A Chip Off the Old Block

Genesis 26:1-33
Movies seem to have a lot of sequels these days. The most ridiculous example, of course, is Rocky, which has no less than four sequels. It allows the script-writers to be lazy, for the most part, since the plot can be very similar, and they can cash in on the popularity of the first movie. We could title this movie “Patriarch 2.” This chapter answers the question, “Is Isaac going to be a true successor to his father Abraham?’ The answer is yes, in just about every way, including Abraham’s failings. Isaac’s life is almost a rerun of Abraham’s life.

We start out with a famine. Famine usually causes migration, and Isaac is no different. However, Isaac does not go down to Egypt, but stays in the promised land. He goes instead to Gerar, to the land of Abimelech. This is almost certainly the same Abimelech with whom Abraham had dealings before. Very similar dealings, as a matter of fact. Some scholars think that this could not be the same Abimelech, since this is such a long time after Abraham. However, that is not so. This passage is not given to us in chronological order here. In the preceding chapter, we see Jacob and Esau born, and alive, and grown up. In our chapter here, in 27, however, Jacob and Esau cannot have been born yet. There is no way that Isaac could have deceived Abimelech for a long time, if the fruit of his union with Rebekah was obvious for all to see. So our chapter describes a time earlier than chapter 25. That means that the time factor is not nearly as great as some think that it is. The incident with Abraham and Abimelech is recorded for us in chapter 20. It happens right before Isaac is born. Isaac is married when he is forty years old. So there is a very good possibility that Abraham’s incident with Abimelech and Isaac’s incident with Abimelech are only about fifty years apart. Given the fact that people often lived to 150 years old in those days, and it is no great stretch to believe that we have the same Abimelech. This is confirmed for us by the fact that the commander of his army has the same name: Phicol.

God appears to Isaac, confirms Isaac’s decision not to go to Egypt. Instead, he is to stay in the promised land. God then restates the promise that He had given to Abraham, and says the same thing to Isaac. He reiterates the promise of the land, and the promise of the seed. God even repeats the promise that Isaac’s descendents would be a blessing to all nations.

Isaac then proceeds to do a very cowardly, selfish, and faithless thing. He decides to repeat the sin of Abraham his father. What Isaac does here is a downright lie, since Rebekah is not his sister, but his cousin. The lie works for quite a while. Verse 8 tells us that it was a long time before Isaac’s lie was discovered. That means, though, that there wasn’t nearly as much danger to Rebekah as Isaac had imagined. But Isaac was doing this only for himself, not even particularly for Rebekah.

Abimelech finds out about lie quite by accident, and it is very surprising to him. He happens to look out a window once, and sees Isaac caressing his wife! The word “caressing” is not entirely clear, but whatever it was, it was not something that brothers do with sisters. Interestingly, the word is the same root as Isaac’s name, which means “laughter.” It is the same word that is used of Ishmael, when he was “mocking” Isaac. You could say then, that “laughing” or “mocking” marked Isaac’s entire life.

When Abimelech sees this “laughing,” he immediately puts two and two together, and calls Isaac on his lie. Isaac answers very truthfully, now that the cat is out of the bag. Abimelech then informs Isaac of the real danger: that the entire city of Gerar would have been culpable had anyone slept with her! This would have been adultery, however unwittingly it might have been committed. There is no such thing as ignorance being an excuse. Abimelech certainly understands this, which is why he says that if anyone had lain with her, then guilt would have come upon all.

Just as he did before with Abraham and Sarah, so also he does here. He forbids anyone from molesting either Isaac or Rebekah. It would have been tempting for the people of Gerar to harass Isaac out of revenge. They actually do this, but not on Isaac himself. Rather, they try to drive him away by taking away the water supply. One story leads into the next.

