Genesis Chapter 26: Isaac and Abimelech, the Wells, Esau’s Wives

Feb 24th, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 26: Isaac and Abimelech, the Wells, Esau’s Wives

Gen. 26:1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.

Again there was a duplication/similarity of the first and second generations (see Genesis chapter 20). “Abimelech” was a title meaning “father [ab] king [Molech].” Since a number of years had passed, this Abimelech was different from the one Abraham had had contact with in Gerar.

Gen. 26:2 And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:

Gen. 26:3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;

Gen. 26:4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;

Gen. 26:5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

God told Isaac, “Do not go to Egypt, but sojourn in this land,” that is, in the Land of Promise, or Canaan. The famine had started earlier, and Isaac went down to Gerar perhaps with the intention of going on to Egypt like Abraham. Later Jacob and his sons went to Egypt, preceded by Joseph, in time of famine. Thus there was a famine in the days of each of the patriarchs:

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In back of the famines, the Lord’s providence was being exercised. Abraham did go to Egypt, Isaac was forbidden to go, and Jacob eventually went to Egypt in his old age.

Gerar was on the way to Egypt. Why did God forbid Isaac to go to Egypt? That question will be answered later.

When God told Isaac to “sojourn” in the land, the thought was, “For the time being, stay in the vicinity of Gerar.” God promised to bless Isaac in Gerar, to give him “all these countries,” and to “perform the oath“ He had sworn unto Abraham. But notice, there was no promise or statement as to when the oath would be performed. Acts 7:5 tells that Abraham lived and died without receiving the inheritance except as a promissory note. The fulfillment will come in the Kingdom.

Verses 3-5 were a reaffirmation of the promise made earlier to Abraham. Isaac was the promised seed, so the promise was unconditional. However, Isaac viewed the promise as conditional, for God said in effect, “If you sojourn in this land, I will bless you.” In other words, God would bless him there, in the Promised Land, in a time of famine. Isaac’s experiences in the Gerar area helped to develop his faith.

What about the phrase “all these countries”? Isaac was in Philistine territory. God was saying, “Do not go to Egypt. Stay here and I will bless you and take care of you, even though it is enemy territory.”

The multiplication of the seed was mentioned but only the heavenly aspect: “I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven.” To Abraham, both the heavenly and the earthly seeds were mentioned: “… in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Gen. 22:17).

Since the Philistines had a reputation for trouble, both Abraham and Isaac feared initially. And Abraham did have some strife with the herdsmen after he had dug wells. Abimelech later made an oath with him at Beersheba, recognizing Abraham’s right to the system of wells (off one main well). Hence this strife was amicably resolved. A similar situation occurred with Isaac, as we will see.

Abraham had a deed to the wells, but after he left, the Philistines filled them up with sand. Isaac dug the wells again, and more trouble followed. (Note: The Philistines did not appropriate Abraham’s wells unto themselves because the wells belonged to Abraham according to the deed. However, they “stopped” the wells.) Finally, the Philistines wanted Isaac to get out.

Things did, however, work out, as with Abraham earlier (Gen. 26:17-33).

Isaac’s attitude was proper in taking the promise as conditional, but verse 5 proves it was unconditional. “Because … Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge….” The principle is the same in Matthew chapter 24. The faithful and wise servant is Pastor Russell, but he never applied that text unconditionally to himself. Why not? Because he said the next verse pertaining to the evil servant proved it was conditional upon his not smiting the brethren and not delaying the Lord’s coming. Now, however, in looking back, we can see that he had to be the faithful and wise servant.

Isaac’s trial was a test of time, but God foresaw that he would be obedient. Isaac was married 20 years before a seed was born (he was age 60). Also, the oath was not fulfilled in his day. The “stars of heaven” are innumerable from man’s standpoint, yet God counts them and has a name for each one. In regard to the sand of the seashore, again the sand is innumerable to man, countable to God. Isaac received only the “stars of heaven” part of the promise, that is, the heavenly promise. This is a clue as to why Isaac was told by God not to go down to Egypt.

Isaac represents The Christ, Head and body members. Paul said, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). When we consecrate to leave the world, we cannot return to it. Therefore, it would have been incongruous for Isaac to go to Egypt, a picture of the world. With Abraham, it was different, for he was given, comprehensively, both parts of the promise.

Rebekah, who represents the Church, was both the sister and the bride of Isaac. Of course Isaac represents Jesus, and Jesus is the Church’s husband and elder brother.

Q: What about Abraham? He said Sarah was his sister, but she was also his wife.

A: Abraham is a picture in a larger sense. He was the father of three covenants: Law, Grace, and New.

Gen. 26:6 And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:

Gen. 26:7 And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.

