Last time, when we were studying chapter 25, we read that Abraham died and his body was buried in the same place where his wife, Sarah, had been buried. And though he had other sons — borne to him by Keturah his concubine and Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant — nevertheless, Isaac, the son Sarah bore Abraham, was to be his sole heir. He was to inherit all of Abraham’s wealth. And more than that: he was also heir to all of God’s promises. Remember? God had promised to give Abraham so many descendants they would be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore: too many to count. And he had promised to give Abraham and his descendants a land to live in. So, God was going to him Abraham a people and a place. And just as God made those promises to Abraham, so God would make those same promises to Isaac, Abraham’s heir.
Well, we also read last time that Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, after 20 years of barrenness, was finally able to conceive and she gave birth to twins. There was Esau, who was the firstborn. And there was Jacob, Esau’s younger brother. But before they were born, God revealed to Rebekah that two nations would come from her two children; and the nation that came from Jacob would be greater than the nation that came from Esau. The Lord said:
Two nations are in your womb and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.
In other words:
Keep your eye on Jacob, because he’s the one who will really count in the future, and not his brother.
And, of course, in due course, we’ll see how God chose Jacob, and not Esau, to inherit all of the promises that he had made to Abraham and Isaac about a people and a place. This great nation would come from Jacob and not from Esau. And the Promised Land would be given to Jacob and his descendants and not to Esau or his descendants.
Introduction to Chapter 26
Chapter 25 ended with Esau agreeing to sell his birthright to his younger brother. And I suppose we’re expecting the story of Jacob and Esau to continue in chapter 26. We want to know: What happened next? But that doesn’t happen. Before we find out what happened next in the story of Jacob and Esau, we’re told a little more about Isaac and his life.
Well, as we read this chapter a few minutes ago, you might have had a feeling that it all sounds so familiar. It all sounds so familiar because so much of what we read of Isaac’s life in this chapter is reminiscent of so much of what happened in the life of his father, Abraham. Let me outline some of the similarities. First of all, Abraham received God’s call and promises; and so does Isaac. Abraham pretended his wife was his sister; and so does Isaac. Abraham’s men and Lot’s men quarrelled and the men had to separate; and we read here how the locals quarrelled with Isaac’s men and they had to separate. The Lord spoke to Abraham and re-assured him; and the Lord spoke to Isaac and re-assured him. Abimelech made a treaty with Abraham; and Abimelech — probably a different Abimelech — but Abimelech the king of the Philistines made a treaty with Isaac. There are all these similarities and parallels between what happened to Abraham and what happened to Isaac. And so, given these similarities, we’re perhaps wondering:
Why is this chapter here? What does it add to what we’ve already learned from the history of Abraham? Would the Bible be any different really if this chapter had been left out?
Well, we’ll get to that in a few minutes. First, though, let me take you through the passage to see what we can learn from it. And then, at the end, we’ll come back and think about why this chapter has been included in the book of Genesis despite all the similarities with the story of Abraham.
Verses 1 to 7
And so, we read in verse 1 that there was a famine in the land. Now, there was a famine in the days of Abraham, which the writer reminds us about. And, of course, there will be another great famine in the day of Joseph. Famines seemed to occur fairly often in those days and in that part of the world. And we read that Isaac went to Abimelech who was king of the Philistines in Gerar. As I’ve said already, this is probably a different Abimelech to the one Abraham knew. You see, the name ‘Abimelech’ may have been a common name given to kings in those days. Well, perhaps Isaac only intended to stay there a while, and perhaps he was intending to go on to Egypt in order to find food. After all, that’s what Abraham had done and Egypt always seemed to have plenty of good things for people to eat. However, according to verse 2, the Lord appeared to Isaac and he commanded him not to go down to Egypt, but to remain where he was. And then the Lord re-iterated the promises he had made to Abraham. He said to Isaac:
For to you and your descendants I will give all of these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all of these lands.
Do you see? He’s promising Isaac a people: so many descendants they’ll be like the stars in the sky. And he’s promising Isaac a place: I will give all of these lands to you and your descendants. So, a people and a place.
