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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 26

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 3

HEREDITARY BLESSING

‘I will bless thee … because that Abraham obeyed My voice.’

Genesis 26:3; Genesis 26:5

The child is blessed for the father’s sake.

I. If I have a godly ancestry, then the covenant of the Lord is made with me. His love was not exhausted with the life and death of my parents; so profoundly did He care for them that His love descends for their sakes on my head. It would be hard indeed to tell how far it will descend, or when its influence will cease; it seems unchangeable as God is Himself.

II. And if I have a godly ancestry, I breathe from the beginning the healthiest atmosphere. The very air of a Christian land and a Christian household is salutary and invigorating. When the Divine commandments and the gracious Gospel have been known for ages, everything is leavened and elevated and ennobled by them. I cannot be too thankful for the difference they make.

III. And if I have a godly ancestry, I have had the best teaching and the sublimest example. I can never estimate how much I owe to the lessons of those who have gone before me, to the holy lives which lie behind me. It is a thought both inspiring and solemnising that I am the heir of such a heritage. Sparta is my birthplace—nay, not Sparta, but Zion; let me adorn it.

It is a great responsibility, as well as a great benediction, to be the child of a good father.

Illustration

(1) ‘How varied are the contents of this chapter! It begins with the Divine voice and manifestation, and it seems as though Isaac also was to live on a great level, to the honour of God and the blessing of succeeding generations. But within a few verses he is guilty of meanness to his wife, who had come so far to be his bride, and of abominable falsehood to Abimelech. It would have seemed incredible had we not been familiar with the same rapid changes and contrasts within ourselves. Now we are holding converse with God, and now doing the devil’s work. Here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, asking that we may abide there always, and anon in the valley quarrelling for superiority. Ah me! What a wonderful God is ours, to bear with us as He does! Shall we not record for ever the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us? In spite of it all, when Isaac sowed in that same land the Lord blessed him, and he received in the same year an hundredfold.’

(2) ‘Strong men have sometimes weak sons. Isaac was cast in a very different mould from Abraham. He was naturally yielding and timorous. But the blessing which had been granted to Abraham was continued also to him. “I am with thee, and will bless thee, for my servant Abraham’s sake.” The great distinguishing characteristic of Abraham’s life named here is his obedience. Are we sufficiently accurate in keeping God’s charge? And do we realise sufficiently the posthumous blessing which may thus accrue to unborn generations?’

(3) ‘It is remarkable, for instance, to trace the ramifications of godly lives, like that of Sir Fowell Buxton or of William Wilberforce. Their children, and children’s children, seem to have been the objects of special Divine regard.’

Verse 5

HEREDITARY BLESSING

‘I will bless thee … because that Abraham obeyed My voice.’

Genesis 26:3; Genesis 26:5

The child is blessed for the father’s sake.

I. If I have a godly ancestry, then the covenant of the Lord is made with me. His love was not exhausted with the life and death of my parents; so profoundly did He care for them that His love descends for their sakes on my head. It would be hard indeed to tell how far it will descend, or when its influence will cease; it seems unchangeable as God is Himself.

II. And if I have a godly ancestry, I breathe from the beginning the healthiest atmosphere. The very air of a Christian land and a Christian household is salutary and invigorating. When the Divine commandments and the gracious Gospel have been known for ages, everything is leavened and elevated and ennobled by them. I cannot be too thankful for the difference they make.

III. And if I have a godly ancestry, I have had the best teaching and the sublimest example. I can never estimate how much I owe to the lessons of those who have gone before me, to the holy lives which lie behind me. It is a thought both inspiring and solemnising that I am the heir of such a heritage. Sparta is my birthplace—nay, not Sparta, but Zion; let me adorn it.

It is a great responsibility, as well as a great benediction, to be the child of a good father.

Illustration

(1) ‘How varied are the contents of this chapter! It begins with the Divine voice and manifestation, and it seems as though Isaac also was to live on a great level, to the honour of God and the blessing of succeeding generations. But within a few verses he is guilty of meanness to his wife, who had come so far to be his bride, and of abominable falsehood to Abimelech. It would have seemed incredible had we not been familiar with the same rapid changes and contrasts within ourselves. Now we are holding converse with God, and now doing the devil’s work. Here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, asking that we may abide there always, and anon in the valley quarrelling for superiority. Ah me! What a wonderful God is ours, to bear with us as He does! Shall we not record for ever the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us? In spite of it all, when Isaac sowed in that same land the Lord blessed him, and he received in the same year an hundredfold.’

