We continue our studies in the life of our friend, Jacob. You will notice that in the section we come to now the emphasis at the outset is on his father Isaac, rather than Jacob, although in chapter 27 the focus shifts to Jacob. The chapters from 25 through 37, remember, are the history of Jacob, his own records which he himself compiled, the developments in his life that he thought important. Often he includes mention of other members of his family -sometimes by way of comparison or contrast with his own actions. Let us begin at Genesis 26:1:
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.
The account begins with a famine similar to the one which induced
Abraham to leave the land of Canaan and go to Egypt. Famine is
frequently associated with faith. In fact, you cannot be a man
or woman of faith and not have famines. They are part and parcel
of our life with God. There are times when, for no particular
reason (at least you know of nothing in your life which would
cause the Lord distress), things begin to go wrong-you feel barren
and fruitless, feel that God is not accessible, that he does not
care. Everyone goes through these times. It was true in the life
of Abraham, and true in the life of Isaac.
Isaac followed the precedent his father Abraham set. He started to go to Egypt. It seemed the thing to do. There were resources in Egypt, for, unlike Canaan, Egypt was not dependent upon rain. Its economy was based on the annual flooding of the Nile, and often Egypt had supplies of grain when no other part of the Near East could feed its people. So Isaac left the land.
We know from earlier chapters that Isaac and his family had been encamped at a place called Beerlahai-roi, which means "well of the living one who sees". This place was rich in associations for Isaac. It was where Hagar, the servant of Sarah, Isaac's mother, had gone when she was ejected from the family. Hagar was carrying the then unborn Ishmael when she was cast out of the family. She traveled across the desert and the Lord led her to this oasis, which she named as she did because she learned here that God would provide for her needs.
It was here Isaac was living when the famine drove him out. He had not yet learned that God really cares about us in times of famine. He knew this truth in his mind, perhaps, but had not yet learned in his own experience to count on God in difficult times. So he left the land, following in the wake of his father Abraham, who a hundred years earlier in a time of famine had started for Egypt.
Isaac traveled toward Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, in spite of the promise given to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land for ever. God had given the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants by promise. This was based on the faithfulness of God, and nothing, not force nor famine, could drive them from the land-if they counted on the promise. But in spite of this, Isaac started for Egypt. This is so typical of the way we too often respond to the promises of God. God tells us that he is going to supply our needs according to his riches in gory. But when a time of pressure comes, when famine strikes us, immediately we begin to look around for an alternative to faith, and we forget that God is true to his word.
In one of C.S. Lewis' novels for children, The Silver Chair, from the Narnia series, there is the delightful little story of Aslan's commissioning of Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb to a task. He sent them after the son of King Caspian, who had been lost for some years. While Jill was still on the mountain with Aslan, he gave her four signs. She was to relay to Eustace that when he met an old friend he was to go to him and be given directions. Then she was directed to go to the city of the giants, where she was to find an ancient writing, and she was to do what the writing told her. Finally, they would know the lost prince by the fact that he would be the first person they would meet who would ask them to do something in the name of Aslan, and they were to do it without question. Just before Aslan prepared to blow Jill off the mountain to Narnia, he gave her some final instructions:
"Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But, first, remember, remember, remember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly; I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the Signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the Signs and believe the Signs. Nothing else matters."
Now, that is true. We live in a world which is satanically
smogged. The air is thick in Narnia. And it is easy to forget
the truth which is revealed in a clear and unmistakable way on
the mountain. Therefore we need to go back again and again and
again to the promises-rehearse them, remember them, cling to them.
"Remember the Signs...nothing else matters." But Isaac
forgot the signs, and he fled away from the promised land toward
And the Lord appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because A bra ham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." So Isaac lived in Gerar.
So far as we know, God had not spoken directly to Isaac prior to this. What faith he had he gained as a result of his association with Abraham. The promise had been given to Abraham and passed on to Isaac. Now God, as he is so good to do, speaks directly to Isaac and confirms to him the Abrahamic covenant that the land would belong to him. In contrast to Abraham who went down into Egypt, Isaac obeyed and stayed in Gerar, and dwelt among the Phiistines.
