How could the Holy Spirit have moved upon the waters before the earth was created?

Q. Most English Bibles translate the first word in the Old Testament, bereshith, as “in the beginning.” This implies that the statement that follows is telling us what was created first: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” So if this is the case, how is it possible that the Holy Spirit “moved upon the the face of the waters,” as it says in the next verse? The waters had not been created yet!

One may argue that the word “earth” in the first verse includes the entire face of the planet, including the oceans—the water. However, this only works in English. In ancient (and modern) hebrew, the word ‘eretz, “earth,” specifically refers to dry land alone, not water (mayim). See Rashi, who discusses this question and translates bereshith slightly differently. However my question specifically refers to the usual Christian translation.

Thank you for your question. I discuss essentially the same question in the following post, so I think that if you read it, you will find an answer to your own question:

Does the creation account in Genesis begin with matter (in the form of water) already existing?

It is possible grammatically to translate the opening of Genesis this way: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth …” At least two English Bibles, the Common English Bible and the Living Bible, translate it that way. But you’re right, overwhelmingly English Christian Bibles translate it as, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And as I say in the post for which I have provided the link above, I think that is the correct translation. The solution to the problem is instead that the ancient Hebrews regarded water as effectively equivalent to “nothing.” As I say in that post, for them, de aqua was the equivalent of ex nihilo.

What are the three types of love and their definitions?

Q. What are the three types of love and their definitions?

Erōs is romantic love that includes sexual attraction.

Philia is friendship love. It is based on a sense of commonality between people, the sense that there is something in each person that “meets” or “matches” the other person.

Agapē is spiritual love. It is God’s love living in a person and pouring out to other people. It is unconditional and freely giving, not based on anything that is in the other person or that is desired from the other person. As Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her stories, it is “love that appears to exist just to be itself.”

The verbs corresponding to each of these nouns already existed in Greek, and the last two were practically interchangeable. For example, Jesus said of the Pharisees that they “love the most important seats.” Luke translates the word “love” in that statement with the verb agapáō, while Matthew translates it with the verb philéō. However, only the first two nouns are attested in Greek literature before the New Testament. The early Christian community apparently coined the term agapē from the verb agapáō to describe a new kind of love, God’s unconditional love, that had not been seen before and so did not have a word to describe it. That usage is reflected in the New Testament.

All three kinds of love are part of God’s plan for a healthy and blessed human life, as long as they (and we need to be especially careful about the first one) are pursued within the framework that God has established for them. But the one we should make the greatest effort to cultivate is agapē. It will also make relationships based on the other two kinds of love that much better.

Why couldn’t Jesus’ disciples understand the Parable of the Sower?

Q. You say in your comments about the Parable of the Sower that people with the heart for Jesus will hear the parable and understand. The disciples, I would think, had a heart for Jesus, yet they asked Jesus to explain the parables. So why were their ears not open to understanding the meaning of the parables?

The disciples needed to get a start somewhere. They needed to know that the stories Jesus was telling in his teaching had a meaning deeper than the surface-level meaning. The point of the Parable of the Sower wasn’t just that farmers should be careful where they sowed their seed, because it wouldn’t grow well in some places. Jesus was really talking about his own message and how people would respond differently to it based on the state of their hearts.

Significantly, when the disciples ask Jesus to explain this parable, he responds, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” In other words, this parable is a key to all the other ones. It is a parable about parables. It has been called a “meta-parable.” Once Jesus explained its meaning to the disciples, then they realized that they would need to try to understand the deeper meaning of such stories.

This took time. The disciples needed to learn how to recognize these meanings. And Jesus took the time to teach them. Mark says at the end of the section in which he relates the Parable of the Sower and other parables, “[Jesus] did not say anything to [the crowds] without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

It was precisely because the disciples’ hearts were open to Jesus that they were able to benefit from this instruction. If their hearts had been hard, the stories would have remained just stories to them, with no meaning deeper than what was on the surface.

