Well thank you for checking out this verse-by-verse Bible study Podcast, I’m your host Randy Duncan, and in this episode we are covering Genesis chapter 26.
In the last episode we tackled chapter 25, and discussed the death of Abraham, and the birth of Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau. We looked at a brief introduction into each of the boys’ personalities, and saw how Esau despised his birthright. Which brings us now to chapter 26.
It is hard to believe, but this chapter is the only chapter that is primarily about Isaac. Isaac gets overshadowed by his father Abraham on one side, and his son Jacob on the other. And even this one chapter sort of leaves us wondering why it was even included. What was the purpose of this chapter? And why is it located where it is, sort of interrupting the saga of Jacob and Esau just as that rivalry gets going. And so with that, let us jump right in.
Verses 1-6 read – Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2 And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring 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.” So Isaac settled in Gerar.
So, we start out learning that there was a famine in the land, a famine that was different from the earlier famine that occurred during the days of Abraham. That was the famine that prompted Abraham to go into Egypt, and where he got himself into a mess with Pharoah and his wife Sarah.
But this is a different famine, and we see that Isaac is now on the move as well. And he goes to Gerar, to Abimelech, King of the Phillistines. If you recall, Abraham also had dealings with Abimelech. However, Abraham’s dealings with Abimelech occurred at least 40 years earlier, so this is very unlikely to be the same Abimelech. It was perhaps one of his sons. Another possibility is that Abimelech was more of a dynastic title than a name, such as King Henry, or George, or Edward among the British Monarchs, or just like John Paul amongst the Popes.
But either way, God appears to Isaac, and tells him not to go to Egypt, but to stay in the land that he would show him. Now when God tells him to “stay” in the land, the Hebrew sense of the word actually means to live there, to rest there, in a temporary fashion.
But since Egypt is the traditional source of food, it would require faith on Isaac’s part to remain where he was in Gerar. But God tells him, stay here, and I will be with you and will bless you, and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,
So what God is doing here is reaffirming the covenant promises and blessing to Isaac, just as he had made to his father Abraham. If Isaac will remain obedient, God promises to bless him and protect him. And so what does Isaac do? He did not go down into Egypt. He settled in Gerar.
In faith, Abraham went out, and in faith, Isaac now stays. And so just like Abraham, Isaac now meets the conditions of blessing.
Verses 7- 11 then pick up once Isaac has settled in Gerar…7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. 8 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. 9 So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.’” 10 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.” 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Any initial security Isaac may have felt probably didn’t last very long, because it doesn’t take long for the men of the city to notice Rebekah and start asking about her. Now, this takes us back again to the situation of Abraham, Sarah, and Pharoah. There, Abraham said that his wife Sarah was actually his sister because he was afraid that the men would kill him and take his wife. Here, Isaac is thinking the same thing. Just as Abraham lacked faith in God’s promise of protection, here Isaac fails in the same way. By lying, he demonstrates a certain lack of faith in God’s protection.
But Abimelech does the moral thing, and issues a warning that nobody is to touch Isaac or Rebekah, and if they do, they will be put to death. In this situation, it is justifiable to ask which of the two men, Isaac or Abimelech has acted with more character and integrity.
Maybe it’s easy for us to look back now and say that Isaac should have had more faith in God. After all, it was God who brought Isaac and Rebekah together. Surely he wouldn’t bring them together only to allow Isaac to be murdered and Rebekah kidnapped. But, just like both Abraham and Isaac did, you and I might have done the exact same thing in that situation. The killing of strangers and taking their wives was a common occurrence back then, and so it would be natural for Isaac to be concerned. I believe that God brought me and my wife together, but that doesn’t mean that I stop being aware of my surroundings and other people at all times when we are out or traveling together. And so Isaac is probably doing what he thinks is in their best interest.
But at some point, Abimelch looks down from his window, and the text says that “he saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah”. Now, the Hebrew word used here for “laughing”, actually means “caressing” or “fondling”, and depicts erotic activity. Ironically, the word actually derives from the Hebrew word for laughter, which is, remember, what Isaac means!
Don’t let it escape you either, how Abimelech calls out Isaac for lying to him and his people! Abimelech lectures Isaac on the potential sin and guilt that would have fallen upon them if someone would have had sexual relations with Rebekah. SO just like the situation with Abraham, here we see a presumably pagan King lecturing God’s chosen with regards to morality. It demonstrates that Abimelech and his people had a sense of right and wrong regarding this situation, and were angry at the potential guilt Isaac’s actions would have brought upon them.
But the question you sort of have to ask yourself is, if Abimelech or his people would have been guilty, to whom would they have been guilty? He was the king! There was nobody above him. But his reaction implies that he would be guilty in the sense that he would bear guilt as the result of an offense. An offense against who? Again, he was the king!! Abimelech and his people had an awareness of God. They feared God!!
This pagan king and his people had more of a fear and respect and knowledge of God than many people in our modern world today! And that is amazing! Especially considering they didn’t have the internet to look up what truth is! Or what morality is! They didn’t have social media, or career politicians, they didn’t have our universities to teach them the truth, they didn’t have our biased news outlets to inform them of the truth. And it’s a good thing! Because in our society today, we suddenly can’t even figure out or define what a woman is!! Something that humanity knew was self-evident for thousands of years! And yet we are so arrogant and disconnected from reality at times, that we think we still have the ability to discern truth about life’s deeper subjects, like theology, philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology!! I guess my personal opinion is, until you are able to clearly define what a woman is, then you have no business lecturing me about morality or metaphysics!
But why does any of that matter? What is the point? The point is that Abimelech had a knowledge of God…how? There was no Bible at that time. No Old Testament. No church. No social justice warriors.
