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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 26

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 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.

And there was a famine in the land ... Isaac went unto Abimelech ... unto Gerar. A pressure of famine forced Isaac to leave Hebron, whither he had returned from Lahai-roi (Genesis 25:11), with the view, it appears, of seeking for his family and flocks, as Abraham had done at a similar crisis, the means of provision in Egypt, which Canaan did not afford. The great central road from Canaan into that country lay through Gerar, the capital of the early Philistine kingdom (see the note at Genesis 20:1); and though that city was usually a stage for traveling caravans, the arrival of so great an emir as Isaac, with so large a number of flocks and herds within the Philistine territory, necessarily brought the patriarch into direct correspondence with the pastoral king, in order to solicit permission, or obtain a lease, to pasture his cattle in the immediate vicinity of the place. It is quite common for Arab shiekhs in the present day to encamp with their flocks for a season, on certain stipulated terms, in the environs of inhabited towns.

Verses 2-5

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

And the Lord appeared unto him. This was the first divine communication made to Isaac personally. It had been previously announced to Abraham that Isaac was to be his sole heir; and now that, on the death of his father, he had succeeded to the patrimonial inheritance, he was to receive also a renewal of the divine promise which guaranteed special blessings of inestimable value to him and his posterity. The covenant securing these blessings originated entirely in divine grace; but it was suspended on the condition that Abraham should walk before God and be perfect (Genesis 17:1): and since he had, through the grace which had enabled him to attain an extraordinary strength of faith, fully met that condition by an obedience honoured with the strongest expression of divine approval,-Isaac, his son, was now assured that the covenant would progressively take effect, the assurance being made doubly sure to him by a reference to the oath sworn to Abraham (Genesis 22:16). The first installment of this promise was the possession of Canaan, here designated "all these countries," from its numerous subdivisions among the petty tribes which then occupied the land (Genesis 15:19-21); and in prospect of this promissory tenure of the land, Isaac was prohibited leaving it. The prohibition was doubtless dictated by unerring wisdom; and although it may be impossible to penetrate all the grounds for it, one reason in all probability arose from the personal character of Isaac, who was a man of weaker faith than Abraham, and consequently would have been less able to resist the temptation of a permanent settlement in that fertile country. At all events, now that the Abrahamic covenant had to be executed, the elect family were not henceforth allowed to go into Egypt, except with the special sanction and under the immediate superintendence of an overruling Providence.

Verses 6-11

And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:

Isaac dwelt in Gerar; and the men of the place asked him of his wife. During his sojourn in the Philistine capital, Isaac, apprehensive of personal danger on account of Rebekah's beauty, followed the same deceptious course that his father had adopted (Genesis 12:13; Genesis 20:2) of passing his wife off for his sister; but through the seasonable interposition of Providence he was preserved (Psalms 105:14-15). Knobel pronounces this story to be a duplicate account of a similar incident in the life of Abraham. But a close examination will show that the circumstances here detailed are different from those of the earlier transaction. Although the name of the principal personage in both narratives is Abimelech, a royal title, it is highly probable, considering that an interval of about seventy years had elapsed, another king was reigning in Isaac's day: then Rebekah was not taken into the royal harem; and there was a difference also in the way in which her conjugal relation to Isaac was discovered.

Altogether the stories are plainly marked by distinctive peculiarities of their own; and though it is striking, it cannot appear improbable that, in the same country and at the same court, where Oriental notions as to the rights of royalty obtained, incidents of such a description should from time to time occur. Isaac's conduct, however, in this affair, has been made the subject of severe animadversion by the friends as well as the foes of Revelation, as a compound of selfishness and weakness, as well as of cold indifference to his wife's honour, for which the same apology cannot be made as in the earlier case of Abraham. But Waterland ('Scripture Vindicated'), after a full and dispassionate examination of the circumstances, gives his verdict, that the patriarch 'did right to evade the difficulty so long as it could be lawfully evaded, and to await and see whether Divine Providence might not, some way or other, interpose before the last extremity.' His hope was not disappointed.