For his part, Matthew records in his gospel this interesting exchange between Jesus and his disciples, similarly at the end of a section in which he relates Jesus telling many parables:

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

This shows that the disciples were catching on to the meaning of the parables, and, as Jesus notes, as a result, they were understanding how the new things that he was bringing fit in with what God had been doing all along.

This would not have been possible if their hearts had not been open to Jesus. That was a necessary condition, but we see that it was not a sufficient one. Jesus also had to get them started on how to understand the parables using their open hearts. We can be grateful that the gospels record Jesus’ explanations of several of his parables so that we can have the same benefit ourselves. We just need to make sure that our hearts are open, too.

Is cremation acceptable for Christians?

Q. For Christians, is cremation an accepted form of the disposition of a person’s final remains, or is it a sin? What if you are a Christian living in a land-scarce country or city and cremation is the preferred method?

As far as I know, the Bible does not comment specifically on cremation. The preferred practice within the believing communities of both the Old Testament and the New Testament was burial. It was considered an insult and a sacrilege to leave a body exposed without burial, and the Law of Moses forbade doing that beyond sundown on the day a person died.

But this does not mean that cremation was unknown to those communities. For example, it was widely practiced within the Roman Empire until, interestingly, over a couple of centuries the influence of Christians and other groups with a strong belief in the afterlife changed the preference to burial. So one observation we can make is that  the New Testament writers knew about cremation, and so if they had wished to condemn the practice, they could have, as they do condemn other cultural practices that they deem unacceptable.

But I think the most useful observation is that the Scriptures know (if I could personify them, as the biblical writers themselves do) that not everyone has the opportunity to be buried. For example, some people might be lost at sea when a ship sinks. That is why, I believe, the book of Revelation, envisioning the Last Judgment, says, “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” (I take “death” and “Hades” here to be references to the underworld or abode of the dead, presumably of those who were buried.)

The bottom line, in other words, is that no matter what the disposition of a person’s final remains, everyone will be raised from the dead and judged appropriately, with hopefully many being welcomed into God’s presence for eternity.

This makes sense, because even a body that is buried completely decomposes after some time. It’s not as if buried bodies remain intact until the resurrection, while cremated bodies are incapable of resurrection. Either way, God must somehow reconstitute a body. We do not know exactly how that is done, but it seems not to depend on why the body needs to be reconstituted.

So I would say that cremation is an option that Christians may validly choose, perhaps for the reason you mentioned, to practice good stewardship of scarce land, and perhaps for further reasons as well.

What does allowing polygamy say about the character of God?

Q. I read your post about Ruth and Boaz. There you said that in the Law of Moses it was right for the brother to marry the widow. I get so furious about this because for 40 years it has tripped me up with my relationship with God. No matter what the time, how was it right for a man to be a polygamist? If God is never changing and he created Adam and Eve and said one man and one woman, why would he change? Why would this be a compassionate gesture to the woman? I am a Christian who seeks and seeks and knocks and looks for answers and I pray and pray. Please, please help me to understand this. Even the kinsman-redeemer made me hurt and not want to trust God because if Boaz was married, and helped Ruth, what does that mean to me? If God is my kinsman-redeemer, then how can I trust him? This may sound angry and I do apologize, but I am truly looking for help and want to live in peace and not hurt. This has been a block for all of my life and I do ask God all the time about this and maybe he can help me through you. Thank you for all that you do and God bless you.

Thank you very much for sharing your heartfelt question. Even though it arises from the issue of polygamy, it seems to me that your question is ultimately about the character and trustworthiness of God. So before I say anything else, let me say  that we learn about the character of God primarily from the ideals that God presents, and only secondarily from the arrangements that God makes in history to accommodate human limitations.

I would invite you to read this other post on this blog:

Is it a sin for a man to be married to more than one woman?

