Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
1Now there was a famine in the land--besides the earlier famine of Abraham's time--and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws."
6So Isaac stayed in Gerar.
7When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," because he was afraid to say, "She is my wife." He thought, "The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful."
8When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, "She is really your wife! Why did you say, `She is my sister'"
Isaac answered him, "Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her."
10Then Abimelech said, "What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us."
11So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: "Anyone who molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."
Of the four great Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), we know least about Isaac. In fact, this chapter is the only one devoted strictly to Isaac and his life. Even though Isaac lived the longest of the patriarchs, less is known of his life than the others. Perhaps the reason for the lack of information about Isaac is that he was a quiet man who bore affliction patiently. He quietly allowed his father Abraham to tie him to the altar (Gen. 22:9); he patiently endured Rebekah's barrenness for twenty years (Gen. 25:21); and here in chapter 26, when persecuted by the Philistines, Isaac quietly moves on, without putting up a fight. And so since Isaac was a quiet, patient man of peace, his life does not (I guess) make for as good reading as the other patriarchs! Likewise today, there are many men and women of God who live their lives quietly in obedience to their Lord. They don't make the headlines, but choose to live humbly. They don't fight for their causes, but choose rather to win people over with love. They don't trumpet their service, but silently, faithfully do what God leads them to do with no fanfare. Their lives are not chronicled in the books of men, but rather make up an oh so important chapter in God's book.
In Genesis 26, Isaac faced trials similar to some that his father Abraham faced and, as we will see, he responded to them similarly. "Now there was a famine in the land--besides the earlier famine of Abraham's time--and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar" (vs. 1). Recall that Abraham faced a famine (see Gen. 12:10), and fled to Egypt. Here, it seems that Isaac also was fleeing to Egypt (Gerar was a settlement just before the Sinai Peninsula on the way to Egypt), but God stopped him: "The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, `Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live'" (vs. 2). Of the four patriarchs, Isaac is the only one who lived his entire life in the promised land. Abraham was born in Chaldee and was called by God to the promised land late in his life. Later, he sojourned in Egypt during the famine. Jacob went to Haran to get a wife from among Abraham's relatives. Joseph was sold as a slave and taken to Egypt. Only Isaac remained in the promised land. It seems that, for some reason, God especially wanted Isaac to remain in the promised land. Here, God makes a special appearance to Isaac commanding him not to go to Egypt. Earlier, recall that Abraham, when commissioning his servant to get a wife for Isaac, was adamant in keeping Isaac in the promised land: "`Make sure that you do not take my son back there,' Abraham said" (Gen. 24:6). Some have suggested that Isaac's life is typical of the life God wants us to live, our heavenly calling in Christ: to be a man of peace, patient in affliction, never leaving the promised land.
God gave Isaac a promise, conditional upon him staying out of Egypt: "Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you" (vs. 3). Then, God reconfirmed His covenant with Abraham and his offspring: "For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws" (vss. 4-5). God does not forget His promises from generation to generation. He is faithful in His promises throughout eternity. The land of Israel belongs to the offspring of Abraham, and even now we see the Jews thriving in Israel.
"So Isaac stayed in Gerar" (vs. 6). This was the beginning of Isaac's problems. God (in verse 3) told Isaac to "stay in this land for a while". In these verses, two different words are used for "stay". The difference can be seen more clearly in the King James Version. God told Isaac: "Sojourn in this land" (vs. 3), where "sojourn" suggests temporary habitation; but, "Isaac dwelt in Gerar" (vs. 6), where "dwelt" suggests permanent habitation. Later, in verse 8, we are told that "Isaac had been there a long time". So, Isaac was not in complete obedience to God, by staying in Gerar so long.
This disobedience lead to problems for Isaac. Isaac's living on the edge, between Egypt and the promised land, resulted in Isaac's compromising his morals. He, like his father Abraham, knew of the depravity of the Philistine culture. And being (in his disobedience) out of close fellowship with God at the time, Isaac chose to trust in his own means to keep himself and Rebekah safe: "When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, `She is my sister,' because he was afraid to say, `She is my wife.' He thought, `The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful'" (vs. 7). This is exactly what Abraham did twice: once while visiting Egypt (Gen. 12:10ff), once while visiting the Philistines (Gen. 20). Both times, Abraham was embarrassed because of his lying, and rebuked by the pagan leaders because of the misunderstandings that the lying caused. Isaac most certainly must have known of Abraham's lies to the Egyptians and the Philistines, and the results of the lies, but instead of learning from Abraham's mistakes, Isaac copied his father's sin. We fathers must be careful. Sadly, it is much easier for our children to imitate our faults than our good points.
Fortunately for Isaac, Rebekah was not taken into the Philistine leader Abimelech's[Footnote #1] harem (as Sarah was). Before this could happen, Abimelech discovered that Rebekah was Isaac's wife, when Abimelech "looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah" (vs. 8). This discovery led to Abimelech's rebuking of Isaac: "She is really your wife! Why did you say, `She is my sister'?. . .What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us" (vs. 9-10). It is shameful for a man of God to be justly rebuked by a heathen. Certainly (as Calvin pointed out), "when we neglect to obey the voice of God, we deserve to be sent to oxen and asses for instruction."[Footnote #2]
12Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. 13The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. 15So all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.
16Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us."