(2) ‘Strong men have sometimes weak sons. Isaac was cast in a very different mould from Abraham. He was naturally yielding and timorous. But the blessing which had been granted to Abraham was continued also to him. “I am with thee, and will bless thee, for my servant Abraham’s sake.” The great distinguishing characteristic of Abraham’s life named here is his obedience. Are we sufficiently accurate in keeping God’s charge? And do we realise sufficiently the posthumous blessing which may thus accrue to unborn generations?’

(3) ‘It is remarkable, for instance, to trace the ramifications of godly lives, like that of Sir Fowell Buxton or of William Wilberforce. Their children, and children’s children, seem to have been the objects of special Divine regard.’

Verse 22

ISAAC THE PEACEABLE

‘And Isaac removed.’

Genesis 26:22

Religion is in every age the peacemaking principle in the world. The Fall brought in the possibility of divergence and conflict between man and man. In the very beginnings of human history appears cruel Cain who was of that Evil One and slew his brother. The quarrelsome and the peace-loving types of men have been represented in every generation since.

I. Isaac was a conspicuous illustration of the fair-minded, non-combative, meek and gentle type of man. His greatness brought him the envy of the jealous Philistines. His very success had its complications. Even in that primitive pastoral age care was not unknown. Life had its fret and worry. Enemies abounded. An instance of such ‘oppression of the enemy,’ of which in later times David complained, is afforded by the indefatigable hostility of the Philistines in destroying the wells which Abraham had here and there with great labour caused to be dug. In hot Oriental lands, wells are of the greatest importance to the people of the country, and to passing travellers. Well-digging is frequently an enterprise of great difficulty, and with it is associated the name of the sheikh or pasha who engineers the work. The Philistines in their campaign of well-filling and blocking were actuated both by malice and by a fear lest the wells which Abraham had opened should seem to confer upon him and his descendants a title to the lands thus bored into. The Philistine spoilers are still abroad in the land. They are the individuals who recklessly mar what other persons laboriously make.

II. Isaac was not a ‘fighter,’ although there is no reason to think that he was a coward. He regarded Abimelech’s request, which was almost a command, to depart to another section. Encamping in the valley of Gerar, he ‘digged again’ the neglected well dug by Abraham. This teaches symbolically that the work of spiritual reconstruction must constantly go on in this world. Old constructions fall into disrepair at times, like the wells of Abraham which were choked up, and it frequently becomes necessary to pierce through the corruptions of later years to reopen the fountains of pure water of life which formerly flowed so freely. Even the names of the old wells Isaac perpetuated.

Strife, however, soon occurred over a new well of live ‘springing’ water, which in consequence of the quarrel received the bitter name of Esek, ‘Contention.’ Again Isaac waived his rights and retired to dig another well. Strife once more ensued, and this time he fitly named the new spring Sitnah, ‘Spite.’ Someone has remarked that Sitnah comes from the same root as Satan. Spite is certainly Satanic.

Most men would at this stage have yielded to a natural exasperation and struck back. But Isaac was thoroughly loving in disposition. It is not really an anachronism to say that he was Christ-like in his meekness. A third time he digged a well, calling it Rehoboth, ‘Room.’ The Philistines were now conquered by patience, pacified by generosity, and the comfortable condition which ensued Isaac ascribed to the control of a higher power, dwelling on his mercies rather than his vexations and saying, ‘The Lord hath made room for us!’

Illustration

‘Pleasant it is when there is no strife betwixt my neighbour and myself. Let me love him with the love of forgiveness, freely pardoning every hasty word and every unkind and unbrotherly deed. Let me give him the love of forbearance, remembering that his point of view is different from mine, and that I cannot expect him to travel always along my road. Let me cherish for him the love of sympathy, for he has sorrows which I can soothe, and burdens which I can strengthen him to carry. And let me bring him, too, the love of active helpfulness and co-operation, doing with my might everything I can for his welfare. Thus let there be a covenant betwixt me and my neighbour.

Still pleasanter is it, however, when there is no strife between my God and myself. Is the breach which my sin has caused, healed and ended? For the dear sake of Christ who died, has God sworn His oath of friendship with me?—have I sworn my oath of faith and obedience and consecration with Him? Is there this Beersheba in the story of my pilgrimage? Once an enemy, but now a loved and honoured child; once in the far country, but now at the King’s court and in the Father’s house—O that it may be so!’

Verse 31

THE MAN OF PEACE

‘They departed from him in peace.’