And there are two interesting points to note here. First of all, the Bible scholars believe that the events in this chapter took place before the events of chapter 25. Why do they think that? Well, later Isaac pretends that Rebekah is his sister and not his wife. But who would believe them if little Jacob and Esau were running around, shouting ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ at them. So, if the events of chapter 26 took place before the events of chapter 25, then that means that when the Lord appeared to Isaac and promised him many descendants, then this was before he had any children at all and it was while Rebekah, his wife, was still barren. And so, we can imagine Isaac, praying to the Lord for a child, just as his father had done. And the Lord appeared before him to re-assure him and to say to him:
I’ve heard your prayers. And you will indeed have a child. In fact, you’ll have so many descendants they’ll be like the stars in the sky.
So, that’s the first thing to notice about the Lord’s promise to Isaac. The second thing is to notice is the Lord’s promise to give him all these lands. And we can imagine Isaac, looking around him — north, south, east and west — and the Lord said to him:
Isaac, I’m going to give you all of this.
Now, compare that promise at the end of verse 3 to what the Lord commanded Isaac to do in verse 2 and the first part of verse 3. In verse 2, the Lord said to Isaac:
live in the land where I tell you to live.
The Hebrew word for ‘live’ in this verse means ‘live here temporarily’. And then in verse 3, the Lord said to him:
Stay in this land for a while.
So, live here temporarily. Stay here for a while. In other words:
One day I’m going to give you all of this land. One day this will all be yours. It will be for you and your descendants after you. But not yet. You must wait for it.
So, before Isaac had any children, the Lord promised him that one day he would have many descendants. And before Isaac owned any of the land, and while he was only living there temporarily, the Lord promised him that one day it would all be his. The Lord made him these promises, but he had to wait for them.
Well, whenever we were thinking about the Lord’s promises to Abraham, I said there are fulfilled in two ways. In an earthly, ordinary and provisional way; and in a spiritual, greater and eternal way. The promise of a people was fulfilled in an earthly way in the nation of Israel. And the promise of a place was fulfilled in an earthly way in the land of Israel. And Isaac had to wait for that to happen, just as Abraham had to wait for it to happen.
But then, the promises are also fulfilled in a spiritual way. God’s promise of a people is fulfilled in the church, because the members of the church are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and Isaac. And the church is growing around the world so that the number of Abraham’s and Isaac’s spiritual descendants is like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. And God’s promise of a place will be fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth which we read about in the last book of the Bible where all of God’s believing people will live for ever and ever.
God had promised Isaac these things. But Isaac had to wait for them. In fact, at the time of his death, he was still waiting for them. Isn’t that what the writer to the Hebrews said? I’ve referred to that passage before. He wrote:
All these people — Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob — were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…. [T]hey were longing for a better country — a heavenly one.
Just like Isaac, we too must wait for them. The Lord has promised to make a people for himself. And he has promised to bring his people into the place which he has prepared for them. But we must wait for it. And we must pray for it. We must believe his promises and wait and pray for them to be fulfilled. And instead of doubting, we must continue to trust that the Lord will do everything that he had promised and that he will build his church throughout the world through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ; and bring us at last into the Promised Land of Eternal Life.
But before we move on, notice that the Lord made two other promises to Isaac. First of all, notice his promise at the end of verse 4. He said to Isaac:
through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.
This is the same promise the Lord made to Abraham in Genesis 12. And the Lord was referring to the Lord Jesus, because — according to his human nature — the Lord Jesus was descended from Abraham and Isaac. And because the Lord suffered the wrath and curse of God in our place when he died on the cross, so now all who believe in him receive the blessing of God: the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life. We deserve God’s wrath and curse because of our disobedience. But the Lord Jesus bore the curse on our behalf so that we might receive from God the blessing none of us deserves. And so, the Lord promised Isaac: all nations will be blessed through one of your descendants. He was referring to the Lord Jesus.
And notice now the Lord’s words in verse 3 where he promised to be with Isaac and to bless him. So, no matter what happened to Isaac in the years to come, and no matter where he ended up, he was to be comforted with the knowledge that the Lord was with him, to take care of him and to protect him. And that’s the comfort and re-assurance that the Lord gives to all his believing people. Whatever we have to face in this troubled life, we can know for certain that the Lord will not abandon us or let us down, because he has promised to be with his people. Think of the promise of Psalm 46:
though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging, we will not fear.
