In the first part we began a trilogy – a case study of a well-known business dynasty – the Abrahams. We’re looking at three generations of entrepreneurs. What is fascinating about them is God’s brand association with them. It was unprecedented. Yet God would publicly introduce himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Since I’m teaching three parts, I have assigned each part to each of these entrepreneurs. And so in the first part we studied Abraham. In this part we shall be studying Isaac, and in the third part we’ll take a look at Jacob. You’ll have to read the three parts to have a complete bouquet. The whole idea is to look at the question of ethics comprehensively, not just the usual very narrow approach.
Now, I’m going to contemporize our study. I’m told this is one of the gifts of my ministry – the ability to make scriptures real, relatable. I do hope after this service you’ll be inspired to study the scriptures more.
Of all the members of this entrepreneurial lineage, the least reported in the Bible is Isaac. His narration is closely woven into the fabric of his precedent, Abraham, as well as the historical material of his antecedent, Jacob. The unencumbered stretch of reportage on his life was the period he tried to build his own personal fortune, but that was after the death of his father. You can’t really get a good picture of Isaac without looking into his relationship with either Abraham or Jacob.
Isaac was not your average Joe. He was born into stupendous wealth. His father was described by an associate as a “great man.” Businessmen deferred to Abraham as the grandmaster. He was so rich he once spent a fortune buying a field, just to bury his wife. The man who sold him the parcel of land was a millionaire named Ephron. In fairness he offered the land for free. All Abraham needed was the cave on it. But Abraham would have none of it. He insisted on paying. Ephron sold the land at market value of course – 400 shekels of silver. That’s $42,000 in today’s money by some estimates. “What’s four hundred silver shekels between us?” he proclaimed. In other words, it’s chicken change. But he collected his money at market exchange rate. Isaac was born rich. He inherited a lot of money.
And talking about his birth, Isaac was born under incredible circumstances. He was literally the child of Abraham’s old age. His father had him at the age of one hundred years. And so he was extremely loved and pampered. He was mummy’s boy as well. Mum actually had him at 90. She got pregnant at 90. That was news headline, and Isaac probably never got over it. Imagine him walking on the street and the neighbours saying, Oh, that’s that miracle boy! On top of that his parents named him laughter. Who names their son laughter?! But according to mum, everyone would laugh when they hear that great grandma had given birth at 90, hence the name laughter. This was in a period people married at 14, 15. At the time she married, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife was described as “very beautiful AND old enough to be married.” (Gen. 24:16) In other words, she had barely attained puberty. So you can imagine what giving birth at 90 must have been like. You’re competing with 16, 17 year olds.
And talking about Rebekah, Isaac was so pampered by his dad he didn’t even choose a wife for himself. His dad’s trusted servant, a man named Eliezer of Damascus was dispatched for that purpose. Indeed it was his father who determined when he married. This was a sheltered kid. And mummy defended him from bullies as a kid, especially against his older half brother, Ishmael. Mummy was the one who fixed the Ishmael problem, though it must be said she created it in the first place. Hardly was Isaac weaned than Ishmael descended on his self-esteem, began to make mockery of the guy. There are things a child says to another child that can only come from the parents. Try and imagine what Hagar must have been telling Ishmael!
There will be those in life who will make mockery of the circumstances of your birth, your background – even after God has done a miracle in your life, made you a miracle. These people always have a sense of entitlement because they got there first, like Ishmael. Jesus suffered mockery from the circumstances of his birth too. The Jews made fun of him: “We be not born of fornication,” they said. (John 8:41). The Message translation puts it succinctly: “We are not bastards. We have a legitimate father: the one and only God.” What they were implying is that Joseph never copulated with Mary, that Mary was impregnated by another man before marriage. Who’s your father, they were asking. And Jesus probably didn’t look like the other children. Remember he had four brothers and also sisters. (Mat. 13:55-56). It’s why they called him a bastard. One would have thought they’d magnify God for the miracle of his birth, treat him special as a result. But that very miracle became the very basis of denigration, insinuations and abuse. And that leads us unto something.
