GOD REAFFIRMS HIS COVENANT PROMISES TO ENCOURAGE PERSEVERANCE IN TIMES OF TRIAL SINCE HE IS WITH US TO BLESS AND PROTECT
Passage begins and ends with an account of tremendous trials and pressure faced by Isaac and Rebekah. Verse 1 speaks of a severe famine in the land and verses 34-35 close with the grief experienced on account of Esau taking wives from the tribe of the Hittites. These types of trials can easily erode faith in the promises of God and cause us to lose sight of the hope of His high calling.
W. H. Griffith Thomas: Although Isaac lived the longest of all the patriarchs [180 years – 5 years more than Abraham] less is recorded of him than of the others. This is the only chapter exclusively devoted to his life. His was a quiet, peaceful, normal life.
S. Lewis Johnson: His actions in this chapter closely parallel those of his father Abraham. For example, he has to contend with the famine in the land just as his father did, he has to take a trip down into the land of the Philistines just as his father did, he has to deal with the king of the Philistines whose name was Abimelech, that was a dynastic title and so he had to contend with Abimelech just as Abraham had to contend with Abimelech. And then of course he has the same experience of lying about his wife. Abraham lied about Sarah twice, and even though Isaac must have known about this for the traditions were handed down, still he lies about Rebekah.
Hughes: Structure: three parallel declarations of God’s presence at the beginning, middle, and end of the account.
– The first was future: “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you” (v. 3).
– The second was present: “Fear not, for I am with you” (v. 24).
– And the third was past, as the pagan king Abimelech observed, “We plainly see that the Lord has been with you” (v. 28).
How Isaac related to and appropriated the reality of God’s presence had everything to do with how he lived. And so it is with us.
Text centers around 3 Instances of God Reaffirming His Covenant Promises – in 3 different geographical areas – all emphasizing the Presence of God bringing blessing and protection to His chosen people
BLESSING AND PROTECTION FROM THE GOD WHO IS WITH US
(:1a) OPENING TRIAL – FAMINE IN THE LAND
“Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham.”
Very threatening to someone who was trying not just to personally survive, but sustain his wealth that consisted in feeding his vast livestock and extended household.
I. (:1b-17) FIRST INSTANCE OF GOD REAFFIRMING HIS COVENANT PROMISES IN TIMES OF TRIAL IN LAND OF GERAR BY PROSPERING ISAAC
A. (:1-6) Direction to Live in Gerar
1. (:1) At Risk in Gerar
“So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.”
Sounds like Isaac was on a journey that he ultimately intended would lead him to refuge in Egypt – certainly not following the will of God in response to this trial in his life.
Gerar about 10 miles south of Gaza
Parunak: Isaac’s choice of Gerar as a refuge reminds us of Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech in 21:22ff. (“Abimelech” is probably a throne name, like “Pharaoh,” and may not be the same individual with whom Abraham dealt.) — since this is some 80 years later
2. (:2) Charge to Obey the Lord’s Direction
“And the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.”
Gracious intervention on the part of the Lord; did not just let him wander astray
Hughes: Isaac was called to reside as an alien, devoid of legal status and totally dependent on the goodwill of the pagan community.
3. (:3-4) Reaffirming Abrahamic Covenant Promises and the Favorable Presence of God
“Sojourn in this land
and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands,
and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.
And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven,
and will give your descendants all these lands;
and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;”
Key section = at the heart of the chiastic structure because it is the main thrust of the passage
Parunak: “I will be with you” –
1. It often encourages God’s people in times of difficulty . . .
2. It is ultimately messianic. Messiah’s name is “Immanu-el,” God with us. This name was initially given when Judah was threatened by a powerful military coalition of Syria and Israel, Isa 7. The Lord’s departing promise was, “Lo, I am with you always,” Matt. 28:20.
Hughes: Recognizing God’s presence crushes the temptation to compromise. God’s presence puts our fears to flight. It instills confidence and steel. It protects us and our loves ones. It upholds the name of God.
4. (:5) Reminder of Abraham’s Obedience
“because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”
Leupold: In order to make prominent the thought that Abraham conscientiously did all that God asked, the various forms of divine commandments are enumerated; sometimes, of course, a divine word would fall under several of these catergories.
– They are a “charge” or “observance” if they are to be observed (mishmereth from shamar)
– They are “commandments” (mitswoth) when regarded from the angle of having been divinely commanded.
– They are “statutes” (chuqqoth) when thought of as immutable,
– And “laws” (toroth) insofar as they involve divine instruction or teaching.
MacArthur: God confirmed the Abrahamic Covenant with Isaac, stressing the same 3 elements as before: land, see, and blessing. He appended specific honorable mention of Abraham’s obedience in response to all of God’s words. . . Although Abraham was commended for his deeds, the Abrahamic Covenant was an unconditional covenant grounded in God’s sovereign will (cf. Lv 26:44,45).