The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.
In the rest of the chapter, and in all that happened to Isaac, we’ll see that the Lord was with him to bless him.
Verses 8 to 11
So, look at verses 8 to 11. First of all, there’s danger and trouble. You see, Isaac is worried that the Philistines will kill him in order to take his wife for themselves. And so, he did what his father did, and he pretended that Rebekah was his sister. But he’s found out: one day the king saw him caressing Rebekah. Well, Abimelech was no fool:
That’s not how men normally treat their sisters. Isaac must be lying.
And so, he confronted Isaac and the truth came out.
Now, this incident is important because it shows us that God was able to keep Isaac and his wife safe. You see, when the king discovered the truth, instead of being angry with Isaac for being deceitful, the king issued a warning that anyone who molested Isaac or his wife would be put to death. In other words:
Don’t touch them! They’re out of bounds.
And so, God used this pagan king to protect his people. What had God promised Isaac?
I will be with you and will bless you.
The Lord was with him to protect him on this occasion.
Verses 12 to 16
And look now at verses 12 to 16. Isaac planted crops in that land, and despite the famine everywhere else, that same year, Isaac reaped a harvest, a hundredfold of what he had sown. And the reason his crops did so well is because the Lord blessed him. Do you see that at the end of verse 12? We’re told that the reason his crops did so well is because the Lord had blessed him.
What had God promised Isaac?
I will be with you and will bless you. Well, the Lord was keeping his promise.
In fact, look at verse 13 where it tells us that he became rich. His wealth continued to increase so that he became, not only wealthy, but very wealthy. In fact, he had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. And then look at verse 16: The king finally asked him to leave the area. Why? Because he had become too powerful for them. In other words, the Lord was with him and had blessed him abundantly.
Verses 17 to 22
Look with me now at verses 17 to 22. Isaac moved away from there and he settled in the Valley of Gerar. And, of course, he needed water for all his flocks and herds. So, not only did he and his men re-open the wells his father had dug and which the Philistines had blocked up, but they also dug three new wells.
Now, the names of two of the wells make clear the kind of opposition he faced in those days. One was called Dispute. The second was called Opposition. You see, the men of the area kept quarrelling with him just as Lot’s men once quarrelled with Abraham’s men. Isaac, I suppose, had too many flocks and herds and the land could not support them all. And so, the locals were against him.
But look at this: Instead of taking a stand and fighting his opponents, instead of standing up for his rights, as we’re tempted to do today, Isaac, on both occasions, simply moved on. He gave up his right to the well he had dug and he moved on, until finally, the Lord led him to a place where no one quarrelled with him. So, look at verse 22: He dug another well and this one, he named Room. At last, the Lord had given him the room he needed.
Instead of fighting for his rights, and standing up to his enemies, he simply trusted in the Lord who had promised to be with him and to bless him. He trusted in the Lord to provide him with the water he needed. He knew the Lord had promised to be with him, and so he looked to the Lord to help him. And when he eventually found the water he needed, and the room to live in peace, he knew it was the Lord who had done it for him.
And isn’t that what we need to do? Think of all the opposition we face from time to time. Think of all the problems that occur everyday. Think of the frustrations and the setbacks. Think of the people who upset us and the situations which worry us. We can’t sleep at night because we’re so anxious. Well, we need to remember and believe that we can trust in the Lord to help us, because he has promised to be with us. We need to remember Isaac. Instead of taking matters into his own hands and fighting against his enemies, he relied on the Lord to do what he promised he would do.
Verses 23 to 25
Let’s move on now to verses 23 to 25. Isaac moved on to Beersheba. And just as the Lord spoke to Abraham in chapter 13 to re-assure him after he and Lot had separated, so the Lord appeared to Isaac to re-assure him. And what did the Lord say to re-assure him? Look at verse 24:
Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
And then he went on to re-iterate the promise he had made before that he would give Isaac many descendants. Do you see? The Lord was with him and spoke to re-assure Isaac.
Well, the Lord still speaks to us today in the pages of the Bible which contain all the promises we need. He speaks to re-assure us and to remind us that we can trust in him for help and protection so that we don’t need to be afraid.
And then, out of gratitude to the Lord, Isaac built an altar and he called on the name of the Lord in worship. And that’s what we’re to do. Because of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, we’re to worship him.