I want you to note there were two laughters in the circumstances of Isaac. There was a first laughter, and a second or last laughter. When God told Sarah she would give birth to a son, she laughed. That was the first laughter. According to scriptures, she couldn’t even imagine herself and Abraham having sex. She said, “After I have become aged shall I have pleasure and delight, my husband being old also.” There was no Viagra in those days, and so the whole thing seemed like a wicked joke. And yet the same woman testified after the birth of Isaac, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this would laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age.” This is the second laughter.
Now, I want you to imagine this in a modern context. It would have made headline of course – “Woman Gives Birth at 90!” “Socialite Great Grandma Gives Birth To Bouncing Baby Boy.” “Wealthy Patron Impregnates Aged Wife!” So-called “investigative journalists” will of course be seeking to disprove the story. There’ll be rumours of surrogate motherhood, insinuations of Abraham’s affair with YET ANOTHER of Sarah’s domestic servants. The last one was sent packing by a jealous Sarah unceremoniously. There’ll be talk of Abraham’s use of corrupt influence to procure sperm and egg from a fertility clinic, whispers of advanced hormone therapy treatments, with unconfirmed reports of a wing at Sinai Medical Centre being named after Abraham. There’ll be talks of him using his considerable wealth and power to shunt to the top of the list of those waiting to adopt children from Egypt. (The old man has a thing for Egyptian babes they’d say). News media will be trying to get inside scoop. They’ll seek to interview Sarah’s maids, and the neighbours, all to build a story. Imagine what they’ll be saying at Ikoyi Club about the Abrahams. Of course some were laughing behind Sarah’s back. When her stomach began to swell there would have been talks of massive tumour in her tummy. Who gets pregnant at 90! There would be gist about doctors saying the tumour was inoperable and the impending death of Sarah. At which Lagos Bigs Girls would start making eyes at Abraham, who at hundred would begin to wonder why he has suddenly become newly attractive.
But here was a situation which would ordinarily have made the Abrahams a laughing stock, but which has now become a source of another type of laughter, the second laughter, the laughter of joy. The facts of biology have always instigated the first type of laughter – mockery. If you were born to poor parentage for example people will make fun of your hopes and dreams. To men, your biological history indicates impossibility. Who is your father? The facts of life are stacked against you by virtue of your lineage. But God specializes in messing up the predictions of biology. God specializes in turning first laughter into second laughter. May God change your circumstances and exalt you.
Now, here are some interesting facts and figures. The story of Abraham effectively started in Genesis 12. The story of Isaac started in Gen. 21. There was a switch in numbers. The switch in numbers is indicative of the switch of their circumstances. Abraham was a self-made man, but Isaac was born into privilege, the exact opposite of Abraham. Abraham was called at the age of 75, gaining independence from his father when his father died. Isaac also gained independence from the shadow of his father at 75. That was when Abraham died. And just like Abraham moved from his family, Isaac also moved, to Beer-lahai-roi. There were thus similarities in their lives but their lives were not all fours. Abraham for example lived till 175 years, but Isaac lived till 180 – five years longer than his dad, the extra five years representing the grace of God. Five is the number of grace. Everything he achieved was dependent on grace, not strength.
All Isaac ever wanted was to be like his dad. His father’s life became his script. During the recession his natural instinct was to go down to Egypt, just like his father had done. When the Philistines inquired about his incredibly beautiful wife, he denied she was his wife, just like his father. He said she was his sister. Sarah was indeed his Abraham’s sister, but Rebekah wasn’t Isaac’s sister. She was his cousin. What he couldn’t discriminate was that his father was an extreme pragmatist. He was willing for Pharaoh, and later Abimelech to take his wife for self-preservation and prosperity. God had to step in. The ethical challenge of Isaac was his unwillingness to exercise his own judgment, to question things and interrogate his father’s ethical standard. And he soon ran into contradictions. I mean, why would you be caressing your sister?
