Isaac’s Middle Years: World Bordering
Genesis 26. In ch. 22 Isaac is a picture of the Lord going to the cross. In ch.24 he is a picture of the exalted Christ to whom the bride is gathered. But in ch.26 Isaac is not a picture of the Lord Jesus, but a picture of the believer. We find that God blesses Isaac even though Isaac poorly answers to God’s call. This is often true of us as well. In this chapter, Isaac dwells in Gerar, which was in Canaan, and not all the way to Egypt, but which was under the control of the enemy. It represents how a Christian can live on the fringes of the world, attempting to have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth.
Jehovah Appears to Isaac (26:1-5)
1 And there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine which had been in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech the king of the Philistines, to Gerar. v.1 The Test of a Famine. As with Abraham, God allowed a famine to come in Isaac’s life, to test his faith. In ch.12 we read of “the former famine” that v.1 refers to “in the days of Abraham”. God had told Abraham to dwell in the land of Canaan. When the famine arose, Abraham did not seek the Lord, and instead, feeling the need, he took things into his own hands and traveled to Egypt. There in Egypt Abraham denied his relationship to Sarah, allowed her to be taken into Pharaoh’s house, and also he picked up Hagar. Isaac travels south, following the same southern route that his father had taken in the time of famine. However, Isaac did not get all the way to Egypt (v.2). He went to the region of Gerar, which was not in Egypt, but it was the very south of Canaan (Gen. 10:19). Canaan speaks of the heavenly places, where all spiritual blessings are ours in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Gerar speaks of a position that is as close as possible to the world, on the “edge”, so to speak. It is a dangerous position to be in. Later in Abraham’s life he also went to Gerar, and in this same place once again Abraham denied his wife. This alone shows that Gerar was a dangerous place. Gerar was a rich cattle land (2 Chron. 14:12-18). We find the Abimelech was the “king of the Philistines”.
The Philistines are a type of religious flesh; i.e. the tendency within each one of us to carry on an outward form of godliness, while denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5). They had migrated from Egypt (a type of the world) to Canaan without crossing the Red Sea (a type of the death of Christ). They were those who occupied the place of blessing, but had no right to it.In the heavenly places there are enemies, and for this reason we need to take the whole armor of God.
2 And Jehovah appeared to him and said, Go not down to Egypt: dwell in the land that I shall tell thee of. 3 Sojourn in this land; and I will be with thee and bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries; and I will perform the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father. vv.2-3 Canaan vs. Egypt. The Lord appeared to Isaac, and it would seem that Isaac planned to go into Egypt, because of what the Lord said to him; “Go not down to Egypt”. The Lord stopped Isaac from going as far as Abraham had; how gracious! Instead, Isaac was to “dwell in the land that I shall tell thee of” and to “sojourn in this land”. Note that “this land” refers to the land of Canaan. Isaac would only be blessed if he remained in the land of promise. The Philistines’ land was part of Canaan (Joshua 13:3). However, the Philistines were still in formal possession of it, in contrast to the land north and east of Beersheba. Even though all the circumstances seemed opposed to it, Canaan was the place for Isaac to be. The first result of remaining in the land was that Isaac would have the company of Jehovah; “I will be with thee”. Secondly, Jehovah would bless him, and give all the land to his seed, according to the promise made to Abraham, from the river of Egypt (small river near Gaza) to the river Euphrates.
4 And I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and unto thy seed will I give all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves — 5 because that Abraham hearkened to my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. vv.4-5 The Abrahamic Promises Confirmed. The Lord confirms to Isaac the promises He had made to Abraham. An numerous seed is promised “as the stars of heaven”. The land of promise included “all these countries”; Philistia, etc. Also, the nations of the earth would be blessed through the nation of Israel. The blessings are here connected with the obedience of Abraham; “because that Abraham hearkened to my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws”. The promised were never stated as a condition to Abraham, but this is said after he had lived his life. It shows the sovereignty of God.
Isaac in Gerar (26:6-14)
6 And Isaac dwelt at Gerar. v.6 Gerar. Rather than go north toward Hebron, the place of communion, Isaac says on the border. The Philistines were in possession as far as Beer-sheba. Isaac finally returns there at the end of the chapter. But in Gerar Isaac had great trouble. When we try to be close to the world, we too will have trouble.1
7 And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, She is my sister; for he feared to say, my wife, saying to himself, Lest the men of the place slay me on account of Rebecca — because she was fair in countenance. v.7 Isaac Lies About Rebecca. We learn from Abraham’s stint in Gerar that he had a besetting sin; a fear that other men would kill him for his wife, because she was beautiful. Abraham failed twice publicly in this sin, and we read in ch.20 that pretending Sarah was his sister was Abraham’s practice ever since he left Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 20:13). Often when parents fail to judge sin in their lives, their children pick up those habits. Isaac went a step further in that calling Rebekkah his “sister” wasn’t even a half-truth as it was with Abraham and Sarah; it was an outright lie. As parents, failure to judge evil in our own lives can result on our children taking up with the same evil in a more advanced form. Here Isaac fails as a type of Christ. He denied his relationship to Rebecca. But the Lord Jesus will never deny His relationship with the church, though she may sadly at times deny in practice her relationship to Him. It is especially striking that Isaac would lie directly after receiving the promises of vv.2-5. But such is the human heart.
