Isaac: Faith Rest and Grace Orientation Test; Genesis 26
Genesis 26:1, "And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar." In a very abbreviated statement we are old what the problem is and Isaac heads to Gerar which is part of the land but at this time is occupied by the Philistines. These are the same Philistines that we see later on in the book of Judges and during the time of David, but they really haven't established their full base of operations. This isn't the land of the Philistines yet, there are just a few settlements that have been started here. The Philistines came from the Isle of Crete and so this is the initial wave that occurred during the time of the Patriarchs. Abimelech is not the name of the leader of the Philistines, it is a title, like Pharaoh or Caesar. Abimelech literally means "my father is king." And his would probably not be the same person that Abraham dealt with because of the time difference.
Genesis 26:2, "And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; live in the land which I shall tell you of." Here we see that God appears in a theophany, so this is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ who appears to him, because according to John 1:18 no one has seen the father at any time. The only-begotten is the one who reveals Him. Eight statements are directed to Isaac. First, He says not to go down to Egypt. Then, "live in the land of which I shall tell you of." So the command is to stay in the land. Then He is going to expound upon that and define it for him.
Genesis 26:3, "Sojourn [dwell] in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for unto you, and unto your seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father." "Dwell" is a command and a key word that is used throughout the patriarchal stories. It has the idea of taking up residence and staying in the land. "I will be with you" is the aspect of divine blessing, that God is going to be with him, will protect him and watch over him, and the fifth statement He makes is "I will bless you." This goes back to the promise of the Abrahamic covenant which is about to be reconfirmed with Isaac. Sixth is the assurance that He would establish the covenant that He made with Abraham. So the Lord is clearly stating that He is reestablishing with Isaac and his descendants the covenant He made with Abraham.
The seventh thing that He does is remind Isaac what the stipulations of the covenant are that He made with Abraham. Genesis 26:4, "And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed."
The eighth thing that He does is tell him that this is related to Abraham: Genesis 26:5, "Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." He says five things. These are roughly synonyms, but by stating it this way He leaves no room for escape. He surrounds Isaac with the reality of Abraham's total devotion and obedience to God. The word for "obey" is the Hebrew word shamar, meaning to keep, to guard, to observe, or to exercise great care over something. The word for keeping or obeying is related to the word "charge." "Commandments" basically means mandates; "statutes" are the specific stipulations contained within God's mandates. We can speak of the mandates of Scripture: the prohibitions and the positive commands as the law of God in a generic sense. These are specific mandates that relate to His righteousness. The last word is the word "law." This isn't the Mosaic law, that hasn't been given yet, but it relates to any command of God. The word torah has the basic meaning of instruction, and has the idea of being on target. Torah has to with God's instruction on how to hit the bull's eye. When you sin you aren't anywhere near the target. There's no in between when it comes to the Scripture.
As a result of that grace covenant that God made with Abraham, He is now going to continue to make that with Isaac as his seed. So this is a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic covenant, and the result is given in verse 6. Genesis 26:6, "And Isaac dwelt in Gerar." But he has a problem. Now he has a test which is related to the environment and the people around him. He is fearful.
Genesis 26:7, "And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon." The question was for identification purposes but he apparently has the same paranoid streak that his father had and is afraid to say that she is his wife. Instead of relaxing and trusting in God and the provision God has just made he lies about his wife. Remember, this was Isaac who was taken up on Mount Moriah as a sacrifice by his father, so he is not a stranger to God's working. He has heard all the stories handed down by his parents and yet he still falls back on his own self-reliance instead of God-dependence.
Genesis 26:8, "And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife." It was typical that the king's house was higher than any other building in the town, so Abimelech could lokk down on everything from the vantage point of his roof, and he saw that Isaac was showing endearment to Rebekah his wife. It was obvious that the relationship was more than the relationship of a brother and a sister.
Genesis 26:9, "And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is your wife: and how said you, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her." Abimelech demonstrates that even as an unbeliever he seems to have a higher moral sensitivity than either Abraham or Isaac.
