And there was a famine in the land (of Canaan), beside the first (i.e. first recorded) famine that was in the days of Abraham—at least a century previous (vide Genesis 12:10). And Isaac—who, since his father's death, had been residing at Hagar's well in the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 25:11)—went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar (cf. Genesis 20:1, Genesis 20:2; Genesis 21:22). Seventy or eighty years having elapsed since Abraham's sojourn in Gerar, it is scarcely probable that this was the monarch who then reigned.
And the Lord (Jehovah, i.e. the God of the covenant and of the promise) appeared unto him,—only two Divine manifestations are mentioned as having been granted to the patriarch. Either the peaceful tenor of Isaac's life rendered more theophanies in his case unnecessary; or, if others were enjoyed by him, the brief space allotted by the historian to the record of his life may account for their omission from the narrative. Though commonly understood as having occurred in Gerar (Keil, Lange, Murphy), this appearance, is perhaps better regarded as having taken place at Lahai-roi, and as having been the cause of Isaac's turning aside into the land of the Philistines (Calvin)—and said, Go not down into Egypt—whither manifestly he had been purposing to migrate, as his father had done on the occasion of the earlier dearth (Genesis 12:10). Jacob in the later famine was instructed to go down to Egypt (Genesis 46:3, Genesis 46:4); Abraham in the first scarcity was left at liberty to think and act for himself. Dwell in the land which I will tell thee of (i.e. Philistia, as appears from the preceding verse).
Sojourn in this land,—viz; Philistia (Murphy, Alford), though otherwise regarded as Canaan (Lange, Keil, Calvin)—and I will be with thee, and will bless thee. Of this comprehensive promise, the first part was enjoyed by, while the second was distinctly stated to, Abraham (of. Genesis 12:2). God's presence with Isaac of higher significance than his presence with Ishmael (Genesis 21:20). For unto thee, and unto thy seed, will I give all these— הָאֶל, an archaism for הָאֵלֶּה (cf. Genesis 19:8, Genesis 19:25)—countries (i.e. Canaan and the surrounding lands), and I will perform the oath (vide Genesis 22:16) which I aware unto Abraham thy father.
And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven (vide Genesis 15:1-6), and will give unto thy seed all these countries (i.e. the territories occupied by the Canaanitish tribes); and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (cf. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18).
Because that Abraham obeyed (literally, hearkened to) my voice (a general description of the patriarch's obedience, which the next clause further particularizes), and kept my charge, custodierit custodiam (Calvin); observed my observances (Kalisch); the charge being that which is intended to be kept—my commandments,—i.e. particular injunctions, specific enactments, express or occasional orders (cf. 2 Chronicles 35:16)—my statutes,—or permanent ordinances, such as the Passover; literally, that which is graven on tables or monuments (compare Exodus 12:14)—and my laws—which refer to the great doctrines of moral obligation. The three terms express the contents of the Divine observances which Abraham observed.
And Isaac dwelt in Gerar—as God had shown and enjoined him.
A good man's perplexity.
I. THE CONTEMPLATED JOURNEY.
1. Its projected destinations. Egypt. Renowned for fertility, the land of the Pharaohs was yet no proper resort for the son of Abraham, the heir of Canaan, and the friend of God. It was outside the land of promise; it had been to Abraham a scene of peril, and it was not a place to which he was directed to turn. Considerations such as these should have operated to deter Isaac from even entertaining the idea of a pilgrimage to Egypt. But the behavior of this Hebrew patriarch is sometimes outdone by that of modern saints, who not simply project, but actually perform, journeys, of pleasure or of business, across the boundary line which separates the Church from the world, into places where their spiritual interests are endangered, and that too not only without the Divine sanction, but sometimes in express violation of that authority.
2. Its ostensible occasion. The famine. A severe trial, especially to a flock-master. It was yet by no means an exceptional trial, but one which had occurred before in the experience of the inhabitants of Canaan, and in particular of his father, and might possibly recur to himself, just as life's afflictions generally bear a singular resemblance to one another (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:12). It was not an accidental trial, but had been appointed and permitted by that Divine wisdom without whose sanction no calamity can fall on either nation or individual, saint or sinner (Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalms 66:11; Amos 3:6). And just as little was it purposeless, being designed to initiate Isaac in that life discipline from which no child of God can escape (Acts 14:22; Hebrews 12:11; James 1:2, James 1:3).
3. Its secret inspiration. Unbelief. Jehovah, who had given the land to Isaac, could easily have maintained him in it notwithstanding the dearth, had it been his pleasure not to provide a way of escape. Had Isaac not at this time been walking somewhat by sight, it is probable his thoughts would not have turned to Egypt. Most of the saint's doubtful transactions and dangerous projects have a secret connection with the spirit of unbelief which causes to err.
II. THE DIVINE INTERPOSITION.
1. Prohibiting. "Go not down into Egypt." That Jacob subsequently went down to Egypt in obedience to Divine instructions is no proof that Isaac would have been blameless had he gone down without them. Abraham did so, but it is not certain that God approved of his conduct in that matter. Besides, though it could be shown that Abraham incurred no guilt and contracted no hurt by residence in Egypt, it would not follow that his son might venture thither with impunity and without sin. Hence the proposed journey was interdicted. So God in his word debars saints from going down to the unspiritual and unbelieving world to endamage or imperil their souls' higher interests.
2. Prescribing. "Dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: sojourn in this land." It is always safest for the saint in seasons of perplexity to wait for and to follow the light from heaven. Sufficient guidance God has promised, through his Spirit, by his word, and in his providence, to enable gracious ones who wait upon his teaching to detect the path of duty and the place of safety.