## Verses 26 to 33
And then, as we get to the end of this chapter, we’re shown again that Isaac was right to trust in the Lord. Verse 26: Abimelech the king came looking for him, along with his personal advisor and the commander of his forces. Now, perhaps Isaac saw them coming, and perhaps he was afraid and thought:
After all, look what he said to them in verse 27:
Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?
You know, he sounds a bit defensive, doesn’t he?
The last time you sent me away. So, what do you want from me now?
But he had no need to be afraid, because Abimelech had come to make peace with Isaac:
Let us make a treaty with you.
And so, they ate together and the next day, they swore an oath to each other. And look at the end of verse 31:
And they left him in peace.
Now, do you see? The chapter began with a famine, but the Lord blessed Isaac with an abundant harvest. Isaac was worried the Philistines would kill him for his wife, but the Lord protected them. The locals quarrelled with him, but the Lord protected him and brought him into a spacious place. And finally the Lord so worked in the heart of this pagan king that the pagan king came to him, and asked if they could agree to live at peace with one another. This chapter shows how the Lord brought Isaac through a period of uncertainty and conflict to a time of peace and rest. And so, we’re reminded that we too ought to trust in the Lord to watch over us and to help us. From time to time, he might lead us through times of uncertainty and conflict and trouble. But we can trust in him to help us just as he helped Isaac. And whereas the people of the world will rise up and fight for their rights, or they sit up all night and worry, we can trust in the Lord to help us.
Well now, before we finish, let’s think again about why this chapter is here. After all, so many of the things that happened to Isaac also happened to his father. So, do we need this chapter?
Well, let’s remind ourselves of who it was who wrote the book of Genesis? Do you remember? We believe it was Moses who wrote it, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And Moses, when he wrote it, wrote it for the Israelites who had escaped from Egypt and who were on their way to the Promised Land. But do you remember? There was no water. There was no food. Travelling in the desert was hard work and difficult. How were they going to survive? How could they keep going? And so, do you remember? They started to think about Egypt. They started to wish they had never left. They started to think they were better off in Egypt. Life was easier in Egypt. Following the Lord through the wilderness is too hard and too difficult. We would be better off in Egypt.
And so, Moses wrote this book and this chapter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And to those Israelites who wanted to go back to Egypt, Moses wrote about Isaac who was going to go to Egypt because of a famine, but the Lord told him to stay in the Promised Land. And the Lord promised Isaac that he would be with him to bless him. And in the rest of the chapter, Moses made clear that the Lord was with Isaac and he did bless him. And though Isaac faced dangers and troubles, the Lord brought him through it all. So, Moses was saying to the Israelites:
Don’t go back to Egypt. Yes, life is hard in the wilderness. Yes, there are enemies who are against us. Yes, you’re worried about food and water. But just as the Lord helped Isaac, so we can trust in him to help us.
In the same way, being a believer today is hard. It’s hard work and it’s difficult. The world is often against us because of what we believe. The Devil is like a roaring lion who wants to devour us. He’s got all kinds of wicked schemes to try to tempt us away from the Saviour. And then there’s our own fallen human nature which is so often weak. And it seems to whisper to us:
This is too hard. Living for Christ is too hard. Why don’t you stop trying to live for Christ and take it easy? Think how much better your life would be and how much easier your life would be if only you gave up your faith.
The world is against us. The Devil is against us. Our own fallen human nature is against us. And so, we need to remember Isaac’s life and how the Lord was with him to bless him and to lead him through all the troubles he faced, and all the uncertainty, until, in the end, even his enemies wanted to make peace with him. Moses was saying to the Israelites:
Don’t give in and don’t turn back. Keep going and trust in the Lord.
And he’s saying the same to us:
Don’t give in and don’t turn back. Keep going.
Of course, we have an even greater example than Isaac, because not only can we look to Isaac and his life, but we can look to the Lord Jesus who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross. And in the end, he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Well, if we too keep going, and endure all things, trusting in the Lord to be with us and to help us, then we too will be able to come into the presence of the Lord, and into that fullness of joy and those pleasures forevermore which he has promised to his of people. Our earthly struggle will be over, and there will be perfect peace and rest for all of God’s people.