So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister’; for he was afraid to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, ‘or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.’”
Like father, like son. This can be a good thing, or a not-so-good thing. For example, people have often told me that my son, Nathan, looks like me. Now, I don’t know if he thinks this is a good thing or a not-so-good thing. But it certainly is a real thing, at least according to many people. (Of course, it’s hard for me to see the resemblance. But you can decide for yourself on the basis of this rather grainy, recent photo of Nathan, Kara, and me. Okay, okay, I know there is a slight hair color difference here.)
When it comes to Abraham and Isaac, you could well say, “Like father, like son.” Sometimes this is quite good, as in God’s promise to bless Isaac and give abundant offspring, just as God had promised to Abraham (Gen. 26:3-4).
Sometimes, however, the likeness between Abraham and Isaac is not so good. Consider what happens in Genesis 26 immediately after God promises to bless Isaac. Isaac settled in Gerar, where the local men noticed that his wife, Rebekah, was attractive. What did Isaac do? Exactly what his father did, twice to be exact (Gen. 12, 20), once in Gerar. (You’d think the men of Gerar would think twice before allowing themselves to be attracted to one of the women in this family.) Isaac told the men that Rebekah was his “sister,” just as Abraham had done with Sarah. Isaac and Rebekah maintained this charade for a “long time” (26:8), until the king of that land saw Isaac being physically intimate with his wife (26:8). So the king summoned Isaac and chewed him out, to put it bluntly (26:10). The king also warned all of his people not to touch Isaac and Rebekah (26:11). Presumably, he remembered that Abraham’s family, including Isaac, were protected by God himself (20:1-7).
Why did Isaac lie, therefore risking his wife’s honor and well-being? One answer appears in Genesis 26:8. Isaac was afraid that “the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.” Sound familiar? It should. Isaac’s father, Abraham, told the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister because she was “beautiful in appearance” (12:11). So, we might explain Isaac’s behavior as a response to his fear. We might also see it as a replay of the family tradition, as something embedded in Isaac’s psychological DNA.
Whether we like it or not, all of us will imitate our parents. Sometimes this will lead us to greatness. Sometimes we’ll fall into behaviors that are not so great. When we recognize this in ourselves, then by God’s grace, we have the opportunity to make different choices than our parents made. If, for example, Isaac’s father acted dishonestly and unfaithfully because of fear, then Isaac could acknowledge his own tendency to do the same. When he was afraid in Gerar, he could have said to himself, “I’m so afraid that I want to lie about Rebekah, just as Dad did about Mom. But because I have seen how faithful God has been to our family, I’m going to trust God instead of being deceptive. I’m going to imitate what was great about my dad and not his failings.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you ever find yourself imitating your parents in ways that are good?
Do you ever find yourself imitating your parents in ways that are not so good?
What do you think would help us to be able to choose to imitate our parents in positive ways while avoiding the negative?
Gracious God, thank you, once again, for the story in Genesis 26, for the reminder through Isaac’s example that we are inclined to imitate our parents in both good ways and bad ways.
Help us, Lord, to see ourselves clearly. Help us to see where we are following the example of our parents in ways that honor you. Help us to see where we are following in our parents’ failing footsteps. By your Spirit, with guidance from your Word and the support of your people, may we be empowered to imitate our parents in all that is good without imitating them in that which is not good.
All praise be to you, Heavenly Father, our perfect parent, always worthy of imitation. Amen.