5. (:6) At Peace in Gerar
“So Isaac lived in Gerar.”
Parunak: So God encourages Isaac to remain in the land with the assurance of his Presence and his Blessing. There will be trying times, but only under God’s personal supervision and care, and with his creative power always ready to intervene. Thus Isaac, like us, is assured that “all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to his purposes” (Rom 8).
B. (:7-11) Deception Regarding His Relationship to Rebekah
1. (:7) Deception of His Father Abraham Repeated
“When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister,’ for he was afraid to say, ‘my wife,’ thinking, ‘the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful.’”
Not surprising when children fall into the same patterns of sin as their parents
Leupold: Sin is not logical
But disappointing failure of faith on the part of Isaac right after the affirming protection and blessing promised by his Covenant-keeping God
2. (:8) Deception Exposed
“And it came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah.”
S. Lewis Johnson: Abimelech looked down through a window. You could see him peeking down through the lattice. And there he saw Isaac caressing his wife, Rebekah. Now, too old to know what he was doing, of course. The Authorized Version says he was “sporting with” his wife. Now, Isaac’s name means “laughter” by the way, and the word translated here “sporting” or translated “caressing” is from the same root. So, it is almost as if Isaac, whose name means “laughter” was taking playful merry liberties with Rebekah. And he was doing some things that when Abimelech looked down, he said, “Ah! She is not his sister!”
3. (:9-10) Deception Rebuked
“Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, ‘Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, ‘She is my sister ‘?’ And Isaac said to him, ‘Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’’ And Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.’”
4. (:11) Deception Overturned — Providential Protection
“So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, ‘He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.’”
C. (:12-17) Dismissal to the Valley of Gerar
1. (:12-14a) Prosperity by the Blessing of God
“Now Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household,”
2. (:14b-15) Problem Due to Envy Leading to Strife
“so that the Philistines envied him.”
“Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth.”
3. (:16-17) Providential Redirection
a. (:16) Dismissal
“Then Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.’”
Hughes: Abimelech’s command that Isaac go away may have been motivated not only by his fear of Isaac’s sudden power, but also by the realization that he could not protect him.
b. (:17) Departure
“And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.”
II. (:18-25) SECOND INSTANCE OF GOD REAFFIRMING HIS COVENANT PROMISES IN TIMES OF TRIAL IN VALLEY OF GERAR – POSSESSING WELLS AT REHOBOTH AND BEERSHEBA
A. (:18-22) Resettling — Digging Series of Wells
1. (:18) Redigging Abraham’s Wells
“Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them.”
Not easy to dig wells in that culture
Constable: His ability to dig wells indicates both his wealth and his intention to establish permanent residence in the land.
Deffinbaugh: Digging a well was considered tantamount to a claim of ownership of the land on which it was located. It enabled a man to dwell there and to sustain herds. Rather than recognize this claim, the Philistines sought to wipe it out by filling up the wells dug by Abraham. Their desire to overthrow all claim on their land was so intense that they would rather fill in a well, an asset of great value in such an arid land, than to allow this claim to remain unchallenged.
2. (:19-20) Digging Well of Esek
“But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, ‘The water is ours!’ So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him.
3. (:21) Digging Well of Sitnah
“Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah.”
4. (:22) Digging Well of Rehoboth
“And he moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, ‘At last the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.’”
Hughes: The astonishing thing here is that Isaac kept finding water in time of famine! Clearly, God was with him and was blessing him. And now Isaac had Rehoboth – room to expand and rest and worship.
Parunak: —Finally, he is able to dig a well without opposition. He recognizes this freedom as a blessing from the Lord, and an assurance of future provision:
• “For now the LORD hath made room for us.” This is the first instance in Scripture of a common idiom for the Lord’s blessing, the notion of being unconstrained and in a large place. Though he has labored hard for this well, his focus is on the divine blessing that it represents, both past and future.
• “We shall be fruitful in the land.” Ever since Genesis 1, “fruitfulness” has been the heart of God’s blessing: to Adam and Eve (1:28), Noah (9:1), Abraham (17:6), Ishmael (17:20). From this it appears that Jacob and Esau are not yet born; he is still waiting in faith for the promised seed.
Application: Isaac’s behavior during this period shows three commendable qualities.
1. He perseveres in the face of discouragement. Having set his hand to the plow, he does not turn back (Luke 9:62)
2. He does not strive, but repeatedly turns the other cheek, manifesting the attitude commended by the Lord in Matt 5:38-42. Far from being reserved for the Millennium (Scofield), these high standards characterize God’s people in every age when they trust in him.
3. He claims no credit for his ultimate success, but recognizes that it is due to God’s grace.
Scott Grant: Literally, they find “living water,” [water coming from a spring] which hints that these were spiritual people who were looking for more than water for the body. The Lord calls himself “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13). Also, once again, Isaac encounters opposition because of his success. The herdsmen of Gerar claim ownership of the water and quarrel with Isaac’s herdsmen. Isaac’s people dig another well, and a quarrel ensues once again. It isn’t until he moves away from the herdsmen and digs a third well that he encounters no opposition. He gives the first two wells names that commemorate the conflicts.