Gen. 26:8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

Gen. 26:9 And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.

Gen. 26:10 And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lain with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.

Gen. 26:11 And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.

Gen. 26:12 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.

Verses 6-12 are similar to the accounts in Genesis chapters 12 and 20. Sarah was beautiful, and so was Rebekah. Abraham called Sarah his sister out of fear lest he would be killed, and so did Isaac. Since there truly was a family relationship, the term “sister” could be used loosely back there, just as Lot was called the “brother” of Abraham (Gen. 14:12,14).

When Abimelech looked out the window and saw Isaac and Rebekah “sporting,” he knew this action was a little too intimate for brother and sister. “Sporting” could be just an embrace.

Abimelech then warned his subjects not to touch Rebekah lest they be put to death. Again God protected the seed that would come through a patriarch, this time Isaac and Rebekah. As a result, Isaac was afforded a measure of peace for a year. Verse 12 says that when Isaac sowed, he received a hundredfold that same year. This abundance is proof that God did not rebuke Isaac for his act of prudence.

Gen. 26:13 And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:

Gen. 26:14 For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.

Gen. 26:15 For all the wells which his father’s servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.

Gen. 26:16 And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.

In Abraham’s absence, all the wells that his servants had previously dug were filled up with earth by the Philistines. Since the Philistines respected the deed given to Abraham by Abimelech, they did not use the wells themselves but “stopped” them instead as another way of getting back at Abraham.

Now Isaac was prospering exceedingly with his flocks—so much so, in fact, that the Philistines envied him—and finally the king said, “Go away from us, for you are mightier than we.” For the prosperity to occur in enemy territory in time of famine would have been very encouraging to Isaac. For two reasons, Isaac was asked to leave: (1) The Philistines envied him, and (2) they feared him. Because Isaac’s “possessions” were becoming so numerous, the Philistines thought he would conquer them.

Gen. 26:17 And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.

The famine had brought Isaac south to the land of the Philistines (to Gerar). His original intention was to go on to Egypt, but for antitypical reasons, God told him to stay where he was. Subsequently, when Isaac’s prosperity caused envy and fear on the part of the Philistines and they told him to depart, he removed to the valley of Gerar.

Gen. 26:18 And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.

Gen. 26:19 And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.

Gen. 26:20 And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.

Gen. 26:21 And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.

When Isaac dug out the wells of his father, Abraham, the land immediately became more valuable, and especially when additional wells were dug. The valley of Gerar was actually the wadi of Gerar; hence it was dry most of the year. Isaac gave the wells the same names that Abraham had used for them. The new wells were called Esek (“contention”) and Sitnah (“hatred”) because of the strife caused by the herdsmen of Gerar, that is, the Philistines.

The Hebrew would have to be checked for the meaning of a “well of springing [living] water.” Sometimes the word translated “well” is actually a cistern. A cistern is made by digging a hole and lining it with bricks or stone to keep out sand. When a wadi flowed with water, the water entered the cistern, which acted as a storage bin. Today we view a well as a hole dug down into the water table to supply a continuous stream. “Springing water” seems to imply that it was the latter—and that the well was not dependent upon a flash flood to fill the wadi.

Gen. 26:22 And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.

The third new well was named Rehoboth (“room”) because the herdsmen of Gerar did not contend over this one. Why did Isaac say, “For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land”? (1) The contention having ceased, there was relative calm, and Isaac felt that constructive things like planting could be done. Incidentally, verse 22 is proof that Isaac had a relatively docile nature, for he did not fight for each well but simply moved on when contention occurred. (2) Isaac could see God’s hand in the peace because part of the promise (verses 3 and 4) was that he would be fruitful.

Gen. 26:23 And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba.

Isaac could not stay in the valley of Gerar indefinitely because it was a wadi with the potential hazard of a flash flood. Therefore, even though he had peace and quiet there, he moved on to Beersheba.

Gen. 26:24 And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.

On the very night Isaac got to Beersheba from the valley of Gerar, God appeared to him and said, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Significant events occurred at Beersheba in Abraham’s day, and future events will also take place there. Beersheba has three meanings, one of which is “well of the oath.” That was the significance when Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech (Gen. 21:31). Now God made an oath or promise to Isaac in the same vicinity.

Gen. 26:25 And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.

Isaac built an altar to God at Beersheba, and his servants dug yet another well.

Gen. 26:26 Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.

Abimelech; Phichol, chief captain of the Philistine army; and Ahuzzath, a third party, went to Isaac from Gerar. Except for Ahuzzath, the same thing had happened to Abraham (Gen. 21:22).

“Abimelech” and “Phichol” are titles, so these were not the same individuals as in Abraham’s day.