Genesis 26:10, "And Abimelech said, What is this you have done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and you should have brought guiltiness upon us." The Holy Spirit is making a point here. If we asked the question: Why are we told about this? And why are we told about these same kinds of things about Abraham? It is to show that there was nothing special about Abraham or Isaac that brought about God's favor. They were corrupt sinners. They were flawed and had serious problems, and they had to grow spiritually just like the rest of us do and were there solely by the grace of God, not because there was anything in them that was attractive to God. So even the pagan unbeliever has a higher moral sensitivity than Isaac does.
Genesis 26:11, "And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death." He passes this mandate to his people. He is going to deal with the fear factor in his proclamation and it shows that he was a man of foresight and wisdom as well. So here Isaac fails, just as Abraham failed. And in the midst of that failure, what happens next? God blesses Isaac.
Genesis 26:12, "Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great: for he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him." Was this because Isaac was so obedient and consistent in growing spiritually? No, he had just been a failure. The blessing of Abraham and Isaac doesn't have anything to do with their obedience.
One of the problems that we have today is that we have been guilty of distorting the whole concept of blessing. It is such and overused terms today and we hear it all the time, even on the lips of unbelievers who have no idea of what it means. Blessing refers to the provision of inner happiness and stability for a believer or any individual, and it may be physical or financial, and it may be spiritual. We can be blessed because God gives us testing and adversity. That gives us a tremendous opportunity to trust Him, to apply doctrine and to grow spiritually. What we have today is a culture that is so material-oriented that we think of blessing only in terms of dollar signs, only in terms of what kind of car we drive, what kind of house we live in, what kind of furniture we have, and that is how people define blessing. We live in a world where people want to use Jesus just to further their own agenda. The reality is that God's blessing for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has nothing to do with who they are or what they have done. That is the point. It has everything to do with His promise in the Abrahamic covenant. And that is the same thing that is true for believers in the church age. God's promise of blessing to us is based on our position in Christ, so that Paul says in Ephesians 1:3 that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. It has already happened and it not something we have to learn how to tap into, to learn the secret code prayer in order to have God shower these blessings upon us. It has already happened; it all happened at the point of salvation when we were identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. All these things are given to us at the instant of our salvation. The issue is spiritual growth developing capacity for blessing so that we eventually experience these as we grow and advance. It has to do with the sovereign purpose of God and not what we do. It has to do with possession of the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is that righteousness that is the basis for blessing, not what we do.
Here we see God blessing Isaac because of His previous promise. He is going to demonstrate something through Isaac that culminates at the end of the chapter. It is at the end of the chapter that the Philistines through Abimelech comes to Isaac and says that God is obviously blessing him and they want to enter into a contract with him so that they can experience the blessing by association. So God is going to develop Isaac's wealth. Isaac worked hard but God is the one who brought the increase.
What happens when God begins to bless you? As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you already have blessings, so what is going to happen? You are going to be the object of attack. You are going to become the object of Satanic attack in the angelic conflict. If you are growing and advancing as a believer and it is obvious that God is blessing—through physical, financial or material means, or just soul blessing (being relaxed in adversity, etc.)—people don't like it. They begin to envy you and express jealousy, and you begin to come under attack. This happens to all of us. There are small-minded people out there who are jealous of the fact that God seems to be blessing us, and no matter what the circumstances are we remain relaxed and don't get ruffled because we are like the apostle Paul who said he had learned to abound or to do without, and could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. So here is a case where Isaac has become prosperous and the Philistines envy him.
So what do they do? Typical of the carnal mind, they are going to run him out of town. Genesis 26:15, "For all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth." This is one of the first redistribution of wealth procedures in history. If they stop up all of his wells then he is going to sell off some of his sheep, his goats, and camels, and he will have to sell at cut-rate prices. So it is a redistribution of wealth procedure. Then Abimelech came to him: "And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for you are much mightier than we."