8 And it came to pass when he had been there some time, that Abimelech the king of the Philistines looked out of the window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was dallying with Rebecca his wife. 9 Then Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, she is certainly thy wife; and how saidst thou, She is my sister? and Isaac said to him, Because I said, Lest I die on account of her. vv.8-9 The Truth Discovered. With Sarah, she was brought into Abimelech’s court. Rebecca’s case is different. God did not allow it to go that far. In the same way, God is jealous over the church’s associations. Our true relationship with Christ cannot be indefinitely concealed, if we are truly saved. Isaac was a poor actor, and Abimelech was shrewd. Kings were prone to do this sort of peeping from their lofty windows and rooftops (2 Sam. 11:12). It is unlikely that this was the same Abimelech that we read of in ch.20, because this took place at least eighty years later. Also, all of the kings of the Philistines were called “Abimelech”. It was either an official name like Pharaoh, or a dynastic name like Herod. When questioned by Abimelech, Isaac revealed that he was motivated by fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). Whenever we act in fear, unless it is godly fear, we will act amiss.
10 And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done to us? But a little and one of the people might have lain with thy wife, and thou wouldest have brought a trespass on us. 11 And Abimelech charged all the people, saying, He that touches this man or his wife shall certainly be put to death. vv.10-11 Isaac Rebuked, the Philistines Warned. The world in a sense has a righteous rebuke for a Christian who isn’t honest about why he doesn’t do this or that. They may think we are cold, or self-sufficient, or unkind for not running with them “to the same excess of riot” (1 Pet. 4:4). We need to be honest about why we live as we do, or else reproach will be brought to the name of Christ. The world doesn’t want fellowship with someone belonging to Christ, any more than Abimelech wanted nothing to do with a woman married to Isaac, beautiful though she was. Honesty on the part of the Christian clears the air for both the Christian and the world. Abimelech warned the Philistines to stay away from Isaac and Rebecca (v.11). In view of this, how foolish had been Isaac’s fear!
12 And Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year a hundredfold; and Jehovah blessed him. 13 And the man became great, and he became continually greater, until he was very great. 14 And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great number of servants; and the Philistines envied him. vv.12-14 Prosperity and Hatred. Isaac prospered in Gerar greatly in a material sense. We can never judge that a person’s spiritual condition by prosperous circumstances. There is a great difference between the Lord’s fellowship and His material blessing. Isaac’s return in one year s “one-hundred-fold”; an absolutely maximum yield. The Lord blessed Isaac, and he grew greater and greater in material abundance. His prosperity drew out the envy of the Philistines, in whose land he dwelt. The Philistines couldn’t understand why Isaac, during a time of famine, was prospering in their land. In a similar way, those who have a form of godliness by deny the power thereof cannot understand the secret of the believer’s power in a hostile land.
Redigging wells (26:15-25)
Progress. In vv.15-25 we have Isaac doing good things: redigging wells. However, he faces opposition in that work, and is unable or unwilling to defend the wells from the Philistines. The issue is that he was in a compromising place. He had every right to be there, but it was not wise because of who was in possession.2 Throughout the process of digging wells, moving, digging again, etc. Isaac gradually moves out of the Philistines land, and back to the land recognized by all as Abraham’s. The view of Isaac’s time in Gerar as a negative thing is probably the correct view in my estimation. However, there is a positive view of these events that can encourage our hearts. No matter where Isaac digs, he always finds water. And no matter what persecution comes to the church, the Word of God is ever the same. Paul could say, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Are you experiencing a famine, a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11)? You have a vast aquifer below you feet, so to speak. Just dig into the Word, and you will be refreshed, even in a strange land.
15 And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped them and filled them with earth. 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, Go from us; for thou art become much mightier than we. vv.15-16 Wells Filled with Earth. In their envy of Isaac, the Philistines acted in spite. They would ruin the source of Isaac’s prosperity if they could. The wells of water represent the word of God. What did the Philistines use to plug the wells? Earth. Earthly interests, pleasures, and cares displace the Word of God. These wells were not dug by Isaac, but by Abraham’s servants years before. We too have wells of water that have been dug by godly men in a previous time. First of all there were the apostles and prophets who gave us the New Testament doctrine, and then there were the pastors and teachers who taught us those things. Isaac’s prosperity was now a threat to the Philistines. In the beginning Isaac was afraid of the Philistines, at the end they were afraid of him.
