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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 26

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-6

Isaac was evidently considering going to Egypt to escape the famine. He was in Gerar when God spoke to him. This was God’s first revelation to Isaac (cf. Genesis 25:23). Therefore, it appears that Isaac may have previously moved north from Beer-lahai-roi. Of course, constant relocating was common for the nomadic patriarchs, and these places were not far from one another.

The major migration of the Philistines into Canaan took place in the twelveth century B.C. However, there were some Philistines already in Canaan at this time, as is clear from this reference and others in Genesis (cf. Genesis 21:32; Genesis 21:34).

God’s will for Isaac to remain in the land was definite, and He communicated it clearly to the patriarch. Perhaps God wanted Isaac to stay in the land so he would learn that God would "be with you and bless you" (Genesis 26:3). God reiterated His promise to Abraham to give Isaac a promise to believe and encouragement to obey Him. Promises of protection are also prominent in the Jacob story (cf. Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:15; Genesis 28:20; Genesis 31:3; Genesis 31:5; Genesis 31:42; Genesis 32:10).

The promise, however, was that God would protect and bless Isaac, multiply his descendants, and give them "all these lands" (Genesis 26:4; i.e., the lands held by the various Canaanite tribes). One reason for God’s blessing of Isaac was Abraham’s obedience to God (Genesis 26:5; cf. Genesis 22:18). Isaac became the spiritual beneficiary of a godly parent, but he had the opportunity to increase God’s blessing on him through his own obedience to God.

"The Abrahamic blessing will pass to Isaac. Everything included in that blessing will now belong to the son, and in turn will be passed on to his sons. But there is a contingency involved: if they are to enjoy the full blessings, they will have to obey the word of the LORD. And so obedience is enjoined here, with the example of how well Abraham obeyed." [Note: The NET Bible note on 26:3.]

Genesis 26:5 sounds like Abraham kept the commands, statutes, and laws of the Mosaic Covenant before they were in existence. It seems to contradict Genesis 15:6 that says God justified Abraham because of his faith.

"Ultimately, we should attempt to find the meaning of this verse in the larger strategy and purpose of the Pentateuch. Did the author of the Pentateuch intend to depict Abraham as a model of faith or as a model of obedience to the law? Curiously enough, the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars have read this passage as if the verse intended to show Abraham’s life as an example of obedience to the law (Gesetzesgehorsam).

"It appears reasonable to conclude . . . that the importance of Genesis 26:5 lies in what it tells us about the meaning of the deuteronomic terms it uses. It is as if the author of the Pentateuch has seized on the Abrahamic narratives as a way to explain his concept of ’keeping the law.’ The author uses the life of Abraham, not Moses, to illustrate that one can fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. In choosing Abraham and not Moses, the author shows that ’keeping the law’ means ’believing in God,’ just as Abraham believed God and was counted righteous (Genesis 15:6). In effect the author of the Pentateuch says, ’Be like Abraham. Live a life of faith and it can be said that you are keeping the law.’" [Note: John H. Sailhamer, "The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch," Westminster Theological Journal 53 (Fall 1991):253, 254. Cf. John 6:29.]

"Israel would immediately see Torah (Law) terminology in the record of Abraham, and would be prompted to keep the Law." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," p. 71.]

Verses 1-11

3. Isaac and Abimelech 26:1-11

God prevented Isaac from leaving the Promised Land and renewed the covenant with him, but then He had to protect Rebekah when Isaac lied about his relationship with her to Abimelech.

"In the short span of one chapter, the writer shows how the whole of the life of Isaac was a rehearsal of that which happened to Abraham. Thus the lesson that is conveyed is that God’s faithfulness in the past can be counted on in the present and the future. What he has done for the fathers, he will also do for the sons." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 185.]

Whereas the events of Isaac’s life repeated those of Abraham’s on several occasions, God dealt with Isaac differently and in harmony with his individual character. The many parallels between this chapter and the story of Abraham (esp. chs. 12-14 and 20-21) show that the writer wanted the reader to compare and contrast the two men. [Note: See Garrett, p. 136, or Waltke, Genesis, p. 366, for several striking parallels.]

"The figure of even a great man may be dwarfed by comparison with that of a distinguished father or of a famous son. Thus the character of Isaac is overshadowed by the majesty of Abraham and the dramatic interest of Jacob. There was a third factor which diminished the importance of Isaac; he was the husband of a clever and masterful wife. No matter how exciting the scene in which he may appear, he is always assigned to a minor part. At least, by contrast with these other actors, his role in life was prosaic, uneventful, obscure." [Note: Charles R. Erdman, The Book of Genesis, p. 86.]

"The chapter before us is full of illustrations of how difficulties should and should not be met." [Note: Thomas, p. 238.]

Verses 7-11

For an explanation of this strange incident, see the notes on chapter 20. When endangered, Isaac, like Abraham, resorted to an ethic in which the end justified the means. "Like father, like son." Isaac and Rebekah must have been childless at this time.

A period of between 70 and 97 years had elapsed between Abraham’s sojourn in Gerar and Isaac’s. Abimelech could have been the same man in both cases since lifespans of 150 years were not uncommon at that time. Abimelech demonstrated pious conduct in both cases. In the first, however, Abimelech took Sarah into his harem, but in the second he wanted to protect Rebekah from his people. Abimelech is a title rather than a personal name and means "royal father." Thus this may have been another ruler than the one Abraham dealt with.