Verses 12-14

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

Then Isaac sowed. During his sojourn in that district he farmed a piece of land which, by the blessing of God on his skill and industry, was very productive (Isaiah 65:13; Psalms 37:19), and by its plentiful returns he increased so rapidly in wealth and influence that the Philistines, afraid or envious of his prosperity, obliged him to leave the place (Proverbs 27:4; Ecclesiastes 4:4). This may receive illustration from the fact that many Syrian shepherds at this day settle for a year or two in a place, rent some ground, in the produce of which they trade with the neighbouring market, until the people, through jealousy of their growing substance, refuse to renew their lease, and compel them to remove elsewhere. The place where Isaac sowed and reaped so abundant a harvest was in the neighbourhood of the capital, Gerar; and Dr. Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' vol. 1:, p. 298) says, that not far south of Gaza there is an extensive wady, 'the Khuberah, which is very fertile, and yields good crops of grain.' It was probably this very spot that Isaac chose for the scene of his agricultural labours.

And the Lord blessed him. Although the history of the East relates numerous instances of extraordinary fertility, the luxuriant harvest reaped from his fields, as well as the vast increase of his property, was the fruit of a special blessing. [ Mee'aah (H3967) shª`aariym (H8180), a hundred measures; the Septuagint, apparently reading sª`oriym (H8188), ears of thrashed grain (2 Samuel 17:28), have rendered the words hekatosteuousan kritheen, a hundred-fold of barley]. Such an abundant crop in a year of famine convinced him that there was no necessity to migrate into Egypt. [ Miqneh (H4735), wealth, possession, but always in cattle-sheep, goats, herds, excluding beasts of burden; great store of servants, ya`ªbudaah]. This Hebrew word, rendered 'store of servants,' which is found only in one other passage (Job 1:3), where it is translated "household," denotes either 'land under cultivation' or 'the labourers by whom it is cultivated,' or both. It might be rendered 'farm-service.' While Abraham, therefore, led a wholly pastoral life, Isaac must be considered to a certain extent an agriculturist as well as a breeder of cattle.

Verse 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.

Wells ... Philistines had stopped ... - the same base stratagem for annoying those against whom they have taken an umbrage is practiced still, by choking the wells with sand or stones, or defiling them with putrid carcasses.

Verse 16

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

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 17

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

Isaac departed ... and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar - [Hebrew, nachal (H5158), a torrent and a torrent-bed, a wady; Septuagint, en tee pharangi Geraroon] The whole of the southern frontier of Palestine, called the Negeb or 'south country,' consisting of vast undulating plains, which extend between the hills of Judah and the desert of Sinai, were neutral ground, on the natural pastures of which the patriarchs fed their large flocks, before they had obtained a permanent abode. The valley of Gerar-now Wady el-Jerur-about 50 miles south of the city Gerar, is perhaps the remote extremity of that pasture land. That the Wady el-Jerur is not without its attractions as a place of resident and that its immediate neighbourhood, partly arable and party pastoral, was well adapted for an ancient settlement, is evident from the testimony of Dr. Robinson, who says, 'This whole basin was full of shrubs and vegetation, and seemed capable of tillage. Indeed, in several spots we saw traces of rude plowing, and were told that in years of rain the Arabs are accustomed to plow and sow here. A thin, meagre grass was springing up in various places. At another point in Wady el-Jerur vegetation seemed more abundant, and camels were at pasture' (Wilton's 'Negeb').

Verse 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.

Issac digged again. The naming of wells by Abraham, and the hereditary right of his family to the property-the change of the names by the Philistines to obliterate the traces of their origin-the restoration of the names by Isaac, and the contests between the respective shepherds to the exclusive possession of the water, are circumstances that occur among the natives in those regions as frequently in the present day as in the time of Isaac. Trench ('Notes on Par.') quotes Origen on this verse, to which that father gives a deeper and allegorical interpretation in addition to that lying on the surface-namely, that those stopped wells are the fountains of eternal life, which the Philistines, i:e., Satan and sin, had choked, but which our Isaac, the son of gladness, opened anew for us.

Verse 19

And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.

A well of springing water, [ mayim (H4325) chayiym (H2416)] - living, bubbling, gushing water.

Verse 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.

[ `eeseq (H6230), strife, quarrel] 'It happens that, from Wady el-Lussan (about two hours south of Wady el-Jerur), a path diverges from the main route, "leading," as Dr. Robinson was unformed, "to some rain-water in the rocks at the head of Wady el-Jerur, and falling into the road again further on." One would like to be quite certain as to this collection of water not being a bona fide spring. It seems scarcely possible that a beaten path would lead to anything short of a well of living water" such as Esek was' ('Negeb').

