Genesis 26:1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
More than 100 years earlier, long before Isaac was born, Abraham experienced a famine while he lived in Canaan. The language in our verse indicates that Isaac’s was a separate famine which had a similar degree of severity to the one that his father experienced. In between these two events, there probably were not any times of famine that came close in severity. As we know, during his famine, Abraham decided to head down to Egypt for relief, and it was a decision that God allowed. Isaac was possibly on his way to Egypt as well, but stopped just short of leaving Canaan, in Gerar. The Abimelech that Isaac met here was not the same Abimelech that Abraham met. “Abimelech” is actually the title of the Philistine king, and based on the amount of time that had passed, he was a different guy.
Notice a parallel between Abraham’s and Isaac’s famines. Each occurred in the “promised land,” with the promise being either emphasized by Gods words (to Abraham) and by God’s answers to prayers (Isaac prayed for his wife, and the Lord gave them twin sons, one of whom would inherit the promises). So God provided His Word and His provision, and yet He allowed a time of drought and famine to follow. Both Abraham and Isaac needed to be doing something, obviously, because they, their households, and their flocks would need food and water. But the question for each was the same: would God’s promises hold as much value in the lean and difficult times as they would in the easy times of plenty? We have to deal with the same question in our lives, because God will allow trials to come so that we can learn the same lessons about how we can value God’s promises to us and depend on Him for our provisions.
Genesis 26:2-5 Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”
During the first famine (Abraham’s) the Lord did not appear and tell Abraham to not go down to Egypt. Essentially, Abraham had the liberty to decide for himself, and God didn’t stop him. Perhaps knowing this part if his dad’s history, Isaac set out to do the same, but in his case, God stopped him. In the future, Jacob will also be faced with a famine, and ultimately, God will lead him to Egypt. We know from Scripture that Egypt does not exactly represent a vacation for God’s people, and we often interpret Egypt as a type of the world or as a time of trial. Why did God demonstrate three different standards? Abraham had liberty, Isaac was stopped, and Jacob was lead there.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
God knows what we can handle and what we shouldn’t handle, way better than we might think. Abraham, as we just read “obeyed [God’s] voice and kept [His] charge, [His] commandments, [His] statutes, and [His] laws.” You might think that Abraham’s mistakes in Egypt (“she is my sister!”) indicate that God made a mistake in allowing him to go there. But what qualified Abraham in God’s eyes was Abraham’s obedience to God’s Word, and an unshakeable faith in the value of God’s promise. In other words, Abraham was never going to consider Egypt as a replacement to God’s promise. He made mistakes because he wasn’t perfect.
If God stopped Isaac from heading to Egypt, it was because for Isaac it would have created a conflict in his heart too large for him to handle. When we later study Jacob, we will see that at the time Jacob was lead down to Egypt, he had already lived a life of extreme ups and downs and was no longer easily spooked by life’s challenges. On top of that, he had a new name that meant “governed by God.”
What can we take from all this? Very simply, at whatever point we are in our walks, when we face trials, or exposures to the world around us, we can trust that God knows perfectly what we can handle and what we need to be protected from. If we are in the heat of a drought we can trust Him to provide for the need or to lead us to His provision. If His leading takes us out of our comfort zone, we then we can continue to trust Him and be obedient, because we know that His promises are not going away, even if it seems like they are hard to see in the moment.
One final thought on what God told Isaac. He restated the promises and made them personal to Isaac. But look at the reason why Isaac was the recipient: because Abraham obeyed. Isaac was the beneficiary of his father’s faithfulness. It’s not that Isaac didn’t have his personal responsibility and accountability, because he did. But there is something significant in the way that parents can influence their children’s walks directly in how the parents conduct their own walks. We can teach our kids, guide them, constrain them (sometimes restrain them!) nurture them, etc. Yes, all good. But if parents are not going to place a high degree of importance in their own personal walks, then something important is missing and the kids will grow up lacking an essential ingredient. Abraham raised up Isaac in the right way. But even more important than that, Abraham was noted by God as being personally obedient to God’s voice and kept God’s commandments (that meant he walked in them). We, who are parents, will have the greatest impact on our children’s lives when we serve the Lord.
Genesis 26:6-7 So Isaac dwelt in Gerar. 7 And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.”
What is it about these guys? Like father, like son… Simply put, Isaac was afraid. He was being faithful and obedient, and was holding onto God’s promises. But he was still afraid. We can find ourselves in this place often, and the fear can increase to the point that we do something completely irrational.