Verses 12-17

This section of verses shows God’s faithfulness in blessing Isaac as He had promised (cf. Genesis 26:3; Genesis 24:1; Genesis 25:11). Isaac enjoyed a bountiful harvest (Genesis 26:12). Abimelech testified to Isaac’s power (Genesis 26:16), which was another testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Verses 12-33

4. Isaac’s wells 26:12-33

Verses 18-22

Isaac reopened the wells that Abraham had dug but the native inhabitants had later filled with earth. He also dug three new wells. In contrast with Abraham, Isaac "was called not so much to pioneer as to consolidate." [Note: Kidner, p. 154.]

This incident shows God’s blessing of Isaac, too. Water in the wilderness is a strong symbol of God’s supernatural blessing in spite of nature.

The incident also reveals the peaceful character of this patriarch who did not battle his neighbors for the wells, even though he was stronger than they (Genesis 26:16). His actions expressed his trust in Yahweh. [Note: See note on 48:22.]

Isaac’s decision to sojourn in Gerar and the territory of the Philistines (Genesis 26:1-22) seems to have been unwise but not sinful. Though he sinned in misrepresenting his relationship to Rebekah out of fear (Genesis 26:7), his choice to live in Gerar was not sinful. It did, however, open him to temptation and trials that he probably would have avoided if he had stayed away from Gerar.

Verses 23-25

Isaac returned to Beersheba where Abraham had lived occasionally. God appeared to him there (his second revelation) calming his fears and reviewing the promises that He had given previously (Genesis 26:2-5). Isaac’s response was to build an altar, worship Yahweh, and settle down there.

Settlers could only continue to live in an area where there was a well. Wells were vital to the life of nomadic herdsmen. While there was probably at least one well at Beersheba already, Isaac dug another for his own use, or perhaps because he needed more water. His ability to dig wells indicates both his wealth and his intention to establish permanent residence in the land.

These verses seem to confirm the fact that Isaac’s decision to move out of Philistine territory pleased God.

Verses 26-33

Abimelech again testified to God’s blessing of Isaac and gave God glory (Genesis 26:28-29).

Isaac and Abimelech made a parity covenant of mutual non-aggression. They sealed it by eating a meal together. Eating together was often a sacred rite in the ancient Near East. This covenant renewed the older one made between Abimelech and Abraham (Genesis 21:31). The exchange of oaths and Isaac’s naming the town Beersheba again (cf. Genesis 21:31) also strengthened this agreement.

". . . this account of Isaac’s dealings with the Philistines portrays Isaac as very much walking in his father’s footsteps. He receives similar promises, faces similar tests, fails similarly, but eventually triumphs in like fashion. Indeed, in certain respects he is given more in the promises and achieves more. He is promised ’all these lands [Genesis 26:4],’ and by the end of the story he is securely settled in Beersheba and has a treaty with the Philistines in which they acknowledge his superiority." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 196.]

God’s people must maintain confident trust in God’s promise of His presence and provision in spite of the envy and hostility of unbelievers that His blessing sometimes provokes.

5. Jacob’s deception for Isaac’s blessing 26:34-28:9

Reacting to Isaac’s disobedient plan to bless Esau, Jacob and Rebekah stole the blessing by deception. Esau became so angry with Jacob over his trickery that Jacob had to flee for his life.

Two reports of Esau’s marriages (Genesis 26:34-35 and Genesis 28:6-9) frame the major account (Genesis 27:1 to Genesis 28:5) providing a prologue and epilogue. Esau’s marriages are significant because Rebekah used them to persuade Isaac to send Jacob away to get a wife (Genesis 27:4 b) and because they were the reason Isaac did so (Genesis 28:1).

The main account centers on Isaac giving the blessing.

"A Isaac and the son of the brkh/bkrh (=Esau) (Genesis 27:1-5).

B Rebekah sends Jacob on the stage (Genesis 27:6-17).

C Jacob appears before Isaac and receives blessing (Genesis 27:18-29).

C’ Esau appears before Isaac and receives antiblessing (Genesis 27:30-40).

B’ Rebekah sends Jacob from the stage (Genesis 27:41-45).

A’ Isaac and the son of brkh/bkrh (=Jacob!) (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:5)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 474. Cf. Fokkelman, p. 101.]

Verses 34-35

Esau’s marriage 26:34-35

We can identify three purposes for this brief section.

1. Moses explained and justified the reason for Jacob’s later departure for Paddan-aram (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:2).

2. Moses identified the ancestors of the Edomites who later played a major role in Israel’s history.

3. Moses revealed Esau’s carnal character again.

Esau showed no interest in the special calling of his family but sought to establish himself as a great man in the world by marrying Canaanite women (cf. Genesis 11:4). These were evidently the daughters of Canaanite lords. [Note: Josephus, 1:18:4. See K. Luke, "Esau’s Marriage," Indian Theological Studies 25:2 (June 1988):171-90.] The Canaanites were, of course, under God’s curse (Genesis 9:25-27). Contrast Esau’s method of securing wives with Abraham’s plan to identify God’s choice of a wife for Isaac.

"These preliminary notices [in Genesis 26:34-35] put into perspective the cunning deed of Jacob and Rebekah. They demonstrate that Esau was not fit to inherit the blessing." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 189.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-26.html. 2012.
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