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Friday, June 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 26

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-35


A famine occurs in the land, just as it had in the days of Abraham (ch.12:10). In that case Abraham went down to Egypt, whereas Isaac went only as far as Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, but the same place where we read of Abraham denying his relationship with Sarah. It may be that Isaac had some thought of continuing down to Egypt, for God appeared to him, telling him not to go there, but to remain in the land of promise (v.2). He was not told to remain in one place, but to sojourn in the land. He could in this way count upon the blessing of the Lord for himself and his descendants.

Again God confirms the word that He had spoken to Abraham, telling Isaac that "all these lands" (as described in chapter 15:18-21). He would give to him and to his descendants, thus reaffirming His oath to Abraham and applying it to Isaac (v.3).

God speaks of multiplying Isaac's descendants "as the stars of heaven." He does not tell Isaac, as He does Jacob later, that his seed would be "as the dust of the earth" (ch.28:14), for Jacob is seen as the father of Israel, while Isaac, typifying Christ, is prominent for His relationship to Rebekah, a type of the church. Since Israel is God's earthly people, the dust of the earth signifies their number, and the church, being heavenly, is symbolized by the stars of heaven.

Yet also, as God had said to Abraham, so He assures Isaac, "in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (v.4). The "seed" here is not their many descendants, for Galatians 3:16 insists, He does not say, "and to seeds", as referring to many, but "and to your seed", that is, "Christ." Abraham is typical of God the Father, and in His Son, the Lord Jesus, all nations will be blessed. Interestingly, God adds here, "because Abraham obeyed Me, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws" (v.5). This was never stated as a condition to Abraham, but is said after he had lived his life. It shows the sovereignty of God in knowing perfectly well beforehand that this was Abraham's character, which of course was proven in his life. God did not lay down any conditions to Isaac either. As He had told Abraham, "I will," so He tells Isaac (Genesis 22:15-18).

In spite of God's clear declaration of His faithfulness, Isaac does not take this to heart in being diligent to prove faithful himself. He is snared by the same fault that overtook his father Abraham, telling the Philistines that Rebekah was is sister rather than his wife (v.7). He was motivated also by the same unfounded fears, thinking that because Rebekah was beautiful, the men of the place might kill him in order to get his wife. He certainly failed as regards his being a type of Christ in this matter. The Lord Jesus will never deny His relationship with the church, though she may sadly at times deny in practice her relationship to Him.

In this case Rebekah is not brought into Abimelech's court, nor is she evidently courted by anyone else over a period of "a long time." Isaac was also near enough to Abimelech's house that Abimelech could see him showing such affection for Rebekah that would only be the case between husband and wife. How can our true relationship ever be indefinitely concealed? Things must always come out as they are.

When Abimelech faces Isaac with such facts, Isaac can only admit that his fear had moved him in being deceitful (v.9). Then he must receive a righteous reproof from Abimelech, who told him he had been guilty of an injustice toward the Philistines in misrepresenting the truth. One of his men might easily have treated her as an unattached woman and had sexual relations with her. If a believer does not frankly confess before the world his relationship to the Lord Jesus, he is unfair to the world.

Isaac is not sent away, however. Rather, Abimelech gives orders to his people not to touch Isaac or his wife, on pain of death (v.11). In view of this, how foolish had been Isaac's fear of being killed by the Philistines! The truth having come out, then we read that Isaac is greatly blessed. The crop he planted that year brought forth one hundred bushels from one bushel of seed, an absolutely maximum yield. This prosperity continued, so that his wealth increased to such an extent that he became the envy of the Philistines (v.14)

There is important spiritual significance in the envy of the Philistines leading them to stop up the wells that Abraham had dug, and fill them with earth. Wells are typical of the living refreshment of the word of God obtained through the work of the man of faith. Only through spiritual diligence do we find the blessing of drinking in the truth of God's word, and Abraham's faith and labor had been rewarded by this refreshment. But the Philistines picture the mere formalism of Christian religion, without its living power. They do not appreciate the pure word of God, but contaminate it with material, earthly doctrines. Earthly pleasures and cares displace the word of God so far as they are concerned. This has happened over and over again in our present dispensation of grace.