In that post I suggest that Jesus would have said the same thing about polygamy that he did about divorce: “It was not so from the beginning.” God’s ideal, as you have noted, is that marriage be between one man and one woman for life. Jesus explained that the Law of Moses permitted divorce, it did not command or endorse it, and the case is the same for polygamy. Under certain circumstances, at the time, it was the best, or perhaps the least bad, arrangement that would help protect and provide for women in a society in which they were vulnerable. But it was not God’s ideal, and so it did not reveal God’s character the way the statement of the ideal at the beginning of Genesis does.

Beyond what I say in that post, I would observe that as we move into the New Testament, Jesus and his followers assert more and more that believers should aspire to live out God’s original ideals. So, for example, Paul says in 1 Timothy that the church as a whole should provide for the needs of widows. No longer is the late husband’s brother or another close relative expected to marry a widow to provide for her. This is the responsibility of all believers, to care for a person in need in their community.

And as Paul also says in 1 Timothy, the spiritual leaders of the church (“overseers” or “elders”) must be “the husband of one wife.” While polygamy was not widely practiced by the Romans, it was known from the cultures that the Romans interacted with, and in Asia Minor (where Timothy was, in the city of Ephesus) there seem to have been actual polygamists, due to the influences of those cultures. Without judging them or condemning them, Paul makes clear that their lives do not illustrate God’s ideal, and so they should not be in spiritual leadership positions.

I, too, hope that nothing I say here will be taken to judging or condemning people in cultures that still practice polygamy. As I make clear in my other post, this is a very involved issue and it will be complicated to sort it out. I also hope that nothing I say will be taken as judging or condemning people in other situations. At the same time, I do believe that God’s ideal is for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life, and that that ideal reveals God’s character.

And so I hope that you will come to know God better and better as the one who said to his people through Hosea:

I will take you to be my wife forever.
I will take you to be my wife in righteousness,
justice, love, and compassion.
I will take you to be my wife in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.

Was Adam immortal on earth before the Fall? After death, in light of the sacrifice?

Q. I have a couple of questions to ask, if I may. (1) If, pre-Fall, Adam had say fallen from a tree he was climbing, would he have bounced, or might he have been killed or badly injured? After all, gravity and the earth’s hardness then were presumably as now. (2) Does Genesis 3 (in the original Hebrew) in any way indicate that post-mortem eternal life is being offered to Adam and Eve through the institution of sacrifice to cover sins? Thank you for any light on this.

(1) In response to you first question, let me refer you to a post on one of my other blogs in which I take up the very thing that you are wondering about: “Do we suppose that if Adam, when innocent, had fallen forty feet out of tree and broken his neck, he would not have died?” This is the post:

44 Was there death before the fall of humanity? (Part 1)

However, I would caution you, and ask you to respect the fact, that as you can see, not only is this post the first half of a two-part discussion, both parts will also only make sense within the context of this entire blog, Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, of which they are posts 44 and 45 of a total of 53. So you may also wish to read the introduction to the blog, at least, which will explain the background to the entire blog and help you see where I’m coming from as I offer the observations in this post.

(2) In response to your second question, I can assure you that there is nothing latent in the original Hebrew that does not come out in the typical English translation of the account of the fall in Genesis. The statements that might point to a substitutionary sacrificial atonement are straightforward in Hebrew, and they come out that way in English. Perhaps most relevantly, “The Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife and clothed them,” and then also, spoken to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.”

The first statement indicates only by implication that animals at least died, and more likely were sacrificed, to provide the “garments of skins” with which God “clothed” the man and woman. I would personally say that we can only appreciate the implications of this action by situating it in light of the Scriptures as a whole, where we learn about the function of animal sacrifices in God’s redemptive purposes and the notion of “clothing” someone, giving them garments or new garments, as a metaphor for salvation. (For example, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”)

Similarly it is only in the context of the Scriptures as a whole that we can appreciate the meaning of the statement “he will bruise your head,” that is, the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. If Keith Green could sing in his song “The Victor,” “See Him bruise the serpent’s head,
the prisoners of hell he’s redeeming, all the power of death is dead,” this is only because centuries of Scriptural development, interpretation, and understanding have enabled us to connect this promise with the work of Christ on the cross.