Verse 21

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

Sitnah, [ SiTnaah (H7856)] - hatred, accusation. Wilton suggests that this well was dug in Wady esh-Shutein.

Verse 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.

Rehoboth, [ Rªchobowt (H7344)] - wide places, plenty of room. Rowlands ('Williams' 'Holy City') discovered at no great distance from es-Sebata 'an ancient well of living and good water, bearing the name of "Bir Rohebeh," or Ruheibeh.' If to Dr. Robinson's graphic description of the valley, with its ample expanse and cheerful verdure, and to Mr. Rowland's discovery of the well, still retaining its familiar title, we add the further coincidences, that the context shows Rehoboth to have been between the valley of Gerar and Beer-sheba, just as Bir er-Ruheibeh is between Wady el-Jerur and Bir es-Seba; 'and that as Isaac went up from thence to Beer-sheba,' so Dr. Robinson tells us, 'the ascent was long and gradual,' we think we have said quite enough to convince any unbiassed judgment that the identification is complete ('Negeb').

Verse 23

And he went up from thence to Beersheba.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 24-25

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.

The Lord appeared unto him the same night. 'Man's extremity is God's opportunity;' and so Isaac found it to be; because no sooner had he arrived at Beer-sheba, disappointed, wearied, and troubled by the unceasing molestation of his Philistine neighbours, who would not permit him to settle in any one place within their territories (Genesis 21:32, last clause), than during that same night, God, by a seasonable revelation, was pleased to delight his drooping spirit with the comforts of grace, so that, being "strong in the Lord," he was raised above the fear of man. He was then ardent in devotional feeling, stedfast in maintaining habitual communion with God, and was not wanting in acknowledgments for present tokens of the divine favour by 'building an altar there, and calling upon the name of the Lord. Abraham had reared an altar in Beer-sheba long before (Genesis 21:33); Isaac reared another (Genesis 26:25), which, as has been remarked by Jewish writers, is the only one he is recorded to have raised.

Verses 26-31

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

Then Abimelech went to him. Since there was a lapse of 70 years between the visit of Abraham and of Isaac, the Abimelech and Phichol spoken of must have been different persons' official titles. Kurtz and Tuch think that there is no chronological difficulty in the way of supposing the same Abimelech who covenanted with Abraham entered into a similar compact with Isaac; because as the patriarchs attained to a great age, their contemporaries might be equally distinguished for longevity. And their conjecture, that Abimelech was an aged king, appears to be confirmed by the fact that he did not himself take Rebekah to his harem, but only expressed a fear lest one of the people might have taken liberties with her.

Ahuzzath one of this friends. The 'king's friend' is frequently mentioned in the historical books as a chief officer of government-chancellor or prime minister (cf. 2 Samuel 15:37; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 4:5; 1 Chronicles 27:33). This seems to be the true meaning of the clause. But the Septuagint has: Hochozath ho numfagoogos], the friend (or conductor) of the bride; and Jerome, following several Jewish commentators, does not consider Ahuzzath as a proper name, but renders the verse thus: 'Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and a number of his friends.'

Phichol - (see the note at Genesis 21:22.)

Verse 28,29. We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee. Abimelech's recognition of the Lord [ Yahweh (H3068)] is somewhat remarkable. He evidently did not use this name in the theocratic sense which it bore in the mind of the patriarch, but simply as the appellation of the tutelary deity and patron of Isaac. The Abimelech of Abraham's time first addresses God as 'Adonaay (H136), Sir, Master (Genesis 20:4); but afterward, in conversing with Abraham, who (Genesis 20:11; Genesis 20:13) spoke of 'Elohiym (H430), God, he employed that name also (Genesis 21:22-23). The Abimelech who was Isaac's contemporary seems to have been led in a similar manner to the use of the name, "the Lord," by hearing it frequently from the lips of the patriarch. Here is another proof of the promise (Genesis 12:2) being fulfilled, in an overture of peace being made to him by the King of Gerar. By whatever motive the proposal was dictated-whether fear of his growing power, or regret for the bad usage they had given him, the king and two of his courtiers paid a visit to the tent of Isaac (Proverbs 16:7). His timid and passive temper had submitted to the annoyances of his rude neighbours; but now that they wish to renew the covenant, he evinces deep feeling at their conduct, and astonishment at their assurance, or artifice, in coming near him. Being, however, of a pacific disposition, he forgave their offence, accepted their proposals, and treated them to the banquet by which the ratification of a covenant was usually crowned.