17 And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his camp in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and that the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. vv.17-18 Re-digging Old Wells. Every generation has to go through the exercise of making the truth of God our own. The truth of God is not new; it was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Salvation is free (Rom. 3:24), but the truth will cost you much (Prov. 23:23). We need to put forth the effort and time to learn the apostles’ doctrine. And when we have learned it, we should not change it or bring in human wisdom to mix with it. It is a good idea to uncover the old wells; i.e. to appreciate the gifts God had provided us.
19 And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. 20 But the shepherds of Gerar strove with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, The water is ours. And he called the name of the well Esek [‘quarrel’] because they had quarrelled with him. 21 And they dug another well, and they strove for that also; and he called the name of it Sitnah [‘enmity’]. 22 And he removed thence and dug another well; and they did not strive for that. And he called the name of it Rehoboth [‘spaciousness’], and said, For now Jehovah has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land. vv.19-23 Strife over the wells. Next Isaac progressed to dig his own well. This is a necessary step. Isaac dug his own wells, but he began “in the valley”, near the wells his father had dug. When we are privileged to recover a certain truth, we shouldn’t think that we have done something great or original. It was still the truth before we discovered it! The water that fed Isaac’s well was the same water that fed Abraham’s. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Notice that the well was “springing”, perhaps a picture of the Spirit of God (John 4). However, there was strife over this water. Isaac was unwilling or unable to stand his ground. The problem was that Isaac was in the Philistines’ land. Although the well was his, the land was under the Philistines’ control. It is like a believer seeking to make progress spiritually, but still operating in the domain of the world. There can be no peace in this path. He names the first well ‘Esek’, which means ‘quarrel’, then moves away a little distance. He digs another well, and there is still strife. He names the second well ‘Sitnah’, which means ‘enmity’, and moves again. The third time Isaac digs a well, there is no strife. He had moved beyond the borders of the Philistines land (Josh. 13:3). He names the well ‘Rehoboth’, which means ‘spaciousness’. He finally gets out of the reach of the shepherds, but he is not yet to Beersheba. Rehoboth has been located by scholars in Wady er-Ruheibeh, about twenty miles south of Beersheba.3 But Isaac still has no appearance from the Lord.
23 And he went up thence to Beer-sheba. 24 And Jehovah appeared to him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake. 25 And he built an altar there, and called upon the name of Jehovah. And he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well. vv.23-25 Beersheba: Jehovah Appears. It is not until Isaac leaves the Philistines behind that the Lord appears to him. The Lord reveals Himself as “the God of Abraham thy father”, and He confirms the blessings on Isaac and his family, for Abraham’s sake. Now Isaac builds an altar, and calls on the name of Jehovah. We do not read of an altar in connection with any of the wells dug in the Philistines land. Nor can we truly enjoy our relationship to the Lord while we are bordering on the world. Isaac was now properly in the land ceded to Abraham, and once again his servants dug a well. The Word of God is ever the same, and with a little energy expended, it serves to refresh and sustain us.
An Application to the Church. There may be an application of this chapter to the Church. Isaac went toward Egypt in a time of famine, but the Lord stopped him. He remained in Gerar on the very border of the land. The Philistines’ land was part of the land promised to Abraham, but it was in the possession of the enemy for the time being. This parallels the state of the world during the present time. As co-heirs with Christ, this earth is part of our material inheritance. But for now, the world lies in the possession of the Devil, although his claims to it are false. Because of this, the church has no business in that sphere where Satan rules; the politics, institutions, etc. The failure of the church to remain separate from the world has resulted in unnecessary irritation. Doubtless, all those who live godly in this world will suffer persecution. But Isaac’s work was being frustrated because he was in a land that the Philistines possessed. He gets freedom when he comes to Beersheba, the border of the region conceded to Abraham in ch.21. So with the Church. When the Church gets free from unseemly involvement with the world, and back onto heavenly ground, the contention is gone, and the world can see that the Church is “blessed of the Lord”.