Nevertheless, I would commend you for wanting to go deeper into the biblical text to get the answer to your questions. In this case, it is just a matter of going broader rather than deeper, of catching the sweep of the whole story of Scripture, rather than understanding a specific Hebrew expression. So … read on!

How can heaven be perfect if my loved ones aren’t there?

Q. I keep worrying that I committed the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because one time I was mad and said that I didn’t want to go to heaven if my family wasn’t there. I didn’t really mean it. Of course I want salvation and to go to heaven. Is this the unpardonable sin? Also how do I reconcile the fact that heaven is supposed to be perfect if my loved ones who aren’t saved won’t be there?

Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Regarding your first one, I would invite you to read this post:

Have I committed the unpardonable sin?

The bottom line in that post is basically that if you are concerned that you have committed the unpardonable sin, you haven’t, because you are still under conviction of sin and thus under the recognizable influence of the Holy Spirit. That means you are not beyond salvation. If you actually had committed the unpardonable sin, you would be indifferent to the Spirit’s influence, and so you wouldn’t be concerned about whether you had committed it.

Regarding your second question, I would say first, on the authority of the word of God, that God is “not willing for anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance.” So if anyone is not in heaven, that will not be because God did not want them there. Rather, it will be because God gave them a choice and is respecting their choice.

I firmly believe that God will not keep anyone out of heaven simply because they didn’t get the chance to make a choice, or because they didn’t understand the kind of choice they needed to make. Please see this post for some further thoughts about that:

Will there be anyone in hell who doesn’t want to be there?

But in that post I also describe the kind of attitude a person might take that would lead them to consciously and deliberately choose their own way rather than God’s way, even if that meant not being in heaven (since heaven, by definition, is the place where God’s will is done joyfully and without resistance).

In other words, there actually are people who will want to be in hell if that means they can maintain self-determination rather than obeying God.  They will take the same attitude as Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”  To give another example, in James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the main character, Stephen Dedalus, after explaining that he has “lost the faith,” continues:

“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.  … I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too.”

William Ernest Henley wrote similarly at the end of his poem Invictus, using biblical imagery to show that he was referring to a choice of hell as a way of maintaining self-determination:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

So there are some people who will chose self-determination above God’s gracious offer of salvation, because they want to run their own lives, no matter where that leads. (These are all examples from literature, but they capture an attitude that can be found in life as well.) And because God has given human beings genuine freedom to choose for or against him—which is the only basis on which we can truly love him—God will respect those choices.

But I hope and pray that those people do not include your family members. I hope that instead your concern for them—which certainly reflects God’s concern for them—will lead you to pray for them and demonstrate your faith to them in loving ways, and that those influences, among others, will one day lead them to choose to love and serve God as you have.

Why were some books removed from the Bible and is it a sin to read them?

Q. Why were some books removed from the Bible and is it a sin to read them?

I believe you are talking about the so-called Apocrypha. That term refers to books that were written in Greek within the Jewish community in the centuries before Christ. Those books are distinct from the Old Testament because they were written in Greek, not Hebrew, and they are distinct from the New Testament because they were written before Christ came, not after. So there is already something about them that sets them apart as different from the books that all Christians accept as inspired Scripture.

Nevertheless, after lengthy discussion and debate in the few centuries after Christ, regional councils in the western part of the Roman Empire, at Hipppo in 393 and Carthage in 397, approved adding these books to the canon of Scripture, as long as this decision was ratified by the central authority in Rome.

No action was taken in that regard for over 1,000 years. But finally, in 1546,  the Council of Trent, largely in response to the way Martin Luther had separated out these apocryphal books and placed them between the testaments in his German translation of Bible, decreed that they were as fully canonical as the others. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic church still describes these books as deuterocanonical, meaning that they belong to a second group of books “whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters,” as opposed to the protocanonical books, the collection of “sacred writings which have been always received by Christendom without dispute.”