B. (:23-24) Reaffirmation — Reaffirming Abrahamic Covenant Promises and the Favorable Presence of God
“Then he went up from there to Beersheba. And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham.’”
Deffinbaugh: I have come to understand verses 23-25 as the key to the interpretation of chapter 26. Here a very strange thing happens. Up to this time Isaac’s decision as to where he should stay was based upon the finding of abundant water and the absence of hostilities. But now, having dug a well that was uncontested, we would have expected Isaac to dwell there. Instead we are told that he moved on to Beersheba, with no reason stated for this move: “Then he went up from there to Beersheba” (verse 23).
I believe that a significant change has occurred in Isaac’s thinking. Circumstances had previously shaped most of his decisions, but now something deeper and more noble seems to be giving direction in his life. Beersheba was the first place that Abraham had gone with Isaac after they came down from the “sacrifice” on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:19). Isaac knew that God had promised to give him the land promised to his father Abraham (26:3-5). I believe he had finally come to see that through all the opposition over the wells he had dug, God had been guiding him back to the land of promise, back to those places where Abraham had walked in fellowship with God. Personally, I believe that Isaac went up to Beersheba because he sensed on a spiritual level that this was where God wanted him to be. If God had previously been “driving” Isaac through opposition, now Isaac was willing to be led.
The decision was shown to be the right one, for God immediately spoke words of reassurance.
C. (:25) Response: 4 Key Ingredients of Spiritual Vitality
1. Praise / Worship / Consecration
“So he built an altar there,”
(12:7, 8; 13:4, 18; 22:9; cf. 21:33)
2. Proclamation / Prayer / Dependence
“and called upon the name of the LORD,”
3. Pilgrim Mentality / Dwelling in Peace and Rest
“and pitched his tent there;”
4. Prosperity / Spiritual Life and Vitality
“and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.”
III. (:26-33) THIRD INSTANCE OF GOD REAFFIRMING HIS COVENANT PROMISES IN TIMES OF TRIAL VIA TESTIMONY OF ABIMELECH LEADING TO MUTUAL PEACE PACT AND PROSPERITY IN BEERSHEBA
A. (:26-31) Peace Pact with Abimelech
1. (:26-27) Initiation of the Peace Pact
a. (:26) Impressive Initiation
“Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath, and Phicol the commander of his army.”
Quite the powerful entourage approaching Isaac
b. (:27) Surprising Initiation
“And Isaac said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and have sent me away from you?’”
2. (:28-29) Invitation to the Peace Pact
a. (:28a) Supernatural Insight Regarding the Favorable Presence of God
“And they said, ‘We see plainly that the LORD has been with you;’”
b. (:28b-29a) Substance of the Peace Pact
“so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good, and have sent you away in peace.’”
c. (:29b) Summary Testimony Regarding God’s Blessing on Isaac
“You are now the blessed of the LORD.”
Parunak: This declaration of God’s blessing by a king outside the official line of promise is parallel to Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham in ch. 14, and continues to emphasize the parallel between Abraham and his son.
3. (:30-31) Institution of the Peace Pact
a. (:30) Celebration of the Peace Pact
“Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.”
b. (:31) Cementing the Peace Pact
“And in the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths;
then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace.”
B. (:32-33) Prosperity at Beersheba
1. (:32) Blessing of God
“Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac’s servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, ‘We have found water.’”
2. (:33) Binding Oath
“So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.”
“well of the oath”
(:34-35) CLOSING TRIAL – FAMILY HEARTACHE
“And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”
S. Lewis Johnson: Esau neither desired the blessing of God nor did he dread the curse of God. It illustrates again the sovereignty of the grace of God. There was a family in Lyons in France that had two children, two men, two boys. One of them was named John. From his earliest days, he was studious, thoughtful, reverent. And later at the age of 27, he wrote the first edition of a book that became one of the world’s greatest books and certainly one of the greatest in the Western world, affecting our Western civilization probably more than any other one volume. It was entitled ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’. When he died in Geneva in 1564, he bequeathed to the Western world some of the great principles by which we live today. He had another brother. His name was Charles. Charles was different from John. He pursued a course of profligacy and dissipation, lived a life as worthless and infamous as his brother’s life was noble and glorious. How do you explain the difference between the two men? A Presbyterian minister said, “You explain the difference in choice.” But how do you explain the choice? How do you explain the choice by which John Calvin became the man that he did, and Charles Calvin became the man that he became? You explain the choice of the sovereign mercy of God. That is the way John explained it. That is the way Paul explains it. That is the way Malachi explains it. That is the way Moses explained it. “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” It is the sovereignty of the grace of God. But it is justified and men are responsible and Esau is responsible and evidences his own failure by the kind of life that he lived.