Gen. 26:27 And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?

Gen. 26:28 And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee;

Abimelech and Phichol wanted to make a covenant with Isaac, for they saw that God was with him. Again there is a similarity to Abraham’s experience. Isaac would have known of the covenant with Abraham; hence he realized his covenant was a duplication, that is, a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant. God would deal with Isaac now as He had previously dealt with Abraham.

Gen. 26:29 That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the LORD.

The covenant was that Isaac would not hurt the Philistines. “The blessed of the LORD” was a title.

Gen. 26:30 And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.

Isaac made a feast for Abimelech, Phichol, and Ahuzzath.

Gen. 26:31 And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.

Gen. 26:32 And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water.

Gen. 26:33 And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day.

Previously, before the covenant with Abimelech, Isaac’s servants had dug a well (see verse 25), but they were unsuccessful in finding water until now. Water was a precious commodity and hence caused excitement.

Isaac called this new well Shebah. “Therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day.”

Earlier Abraham had named this place Beersheba when he made his covenant with Abimelech (Gen. 21:31). However, it was Isaac’s naming the well Shebah that made the name Beersheba stick. Beer means “well”; Shebah means “oath,” “good fortune,” “seven.” Thus it was the well of the oath, the well of good fortune, and the well of the seven. In regard to the third definition, there was a system of wells, seven in all. Also, Abraham had given Abimelech seven ewe lambs when their covenant was made (Gen. 21:28-30). The Abrahamic promise is all of these: the well of the oath, good fortune, and seven. The terminology sets a precedent that helps us to understand, through innuendo, certain prophecies of the future in the books of Daniel and Revelation.

Gen. 26:34 And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:

Gen. 26:35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Esau was 40 years old when he married two heathen (outside the faith) Hittite wives without parental approval. Isaac was also 40 when he married Rebekah.

Q: Shouldn’t Esau’s improper marriages, plus the prophecy given to Rebekah at the birth of Esau and Jacob, have caused Isaac to go to God in prayer to see whether or not Esau should have the birthright?

A: Yes. It was a grief of mind to both Isaac and Rebekah when Esau married Hittite wives, but Rebekah was the most concerned. Later she suggested what Jacob should do to get the blessing. Isaac was a good man, but sometimes being a “good man” does not mean one has proper discernment along certain lines. Isaac did not meditate sufficiently on Esau’s actions to see his unworthiness.

Isaac and Esau probably did not realize the providence connected with their both marrying at age 40. They may have thought it was a coincidence and nothing more. However, from the standpoint of the type, things are involved far beyond our understanding. Events connected with the Abrahamic Covenant will be repeated billions of years from now. It is significant that Christ came to planet Earth to get his bride, and future generations will want to know how this divine family was developed—and about the types, pictures, details, etc. Therefore, it was not just a happenstance that Esau married at age 40. Certain circumstances no doubt occurred to keep him from marrying earlier. Some coincidences are very remarkable because of the great unlikelihood of their occurring without providential overruling. For example, the similarity of experiences of Abraham and Isaac are a lesson not discerned now but designed for future generations to look back to. God guided the experiences of these individuals without interfering with their free moral agency. Exterior events were permitted to shape their lives.

Isaac sometimes pictures Jesus alone, but usually he pictures the Church, Israel according to the spirit. In some pictures, Esau represents natural Israel, Israel according to the flesh. As we proceed, we will see why God made the covenant with three individuals. He made it with Abraham and reaffirmed it with Isaac and then with Jacob.

Q: With Esau picturing natural Israel, was his marrying Hittite women a picture of the nation’s being tied to the earth?

A: Yes. Natural Israel was more interested in material rewards and natural promises:

prosperity, success in warfare, and so forth. Although the spiritual promises were potentially theirs, they were not really interested in them. The Jewish nation could have inherited the high calling entirely, but they lost it as a nation because they rejected Jesus.

The spiritual work since World War I has been a gleaning work. Few have consecrated since 1918 with the hope of the high calling. The date 1918 was prominent with the Johnsonites, the JW Society, and the Stand Fast Movement, who discouraged running for the high calling. As a result, the truth is not popular today. There was a 40-year general Harvest from 1874(78) to 1914(18), but not until the last grain of wheat is brought into the barn will the Harvest be over.

Q: Is “40” a symbol of testing? Isaac’s period of testing ended with a “spiritual” bride; Esau’s, with a “natural” bride.

A: Yes, but more is involved. For instance, God gives us a specific time period to make progress. If the intended progress is not attained, the individual is relegated to another class. A testing period is definite. God continually has time periods in mind; He does not ramble in His dealings with us or with others.

(1987–1989 Study)

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