Isaac and Abimelech
1Once during Abraham's lifetime, the fields had not produced enough grain, and now the same thing happened. So Isaac went to King Abimelech of the Philistines in the land of Gerar, 2because the Lord had appeared to Isaac and said:
Isaac, stay away from Egypt! I will show you where I want you to go. 3 You will live there as a foreigner, but I will be with you and bless you. I will keep my promise to your father Abraham by giving this land to you and your descendants.
4I will give you as many descendants as there are stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all of this land. They will be a blessing to every nation on earth, 5because Abraham did everything I told him to do.
6Isaac moved to Gerar 7 with his beautiful wife Rebekah. He was afraid that someone might kill him to get her, and so he told everyone that Rebekah was his sister. 8After Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech looked out a window and saw Isaac hugging and kissing Rebekah. 9Abimelech called him in and said, “Rebekah must be your wife! Why did you say she is your sister?”
“Because I thought someone would kill me,” Isaac answered.
10“Don't you know what you've done?” Abimelech exclaimed. “If someone had slept with her, you would have made our whole nation guilty!” 11Then Abimelech warned his people that anyone who even touched Isaac or Rebekah would be put to death.
12Isaac planted grain and had a good harvest that same year. The Lord blessed him, 13and Isaac was so successful that he became very rich. 14In fact, the Philistines were jealous of the large number of sheep, goats, and slaves that Isaac owned, 15and they stopped up the wells that Abraham's servants had dug before his death. 16Finally, Abimelech said, “Isaac, I want you to leave our country. You have become too powerful to stay here.”
17Isaac left and settled in Gerar Valley, 18where he cleaned out those wells that the Philistines had stopped up. Isaac also gave each of the wells the same name that Abraham had given to them. 19While his servants were digging in the valley, they found a spring-fed well. 20But the shepherds of Gerar Valley quarreled with Isaac's shepherds and claimed the water belonged to them. So this well was named “Quarrel,” because they had quarreled with Isaac.
21Isaac's servants dug another well, and the shepherds also quarreled about it. So that well was named “Jealous.” 22Finally, they dug one more well. There was no quarreling this time, and the well was named “Lots of Room,” because the Lord had given them room and would make them very successful.
23Isaac went on to Beersheba, 24where the Lord appeared to him that night and told him, “Don't be afraid! I am the God who was worshiped by your father Abraham, my servant. I will be with you and bless you, and because of Abraham I will give you many descendants.” 25Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord. Then he set up camp, and his servants started digging a well.
In Isaac’s life we see some repeat behaviors and events like those in his father Abraham’s life. Perhaps it is a bit “like father, like son”, but mostly we see that the author is clearly recording that God is keeping his promises to the patriarch and his family.
Like Abraham in Genesis 12, Isaac has a direct encounter with the Lord while in a time of famine. He is given clear direction to not continue on to Egypt but to remain in “the land” (v2). God reconfirms the promise he made with Abraham on that previous occasion that “the land” is for their family and the many descendants they will have (vv 3-5). Like his father before him Isaac chooses to obey and remains in Gerar in Philistia. (v6).
Listening to God and being an object of his blessing does not mean Isaac’s character is perfected or that all the circumstances of his life perfectly align. In vv 7-11 we see Isaac behaving in a very similar way to how his father had previously (Genesis 12 & 20). Fearing he will be killed by the men of Gerar so that they can have his beautiful wife, Rebekah, he lies about their relationship indicating she is his sister. Abimelech later sees Isaac and Rebekah caressing in a romantic manner and the lie is revealed. In pressured circumstances, even people of promise can slip into deceitful behaviours. As seen in Abraham’s story and later with Rebekah and Jacob this tends to be a family trait.
As Isaac and his family go about farming they become very prosperous in a manner similar to Abraham. Eventually it leads to tension over the limited number of water wells available. Abimelech indicates it’s time for Isaac’s entourage to move on because they had become “too powerful for us” (vv 12-16). As they move on they still prosper and the tensions continue with the Philistines from well to well (vv 17-22).
Finally the battle for the wells comes to an end with peace at Rehoboth, which means “lots of room” and then Beersheba. It is there that the Lord reappears to Isaac and again promises His presence and blessing (vv 22-24). In response, like his father, Isaac builds an altar for worship and remembrance. The worship patterns of the people of promise continue into a new generation.
Later, when Isaac and Abimelech meet, Isaac asks, “Why are you here? Didn’t you send me away because you hated me?” Abimelech responds, “We now know for certain that the Lord is with you,…” (vv 27,28). This is the ultimate sign of blessing.
O God of Isaac, you are consistently merciful to us. Let the blessing of your presence be seen in us in spite of our imperfections, so that others may acknowledge your undeserved goodness to flawed humanity, through Jesus the merciful, Amen.