Isaac becomes a farmer, not just a cattle rancher. He had a very good harvest, especially considering that there was a famine in the land. Despite appearances, God will bless His people in the most difficult of circumstances. This is often true of the church. Whenever it is persecuted, or the people are going through difficult times, God blesses them in their circumstances, often beyond anyone’s expectations. This hundred-fold return reminds us of the parable of the sower. The good soil yields thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold what was sown. Plainly, Isaac got an extraordinarily good crop in such a time as this. In short, the Lord blessed him so much that everyone around him envied him. The Philistines try to take away the well that Isaac digs. Notice that this is a special well: a well of fresh water. Literally, the text says that it was a well that had the water of life. Now, this was a well that had access to an underground spring. That made the well quite valuable, of course. Hence the quarrel. It is oftentimes true that the people of this world will try to take away from us the water of life. That is, they will try to take from us Jesus Christ, either by muffling His message, or relativizing it by saying that all religions are equal, or by some other method. This is evident from the names given to these two wells. The first one is called “Esek,” which means “quarrel.” The second one is named “Sitnah,” which means “adversity.” This second name has the same root as the name “Satan.” Certainly it is true that the Philistines here represent the seed of the serpent, always opposing the true church of God. But Isaac keeps on finding another well of this spring water (even in the time of famine!). And so must we continually find Jesus Christ, who gives us the water that wells up into eternal life.
After two quarrels, Isaac’s herdsmen find a well that the Philistines do not care about. So Isaac names it “Reheboth,” which means “wide open space.” There is finally room enough for the people of God in their sojourning. This territorial expansion signalled their deliverance from enemy oppression.

So the logical next move is to worship. Isaac builds an altar, and worships God, who appears to him again, ratifying Isaac’s deeds.

The last part of the chapter tells us just how Isaac winds up being a blessing even to those enemies of his that kept on persecuting him. Abimelech wants to make a covenant with Isaac. Isaac doesn’t think much of it at first. He says, “why have you hated me?” This wasn’t excessively diplomatic on Isaac’s part. But then, the Philistines had been persecuting him of late. Abimelech starts out his speech with a good deal more diplomacy. He mentions the Lord’s blessing, and that the Lord is with Isaac. So that becomes the basis for Abimelech to initiate a covenant. Isaac is quick to forgive, especially since this covenant means the end of all hostilities. Abimelech is not quite truthful in verse 29, when he says that they always treated Isaac well. However, Abimelech is reminding Isaac here of the Rebekah incident. They did not molest her in any way. And so Isaac does agree to what amounts to a non-agression pact. Abimelech will make sure that none of his people will be an agressor ever again to Isaac. And Isaac, in turn, promises that he will not do anything bad to Abimelech.

What we have seen in this passage is how God is working through Isaac, how He is blessing Isaac, and through Isaac, all nations, even those that persecute His church. God is showing us that even when Isaac falls into the same sin as his father, grace will win out in the end. God also shows us that His promises cannot be nullified by the sins of His people. His purposes will still stand. We see that principle ultimately displayed in the cross, where our sins would have seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle to our inheriting God’s promises. And yet, God put our sin onto Jesus Christ, so that we would have the opportunity to become the children of God. The story of Isaac is ultimately the story of Jesus Christ. If Isaac is the true son of Abraham, then Jesus is the True Son of God. And yet, notice the contrast between them as well: Isaac was a sinner; Christ was not. Isaac lacked faith; Christ was full of faith. Isaac would not acknowledge his wife before the world; Christ acknowledges His bride before all the world with no fear at all.

So then it comes down to God’s blessings on us. Has God blessed us so much that the world envies us? Does the world then seek to cut off our source of blessing? We should persevere in our seeking of that water of life. We are dependent on that water, the Water of God’s Word that nourishes our thirsty hearts. God will give that to you, even if you are in a drought, if you are seeking it. You will not be seeking it unless you are chosen by God.

Know another thing: we should be thinking about the fact that if we sin, it will be found out. Someone will be looking through their window. God always sees the sin. We cannot hide it from Him. But often we cannot even hide it from other people. Other people will accidentally find it out. We should think about that the next time that we are tempted to sin and hide something that might to our disadvantage.

The grace offered here is that of God Himself. If you have sinned, there is forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And not only that, we should know and remember that God’s grace is stronger than our sin. God will rid us of all those sins that seem to cling so closely to us. God will cleanse us through the blood of Jesus Christ. God will bring us to completion. It is very easy after you have sinned (especially if it one of those sins that seems unshakable in your life) to think that God cannot forgive that sin, since you have repeated. You wonder if you might have sinned yourself out of God’s power. We must walk a tight-rope here. To those who would assume that their salvation means they can do anything they want, I would say that you have no comfort in God’s message of grace. But to those who doubt their salvation, and yet know that they know Jesus, then I say that all your sins, past, present, and future are taken away by the blood of Christ. Even your future sins are taken away. And God will bring you to that place of holiness for which you long with all your heart. That place is the throne of God, by which flows the river of the water of life. And no one can take that away from you.