Here Isaac is going through people testing. He is being unjustly criticized, he is being attacked, he is being ridiculed, he is the victim of sins of the tongue, people are angry at him and abusing him verbally, so how does he handle it? He eaves. He shows grace orientation. He goes through a threefold stage of leaving. He leaves town and go to the valley of Gerar, and dwells there. And again he dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father. Why is he doing that? He is reasserting his right to these wells. And he is going to rename these wells with the same names that his father called them. He is indicating that he has the right of ownership here.
Genesis 26:18-21, "And Isaac dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. And Isaac's servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him. And they dug another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah." This is typical of the small-minded, carnal-minded antagonism, because they are just going to continue to pursue the object of their blame. They have identified this person as the source of all their misery and are unhappy. So they go after Isaac and say that this water is theirs. He named the well Esek, which is a word play on the Hebrew word asak, which means a quarrel, a dispute, or contention. So he names it the well of quarrelling. Then he moves on. He is not going to put up a fight, he just relaxes. It is not his problem, it is theirs; he moves to the next well. They follow him and they quarrel over that one, so he calls it Sitnah, which means accusation. So they are continuing to assault him verbally through the sins of the tongue.
Genesis 26:22, "And he removed from there, and dug another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land." Rehoboth means a place that is wide, broad, or spacious. Finally, he can relax because he is not being pursued by the Philistines. Rehoboth is about 18 miles south of Beersheba. Then he moves up to Beersheba and again God appears to him.
Genesis 26:24, "And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham your father: fear not, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your seed for my servant Abraham's sake." So the blessing and the seed aspects of the Abrahamic covenant are reaffirmed for the second time in this chapter. This is ultimately what give Israel that right to the land in the Middle-East.
So Isaac, like his father, builds an altar there, worships God (calls on the name of the Lord), "and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants dug a well." This is the well Beersheba, which means the well of the oath. It is a play on words for the word "seven," shabbath, which is like sabbath. And it is obvious that God blesses him, so much so that Abimelech pays him another visit in the last part of the chapter, vv. 26-35.
Genesis 26:26-27, "Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them, Why do you come to me, seeing you hate me, and have sent me away from you?" Isaac is a little irritated at this after the way he has been treated.
Genesis 26:28-29, "And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with you: and we said, Let there be now an oath between us, even between us and you, and let us make a covenant with you; that you will do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent you away in peace: you are now the blessed of the LORD." If we can't run him off we had better see if we can get our cut of the pie! Maybe we will get a little side blessing by association and things won't be so bad. They recognize that he is the rightful heir to Abraham: "you are now the blessed of the LORD." That is part of this whole point. Why is God blessing Isaac? Because he is demonstrating to all those around, in terms of human witnesses as well as angelic witnesses, that Isaac is the chosen seed and the blesses passes through Isaac. The blessing is a key idea here.
Genesis 26:30, "And he made them a feast, and they ate and drank." This was typical of any contract. What is the feast for the church? The Lord's table. It is a sign now that because of this legal contract there is fellowship and partnership. Relationships are built on legal contracts. It is the legal contracts that provide the legal parameters for stability within the legal relationship. That is the core of a marriage. Even our relationship with God is based on a legal contract. There is a legal basis called justification by faith.
Genesis 26:31, "And they rose up betimes in the morning, and swore one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace." This is a bi-lateral oath, it is not unconditional. In God's contract with Abraham it was a one-way contract, a unilateral contract.
Genesis 26:32, "And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had dug, and said unto him, We have found water." It is not a coincidence in the plan of God that they found water on the same day. This is, again, a reaffirmation from God of His blessing to Isaac.
Genesis 26:34-45, "And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah." Why? Because he is intermarrying with the pagans. He is acting like the Canaanites and he is not following a path where he shows concern for the things of God.
So Genesis 26 is is a reiteration of the same principles of spiritual growth that we saw with Abraham: that we face adversity through the faith-rest drill, we face adversity with people by grace orientation and impersonal love for all mankind. He doesn't retaliate, he doesn't get involved in mental attitude sins, he doesn't get involved in trying to justify himself. Every time they attack him they just move to the next well until eventually God made it clear to the enemy that Isaac was the one who was being blessed.