The Council of Trent also decreed that the Vulgate was the authoritative text of Scripture. That actually sent something of a mixed message about the Apocrypha, because St. Jerome’s prologues were always included in the Vulgate, and in his prologue to the book of Kings, in which he surveyed the entire Old Testament, he specified that the books that had been translated from Greek, rather than from Hebrew, are “set aside among the apocrypha” (inter apocrifa seponendum) and “are not in the canon” (non sunt in canone).  He made similar comments in the prologues to several of the apocryphal books themselves. So while the Roman Catholic Church’s embrace of these books is explicit, its position on them is not without internal tensions.

Eastern Orthodox Bibles include all the books in the Catholic Apocrypha along with several more. However, it classifies all these apocryphal books as Anagignoskomena (“worthy to be read”), meaning that they are read during services of worship, but that they are not as authoritative as the other books. Orthodox theologians sometimes call the apocryphal books deuterocanonical to indicate their secondary authority, using this term differently from Catholics, for whom it describes how these books were received after first being disputed.

And Protestants, ever since Martin Luther, have not considered the Apocrypha canonical, except for Protestants in the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition.

So maybe the real question is not why some books were removed from the Bible, but why some books that were different from both the Old Testament and the New Testament were added to the Bible. The answer is that, as the Eastern Orthodox say, they are “worthy to be read.” They provide important information about what happened in the years between the testaments,  they tell inspiring stories of how people remained faithful to God during difficult trials in those times, and they add to the collection of wise advice for living that is found in the canonical wisdom books.

So it is certainly not a sin to read them. Even Protestants, who do not consider them to be inspired Scripture, say that they are edifying, meaning that reading them can strengthen our faith and devotion to God. As a Protestant myself, I do not have these apocryphal books in the Bibles that I use regularly for study and devotions. But I do have copies of these books in some other Bibles that I own. I have read the apocryphal books and gotten a lot out of them.

I hope this provides you with some helpful background to the issue. As I said, it would certainly not be a sin to read those books, and I think they would help you learn some useful things if you did read them. If you belong to a community of Christians, and if this issue is important within that community, you could explain to anyone you told about reading the books that you were not reading them as Scripture, but as edifying literature that has come down to us from within the tradition of our faith. I hope no one would be upset about that.

Does the Bible forbid dating?

Q. Why is it that the church has latched onto the modern concept of dating instead of following the Bible’s command of betrothal?

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “betrothal,” but in any event, I do not believe personally that the Bible specifies one particular way of finding a spouse. Instead, I think we see the people in the Bible following the customs of their own cultures in this regard, and the Bible warning against ways that those customs could be abused.

In some cases we see arranged marriages. One well-known example is when Abraham sends his servant back to the family homeland to get a wife for Isaac from his own “country and kindred.” Isaac is expected to marry the woman the servant comes back with.

However, in other cases, even though the parents would ultimately arrange the marriage, the child seems to have some say in the matter. For example, Samson says to his parents, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” The parents don’t reply, “Now we’re the ones who will choose a wife for you.” Instead, they reply, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the Philistines to get a wife?” So they don’t object, in principle, to Samson letting them know whom he wants to marry. They object to him wanting to marry a Philistine, but they seem open to accommodating his choice of a wife as long as he wants to marry a fellow Israelite.

In the New Testament period, marriages took place under the laws and customs of the Roman Empire. In those circumstances, while parents arranged most first marriages for their children, the children had the right, on certain grounds, to refuse to marry someone the parents had selected. Moreover, many marriages ended in divorce or after the death of a spouse, and men and women had much greater freedom to choose a spouse when remarrying. One possible meaning of one of Paul’s commands in First Thessalonians is, “Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way.” If that is the meaning, then this shows that people in this time and culture could choose their own spouses, whereas in other biblical cultures, parents arranged marriages.

