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Isaac dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called their names after the names his father had called them. — Genesis 26:18

Isaac, the Son of a Famous Father

I’m afraid that dear Isaac, the son of Abraham and the father of Jacob, is often overlooked, ignored, forgotten, and rarely preached about, and yet we wonder if we need to. To be perfectly candid with you, one day I decided I was going to preach a sermon on Isaac. Poor fellow hardly ever gets preached upon. I looked into it the next day and came back and told my secretary, “Forget what is in the bulletin. I am going to change my sermon. Why, there is nothing to say about Isaac. He’s practically a nobody.”

But then I went back into my study and started thinking: “If Isaac is such a nobody, why is he in the Bible at all?” Then it dawned on me that we preach a great deal about the heroes of the Bible: about Adam, the founder of the human race; about Abraham, the progenitor of nations; about Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel; about David, the slayer of giants; about Solomon, the builder of temples; and about Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles.

But how many of us here are progenitors of nations, founders of empires, conquerors of giants, or any of those things? We are all pretty much common folk. We live rather subdued lives that don’t involve a great deal of adventure, excitement, fame, or notoriety. It occurred to me that Isaac is a person very much like most of us. So maybe you will relax, knowing you don’t have to go out and slay a giant, build a temple, or start an empire. The story of Isaac is really about every man—particularly about every man who is the son of a famous father.

Now that includes a fair number of Christians, although the fame may be different. You don’t have to be world famous to have a famous father. He may be famous in his business circles or in some other way. A lot of men have trouble with a famous father. A lot of people have gotten into trouble because of famous fathers. They are trying to live up to, equal, or exceed the accomplishments of a famous father. Some people just despair. Some say, “Well, I can never get out of the shadow of my father.” We have heard this many times. How many people have been driven to drink or other things because of a famous father?

Isaac certainly had a famous father in Abraham. It is interesting that you almost never read anything about Isaac where he isn’t overshadowed by somebody. He is a rather retiring, meditative, thoughtful, passive kind of personality. He is overshadowed by his father, who is about to offer him as a sacrifice. He is overshadowed by his wife. He is overshadowed by his sons. No matter what stage he is on, he is always playing second fiddle to somebody else, and believe me, that is a hard position to play.

In fact, the great Charles Spurgeon put it incomparably, I think, when he said, “It takes more grace than I can tell to play the second fiddle well.” And how many second fiddlers have discovered that—whether they are in the orchestra, on the football team, in the business office, or even at home? Isaac was an excellent player of the second fiddle. That is all he ever got to do, but he did it well. He was the least conspicuous and the least traveled; he had the fewest adventures and the least extraordinary life. But he outlived all of them. He had a rather peaceful life, all in all—a man of quietness, gentleness, and long-suffering. Isaac was a man who would rather give in than fight. But he is always given equal honor with Abraham and Jacob, the great heroes, the patriarchs of the Hebrew world. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—you never hear the phrase without Isaac.

There are some things we can learn from this man. What did he do? We know what Abraham did. We know what David did. We know what Paul did. But what did Isaac do? Practically the only thing we are told is that he dug wells. A 180-year-life digging wells is not all that big an accomplishment. We are told about four of the wells particularly. And what wells did he dig? Not just any wells, anywhere, but he dug again the wells that his father Abraham had dug. The Philistines, being envious and jealous, had filled the wells up with stones and dirt after Abraham died. So Isaac came along and opened them up again. He even gave them the same names. He dug the wells that his father had dug.

Now, we don’t think about digging wells, but in those days digging a well was a very significant event. They didn’t have any of the machinery or running water we have today for digging wells. For them, in that very dry and arid country, a well meant life or death. So Abraham had done a very good thing in digging all of those wells and providing water for the people, cattle, and crops of that area.

The point is that Isaac apparently was not all that original. He wasn’t an entrepreneur, but what he did do was continue the great work his father had started. That is sort of a tough thing for a person to do who is living in the shadow of a famous man, but it didn’t seem to disturb Isaac. He happily continued a good work his father had done. Unfortunately, since every father has both good and evil in his life, too many sons emulate the evil and forget the good; Abraham had both. But Isaac emulated the good that Abraham had done. Thus he didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he was living in the shadow of his father.

In fact the name Isaac, in Hebrew, means “he laughs.” So obviously he was a quiet yet happy man who laughed, and God blessed him with the promises He had given to Abraham and to his seed.

He was also a type of all Christians. He is referred to a great deal in the New Testament. He is the first of the seed to whom the promises of grace were made. He is the seed that was going to inherit the kingdom of God and is referred to often as such. His life is the life of a son. We are all sons of a much more famous Father than Abraham. We are sons of God, if indeed we have trusted in Christ and received Him into our hearts. And so Isaac was the type of a Christian, of a son.