Genesis 26:8-9 Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac, showing endearment to Rebekah his wife. 9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Quite obviously she is your wife; so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’”
So Isaac was busted by a little PDA. What is apparent in this passage is that God protected Isaac and Rebekah. It wasn’t in exactly in the same way that God had protected Sarah (in Egypt, and then again in Gerar), but Isaac still had Rebekah with him and nobody had managed to use her position as a “sister” to take her away. The lesson here is not that we can allow ourselves to exercise bad judgment and then expect that God will bail us out. Instead, the lesson here is that God is capable of protecting us form any circumstance, and if we could remember that in advance, then we could put our fears in check and just trust Him all along.
Genesis 26:10-11 And Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.” 11 So Abimelech charged all his people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
What’s interesting is that Abimelech cared about what might happen between a stranger’s sister/wife and any of the men of his city. Inappropriate relationships between average people were probably not really a concern of his. Isaac, however, was not an “average person” and Abimelech’s concern must have been based on Isaac’s reputation, or more accurately (as we will see later in this chapter), that the Lord’s hand was on Isaac. Isaac was treated different because of who he belonged to (the Lord). We should be willing to live our lives knowing that because we belong to Jesus, the world will treat us according to a different standard, and we should want this, not be afraid of this.
Genesis 26:12-14 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him. 13 The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; 14 for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him.
God blesses obedience. Isaac was instructed to stay in Canaan, and because he did, the Lord blessed his work. It was during the same year, which means during the same period of time as the famine. Everyone else who tried to farm during the famine would have been lucky to get back what they put into it. God gave Isaac a hundredfold harvest; during the biggest famine that region had seen in over 100 years. Psalm 37:19 [The upright] shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
It wasn’t Isaac’s perfection that God blessed (because Isaac sinned by lying about Rebekah and by putting her in a position to be hurt), it was his obedience. We will all have times that we are afraid, and will make mistakes and fall down along the way. But God looks at our hearts and when He sees that are being obedient to His Word, we will be blessed because of it. It will make absolutely no sense to the world, especially when the world sees only our failings and mistakes. Based on those criteria, we don’t deserve blessings, we deserve punishment, and any blessings we are seen to receive lead others to be envious.
Genesis 26:15-16 Now the Philistines had stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and they had filled them with earth. 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”
The Philistines had at one time made a big show about entering into a covenant with Abraham (and his descendants) which Abraham kept. So much for their covenant. As soon as Abraham was out of the picture, they apparently filled in his wells. Probably, they didn’t have much use for them, because they were intended for watering flocks, not irrigating crops. But rather than leave them available for everyone’s benefit (which is what Abraham had done when he moved away from them), they stopped them up. The “covenant” was also not on display when Isaac was told to leave because he had gotten too rich. It is interesting that Abimelech could see that Isaac was being blessed, but rather than keep him nearby (and thereby experience some of the blessing falling on him and his city), he wanted Isaac (and the visible reminder of God’s blessing) pushed far away.
Genesis 26:17 Then Isaac departed from there and pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.
So Isaac didn’t go too far, because he was till in the land of the Philistines. Just not in their city any more. Isaac could have argued his case to be able to stay in Gerar or anywhere he wanted for that matter (“God gave this whole land to my father, and then He gave it to me. I can pitch my tent wherever I want!”). But rather than live under the bad air of the city, he showed wisdom in just taking his family out of it.
Genesis 26:18 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 up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them.
When the wells were dug by Abraham, they represented times in his life where he found water while living in the land of the Philistines. Abraham gave the wells names that had meanings and were reminders of the spiritual lessons that God was teaching him. Isaac returned to these old wells, removed the dirt and rocks that were blocking them, and even honored his father’s legacy by giving them their old names.
We are refreshed by God’s living water, His Word, and we can make use of some of the wells dug by those who came before us. When necessary, we clear out the obstructions that the world might have used to stop them up because the world “has no use for that water.” God is not asking us to live in the past, but at the same time, we should not discard what we can learn from previous generations: Deuteronomy 32:7 Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you. The world would have us believe that the morality of prior generations has no place in today’s world. This is an example of the kind of obstruction that needs to be removed from wells that still have water to serve.
Genesis 26:19 Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running water there.