Gerar also was a place with pleasant associations for Isaac--his childhood home. He was born near here, grew up among these Philistines, knew them and was known by them. Abraham and his family were close to the royal family, and it was from a former Abimelech (which appears to be a title, like Pharaoh or Caesar) that Abraham received the deed to certain parcels of land near Gerar, and the right to dig wells and maintain them. So Isaac had the right to settle there, and felt comfortable with these people. The Phiistines were a highly civilized, cultured people who came from the same region as the Greeks. They had broken off from the great Mycenaean civilization of the Aegean Sea, had migrated to Palestine and had established a number of city states there. They had a strange relationship to Israel. At times they were enemies, but at other times they were rather friendly. So Isaac began to live among them.
Then in verse 7 he begins to run into trouble:
When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister...."
And where did he learn that? From Abraham his father. Twice now he has followed his father's leading. This is a sobering thought for those of us who are fathers: our children almost inevitably will solve their problems the way we do. In these two instances we have clear examples of Isaac's following in the wake of Abraham and turning against the promises.
"She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "My wife," thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful."
Isaac by this time was in his late eighties, and Rebekah his wife must have been in her sixties, at least. Yet the account says she was very beautiful. Isaac knew she would attract the men in Philstia, and he was afraid even in the face of the promise God had given him that he would preserve him, and that through him a great nation would come, that he would have many descendants. Isaac gave way to fear, and lied.
And it came about, when he had been there a long time [You see, his fears were groundless; nothing happened.], that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah.
The word translated "caressing" is based on Isaac's name. Literally it says that Isaac was "isaacing" his wife. As you know, Isaac means "laughter", so I think that Isaac somehow was causing his wife to laugh--maybe tickling her.
Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, "Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, 'She is my sister!?'" And Isaac said to him, "Because I said, 'Lest I die on account of her.'" And 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." So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, "He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."
The phrase translated, "surely be put to death" is the same form used in Genesis 2 when God said, "If you eat of the tree, you will surely die." It was a strong prohibition. Abimelech protected Isaac and his family. How shameful for Isaac to be rebuked by this pagan king! Abimelech saw clearly that had any man taken Isaac's wife, he would have been guilty of adultery. We often think of the Israelites as living in an island of morality surrounded by a sea of gross immorality. But that was not always the case. Many times in Scripture we find people outside of Israel rebuking the patriarchs for their moral failures.
There is a code of law that was written in the 20th century B.C., just prior to this time, called the "Law of Eshnunna." Eshnunna was a city state in what today is Iraq. The code provides for certain family matters. For instance, it says some sort of marriage contract must be drawn up before a man can call the woman living with him his wife. Secondly, adultery is punishable by death. Both the man and woman were to be thrown into the river if caught in adultery. So it appears that it was from Noah and his sons, knowing the truth as they did, that truth was disseminated throughout the ancient world. These people knew the truth. The people in Canaan, by and large, had rejected it. But many of the nations surrounding Israel knew a great deal about what ought to be, and at times had a higher sense of justice and morality than the patriarchs. The world was not darkened. God has made truth available to all men everywhere. Abimelech must have been a good man. He rebuked Isaac for his unbelief.
In verses 12 and following, we have an account of the blessings God heaped upon Isaac. Despite his unbelief, God blessed him:
Now Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us." And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.
Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them. But when Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah. And he moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, "At last the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land."
Then he went up from there to Beersheba. And the Lord appeared to him the
same night and said,
"l am the God of your father Abraham;
Do not fear, for l am with you.
I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham."
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.
The account from verse 15 to the end of the chapter is dominated
by the thought of these wells-wells that belonged to Isaac. We
need to bear in mind that he had every right to these wells. Abraham
had secured them through a treaty with Abimelech, and Isaac bore
the title deed to these wells and the parcels of land which went
with them. The account also says that Isaac was stronger than
the Philistines. He could have taken these wells at any time and
held them. But he chose not to. They were his by right, but he
chose not to defend his rights.
