A great part of Yitschaq's life has already been related in the story of Abraham: his birth foretold by YAHWEH, the spiritual offering commanded by YAHWEH and halted at the very moment when Abraham raised the knife over the boy's body, the events preceding the choice of his wife and his marriage. These scenes, sometimes charming, at others dramatic, are in general agreement with the findings established by recent archaeological discoveries and the information provided by some of the Babylonian texts. Shortly we shall come to the chapter devoted to Yacob, called Yisrael. At this time Yitschaq was not yet dead so the last part of his life is incorporated in the extraordinary adventure of his son.
Between these two monumental historical narratives -the story of Abraham and the story of Yacob -the little that remains of the story of Yitschaq seems rather to be bathed in obscurity. But there can be no question, nevertheless, of passing over this part of biblical history in silence. It too requires a certain amount of explanation. What can be called Yitschaq's autonomous life can be divided as follows:
confirmations of the Promise by YAHWEH;
Some incidents of pastoral life.
The Messages Delivered To Yitschaq By YAHWEH
In rapid outline the Scriptures relates the two successive appearances of YAHWEH during which Yitschaq received confirmations of the Promise, advice and encouragement. The first of these theophanies took place at Gerar, the second at Beersheba.
Gerar,1 the Scriptures informs us, was the capital city of Abimelech, king of the Philistines.2 On this occasion we find Yitschaq leaving the usual pastoral circuit in the Negeb for a time and making his way to the lowland or Shephelah. The reason for the move was the need for food -the grass on the steppes was burned brown, the wells were dry. To save both beasts and men it was urgently necessary to find green pastures and oases. Between the hill country of Yahudah and the coastal plain with its rich cereal crops there stretches a region of medium altitude intersected with valleys in which good pastureland abounds, a real dreamland for flocks almost dead with hunger and thirst. Yitschaq knew the region; he was born there at a time when Abraham too, under similar circumstances, was fleeing from the Negeb when it was burnt brown by the sun.
Do not go down into Egypt
In face of the persistent drought Yitschaq might well have been tempted to turn towards the frontiers of the Nile delta to 'ask for grass and water' from Pharaoh's officials. There was a real danger that the small Hebrew clan who were the guardians of the notion of the one YAHWEH should settle on the confines of Egyptian civilization which was plunged in paganism strongly tinged with magic, with its’ swarms of animal-headed idols. Consequently, at this point YAHWEH intervened. He appeared to Yitschaq and said, 'Do not go down into Egypt: stay in the land I shall tell you of. Remain for the present here in this land and I will be with you and bless you. For it is to you and your descendants that I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven, 3 and I will give them all these lands; and all the nations in the world shall bless themselves by your descendants in return for Abraham's obedience; for he kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws' (Bereshith. 26: 2-5). After this warning Yitschaq remained at Gerar.
I will bless you and make your descendants many in number
When the rainy season came the clan left Shephelah, where they never felt at home, and hurried back to their territory in the Negeb. From here [Gerar] he went up to Beersheba. YAHWEH appeared to him that night and said:
'I am YAHWEH the Sovereign Ruler of your father Abraham.
Do not be afraid for I am with you.
I will bless you and make your descendants many in number on account of my servant Abraham.'
The striking difference between the explosive revelations made to Abraham and the mild words here addressed to Yitschaq is obvious. YAHWEH reassures the young patriarch and reminds him of the promises to Abraham, but he is careful to state clearly that it is on account of his father Abraham that Yitschaq has been granted so far-reaching a blessing. Quite clearly, Yitschaq, who is already unobtrusive enough at the human level, does not appear to be called by YAHWEH to play a leading role in the adventure of the Chosen People.
It is no less clear, nonetheless, that these events described with telling detail, bear all the marks of authenticity. There is no systematic apology, no attempt at embellishment; on the contrary. Thus despite the fact that he is not outstanding, Yitschaq appears as a living personality in the pages of the Scriptures.
1 Archaeologists and biblical historians are divided on the precise locality of this pastoral centre. It may well be that it is the Gerar marked on modern maps and situated to the north-west of Beersheba. For the details of the controversy see La Genese, translated by R. de Vaux: O.P.-Bereshith 20:1, note b-W F Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth and Baltimore, 1949, p 39; M. Du Buit, O.P. and Raoul Blanchard, The Geography of the Holy Land, Burns and Oates, London, 1966; American edn., The Promised Land, Hawthorn, New York
2 This is an anachronism perpetrated by the writer of this chapter of Bereshith. At the period when he recorded this detail (sixth or fifth century B.C.) the Philistines were occupying this region but they only established themselves in this part of the land of Canaan in about 1200 B.C., that is, six centuries after the time of Yitschaq. In reality, Abimelech was the chieftain of a Canaanite, that is, a Semitic, tribe.
3 YAHWEH had already said to Abraham, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore (Bereshith 22 17)
keywords: Yitschaq's life, story Abraham, birth foretold by YAHWEH, spiritual offering commanded by YAHWEH, recent archaeological discoveries, Babylonian texts, chapter devoted to Yacob-Yisrael, two monumental historical narratives, Abraham and Yacob, biblical history, Yitschaq's autonomous life, confirmation of Promise by YAHWEH, incidents of pastoral life, Scriptures relates appearances of YAHWEH, first theophanies took place at Gerar-second at Beersheba, Gerar-Scripture informs us is capital city of Abimelech-king of Philistines, Yitschaq leaving pastoral circuit in Negeb, making way to Shephelah, YAHWEH should settle, Egyptian civilization, paganism, YAHWEH intervened, Bereshith 26:2-5, Yitschaq remained at Gerar, YAHWEH appeared, I am YAHWEH, Ruler of your father Abraham, YAHWEH reassures, promises to Abraham, not appear to be called by YAHWEH to play leading role, Chosen People, Yitschaq-living personality in Scriptures, Archaeologists-biblical historians, La- Genese-translated by R de Vaux O.P.-Bereshith 20:1, note b-W.F. Albright, Archaeology of Palestine, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth-Baltimore 1949 p-39, M. Du Buit O.P. Raoul Blanchard, Geography of Holy Land, Burns and Oats-London 1966, American edn., Promised Land-Hawthorn New York, anachronism perpetuated by writer of chapter in Bereshith, sixth or fifth century B.C. -Philistines occupying region, Abimelech was chieftain of Canaanite Semitic tribe, YAHWEH to Abraham-Bereshith 22:17
Yitschaq YAHWEH's Chosen One Yitschaq Sitemap Scripture History Through the Ages Yitschaq The Hebrew Clan The Land Of Canaan Legal Question Ishmael Abraham's Heir Spiritual Question Ishmael And Mohammed Who Was Yitschaq Yitschaq's Mission Yitschaq's Life Yitschaq's Life Journeys With His Flocks Yitschaq The Story-Teller