If you’ve been reading along through the book of Genesis, you’ll find that chapter 26 opens with a scene may sound familiar…
“Now there was a famine in the land – besides the earlier famine of Abraham’s time – and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.
“For to you and your descendants I will give all 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 these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.’ So Isaac stayed in Gerar” (Genesis 26:1-6).
If this situation sounds as if you’ve heard it before, it may be because this is almost an exact repeat of something that happened to Isaac’s father Abraham back in Genesis chapter twelve.
Now when someone lives to be 175 years old like Abraham (Genesis 25:7) or 180 years old like Isaac (Genesis 35:28), it’s probably safe to assume that he or she will experience some really extreme weather conditions during his or her lifetime. For Abraham and Isaac, these weather extremes took the form of rainfall shortages that occurred from time to time during their lives. Besides the negative effect of these droughts on the drinking water supply, they also served to limit the amount of food that could be grown and the areas where livestock could graze. In Abraham’s case, his solution was to head over to Egypt to wait out a famine that occurred during his lifetime and it seems as if Isaac was thinking about doing much the same thing.
But Isaac suddenly got a message that changed any travel plans that he may have been thinking about: “Do not go down into Egypt. Live in the land which I shall tell you of” (MKJV). So rather than allow Isaac to escape from this difficult situation, God instead told Isaac to stay where he was and to follow His instructions. This reminds us that God doesn’t always allow people to escape from difficult situations in their lives- sometimes God asks people to stay within those difficult situations and trust Him to deliver on His promises for their lives.
“Now there was a famine in the land – besides the earlier famine of Abraham’s time – and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar” (Genesis 26:1).
If you’ve been reading carefully, you may have noticed that Genesis 26:1 mentions another character that we’ve seen before. That person is Abimelech and we first met him back in Genesis chapter 20 when we were told…
“…For a while (Abraham) stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’ Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her” (Genesis 20:1-2).
This incident with Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech took place about 100 years before Isaac’s time. This means that it’s highly unlikely that the Abimelech that Isaac met in Genesis chapter 26 is the same Abimelech that his father Abraham dealt with in Genesis chapter 20. So how can we account for this? Well, the most likely explanation is that the name “Abimelech” probably served more as a title than a personal name during that time. To illustrate this idea, take a look at the following sentence:
“The President of the United States lived in Washington, D.C. in 1795, 1895, and 1995.”
Is that a truthful statement? Sure it is, but that statement applies to three different people, doesn’t it? In a similar way, the “Abimelech” mentioned in Genesis chapter 26 is probably a different person than the one we saw in chapter 20, but someone who held the very same title.
So Isaac did what God said and stayed in the city of Gerar, but here’s what happened next…
“When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister,’ because he was afraid to say, ‘She is my wife.’ He thought, ‘The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful'” (Genesis 26:7).
Is there anything about this passage that sounds familiar? If so, it may be because this is the same mistake that Isaac’s father Abraham made twice- once in Genesis chapter 12 and again in Genesis chapter 20.
In fact, Isaac’s deception with his wife Rebekah is even worse than what Abraham did with his wife Sarah. You see, when Abraham misrepresented Sarah as his sister, he was telling a literal half-truth because Sarah was actually Abram’s half-sister- they both had the same father but different mothers according to Genesis 20:12. However, there was no truth in Isaac’s statement because his wife Rebekah was actually his 2nd cousin.
So Abraham and Isaac both had similar experiences where they chose to misrepresent their wives to others. For example…
- Abraham and Isaac both had beautiful wives and they both feared for their own safety because of it.
- Each misrepresented the truth about their relationship by saying that his wife was his sister.
- They both made this same choice during a severe food shortage.
Now it may seem strange to make a big deal out of these similarities, but there is something important to learn from both of these examples. That “something” has to do with the effect that our choices and actions have on others. For instance, let’s think about this idea in terms of a parent/child relationship. One saying that has been used to describe the effect that a parent has on a child is, “Like father, like son.” This saying came into existence because children often grow up to imitate their parents in many ways.
A small child will often try to imitate the things that he or she sees his or her parents do. Later on when that child is older, he or she will probably tend to reproduce the same attitudes and character traits that were picked up from his or her parents while growing up. That’s because our parents often have a large influence on the way that we develop as children and young adults for better or worse.
We can see an example of this in Isaac’s life as he went on to imitate the same mistake that his father made by misrepresenting his wife as his sister. The problem for us is that every parent makes mistakes, just as we see here with Abraham and Isaac. When this happens, it may be tempting for someone to say, “My parents were messed up so that’s why I became messed up” to justify their own mistakes and shortcomings.
But the truth is that we are not automatically locked into making the same mistakes that our parents may have made. You see, it’s possible to look at the mistakes that our parents have made and not reproduce them in our own lives by asking God to help us in those areas where we may be falling short. We know this because the New Testament book of Philippians tells us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV). Remember, Jesus said that we can do nothing apart from Him (see John 15:1-8) but through Him, we can do everything.
So Isaac decided to try and pass off his wife as his sister, but we’ll see that it won’t be long before this “brother” and “sister” get caught.
“When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah” (Genesis 26:8).
This verse has been translated differently depending on the particular Bible version you may be reading. For example, the New King James Version (NKJV) of this verse says that, “Isaac (was) showing endearment to Rebekah his wife.” The King James Version (KJV) says, “Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.” The Revised Standard Version (RSV) tells us that “Isaac (was) fondling Rebekah his wife.” The Living Bible says, “Abimelech… looked out of a window and saw Isaac and Rebekah making love.”