The grace of God was so strong on Isaac’s life that there is no record of Isaac fighting for anything in life. Life just handed everything to him – pedigree, wealth, connections, good looks, beautiful wife, goodwill, businesses, high level contacts, covenant… Everything was handed to him, and his business dealings reflected that fact. What he seemed to lack he seemed to admire in his first born, Esau. Esau was like Ishmael – the wild survivor type. Isaac was urbane, a complete gentleman. He was the, “we don’t need to fight over this” type of fellow – an “If you want it you can have it” type. And so he admired a son who could go into the wilderness and hunt for animals – the DIY type – rough and gruff. Isaac enjoyed eating the wildlife Esau hunted. (Genesis 25:28). This enjoyment of the output of skills he didn’t have would affect his judgment on critical issues, so much so he was willing to compromise certain details of God’s program for his lineage. For example, even though God had clearly stated Jacob was the preferred, Isaac sought to overturn God’s word by putting Esau above Jacob. The moral is simple: if you don’t reconcile yourself to the circumstance of your background, or the circumstances of your grace, learn to accept it matter-of-factly – you will find yourself admiring nonsense and seeking to alter God’s program for your children. You may for example find yourself admiring bad boys and bad girls. And that can lead you everywhere, make you cross ethical lines, do things you shouldn’t do, things not native to you. It’s a reverse inferiority complex.
The challenge for children of grace many times is, they’re trying to be like everybody else. They start wishing to be “normal”. For some, businesses get dropped into their laps and they begin to wish they could hustle and bustle like everyone else. They want to FEEL like entrepreneurs. Such wishes are not wise. God knows they lack certain capacities, that you can’t handle the cycle of pitches and rejection. And so he creates bargaining advantage for you by making you needed and wanted, making consumers prefer your products. It can’t make sense to you because it doesn’t make sense. But that’s what’s called favour. Learn HOW God deals with you, not just his program for your life. Find comfort in it. When you accept grace for what it is, you won’t be seeking to prove a point with self-effort. You won’t have reverse inferiority complex.
One thing Isaac had going for him however, was his contemplative nature. In Genesis 24:65 we find him contemplating in the fields. He loved to ponder. He spent time thinking, trying to make sense of life, seeking to reconcile things in his heart. Let me show you a secret: If you want to come up with insane product ideas learn to meditate. Phil 4:8 is surprisingly a product development schedule. This is what Paul wrote: “I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and mediating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious, the best, not the worst; the beautiful not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” How do we know this is a product innovation formula? Because Apple products eerily satisfy all the parameters and attributes. Think of the iPhone, think of the iPad, think of the MacBook. This sermon was written on a MacBook. Apple products are impressive, reputable, tasteful, authentic, compelling, gracious, the best not the worst, the beautiful not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. They satisfy Philippians 4:8. Paul would probably use Apple products! If you want to be innovative, to come up with fantastic products and ideas just meditate on Philippians 4:8. If you’re smart you’ll use Philippians 4:8 as checklist for your product development. Is it impressive? Can it be trusted? Is the design tasteful? Is the product authentic and original? Is it beautiful and compelling? Is it the best? Will the market praise it? Or will they curse it? Philippians 4:8 is a business innovation tool. It’s a creative checklist.
One business challenge the Isaacs of this world face however is the problem of envy – how to cope with envy. Once God blesses you, or the grace of God is apparent on you, you’re going to have to deal with envy. Pray for strength. Isaac dealt with vicious envy. In Gerar the people began to attack his inheritance, filling up the wells his father had dug. They went after the jugular of his business – water supply. Isaac’s produce and commodity business had multiplied in Gerar. He became stupendously rich. Whereupon they declared him a national security threat and deported him. Never underestimate the envious. The extent the envious will go to destroy you, you cannot imagine. And envy is irrational. It can be so focused on immediate goals it never thinks of tomorrow.