Verses 32-33

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.

Isaac's servants ... said unto him. We have found water. And he called it Shebah, [Hebrew, Shib`aah (H7651), Shibeah] - indicating that the compact between Abimelech and Isaac was ratified by the solemn obligation of a mutual oath, as formerly in Abraham's time (Genesis 26:31: see the note at Genesis 21:32). This was not the restoration of an old, but the sinking of a new well; and hence, by the formal ceremony of inauguration gone through with Abimelech, Isaac established his right of possession to the adjoining district.

'Upon the northern side of Wady es-Seba, a wide water-course, close upon the bank, are two deep wells, still called Bir es-Seba, the ancient Beer-sheba. They are conspicuous objects on the borders of Palestine. These wells are some distance apart; they are circular, and stoned up very neatly with solid masonry. The larger one Isaiah 12:1 /2 feet in diameter, and 44 1/2 feet deep to the surface of the water, 16 feet of which at the bottom is excavated in the solid rock. The other well lies 55 rods west-southwest, and Isaiah 5:0 feet in diameter, and 42 feet deep. The water in both is pure and sweet, and in great abundance. Both wells are surrounded with drinking troughs of stone for camels and flocks, such as were doubtless used of old for the flocks which then fed on the adjacent hills. The curb-stones were deeply worn by the friction of the ropes in drawing up water by the hand' (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 1:, pp. 300, 301).

Bonar ('Land of Promise,' p. 8) says that 'the western well seems to have been the one dug by Abraham. It is much the smaller of the two, and sufficed for him and his household and flocks. The larger was added by Isaac, as needed by the increasing numbers of his establishment (Genesis 26:13-14), and perhaps the gathering population of the place' (see also, 'Tent and Khan,' p. 214; 'Handbook of Syria and Palestine,' p. 63; 'Van de Velde,' pp. 136-9).

Therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day. One would naturally imagine that the place received this name now for the first time from Isaac. But it had been so called long before by Abraham (Genesis 21:31), in memory of a solemn league of alliance which he formed with a contemporary King of Gerar. A similar covenant, in similar circumstances, having been established between Isaac and the successor of that Gerar monarch, gave occasion to a renewed proclamation of the name; and it is accordant with the practice of the sacred writer to notice an event as newly occurred, while in point of fact it had taken place long before (cf. Genesis 35:6-7 with 28:18-19; 35:10 with 32:28; Judges 10:4 with Numbers 32:14).

There is a striking appearance of similarity between the brief notices given of the life of Isaac and the leading events in the history of Abraham; insomuch that some writers, as Von Lengerke, have questioned the personal existence of the former. But since father and son lived in the "south country," on the same pasture lands, amid the same pastoral scenes, and led the same simple mode of life, incidents of a similar character to those which had chequered Abraham's life, could not but occur in the experience of Isaac, and exactly the same course be followed. But though the resemblance is striking, there is not identity; and a close examination brings out such a substantial difference, as to prove that Isaac's experience was quite distinct, and his personality undoubted.

Verse 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:

Esau ... took to wife. If the pious feelings of Abraham recoiled from the idea of Isaac forming a matrimonial connection with a Canaanite woman, that devout patriarch himself would be equally opposed to such a union on the part of his children; and we may easily imagine how much his pious heart was wounded, and the family peace destroyed, when his favourite but wayward son brought no less than two idolatrous wives among them-an additional proof that Esau neither desired the blessing nor dreaded the curse of God. These wives never gained the affections of his parents; and this estrangement was overruled by God for keeping the chosen family aloof from the dangers of pagan influence. The Samaritan version reads Mahalath, instead of Bashemath (see the note at Genesis 36:2-3).

Verse 35

Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah. [The Septuagint has: kai eesan erizousai too Isaak, kai tee Rebekka, and were contentious or obstreperous to Isaac and Rebekah].

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 26". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-26.html. 1871-8.
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