Isaac’s birth is one of the most anticipated and drawn out events in the Bible. God promised Abraham, then 75 years old, a ‘great nation’ in Genesis 12. Obeying God’s promise, Abraham left Mesopotamia for Canaan, the Promised Land, arriving a few months later.
But before Abraham could father ‘a great nation,’ he needed a son – yet the promised son had not arrived. Abraham waited 10 years without siring any son or heir. However, God reassured him with a binding oath; by trusting God, Abraham was ‘credited’ righteousness. Abraham did get Ishmael as a son, through a surrogate-like arrangement, but God declared that Ishmael was not that promised son.
Years passed as Abraham and Sarah continued to wait, with fading prospects of bearing a child the more they aged. Hope seemed lost until Abraham had a unique encounter at the age of ninety-nine years old.
The Lord appears to Abraham
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
God’s Promise for a son
9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.
“There, in the tent,” he said.
10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”Genesis 18:1-15
Can we blame Sarah for laughing? Having a child when the father is 99 and the mother is 90 is sheer impossibility. We would also have laughed.
The Birth of Isaac
Nevertheless, in the following year, we find that:
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”Genesis 21:1-7
Ultimately, Abraham and Sarah now had their promised son – Isaac. Their dreams were rekindled. Even so, the overall account raised an important question.
Why the drawn out wait for Isaac’s birth?
Why does God wait 25 years (Genesis 21) to bring about the promised birth of Isaac (Genesis 12)? If God has the power to do anything at any given time, why not bring about Isaac right away? Would that not better show His power? Or, was there some special foresight to God’s roundabout way of doing things?
From later outcomes we can deduce several reasons for the wait.
First, Abraham learned valuable lessons about trusting God during this long wait. In doing so, he became a example for all people who desire to trust in God. Those who would know God must follow Abraham’s path.
Second, instead of diminishing God’s power, the account magnifies it. It is remarkable perhaps, but not miraculous, for a middle-aged couple to have a child. Unlikely events do occur naturally. Should Abraham and Sarah have had Isaac early on, we could interpret the account in that way. However, a couple bearing a child at the age of 100 years is either a fabricated story or miraculous. There is no other explanation or middle ground. Either the events of Isaac’s birth did not happen as recorded or there was a miracle. If miraculous, then the whole project, known as Israel, continuing even to this day, sits on the foundation of God’s miraculous power and His utterly trustworthy promises. In the birth of Isaac, all Jews through history are established on a miracle. And if the foundation is miraculous then so is the structure built on it.
Isaac’s miraculous birth compared to Jesus’ miraculous birth
To grasp the third reason for Isaac’s delayed birth, we must recognize a remarkable pattern. Consider that Abraham had only one other descendant with an equally promised, anticipated and miraculous birth – Jesus of Nazareth.
For preceding centuries, different prophets in various ways had promised in God’s name that the Messiah would come. The Gospels then present Jesus as this promised Messiah. His being born from a virgin is equally, if not more, miraculous than Isaac’s birth. Exactly as with Isaac’s birth account, we can only interpret the virgin birth of Jesus as either fabricated story or the miraculous. There is no other explanation, no middle ground. A little reflection brings plainly into sight this symmetry between the births of Jesus and Isaac.
Jesus as the Archetype of Israel
Here is one in a series of instances that paints an overall portrait of Jesus as the archetype of Israel. As an archetype, he represents, fulfills and is the fulfillment of God’s purposes that were first uttered to Abraham 4000 years ago. To be an archetype Jesus’ birth had to pattern that of Isaac, the first of the nation. Otherwise Jesus’ claim to be Israel is proved false right from the start. But since the miraculous nature of both their births match, then Jesus’ claim to be Israel remains intact and, at the very least, an open question worth investigating.
Comparing their births from this historical perspective, we can observe that Isaac’s birth foresaw that of Jesus’ who came much later. To coordinate events with foresight like this, that spans across an immense time period in human history, supports the claim that Jesus’ is the cornerstone of a Divine project. God invites us all to understand this project so that we can be beneficiaries of that original promise that was given to Abraham so long ago.
… all peoples on earth will be blessed through youGenesis 12:3
We continue looking at Jesus from this vantage point by examining how his flight from Herod just after birth mirrored the flight of Israel from Isaac’s son.