In the HR department of envy are people we can call the blockers – those who block wellsprings. They’re jugularists. They went after Isaac’s business jugular – water flow. For you it may be your cashflow. They are usually more concerned with stopping the success of others than becoming successful themselves. They’re wicked people. Then there are the appropriators. These are simply thieves. They brazenly appropriate the efforts of others, just as the Philistines appropriated the new wells dug by Isaac. They took over his endeavor. When you send a proposal to a corporation and someone edits your name out and steals your idea that person is an appropriator – a stealer of ideas. If your colleague takes your presentation and goes to present it to management as her own she’s an appropriator – a thief. And so the Philistines quarreled with Isaac and contended his wells. He named the first well of contention Esek. Esek means Quarrel. He named the second well of enmity Sitnah. Sitnah means Accusation. To appropriate his work they brought a railing accusation against him. That is usually the pattern. But he never gave up. He kept on digging. And he soon dug a third well. There was no contention over that well and so he named it Rehoboth. Rehoboth means Wide-Open Spaces – room for expansion. May you arrive at Rehoboth. But you must be persistent, and never give up. And may you have opportunity to thrive, to display your talent, to expand – increase in staff strength, increase in productivity, increase in customer base, increase in turnover, increase in profitability. Isaac came into his own in business over a period of trial. There is always a period of severe trial in business. There is no such thing as trial-less success. It was only after proving himself with Rehoboth that he could diversify to Beersheba. Don’t diversify geographically without consolidation at home base. It will be costly. Beersheba means well of oath. Beersheba is God confirming his promises to you. It was at Beersheba that Abimelech came to make peace with Isaac. When a man’s ways please the Lord he MAKES his enemies to be at peace with him. They will not come to you because they WANT to be at peace with you. They will come to you because God MAKES them come to you. It is a show of force. May God be so strong for you that your enemies have no option but to make peace with you. The very day Abimelech departed, the servants of Isaac announced they had dug another well and found water. May you find new sources of cashflow as diarisation of the ceremonious departure of your enemies. Isaac means “he who laughs.” May you have the last laugh over your enemies.
Isaac is proof to us that it is never too late for God to exalt anyone, to create new history. May God create new history for you. May you be able to create something new, something exciting – something that will bring you joy and laughter even when it seems too late. May the years that the locusts and the caterpillars have eaten be redeemed.
I want you to notice something crucial in this narrative. When Sarah was expressing her joy at the birth of her son, she referred to herself and Abraham in the third person: “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby?” (Genesis 21:6) She alienated herself, spoke as if she were reporting an event. But then she suddenly switched to the first person singular: “Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!” she said. Her statement can thus be divided into two halves. The first half, the part in which she spoke in the third person deals with impossibilities. The second part, the part in which she spoke in the first person deals with human effort. It’s why she said, “I have given Abraham a son.” There are two parts to difficult scenarios in life and business. There is the impossibility of the situation itself. That is God’s work. God deals in impossibilities. Then there is the schedule of possibilities. That is OUR work. Humans deal in possibilities. It’s important we maintain that division of labour. God has his work schedule, we have our work schedule. Stop interfering in God’s work. Stop self-help. Stop producing Ishmaels in your life. You’re only complicating your future. There are high-energy scenarios in life. Only God can deal with those. The reason God goes before you to open the two-leaved gate is because it’s a power scenario. It is not a concierge service. He subdues nations before you, ungirds the loins of kings to open doors before you, because they’re high-energy scenarios. Unless you’ve found a formula for the leveling of mountains, the breaking in pieces of doors of bronze and cutting asunder the bars of iron, I’d advise you allow God do his job. Stop interfering with your human wisdom. Resorting to self-help always generates ethical problems. Learn to trust God.
There is a difference between first born and first son. Ishmael was the firstborn, Isaac was first son. Just like Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the child of faith is always persecuted by the child of self-help. The product of self-help will always persecute the product of faith. But the mockery of Ishmael cannot undo the inheritance of Isaac. Ishmael was born before Isaac, but the inheritance belonged to Isaac. That they got to the market before you cannot invalidate your ultimate rise to the top. Entrenched competition cannot invalidate the promises of God. You shall be the head and not the tail, you shall be above and not below. Stop worrying about older competitors. Stop worrying about entrenched competitors. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. (Ecclesiastes 9:11). May you understand the dimensions of grace and the need to trust your God. I do wish you the mercy of God in your business endeavour.
Thank you and God bless!
Delivered at Enterprise Development Week of The Elevation Church, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos