Some of the Biblical details of the life of Isaac, as is well known, present themselves as a repetition of events that are also to be found as part of the life of Abraham. As we consider this in the overwhelming light of the repetitive hermeneutical framework of the Scriptures, not only should we find this fact to be unsurprising, but it should re-confirm that the Bible, though this may sound redundant, can and should be understood as a revelation of God inside of and according to a repetitive hermeneutical framework. Remembering this will aid us in that which is most important, which is the task of coming to an understanding of what is meant by the words of Jesus, along with His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, inside the understanding of Israel and its role in the world as presented by the Hebrew Scriptures that are shaped by the story of the exodus.
We should be able to understand Jesus, and therefore able to understand those who told us about Jesus (Gospel writers), as well as those that presented the early church’s understanding of Jesus (authors of New Testament letters), because of what we know about God based on this obvious repetitive theme. If Israel’s God is the God of exodus, and if the notion of exile is always bound up with exodus, and if this God presents Himself as a God of movement in accordance with His over-arching plans for exodus, then operating within this hermeneutic will shed a fair amount of illumination upon the God-revealing Scriptures, allowing us to avoid pointlessly spiritualized, unnecessarily existential, unfortunately de-contextualized, and often catastrophic mis-readings.
Returning to Isaac, the first stories of him that are independent from Abraham have him experiencing a famine and considering a trek to Egypt. This is familiar. However, the Lord intervenes and says to Isaac: “Do not go down to Egypt” (Genesis 26:2b). Thus, it is almost as if Abraham’s venture to Egypt is repeated in Isaac’s life. That’s an odd things to say. However, what we can see is that rather than Isaac actually going to Egypt, and then being sent out of Egypt as was Abraham, the inclination to Egypt, and God’s call to retrieve Isaac from such thinking, serve in place of an actual journey. Even in this we find an exile and exodus construction. The command that is then given to Isaac is to “settle down in the land that I will point out to you” (26:2c). This is immediately followed by “Stay in this land” (26:3a). Now, this is not to say that Isaac was to stay where he was, but that Isaac was to “stay in this land” that was going to be pointed out to him by the Lord. It appears to be the case that the words of the first verse are explained by the subsequent verses, in that we have a record that “Isaac when to Abimelech king of the Philistines at Gerar” (26:1b) because of the famine in the land. It was before going to Gerar that Isaac considered going to Egypt to escape the famine, as his father had done. It is during this consideration that God speaks to Isaac, promising direction, which the result that “Isaac settled in Gerar” (26:6b).
Before Isaac made his move to settle in Gerar, he receives the promise that had first been delivered to Abraham. After directing Isaac to trust Him, the Lord speaks and says, “Then I will be with you and will bless you, for I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants, and I will fulfill the solemn promise I made to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants so they will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give them all these lands. All the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants” (26:3b-4). What we see in this is a collapsing of all of the various promises made to Abraham into one single iteration from the Lord. We should not be surprised to find that the first instance of God’s speaking directly to Isaac so as to extend the Abrahamic covenant to him and through him, occurs in conjunction with a command to move and a demand for trust. God first spoke and made promises to Abraham (Abram) by directing him to “go out from” the place that he was dwelling at the time (Haran, having already left Ur with his father), and evoking a need for Abram to trust Him with “to a land that I will show you” (12:1). So also the record of Isaac’s initial personal dealing with the same God, with the Lord effectively instructing him to go out (“do not go down to Egypt; settle down in…”, while positing a need for trust with the statement in regards to “the land that I will point out to you.”