In the first case his herdsmen found a well that belonged to Abraham, removed the dirt and debris from the well, and found a fresh spring. And it was theirs. But Abimelech's herdsmen quarreled with Isaac's herdsmen, so Isaac abandoned the well. Well digging in that part of the country is no insignificant task. Water lies 40 or 50 feet beneath the surface, and usually the digging is through many feet of hard rock. So it is one thing to find a well which already has been dug and remove the dirt. It is quite another to dig a new well. Isaac did not know if he could find another well, but he abandoned this one. He called it "Esek", meaning, "injustice". This term is used throughout the writings of the prophets to describe the bad behavior of Israel toward orphans and widows. The prophets would say, "Don't oppress them, don't treat them unjustly." It was unjust of the Philistines to take this well away from Isaac. He could have kept it--either by force, or by insisting upon his rights--but he did neither.
He moved about fifteen miles away in the valley of Gerar and dug another well. The Philistines contested this one, too, so he called it "Sitnah" or "adversity". Our word "Satan", or "adversary", comes from it. He did not fight over this well, either; he left it and went to another place and dug another well. By this time he was about 25 miles away from Gerar, and the herdsmen of Abimelech left him alone. He named this well "Rehoboth," "broad place"--"because," he said, "at last the Lord has brought us into a broad place, has made room for us." He could have fought for his rights, but he did not; he laid them aside. He let the Lord fight for him, and the Lord brought him into a broad place.
The next few verses record how Isaac moved on to Beersheba-again a place which had rich associations for him. This was the place to which he and his father had returned after the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. It was where God had revealed himself to Abraham and had reaffirmed the covenant. Abraham had planted a tamarisk tree, and by this time there was a large oasis there. Isaac stayed there and began to search out the well Abraham had dug. In the last part of verse 25, the term translated "dug"-"dug a well" is not the same term which is translated "dig" or "dug" elsewhere in the chapter; it means "searched out."
Two very significant things are said about Isaac's time at Beersheba: "So he built an altar there...and pitched his tent there..." These were the two characteristics of his father Abraham's life. Whenever he was walking by faith, he had a tent and an altar. An altar is a picture of worship, of offering up yourself to God-any place, any time. A tent is a picture of transience, of being ready to move at any time. Isaac did not build a city. He did not build walls to defend himself. He no longer would fight for his own rights; he let God fight for him. He was willing to live a transient existence without any roots, and to let God provide for his needs, and to worship God wherever God put him. His adversity drove him right back to the place where Abraham lived--back to Beersheba, back to the place of the well.
God revealed himself there to Isaac:
"l am the God of your father Abrsham;
Do not fear, for l am with you.
I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham."
And note what happened:
Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath, and Phicol the commander of his army. And Isaac said to them, "Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and have sent me away from you?" And they said, "We see plainly that the Lord has been with you..."
When they said "Lord" they used the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. "The Lord is with you; we see that plainly." How much hardship and pain Isaac could have caused if he had fought for his own rights. I am sure he could have secured them; they were his by law, and he had the strength to take them by force. But he refused to fight. He let God fight his battles for him, and God gave him what he wanted. And in addition, he gave him the hearts of the unbelievers around him. Proverbs 16:7 says,
When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
"We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 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. "
What a lie! And yet Isaac does not defend himself, does not insist that the other person recognize that he has been wronging him all along. He just quietly gives up his rights and lets God fight his battles, and God gives him what he wants. So they take the oath, and Isaac makes a feast. Verse 32:
Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac's servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug [searched out], and said to him, "We have found water."
They had found Abraham's well, and Isaac gave it the same name
Abraham had given it--"the well of oath", "Beer-Sheba,"
or "Beersheba". So God supplied Isaac's needs out of
his riches in glory. And God will supply our needs. We have rights,
legitimate rights which often are taken from us by oppression
and injustice and adversity. And if we fight for them and insist
upon them, we create havoc, and destroy relationships in the process.