So we’re not totally sure about what Abimelech saw Isaac and Rebekah doing, but whatever it was, it obviously involved some kind of physical intimacy that’s seen between husbands and wives and not brothers and sisters. In any event, Isaac suddenly had some explaining to do…
“So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, ‘She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? Isaac answered him, ‘Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.’ Then Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.’ So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: ‘Anyone who molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death'” (Genesis 26:9-11).
Perhaps Abimelech was thinking about a similar situation that occurred with Isaac’s father Abraham back in Genesis chapter 20. In that incident, God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman” (Genesis 20:3). That might help to explain Abimelech’s strong reaction here in Genesis chapter 26: “Don’t you know what you’ve done?” Abimelech exclaimed. “If someone had slept with her, you would have made our whole nation guilty!” (CEV).
So just as we saw earlier with Abraham, this incident with Isaac and Abimelech should serve as a warning and example for those who claim to follow God today. Isaac didn’t represent God very well during this time and his example reminds us that we should be careful about how we represent God to others. This is one reason why Philippians 1:27 says, “…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (NAS). If you conduct yourself in a manner that’s worthy of the gospel of Christ, then you’ll always be sure to provide others with the right example to follow.
“Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy” (Genesis 26:12-13).
To receive a hundredfold return on a crop planting was a terrific result, especially if it occurred during a famine (see Genesis 26:1). So Isaac was clearly experiencing God’s blessing, but this didn’t mean that everyone was happy…
“He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.’ So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there” (Genesis 26:14-17).
Back in those days, anyone who had possession of a well also had the right to any unoccupied property in the the area where the well was located. But instead of allowing Isaac to maintain those property rights, a group of people who lived in that area known as the Philistines (pronounced “Phil-is-teens”) decided to sabotage Isaac’s wells by filling them up with dirt. Without the use of those wells, Isaac would not have enough water to plant his crops or sustain his livestock.
So Isaac’s neighbors sent an obvious message that they didn’t want him around, and they soon followed that message up with another message…
“Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there.
But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, ‘The water is ours!’ So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah” (Genesis 26:18-21).
Isaac’s experience serves to remind us that others may not always react very well when someone is blessed for living a God-honoring life. The truth is that a relationship with God doesn’t always provide an automatic immunity from things like unfairness, difficulties, or problems, just as we see here with Isaac. The good news is that Jesus has given us a promise to remember when these things occur…
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, ‘Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.’ From there he went up to Beersheba.
That night the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.’ Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well” (Genesis 26:22-25).
Even though his neighbors had treated him unfairly, we can see that Isaac still maintained his focus on God. That helped put him in a position to receive God’s direction and encouragement: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you…”
“Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces” (Genesis 26:26).
So Isaac was minding his own business and who suddenly appears but Abimelech, the very same guy who asked him to get out of town just a few verses earlier. Only this time, Abimelech showed up with the commander of his military forces as well- and that naturally led to some suspicion on Isaac’s part…
“Isaac asked them, ‘Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?’
They answered, ‘We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’ – between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the Lord.’
Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace” (Genesis 26:27-31).
When God blesses someone for living the kind of life that honors Him, other people will notice. They may not always be happy about it, (like the Philistines who wrecked Isaac’s water supply), but they will recognize it. That’s what happened with Isaac and Abimelech, and their peace treaty serves as a living illustration of something that God would later inspire another Biblical author to write…
“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7 NKJV).
“When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35).
The last few verses of Genesis 26 focus on the relationship choices of Isaac’s son Esau. Now you may recall that when it was time for Isaac to get married, his father Abraham arranged to bring him the right marriage partner. Abraham had some specific qualities in mind in seeking the right kind of partner for Isaac so he sent his servant off to find someone who fit those characteristics. If you remember the account from Genesis 24, then you remember how God blessed that effort with success and how Abraham’s servant found that person in a woman named Rebekah.
Now compare Isaac’s example to Esau’s approach: it says that, “he married Judith… the Hittite, and… Basemath… the Hittite” (emphasis added). Notice that there’s no indication that Esau prayed and asked God for His direction before making these decisions. There’s no indication that he sought any advice from his Godly parents about Judith and Basemath. In fact, there’s no indication that Esau was concerned about their character or spiritual beliefs at all- it just says that he got married to Judith and Basemath.
Because of this, it’s not surprising to read that, “…Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah” (NLT). We’re not told why Isaac and Rebekah were so unhappy, but it’s possible that it was related to the fact that Judith and Basemath both came from a local Canaanite people group known as the Hittites. Since the Hittites were not normally followers of God (as Esau’s parents and grandparents were), it’s likely that Judith and Basemath did not exert a very good spiritual influence on Esau and that led to problems later on.
So how can we take this Biblical example and apply it to relationships today? Well, let’s say that you are in a dating relationship with someone and your parents approach you with some concerns about the person you are dating. If your parents are uneasy about someone you are dating, then it would be a good idea to step back, listen to their concerns, and take their advice seriously.
This is not to say that your parents are always correct, but it’s right to honor your parents and take their concerns seriously, especially when it comes to the area of relationships. Otherwise, you may eventually find that the person that you were once so in love with has become a source of grief not only to your parents, but to you as well.