Our thirst for water should also lead us to dig our own wells. God will reveal His truths to us in our own studies of Scripture. We can read about what others have learned and listen to others teach what God has put on the heart to teach. But we should add to that with our own study, allowing God to place His Word right in our hearts. God promised His people this in Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Genesis 26:20-22 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they quarreled with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also. So he called its name Sitnah 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth,because he said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
The first well was named “Quarrel” and the second well was named “Emnity,” because the people around him were contentious and created strife about the water. This happens spiritually, too. We would think that because we are talking about God’s Word being taught, that everyone would get along. But that rarely happens. Why? James 4:1-2 (NIV) answers: What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. This seems to be especially true when it comes to ministry.
I like Isaac’s response in each case: just move on and dig another well. He eventually found one that nobody hassled him about (he named it Spaciousness). Paul had a very similar experience in his “well-digging” days preaching the gospel:
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18
Paul didn’t get caught up in the strife, because what was important (the only thing that was important) was that the gospel of Jesus was being preached to the lost. It didn’t matter who got credit, or even if the motives of the preachers were suspect.
Genesis 26:23-25 Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24 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 My servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
God told Isaac, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” We looked at Isaac’s fears earlier (and perhaps were reminded of our own fears). God is telling us that His presence in our lives is reason enough for us to not fear. Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? When we are afraid, it is only because we are forgetting that God is with us. If we remember that God is with us, then we have no business being afraid. Isaac basically received a command, not a suggestion, to no longer let fear motivate his decisions. This is a command for us as well, and when we find that fear has again taken hold, all we need to do is just return to the knowledge that God is with us, and be obedient to that.
For Abraham’s sake, Isaac would be blessed. Guess what, we also share in the inheritance of Abraham, and we can receive this Scripture as our own, just as Isaac did. This is a great place to just be (as in resting), in our worship (building altars), and when we have needs (calling on the name of the Lord), our daily lives (pitching the tent), and in our ministries (digging those new wells).
Genesis 26:26-27 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath, one of his friends, and Phichol the commander of his army. 27 And Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?”
Abimelech came to Isaac to make up. You might be saying, “Yeah! He should have come to Isaac to make things right, because Abimelech was the one in the wrong!” I can assure you that this was not what Isaac was thinking. He wasn’t sitting around waiting for Abimelech to undo the wrong that he had done and ask for forgiveness (in fact Isaac asked, “What are you doing here?”).
We have only one course of action when someone has wronged us, and it has nothing to do with actively seeking the other person’s apology. Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Our only responsibility is to live our lives in a way that pleases God. When we do that, He works it out that our enemies are compelled to come to us and make peace again.
Genesis 26:28-29 But they said, “We have certainly seen that the Lord is with you. So we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, between you and us; and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, since we have not touched you, and since we have done nothing to you but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.’”
Could Isaac have argued with Abimelech’s claim that he sent Isaac away in peace? Sure he could have, but he didn’t. It just wasn’t worth it.
Genesis 26:30-31 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 Then they arose early in the morning and swore an oath with one another; and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
Romans 12:18 reminds us that as much as it is within our power, live at peace with everyone. Clearly, Isaac had an opportunity to dispute the facts and send Abimelech home straightened out. But it was more important that Ablmelech go home in peace, so Isaac just swallowed it. This is wisdom!
Genesis 26:32-33 It came to pass the same day that Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 So he called it Shebah. Therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
Another well dug, and another opportunity for ministry, and another example of God blessing the work of a man who stayed obedient to God’s voice. This is how we can stay in God’s blessings, find peace in our circumstances and relationships, and be fruitful in the ministries that God has called us in to.
Genesis 26:34-35 When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.
When Isaac was forty, he remained patient for the will of his father concerning his bride, and Isaac respected his father’s wish that he not be married to a Canaanite. We don’t know what efforts Isaac had made on Esau’s behalf, but we can surmise that he wanted Esau to remain patient and to desire a wife who would not practice the pagan religions of the Canaanites. Unfortunately, Esau was impatient and went outside the will of his father and made his own choice. Look at the result: his wives were a source of anguish to his parents, because they were visible reminders of the dishonor that Esau showed towards them, and because their beliefs and practices were not compatible with God’s ways.
God’s will is perfect and is always going to be exactly what we need and will also match our godly desires. His choices result in peace in our lives and peace in the lives of the people around us. Our impatient choices, outside of His will, will always result in conflict and pain, for ourselves, and for our families.
Esau despised his birthright, was not interested in living according to God’s ways, and according to the patriarchal system of his day, blatantly dishonored his parents. It is no wonder that God chose Jacob over Esau to be the one who would receive Abraham’s inheritance.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.