“And there, upon the blessing of God, the hostile world, which just before drove him out, now seeks his favour and alliance; in a word, we have the direction to the resurrection Church – its conduct, still clinging to the world – within its borders – the world jealous of its blessing – contending – hating – and the Church giving way – yields all to it – comes into the border of the promise, where God blesses it. Then the world is glad to come and own that the Lord is with it – humbly submitting itself to him, whom it now owns is now “the blessed of the Lord” – the world never owned this while the Church was within its borders, but ruined it – the same day, the Lord gave them that water, fresh digged, which had been to Abraham the seal and occasion of the testimony of what belonged to himself, and where he had called on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God, who had now shown a fulfilling of His faithfulness and mercy in this name – it is an instructive picture.”4
An Application to the Jews. There may be an application of this chapter to the Jews. Today the Jews are scattered among the Gentiles like Isaac among the Philistines. The Gentiles are afraid to take up association with the Jews on one hand, and on they other hand they envy the prosperity of the Jews. All during this time the Jews are in a condition of unbelief. They are met with strife and contention, as Isaac was. But when the Jews are brought back into the land – and continue there in faith – the tables are turned. They will have the Gentiles coming to the land desiring terms of peace, as Abimelech came to Isaac. There, in the land, the worship of Jehovah will be resumed, pictured by Isaac’s altar. There also, blessing will flow forth to renew the earth, pictured by the well at Beersheba.
Covenant with Abimelech (26:26-33)
26 And Abimelech, and Ahuzzath his friend, and Phichol the captain of his host, went to him from Gerar. 27 And Isaac said to them, Why are ye come to me, seeing ye hate me, and have driven me away from you? 28 And they said, We saw certainly that Jehovah is with thee; and we said, Let there be then an oath between us — between us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee, 29 that thou wilt do us no wrong, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done to thee nothing but good, and have let thee go in peace; thou art now blessed of Jehovah. 30 And he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 And they rose early in the morning, and swore one to another; and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace. 32 And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well that they had dug, and said to him, We have found water. 33 And he called it Shebah; therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba [‘well of an oath’] to this day. vv.26-33 There were actually two things that happened in Beersheba on the same day. Abimelech and his company paid Isaac a visit in Beersheba, and desired a covenant with him, similar to the covenant that a previous Abimelech had made with Abraham (ch.21). On the same day, Isaac’s servants struck water. Once Isaac is back in the land formally recognized as Abraham’s, there is no more strife with the Philistines. Isaac is now back in his own right, and not only is strife ceased, but the Philistines now come to him for a covenant of protection! They realized that Jehovah was with Isaac, and they were afraid of him. The same is true of the church. When the church meddles in the things of this world, the church is a nuisance and produces irritation. But when the church maintains her heavenly character, the world will see that the Lord is with us. They found water on the same day. We gain a fresh enjoyment of the Word of God when we maintain our heavenly character. The place was named after both things; ‘Sheba’ meaning ‘an oath’, and ‘beer’ meaning ‘well’. Abraham had already called the place Beersheba, and Isaac confirms the name.
Esau finds wives (26:34-35)
34 And Esau was forty years old, when he took as wives Judith [‘praise’] the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basmath [‘delight’] the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and to Rebecca. vv.34-35 Esau’s Wives. In ch.24 we recall that Abraham made his servant promise not to take a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites. It was imperative that the child of faith have a suitable companion. An expensive journey to the east to take a bride for Isaac was justified. First of all, Esau took wives from the Hittites, who were a Canaanite people (Ex. 33:2). Secondly, he took two wives, departing from the pattern of Isaac who had only one wife. One woman is not enough for a man of the flesh. Third, the two wives, Judith and Basmath, were “a grief of mind to Isaac and to Rebecca”. Perhaps these women were morally depraved like their tribes. Maybe they were personally difficult to get along with. In either case, the Spirit of God makes it clear that this was not an act of faith. Notice that this polygamous marriage took place when Esau was forty years old. Forty days or years in scripture is often a time of testing (Deut. 8:2). Esau’s character had been fully developed up to this point. Esau would not change course. There may be a moral lesson as well from the standpoint of Isaac. He had spent significant time in the Philistines land where he grew wealthy. He eventually got back to Beersheba. Sometimes Christian parents think they can live close to the world without being in it and have their family unaffected. When Esau made his life choice, he chose to go in a direction that displeased his parents.
- “…he drew towards the world in dwelling in Gerar… Isaac had no business in Gerar – he was to sojourn in this land, but then he had no occasion to go into the place of what was of the world (and the world in controversy with Israel about the borders of their land) where he is brought into fear, contention and hatred, through their envy…” – Darby, J.N. Notes and Comments. Volume 4. Genesis Typically Considered.
- I think you get Isaac upon lower ground altogether: he digs up again the wells his father first dug, which the Philistines had stopped, and then surrenders them. You get decay, besides denying his wife; but when he comes into the place which God had given as a limit, to Beersheba – there they have to own him when he is within his limits. Before, it was a contention with the spirit of the world where he was, and he has to yield. – Darby, J.N. Hints on the Book of Genesis.
- Easton’s Bible Dictionary
- Darby, J.N. Notes and Comments. Volume 4. Genesis Typically Considered.