We may get what we want, or at least partially what we want, but
what a wake of wreckage and destruction we leave behind! Isaac
did not fight for his rights, and God supplied his needs.
The next chapter deals with the theft of the blessing. We won't read through it in detail. You probably know the story-and if you do not, you can read it on your own. But these two chapters are laid side by side, I believe, because both of them deal with the rights of a man. Isaac had a right to the wells, yet he gave up his rights to let God fight for him. Jacob had a right to the inheritance. But he fought for it through deceit, and he left behind destruction in his home.
Now it came about, when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, "My son." And he said to him, "Here I am." And Isaac said, "Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die."
Isaac was a man of faith. But here again he yielded to the
pressure of the moment. He might have been willing to believe
God for many things. But when it touched his own family, in particular
Esau, his favorite son--that was another matter entirely! He began
to try to manipulate the circumstances so that he could secure
the blessing for his eldest son. As you know, God had promised
Rebekah, the mother of these twin boys, Jacob and Esau, that the
older would serve the younger, that the second-born, Jacob, would
have the inheritance. It was to be through him that the Messianic
line would be passed, and the land would be given to his descendants.
This galled Isaac to the end of his days. He wanted Esau to have the blessing, and he was going to see to it that Esau got it, even if it meant resisting steadfastly the will of God and his family. So he sent Esau out to find the savory game that he enjoyed so greatly. Isaac said he was old and about to die, but he did not die for another forty years. I do not know what possessed him at this moment, but he panicked and began to set his house in order. But somebody overheard--Rebekah:
And Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau...."
And she relates her misgivings that Esau is going to get the blessing after all. So they get their heads together and conceive a scheme. Rebekah will prepare a dish from two small goats which will be very much like Esau's dish-masking the flavor of the goat meat with spices and herbs. Isaac is old, his sense of taste is almost gone; they will easily be able to deceive him. She clothes Jacob with goat skins so that when Isaac feels the backs of his hands and head, he will think it is Esau, the hairy one. And she gives him Esau's clothes, and Jacob goes in to present this dish to his father. Verse 19:
And Jacob said to his father, "l am Esau your first-born; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me."
He begins here a long string of lies. "I am Esau";
he was not, he was Jacob; "I'm your first-born"; he
was not, he was the second-born. "And here's the game you
asked for"; it was not, it was goat meat. And on through
the rest of the story Jacob piles lie upon lie to deceive his
own father. His father asks, "How did you get it so soon?"
Jacob says, "The Lord your God helped me." And Isaac
is completely fooled!
It just struck me in reading through this passage how easily we can be deceived when we begin to reject the Lord's will. Isaac was deceived in all of his senses. He was blind, and could not see his son; his ears were misled; his sense of touch deceived him, and his senses of taste and smell betrayed him. He was completely deceived. And, having assured himself that this young man who knelt before him was Esau, he gave him the blessing, verses 27 through 29:
So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his
garments, he blessed him and said,
"See, the smell of my son
Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed;
Now may God give you of the dew of heaven,
And of the fatness of the earth,
And an abundance of grain and new wine;
[He gave him Canaan, the Promised Land, by right of inheritance.]
May peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you;
Be master of your brothers,
And may your mother's sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
And blessed be those who bless you."
Thinking this is Esau, Isaac gives him mastery over his brothers
--just the reverse of what God had ordered for these sons. He
was to give Jacob the land. Jacob was to have the line of the
Messiah. He was to have mastery over his brothers. But Isaac turned
it upside down, because he wanted his own way.
Yet there is a very significant omission here. If you go back to the Abrahamic covenant, you find that God said to Abraham, "Blessed are those that bless you, and cursed are those that curse you," and then went on to spell out what it would mean--that the Messiah would be born through his line, and that through this Seed the whole world would be blessed. This is omittedfrom this blessing he thought he was giving Esau. I do not know what happened to Isaac -- if suddenly he wised up and realized what he was doing, or if he began to sense that something was wrong, or if he could not bring himself to resist the Lord completely--but he did not give "Esau" the messianic line. The irony of it all is that Jacob did not get what he wanted.
