I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Physical --> Spiritual Description of Isaac


A character study of Isaac in the twilight of his life can be summed up in one word, “sense-less,” and that on all levels. Explicit in the text of Gen 27 is Moses’ description of Isaac as “old” (though Isaac lived another 43 years) and that “his eyes were dim so that he could not see” (v 1). Despite the physical infirmities that come with a goodly age, Isaac is describe as still having a strong appetite for the venison table fare produced by his eldest son, Esau (vv 3—4). As said, Isaac suffered from “sense-less-ness” on all levels, lacking both the empirical sensitivity required to distinguish between his sons’ persons and the cognitive and spiritual perception to distinguish between his two sons’ character. Isaac presented a five-fold test to Jacob, only one of which Jacob’s craftiness was unable to pass unscathed. There was the test of logic (v 20), of touch (vv 21—22), of hearing (v 22), of integrity (v 24), and of smell (v 27). Only the middle test, that ‘of hearing,’ was efficacious; this suspicion, however, was supplanted (pun intended) by the results of the second, that of touch.


Sailhamer suggests that Moses’ description of Isaac as old and blind is “perhaps an attempt to ease Isaac’s culpability” in the matter. Too many other factors weigh against Sailhamer’s charity, however. Isaac could not have been ignorant of Yahweh’s word to Rebekah, that “the elder shall serve the younger” (25:23c). Yet in chapter 27 Moses highlights a key factor in the blessing that, for all intents and purposes, would have made Esau “lord over [his] brothers” (27:29b; cf. vv 37, 40a). Neither could have Esau’s crassly pragmatic disregard for his birthright been a secret beyond Isaac’s knowledge (25:29—34). Finally, Moses uses parallel language to describe Jacob/Israel’s death-bed blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh (27:1 // 48:10). Jacob, in this case, was even “ill” (48:1), and actually died the moment he finished the blessing of the patriarchs (48:21; 49:33). Moses, therefore, explicitly tells the reader of Isaac’s age and optical challenges in order to lead them to implicitly perceive his spiritual infirmities. The explicit description of Isaac’s physical blindness was intended by Moses to lead the reader to perceive Isaac’s spiritual blindness.


Barker, Kenneth L., John R. Kohlenberger editors, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition: Old Testament. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan (1994)

Davis, John J., Paradise to Prison. Sheffield Publishing Company: Salem, Wisconsin (1998)

Ellicott, Charles J., Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, One Volume. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan (1971)

Walton, John H., Genesis in The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids (2001)

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