17So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
19Isaac's servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20But the herdsmen of Gerar quarrelled with Isaac's herdsmen and said, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. 21Then they dug another well, but they quarrelled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. 22He moved on from there and dug another well, and no-one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land."
The Lord, back in verse 2, said that He would bless Isaac, and so He did: "Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy" (vs. 12). God blessed Isaac despite Isaac's disobedience. God is faithful to His promises, even when we are not faithful. God's blessings, therefore, are not necessarily a sign of God's complete approval. God's people "are often permitted to receive publicly a measure, and a great measure, of the Divine blessing even when they may not be in private fully faithful to the Divine will. God may at times honor His people in the sight of men while dealing with them in secret on account of their sins."[Footnote #3]
Isaac's blessings were not unmixed. "He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth" (vs. 14-15). The filling of the wells was very grave for Isaac. Water was much needed by Isaac during the time of famine, especially given the number of servants, workers, and livestock in Isaac's camp. Ironically, it was Isaac's prosperity that led to the affliction. Don't expect to have unmixed blessings in this world. Financial prosperity will not solve all of your problems. On the contrary, such prosperity brings with it its own set of problems. Because of this, Christ advises: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt. 6:19-20). The blessings of heaven are true and unmixed. Strive for these.
The trials of Isaac were driving him away from Gerar: "Then Abimelech said to Isaac, `Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.' So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there" (vs. 16-17). Isaac moved to an area in which Abraham previously resided. The Philistines had stopped up the wells there also, so "Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham" (vs. 18). Once again, one can see here Isaac as a type of Christ, as he reopens the stopped-up wells of living water of his father.
After Isaac reopened these wells, there were yet more conflicts with the Philistines (vss. 19-22). Throughout these quarrels, Isaac's disposition towards peace is demonstrated. He avoids conflict, and chooses to move instead. He is a living example of Peter's advice concerning affliction: "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God" (I Pet. 2:19-20).
23From there he went up to Beersheba. 24That night the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham."
25Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.
26Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27Isaac asked them, "Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?"
28They answered, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, `There ought to be a sworn agreement between us'-- between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD."
30Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace.
32That day Isaac's servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, "We've found water!" 33He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.
Some think (myself included) that God had a hand in sending the affliction of Isaac concerning the wells, in order to drive him back to Beersheba, away from the edge of the promised land. Whatever the case, the affliction had this effect: "From there [Isaac] went up to Beersheba" (vs. 23). That God wanted Isaac back in Beersheba is confirmed by the fact that God appeared to Isaac upon his return: "That night the LORD appeared to him and said, `I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham'" (vs. 24). Isaac, no doubt weary from his experiences, must have welcomed the visitation of God. Greater than all peace, prosperity, happiness, health--I say, greater than all these blessings of God is the awareness of the presence of God.
God had words of comfort for Isaac: "Do not be afraid, for I am with you" (vs. 24). Quite probably, the most prevalent command of God to His people in the Bible is: "Do not be afraid." Because of our lack of faith, we need always be reminded not to be afraid. Our fear is due to our lack of confidence in God's desire and/or ability to take care of us. God gave Isaac a reason not to fear. He said: "For I am with you". Peace, fearlessness, come only from our awareness of the presence of God.
Isaac responded well to God's appearance: "Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well" (vs. 25). Isaac's response provides a model of right priorities. "First comes the altar with its thought of consecration, then prayer with its consciousness of need, then the tent with its witness to home, and then comes the well with its testimony to daily life and needs."[Footnote #4]
Further confirmation that the hostility that Isaac faced in Gerar was God's way of getting Isaac back to Beersheba is the peace with the Philistines that occurred after Isaac returned to Beersheba: "Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. Isaac asked them, `Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?' They answered, `We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, "There ought to be a sworn agreement between us"-- between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD.'" (vss. 26-29). It's as if God changed the heart of the Philistines to favor Isaac rather than fight with him. They all of a sudden "saw clearly" that the LORD was with Isaac. Oh, that the people that we come in contact with would say the same thing of us!
To his great credit, rather than dwelling on past wrongs, Isaac made peace with the Philistines. In this, Isaac was a further witness for the God of peace. The peace that Isaac made was no mere lip-service by Isaac, for he confirmed his sincerity by making "a feast for them" (vs. 30).
To conclude the matter, as if to lay a stamp of approval on the outcome, God blessed Isaac with water: "That day Isaac's servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, `We've found water!'" (vs. 32). What a complaining bunch we are! We grumble before God when we do not have the cushy things in life. Isaac was satisfied when he had water.
Oh, Father, may we appreciate better all that You have given us. May we appreciate the great love You have shown us, the peace that You have sheltered us with, the hope that we have for eternity. Help us by Your Spirit to tread lightly in this world, and look forward to the great inheritance that You have stored up for us in heaven. Be glorified in our lives. May those who come in contact with us see clearly that the Lord is with us. In the name of Jesus, we pray these things, Amen.
1. This Abimelech was most certainly a different Abimelech than Abraham met in Gen. 20. Abimelech was quite possibly a standard name for the leader of the Philistines (just as "Pharaoh" was a standard name for the leader of the Egyptians).
2. John Calvin, A Commentary on Genesis, Vol. II; pg. 63.
3. W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, pg. 240.
4. Thomas, op. cit., pg. 242.