So, as I said, I think the Bible allows for a lot of creative cultural freedom in this regard. When it comes to dating, I would not say that the Bible forbids it, but rather that people should follow biblical principles to make sure that dating is done in a healthy and God-honoring way. For example, I personally believe that anyone a person might get into a dating relationship with should be a potential spouse. This means that for a follower of Jesus, that person must also be a follower of Jesus. (I say that people should only get into a dating relationship with a potential spouse because people who date can form strong emotional attachments, and those can lead to marriage, even if the people dating didn’t have that in mind to begin with. A simple way to put this is, “Don’t play with fire.”)

I would also say that people who date should be careful to maintain healthy emotional and physical boundaries, appropriate to the commitment level of dating. They are not married. They are not engaged. So they should not build their emotional lives around one another, and they should act toward one another in a “holy and honorable way.”

In short, I personally believe that dating is one way in which people in some cultures go about looking for a spouse. Like all such ways, it can be done in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. The Bible gives us principles to show us how to do it in a healthy way. But the Bible does not privilege one cultural practice over another.

God didn’t seem to give Isaac a very happy old age

Q. My question revolves around Issac and Rebecca. When Issac was old, his son Jacob deceived him, his wife deceived him. Issac died without his son Jacob and with a wife who was not trustworthy. This is not what we would have expected from the earlier part of Isaac’s story. He would certainly have remembered his father Abraham taking him to the mountain where God provided the ram for the sacrifice and protected him. He would also have remembered how his father sent his servant to get him a wife and the remarkable way that this turned out to be Rebecca. So this ending is not what I would think would be a positive note for the aging Issac from a “Creator Father Loving Providing God.” I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about this.

Thank you for your thoughtful question. As I say in other posts on this blog, God advances his purposes by working through the free choices, both good and bad, of human moral agents. And I believe that, unfortunately, Isaac ended up in the situation you are describing through some of his own bad choices. And those can be traced to other people’s earlier bad choices.

Specifically, his parents Abraham and Sarah tried themselves to fulfill God’s promise to give them a child by having Abraham take Hagar, Sarah’s servant, as his concubine so that he could become the father of Ishmael. When God fulfilled his own promise supernaturally and Isaac was born to Sarah, Ishmael had to be sent away so that Isaac could be the undisputed heir. Abraham tried to intercede with God for his son Ishmael, even before Isaac was born, asking God to make him the heir instead. God said in response about Ishmael, “I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac.” And so Ishmael still needed to be sent away.

I believe that Isaac unfortunately got the unintended message from all of this that favoring one child over another was acceptable. The book of Genesis tells us this about Isaac and Rebekah’s two sons: “The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” So each parent favored one son.

It was this favoritism that led Isaac to say to Esau one day, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” The blessing that Isaac should have given to Esau automatically as his firstborn became tied up with the grounds for favoritism, and this opened the door for Rebekah to deceive Isaac and get the blessing for her favorite instead.

We might note that this favoritism continued into the next generation. Jacob favored Joseph over his older brothers, and that led to much trouble within this extended family for many of the years that followed.

So there is a lot of human responsibility here. We can’t consider God responsible for Isaac’s situation, so we do not need to ask how a loving Heavenly Father would leave him in such a situation at the end of his life.

That much said, however, we should also observe that God actually did not leave Isaac in this situation at the end of his life. He did not die without his son Jacob. Rather, when Isaac said, “I don’t know the day of my death,” he was right. He lived at least another twenty years, because he was still alive when Jacob returned from Paddan Aram. He got to see all of Jacob’s children, who were his grandchildren. In the end, “Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

“Old and full of years” is a figurative phrase that some Bibles translate as “having lived a good long life.” Isaac actually died with both sons present to care for him at the end and, as I said, surrounded by grandchildren as well. I can’t say for sure that he also patched things up with Rebecca regarding the betrayal. But I’m going to speculate that Isaac’s attitude in the end may have been the same as Joseph’s, as he looked back on how God had worked even through the harmful consequences of favoritism to advance his purposes through this family: “What you planned against me was wrong, but God planned it for good, to bring about the present result.”