Genesis 26:31

The lives of Abraham and Jacob are as attractive as the life of Isaac is apparently unattractive. Isaac’s character had few salient features. It had no great faults, no striking virtues; it is the quietest, smoothest, most silent character in the Old Testament. It is owing to this that there are so few remarkable events in the life of Isaac, for the remarkableness of events is created by the character that meets them. It seems to be a law that all national, social and personal life should advance by alternate contractions and expansions. There are few instances where a great father has had a son who equalled him in greatness. The old power more often reappears in Jacob than in Isaac. The spirit of Abraham’s energy passed over his son to his son’s son. The circumstances that moulded the character of Isaac were these. (1) He was an only son. (2) His parents were both very old. An atmosphere of antique quiet hung about his life. (3) These two old hearts lived for him alone.

I. Take the excellences of his character first. (1) His submissive self-surrender on Mount Gerizim, which shadowed forth the perfect sacrifice of Christ. (2) His tender constancy, seen in his mourning for his mother, and in the fact that he alone of the patriarchs represented to the Jewish nation the ideal of true marriage. (3) His piety. It was as natural to him as to a woman to trust and love: not strongly, but constantly, sincerely. His trust became the habit of his soul. His days were knit each to each by natural piety.

II. Look next at the faults of Isaac’s character. (1) He was slow, indifferent, inactive. We find this exemplified in the story of the wells ( Genesis 26:18-22). (2) The same weakness, ending in selfishness, appears in the history of Isaac’s lie to Abimelech. (3) He showed his weakness in the division between Jacob and Esau. He took no pains to harmonise them. The curse of favouritism prevailed in his tent. (4) He dropped into a querulous old age, and became a lover of savoury meat. But our last glimpse of him is happy. He saw the sons of Jacob at Hebron, and felt that God’s promise was fulfilled.

Illustration

(1) ‘To yield in matters where property and prestige are concerned, though, of course, not the rights of conscience, is clearly the teaching of the New Testament. And when a strong man does this (or a strong nation), it is a remarkably glorious moral victory. But it must be clear, before you magnify the nobility of this surrender of just rights, that the surrender is not due to moral weakness, or cowardice, or a molluscous indifference. The mere suspicion of any of these is fatal. The glory of our Lord yielding His cheeks to the smiter lies in the fact that, at any moment, He might have asked the Father, who would have given Him twelve legions of angels. He went to the Cross of His own free will. He could lay down or resume His life as He chose. It is this suspicion that Isaac was not a morally strong man, but weak and yielding, inclined to sacrifice anything for peace, that casts a shadow over what else would have been after the highest type of Christianity. What is the true view of his action is open to very interesting discussion.

For ourselves, the lesson is obvious. Our religion and morality must be equivalent and reinforce each other; and when we yield, it must always clearly be “for conscience sake” alone.’

(2) ‘The materials for a judgment are fragmentary, but probably Wellhausen’s appreciation would be generally accepted. “Isaac was a peace-loving shepherd, desirous of living quietly beside his tents, anxious to avoid strife and the appeal to force.” His religious life was deep, and we must interpret his apparently unheroic surrenders by the command and promise of God in verses 2 and 3. May it not be said that Isaac is to be regarded as a type of the Peacemakers who “shall be called sons of God”? Isaac realises that he is where he is by the Divine Will, and that therefore he is under the Divine protection. Jehovah will fight for him. Hence, when the Philistines are moved with envy because of his prosperity and would quarrel with him, he yields the cause of the dispute, and moves elsewhere. His action is approved, and we read of the reward given it.

When what we think to be our rights are challenged, we are bound to consider before we yield to angry opposition whether we can lay them before God. Are we in the way of His command?

Though our claims to a thing in dispute may be perfectly just, and hence abide in God’s will, we are required by this very confidence to cultivate a peaceful spirit. God is on our side, and we can afford to reason, and even yield a point, knowing that justice must win in the end.’

(3) ‘On the suggestion of Genesis 24:63, Isaac has been called “the Wordsworth of the Old Testament,” but he hardly deserves the title, for he seems to have lacked motif and independence. We find him loving savoury meat ( Genesis 27:9); his leanings to self-indulgence were evidently well understood by his wife and children, who knew that to pander to them was the best way of securing his favour; and if we may form conclusions from the notes of time given to us, he must have spent forty or fifty years as a blind and helpless invalid. He seems to have resigned the control of his family into the hands of Rebekah, and to have shrunk from exercising the authority which a father ought over his growing sons, with results that all the subsequent centuries have condemned.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 26". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-26.html. 1876.
 
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