However, the time comes when Abimelech recognizes that Isaac's prosperity is a threat to the Philistines, and he asks him to leave them, which Isaac does, though he does not go far distant, for he was still in the valley of Gerar. In that area he dug a second time the wells that Abraham had before dug, but which the Philistines had filled with earth. Formalistic religion may obscure to us some of the most precious truths of the word of God, as has taken place extensively in Christendom. The energy of faith will labor to restore these, however. Isaac also called them by the same names that Abraham had given them. When we are privileged to recover any truth, let us not think that we have done something original. Rather, let us remember that the truth was in scripture before we discovered it, so that we have nothing to boast of. Let us give it the same name it had long ago.

Digging in the valley, Isaac's servants found a spring of living water, but the herdsmen of Gerar contended for this, claiming that the water was theirs. Isaac named the spring Esek, meaning "contention," but "the servant of the Lord must not strive" (2 Timothy 2:14), and instead of continuing the strife, Isaac dug another well. However, this too became a matter of contention (v.21), to the point that Isaac named it Sitna, meaning "hatred." The wise thing for him to do therefore was to move from the place before digging another well (v.22). Evidently this was far enough away that the Philistines no longer demanded if for themselves. Isaac called it Rehoboth, meaning "room," considering that the Lord had made room for him to be fruitful and expand.

However, he finally left the land of the Philistines and went to Beersheba (v.23). Likely by this time the famine had abated (v.1). But only then did the Lord appear to him again (v.24), for Beersheba means "well of the oath," and indicates that Isaac was learning to depend on the oath that God had made to Abraham and himself. God reminds him that He is the God of Abraham his father, and assures Isaac that He is with him, would bless him and multiply his descendants for Abraham's sake. How often did the Lord remind Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of this absolute, unconditional promise! but we too easily forget what God Himself has purposed concerning us, and we need as many reminders as they. Consider Hebrews 6:16-18.

Isaac's response to God's word is good. He built an altar there (v.25). Of course this was for offering sacrifices, which would tell us of His appreciation of Christ and the value of His great sacrifice of Calvary. Isaac did not fully understand this, but he did know that only a blood sacrifice was acceptable to God in order that Isaac might be accepted. The promise of God therefore was on the basis of the value of the sacrifice of His beloved son. The altar indicates Isaac's relationship to God, while his tent (as with Abraham) speaks of his relationship toward the world -- a pilgrim passing through. In the same place Isaac's servants dug a well, speaking of the refreshment of the word of God energized by the Spirit of God.


The prosperity of Isaac served to put questions in the mind of the Philistine king Abimelech and his officers as to whether Isaac might threaten their liberty or their independence. When they come to him, Isaac is puzzled, however, because they had before asked him to leave them, and he considered that they hated him (vs.26-27). Actually, they were more afraid than they were hateful.

They tell him that they see plainly that the Lord is with him, of course because of his prosperity. They knew well that if a man has power in his hand, he may often use it in oppressing others. Sad to say, even believers are not exempt from this danger, as we see in some of Judah's kings, including Solomon (1 Kings 11:6; 1 Kings 12:4). It is too bad that an unbeliever must require a promise from a believer that he will not harm him. Our character as believers should be such that an unbeliever would have full confidence that we should do him good rather than harm.

But Abimilech reminds Isaac that the Philistines had actually been good to him, and asks that Isaac should respond in the same way. Isaac had no reservations as to making such a covenant, however, and he makes his visitors a feast, while both parties make oaths to one another that they will remain peaceful (vs.30-31).

At the same time Isaac learns from his servants that they had dug a well and found water (v.32). They called the well Shebah, meaning "oath," and the place was therefore called Beersheba (v.33). but this must have been a confirmation of the fact that this was its name before, for Abraham and Abimelech had made a covenant at Beersheba, naming it this because of their oath (ch.21:31-32). These two covenants (between Abraham and Abimelech and Isaac and Abimelech) were the occasion of the well receiving its name, but it is symbolical of the far greater covenant that God made with Abraham and confirmed to Isaac.

But verses 34-35 show us that Esau, the firstborn of Isaac, did not value the promise of God as his fathers did. Isaac had received a wife from the kindred of Abraham, for God's promise was connected with that line, the line of faith. Esau took two wives, both from the Hittites, the children of Heth, which means "fear," typical of those who live in fear of death rather than by faith. Compare Hebrews 2:15, which speaks of "those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage." How dishonoring to God it is to mix His promise with the fear of death! But mixed marriages have been a source of great trouble throughout history. Esau's marriages therefore were a grief of mind to his parents. May every believer pay closest attention to the serious admonition of 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, which begins, "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers."

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 26". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/genesis-26.html. 1897-1910.
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