These Jews were such master story tellers--you can see the tension beginning to build. Just as Jacob goes out through one hole in the tent, Esau comes in through another. Jacob escapes in just the nick of time! Verses 31 through 33:
Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, "Let my father arise, and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me." And Isaac his father said to him, "Who are you?" And he said, "I am your son, your first-born, Esau." Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, "Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that late of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed."
Isaac knew at this point that he had been resisting God; he could not change his mind. People have read this passage as though there were some sort of magic in the blessing he had given, and that is why he could not retract it. But that is not the point at all. There is none of that sort of thing in the faith of the patriarchs. The blessing was a verbal will and testament. He was giving his son his legacy. This is what was done in those days. There are records which prove that these oral wills were upheld in courts of law. Isaac was passing on to his son his inheritance, and along with that, the blessing received from Abraham, the promises which came through patriarchs. He saw that he had been resisting God in attempting to give the blessing to Esau, and that he could not take it back from Jacob. The book of Hebrews says that though Esau sought repentance, tried to get his father to change his mind, his father would not. Verses 39 and 40:
Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,
"Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your
And away from the dew of heaven above.
And by your sword you shall live,
And your brother you shall serve;
But it shall come about when you become restless,
That you shall break his yoke from your neck."
The history of these two nations can be seen in the light of this statement. Esau went to live in the bleak mountains to the southeast of the Dead Sea. There was continual animosity between Israel and Edom. At times Edom would throw off Israel's yoke, but Israel would move in and dominate them again. This enmity continued right down to the time of Christ. Verse 41:
So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
This threat was reported to Rebekah, who went to Isaac to secure
permission to send her son off to Haran where her family lived,
to find a wife. She said she could not stand the Hittite wives
of Esau and that Jacob could look for a wife among her brother's
daughters. So, under cover of Isaac's blessing, Jacob was able
to slip out of the house and go off to the north country so that
Esau could not kill him.
It is ironic that Rebekah told Jacob it would be just "a few days" before Esau cooled down. Do you know that she never saw him again? He was about 76 years old when he left; he was almost 100 years old before he came back to the land of Canaan. Rebekah died in the meantime. And Jacob spent more than twenty years in terrible servitude. Instead of enjoying the bounty and affluence of his father's house, he lost it all and became a slave. He spent the rest of his life trying to untangle the affairs of his own sons, who deceived him and lied to him and caused him so much heartache that he never got over it to the end of his days. He said to Pharaoh when he went into Egypt, "Few and full of trouble have been my days." He incurred the animosity of Edom, an enmity which endured 1800 years. And perhaps most tragic of all, he did not get what he wanted; he got only a portion of it. We will discover in our next study that God did restore the Messianic line, but it was God who gave it to Jacob and not Isaac his father.
Now do you see why these two accounts are side by side? Isaac had legitimate rights, but he did not fight for them. It is right to fight for somebody else's rights, but we do not need to fight for our own. Isaac laid those rights aside; he let God fight for him, and God gave him what he wanted. On the other hand, Jacob and his mother schemed and contrived, deceived their own father and husband to get what they wanted, and caused years of heartache. They did not let God fight for them.
Let me leave with you three Old Testament passages. The first is in Deuteronomy 20, where Moses instructs the Israelites in how to wage war. How do God's people fight? He tells them three things: do not be afraid; do not be in a hurry; and let God fight for you.
The second passage is Isaiah 28:16. It is quoted a number of times in the New Testament, and you probably are familiar with it:
Behold, l am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in [him] will not be [literally] in a hurry.
And, over against that, Isaiah 40:31:
But they that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.
When your rights are taken away from you, do not be afraid, and do not get in a hurry. Do not try to force God's hand; do not try to get the blessing yourself; let God fight for you.
It is good to be reminded again that the battle is the Lord's. We ask you to fight for us, Father. Give us the quiet rest that Isaac enjoyed through all those months while he waited for you to set things right. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.