The Story of Isaac (Is-haq)
Imam Ibn Kathir Ad-Dimashqi
eBook: Stories of the Prophets
The Quran does not give details of Isaac's life (pbuh), but reliable Quranic commentators mentioned that when Abraham felt that his life was drawing to a close, he wished to see Isaac married. He did not want Isaac to marry one of the Canaanites, who were pagans, so he sent a trustworthy servant to Haran in Iraq to choose a bride for Isaac. The servant's choice fell upon Rebekah Bint Bethuel, Ibn Nahor, who was a brother of Abraham. Isaac married her and she gave birth to a set of twins, Esau (Al-Eis) and Jacob (Yaqub).
Ill feelings developed between the two brothers when they grew into manhood. Esau disliked the fact that Jacob was favored by his father and by Allah with prophethood. This ill feeling became so serious that Esau threatened to kill his brother. Fearing for his life, Jacob fled the country.
The People of the Book said that when Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, Bint Bethuel, during his father's life. They said she was sterile, so Isaac prayed to Allah and then she became pregnant. She gave birth to twin boys. The first one was called Esau whom the Arabs called Al-Eis. He became the father of Rum. The second one was called Jacob, which means Isreal, (belonging to the people of Israel).
The People of the Book claimed that when Isaac (pbuh) grew old and his eye sight had weakened, he had a desire for food, so he asked his son Esau to go hunting and bring him some cooked game. Esau asked him to bless the food and pray for him. Esau, a hunter, went out to get his father the meat. Rebekah, overhearing this, ordered her son Jacob to slaughter two goats of his best flock and cook them as his father liked and bring it to him before his brother returned. She dressed Jacob in his brother's clothes and put goat skin on his arms and neck, for Esau was hairy while Jacob was not. When he approached his father with the food, his father asked: "Who are you?" Jacob answered: "I am your son." When his father finished eating, he prayed for his son to be the more blessed brother and to prevail over them and all people, and for Allah to sustain him and his children.
When he left his father, his brother Esau, who had carried out his father's command, entered. Isaac asked him: "What is this my son?" He answered: "This is the food you like." Isaac asked: "Did you bring it an hour ago and ask me to pray for you?" Esau said: "No, I swear I did not," and he knew his brother had preceded him in this matter and he was sick at heart.
The People of the Book said Esau threatened to kill his brother when their father was dead. They also said that he asked his father to pray for him that Allah make the earth good for his offsprin and multiply his sustenance and fruits.
When their mother knew that Esau threatened his brother Jacob, she commanded her son Jacob to go to her brother Laban in the land of Haran and abide with him for a time until his brother's anger had abated, and to marry one of the Laban's daughters. She told her husband Isaac to command him with that advice and pray for him, and he did.
Jacob (pbuh) left his family, when night came he found a place to rest. He took a stone and put it under his head and slept. He dreamed of a ladder from heaven to earth. Angels were ascending and descending and the Lord addressed him and said to him; "I will bless you and your offspring and make this land for you and for those who come after you."
When he awoke he felt joyful from what he had seen in his dream and vowed, for Allah's sake that if he returned to his family safely, he would build here a temple for Allah the All Mighty. He also vowed to give one tenth of his property for the sake of Allah. He poured oil on the stone so as to recognize it and called the place "Ayle's House" (Bethel), which means "House of Allah". It was to be the location of Jerusalem later.
The People of the Book also said that when Jacob came to his maternal uncle in the land of Haran, his uncle had two daughters. The elder one was called Leah (Lia) and the younger one was Rachel (Rahil). The latter was the better and lovelier of the two. His uncle agreed to marry his daughter to him on the condition that Jacob pasture his sheep for seven years.
After a period of time, his uncle prepared a feast and gathered people for the wedding. He married Leah, his elder daughter, to him at night. She was weak-sighted and ugly. When morning came, Jacob discovered she was Leah and he complained to his uncle. "You deceived me; I was engaged to Rachel and you married me to Leah." His uncle said: "It is not our tradition to marry the younger daughter before the elder daughter. However, if you love her sister, work another seven years and I will marry you to both of them."
Jacob worked for seven years and then married Rachel. It was acceptable in their time, as described in the Torah, for a man to marry two sisters. Laban gave a female slave to each daughter. Leah's slave was called Zilpah and Rachel's slave was called Bilha.
Almighty Allah compensated Leah's weakness by giving her sons. the first one was named Rueben (Robel), after whom there were Simon (Shamun), Levi (Lawi), and Judah (Yahudh). Rachel felt jealous of Leah's having sons, as she was barren. She gave her slave Bilha to her husband and he had relations with her until she became pregnant. She gave birth to a son and named him Naphtali. Leah was vexed that Rachel's slave had give birth to a son, so she in turn gave her slave Zilpah to Jacob (pbuh), Zilpah gave birth to two sons, Gad and Asher. Then Leah got pregnant and gave birth to her fifth son, Issaacher, and later she gave birth to a sixth son Zebulun. After this Leah gave birth to a daughter named Dinah. Thus, Leah had seven children from Jacob.
Then Rachel prayed to Allah to give her a son from Jacob. Allah heard her call and responded to her prayer. She gave birth to a son, great, honorable, and beautiful. She named him Joseph (Yusuf).
All of this happened when they were in the land of Haran and Jacob (pbuh) was pasturing his uncle's sheep, which he did for a period of twenty years.
Jacob then asked his uncle Laban to let him go and visit his family. His uncle said to him: "I have been blessed because of you; ask for whatever money you need." Jacob said: "Give me each spotted and speckled goat born this year and each black lamb."
But at Laban's command his sons removed their father's goat that were striped, spotted or speckled, and the black lambs, lest others should be born with those traits. They walked for three days with their father's goats and sheep while Jacob tended the remaining flock.
The People of the Book said that Jacob (pbuh) took fresh rods of poplar, almond, and plane. He peeled streaks in them and cast them into the water through for the goats to look at. The young inside their abdomens were terrified and moved and they were born striped, spotted or speckled. When the sheep were breeding, he set their faces towards the black sheep in Laban's flock and put the rods among them. Their lambs were born black. This was considered an example of supernatural powers, a miracle. Jacob had many goats, sheep, beast and slaves. His uncle and his sons faces changed as if they (the sheep and goats) had been stolen from them.
Allah the Almighty inspired Jacob to return to the country of his father and people, and He promised to stand by him. Jacob told his family that, and they responded and obeyed him. Jacob did not tell Laban of his plans, however, and left without bidding farewell.
Upon leaving, Rachel stole her father's idols. After Jacob and his people had fled for his country, Laban and his people followed them. When Laban met with Jacob, he blamed him for leaving him without his knowledge. He would have liked to know so that he could have made them leave with celebration and joy, with drums and songs, and so that he could have bidden his daughters and sons farewell. And why have they taken his idols with them?
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