I’ll tell you how….Just as Paul tells us in Romans 1:19-21..”19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
What the Bible teaches us is that everyone has the ability to know and understand that God exists, simply by looking at nature, the universe. And if you know God exists, then you also know you are accountable to Him. Romans also tells us that God’s morality is written upon our heart, and that our conscience also bears witness to this.
So Abimelech calling out Isaac is an example of knowing God’s morality without knowing or hearing the name of Jesus. Without reading a Bible. Again, as Paul tells us, so that all are without excuse. If these pagan people knew about God and basic morality, how much moreso for us today, with so much information available at our fingertips, with the click of a button. Remember Luke 12:48- , “to whom much is given, much will be required”
12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”
So, Isaac plants, and reaps a hundredfold! His obedience during the famine is rewarded. And he became wealthy. So wealthy, that the Phillistines envied him. In fact, they envied him so much that they stopped up the wells that Abraham had dug. The digging of wells was critical to survival. And so this was not just some act of mischief. This was serious. So much for the non-aggression pact they made with Abraham!!
And it gets to the point where Abimelech approaches Isaac and tells him that he needs to move on from the land. Strange, Abimelech goes from issuing direction that anyone who touches Isaac or Rebekah will be executed, to informing Isaac that he must leave! Maybe he didn’t feel like he could keep them safe any longer. Maybe it was a move to simply pacify his people. We can only speculate. But, it does remind us that human nature hasn’t changed all that much over the last few thousand years. Rather than looking at what people are doing to be successful and learning from them, it’s much easier to envy them, or desire to destroy them, or resent them or make excuses for why we aren’t successful.
17-22 – 17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 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 contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that 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, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
So Isaac submits to the expulsion from the land with apparently no argument. He digs again the wells that Abraham had dug, but the men of Gerar came and laid claim to them. Amazingly, Isaac, without any protest, moves again. Same thing happens again. Maybe Isaac simply doesn’t want to be rash in waging war, and is trusting in God to give him the land at the right time. But finally, Isaac digs a well that is not contested. He digs this well in Rehoboth, which is about 20 miles from Beersheba, and even today, there are several large wells of great antiquity in that area.
23-25 – – 23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared to 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 offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
So Isaac goes to Beersheba, where God appears to him. Ironically, this is the site of Abraham’s non-aggresion pact with the Phillistines! But God establishes again the fact that he is the same one who spoke with his father Abraham. God also re- emphasizes the succession from Abraham the father to Isaac the son as the recipient of God’s special blessing and relationship
I always notice the phrase that God often makes to humans, just as he starts out with Isaac here, God says “fear not”. This is one of the most often repeated, if not the most often repeated, phrases from God to man. Oftentimes in scripture, whether it is God or an angel, when men see them they fall on their knees, afraid, unable to stand, unable to speak. And so they are told to not be afraid.
I find it comical how people say, ‘when I die I’m going to ask God why he did this or that”, or “ I want to know why this or that”, like they are going to stand up and confront God like they think they do other human beings. First of all, most people who say that don’t even have the courage to face another adult outside the cover of social media. They sure wouldn’t do or say the things they do face to face with someone. And I can assure you, they won’t do it to God either. These men in the Bible were strong men, hard men, and they lived hard lives. Life was extremely difficult back then, just as it has been for most of human history. But we have people today, living their soft first-world problem lives, who think they are going to ”bow up” and challenge the Creator of the universe. It’s ridiculous. And it serves as a true barometer as to how out of touch and disconnected from reality some people are today.
26-33—26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 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. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
So, Abimelech has grown uneasy with Isaac’s prosperity. He is not comfortable with another prosperous and powerful group on the fringes of his kingdom. So, he goes out to meet Isaac, and brings with him his advisor, as well as the commander of his army. Since Abimelech, the king, initiates the agreement, it implies that Isaac is now the stronger party.
Abimelech admits that it is obvious that God has been with him and blessed him. Sending Isaac into the desert should have resulted in economic ruin, but it did not. And so he tells Isaac that he wants to make a treaty with him, that Isaac will do them no harm, and will treat them well, just as they have treated Isaac well. That seems a bit disingenuous. I mean sure, Abimelch did give warning not to touch Isaac or Rebekah, but it was also Abimelech’s men who filled up Isaac’s wells with dirt.
We then end this chapter with a couple of verses that seem a bit out of place. The last two verses, 34-35 read- 34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
And that’s it. Just seemingly added onto this chapter. These last two verses just seem odd to include, based on the episodes we have just read about. But they serve to frame the narrative for what follows in the next chapter. By taking wives from pagan tribes, Esau confirms he is unworthy to be the heir of God’s special blessings.
When it says Esau and his wife made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah, it really means that they were “bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rebekah”. It’s almost certain that the Hittite’s lifestyle and values were radically different from this family of Gods, especially spiritually. And as we will soon see, Isaac should have recognized Esau’s spiritual deficiencies, but he overlooks them, and he clings to his physical senses and appetites when it comes time to give the blessing to his sons.
Will we be like Isaac, in that we pay more attention to, and focus more on, the physical, or will we be dialed into the spiritual? I pray that each of us will begin to pay more attention to the spiritual aspects of life, than we do to the physical.
Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. I would add to his quote, by saying that the “spiritually unexamined life is not worth living”. But far more important than anything Socrates or myself has to say, the Bible teaches us in Proverbs 9:10 that “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy one is insight”. It is in the reverential awe of God where wisdom begins
This chapter illustrates how God is able to accomplish his plan despite any circumstances that arise, despite our shortcomings, or anything life throws at us. God is still able to preserve his promise and bring about blessings. I pray that you would keep something in mind, that, even in our modern world, amongst all the chaos and noise, in a world where we seem to be losing the battle on almost every front, and you worry about the future of our country, about your children and your grandchildren, I pray you remember, that God is still in control.