A Sunday school children’s song contains the lyrics, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.” Cute song. Bad hermeneutics. The fact is that we participate in the promise that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and we experience its blessings (Galatians 3:9). But the promise itself was unique to Abraham so that there would be no mistake that salvation would arise from one family.
The Isaac narrative in Genesis (chapters 21-35) shows the continuance of the promise of God to save the world through Jesus. In so many ways Isaac’s life paralleled that of his father. Both shared similar famines, similar lies about their beautiful wives, similar sibling difficulties, similar potential adultery of their wives with high-ranking officials, and similar challenges with the “peoples of the land.” But for all of Isaac’s challenges he continued to place his confidence in God’s promises and thereby experienced God’s blessings.
The Land and Legacy of the Promise
A second famine ran the risk of derailing the promise of God. It was similar to the one Abraham experienced (Genesis 12:10). What if the people of the promise died of starvation? To the Israelite reading this story (or hearing it), there would have been a question about Isaac’s obedience. God kept Isaac from going to Egypt as Abraham had done. Instead he told him to sojourn (dwell; inhabit) in the land.
God promised Isaac his presence and his blessing. These would manifest themselves in the land (ground; earth) and the legacy (the oath to his family). Abraham’s family needed a place to “be,” so God included the promise the land (a word appearing twice in this text). But more than place is the people. Offspring (children; descendants) occurs four times in the text. This offspring would multiply as the stars of heaven. In fact, this offspring would end up blessing the nations at large. This ongoing promise located itself in the obedience of Abraham. He obeyed (harkened) and kept (observed or watched) all the legal literature of the Old Testament. Notice the synonyms, charge, commandments, statutes, and laws. These terms designated nuances of written revelation. Isaac would attempt to keep them as his dad had done—though not in Egypt but in Gerar (a Philistine town south of Gaza).
The Harvest and Peace of the Promise
Genesis 26:12, 13, 23-33
Like father, like son. As Abraham had lied about Sarah, so Isaac lied about Rebekah (Genesis 26:7-11). This hardly endeared him to Abimelech (the name means, “my father is king”), king of the Philistines at Gerar. Abimelech added two plus two when he saw Isaac caressing Rebekah. In fact, it may well explain why the natives started filling in the wells of Isaac. Were the Philistines upset that Isaac had come among them, lied about his wife, and seemed to succeed abundantly in his agrarian pursuits—and that, in the midst of a famine? The text says that Isaac’s harvest was a hundredfold. In that world it was more than a bumper crop. It was all but miraculous (see Matthew 13:8). Isaac grew more and more rich and wealthy (the same word used twice). What the Philistines did not know was that God was behind the harvest.
There is an interlude in our text in verses 14-22. Just as the lie about Rebekah interrupted the previous narrative, so the Philistines stopping up the wells (Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth) in this narrative interrupted the farming success of Isaac and the challenge of living at peace with the peoples of the land. Isaac moved from Gerar to Beersheba (southern tip of the land of promise and meaning “well of seven-fold oath”). God appeared to Isaac and reaffirmed his presence, his blessing, and his promise of offspring. Isaac’s response to this blessing was worship (built an altar), prayer (called upon the name of the Lord), and habitation (pitched his tent and dug a well), which meant he would dwell in the land.
But Isaac’s prospects of dwelling in the land were compromised when the Philistines began to fill Isaac’s wells with dirt. Abimelech knew that he needed to patch the fence. He brought his adviser (friend, companion) and his commander (captain, leader) to seek terms of peace. Isaac reprimanded the Philistines but agreed to the covenant—not to harm (seek evil) or touch (strike) them. They sealed the deal with a meal (very common in the ancient world) and went on their way in peace. Isaac’s servants dug a new well, which they called Shibah (oath). Water meant crops, and crops meant that the family of promise would be sustained for another day. The obedience of one brings blessings to many.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.