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram [see Padan Aram] to the house of Bethuel your mother's father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother." (Genesis 28:1-2 RSV)
Esau also took notice of the marriage preference, so he found a wife from his cousins, the children of Ishmael (notice how the conflict between Isaac and Ishmael perpetuated through their sons Jacob and Esau).
"So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth." (Genesis 28:8-9 RSV)
Meanwhile, Jacob was on route north to his uncle Laban. One night, he experienced his famous "stairway to heaven" dream.
"Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!" (Genesis 28:10-12 RSV)
It was more than just a vision; it was an assurance that The Lord was with Jacob, not merely for his sake, but for a far greater purpose in time, including a family line that led directly to Jesus Christ through Jacob's (yet unborn) son Judah.
"And behold, The Lord stood above it and said, "I am The Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves." (Genesis 28:13-14 RSV)
Jacob renamed the place Bethel, which means house of God, again merely a foreshadow of a far greater House of God to come upon all the earth (see Mansions).
"Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely The Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first." (Genesis 28:16-19 RSV)
Fact Finder: As stated above, Jacob renamed Luz as Bethel. What are some of the other towns in the land of Israel that have "beth" in their name?