3. Promising. For Isaac's encouragement the various promises of the Abrahamic covenant are repeated, renewed, and confirmed to himself for his father's sake; embracing promises of the Divine presence—"I will be with thee"—and the Divine blessing—"and will bless thee;" in which latter are comprehended the inheritance,—"all these countries,"—the seed.—"I will make thy seed to multiply,"—and the universal salvation—"in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," which had been promised and guaranteed to Abraham by oath. So has God given to believers "exceeding great and precious promises" for Christ's sake, because of the covenant made with him, on the ground of the obedience rendered, and for the merit of the sacrifice presented, by him.
III. THE FILIAL OBEDIENCE. "Isaac dwelt in Gerar," having removed thither in compliance with the Divine instructions. Like Abraham's, Isaac's obedience was—
1. Minute, exactly following the Divine prescription.
2. Prompt, putting into immediate execution the Divine commandment.
3. Patient, remaining in the land of the Philistines till God in his providence indicated it was time to remove. So should Christ's followers obey.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
Line upon line, in God's teaching.
Isaac, like his father, has his time of sojourn among the Philistines. The events of his intercourse with the Abimelech of his day resemble those of the former patriarch, though there are differences which show that the recurrence is historical.
I. GOD REPEATS HIS LESSONS that they may make the deeper impression. The intention of the record is to preserve a certain line of Divine guidance. Isaac trod in the footsteps of Abraham. We have Isaac's wells, oaths, feast, Shebah—all following close upon those of the preceding generation.
II. The SAME PRESERVATION OF THE COVENANT RACE in the midst of heathens confirms that covenant. The same lesson of special providential protection and blessing is thus repeated and enforced. Again the same contrast of man's infirmity with God's unchangeableness. The perversity of the fleshly-minded man forming a marriage connection with heathen people, and bringing grief of mind to his parents, reveals the distinctness of the world from the kingdom of God.—R.
And the men of the place (i.e. the inhabitants of Gerar) asked him (literally, asked, or made inquiries; probably first at each other, though ultimately the interrogations might reach Isaac himself) of his wife (being in all likelihood fascinated by her beauty); and he said,—falling into the same infirmity as Abraham (Genesis 12:13; Genesis 20:2)—She is my sister:—which was certainly an equivocation, since, although sometimes used to designate a female relative generally (vide Genesis 24:60), the term "sister" was here designed to suggest that Rebekah was his own sister, born of the same parents. In propagating this deception Isaac appears to have been actuated by a similar motive to that which impelled his father—for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he (sc. to himself, the words describing the good man's secret apprehensions), the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah;—the historian adding, as the explanation of his fears—because she was fair to look upon (vide Genesis 24:16).
And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time (literally, when were prolonged to him there the days), that Abimelech king of the philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife—i.e. caressing and using playful liberties with her, which showed she was not a sister, but a wife—παίζοντα (LXX.), jocantem (Vulgate).
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 (sc. in my heart, or to myself), Lest I die for her.
And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lain with thy wife,—literally, within a little (cf. Psalms 73:2; Psalms 119:87) one of the people might have lain with thy wife—and thou shouldest—i.e. (within a little) thou mightest—have brought (or caused to come) guiltiness upon us (cf. Genesis 20:9, where חַטָּאָה is used instead of אָשָׁם).
And Abimelech charged all his (literally, the) people, saying, He that toucheth—in the sense of injureth (cf. Joshua 9:19; Psalms 105:15)—this man or his wife shall surely be put to death. The similarity of this incident to that related in Genesis 20:1-18. concerning Abraham in Gerar may be explained without resorting to the hypothesis of different authors, The stereotyped character of the manners of antiquity, especially in the East, is sufficient to account for the danger to which Sarah was exposed recurring in the case of Rebekah three quarters of a century later. That Isaac should have resorted to the miserable expedient of his father may have been due simply to a lack of originality on the part of Isaac; or perhaps the recollection of the success which had attended his father's adoption of this wretched subterfuge may have blinded him to its true character. But from whatever cause resulting, the resemblance between the two narratives cannot be held as destroying the credibility of either, and all the more that a careful scrutiny will detect sufficient dissimilarity between them to establish the authenticity of the incidents which they relate.
A good man's transgression.
I. A LIE TOLD.
1. An unmitigated lie. It was scarcely entitled to claim the apology of being what Abraham's falsehood was, an equivocation, Rebekah not being Isaac's half-sister, but cousin.
2. A deliberate lie. Asked about his relations to Rebekah, he coolly replies that they are sister and brother. He had no right to suppose his interrogators had ulterior designs against Rebekah's honor.
3. A cowardly lie. All falsehoods spring from craven fear—fear of the consequences that may flow from telling the honest truth.
4. A dangerous lie. By his wicked suppression of the truth he was guilty of imperiling the chastity of her whom he sought to protect. Almost all falsehoods are perilous, and most of them are mistakes.
5. An unnecessary lie. No lie ever can be necessary; but least of all could this have been, when God had already promised to be with him in the land of the Philistines.
6. An unbelieving lie. Had Isaac's faith been active, he would hardly have deemed it needful to disown his wife.
7. A wholly worthless lie. Isaac might have remembered that twice over his father had resorted to this miserable stratagem, and that in neither instance had it sufficed to avert the danger which he dreaded. But lies generally are wretched hiding-places for endangered bodies or anxious souls.
II. A LIE DETECTED.
1. God by his providence assists in the detection of liars. By the merest accident, as it might seem, Abimelech discovered the true relationship of Isaac and Rebekah; but both the time, place, and manner of that discovery were arranged by God. So the face of God is set against them that do evil, even though they should be his own people.
2. Liars commonly assist in their own detection. Truth alone is sure-footed, and never slips; error is liable to stumble at every step. It is difficult to maintain a disguise for any lengthened period. The best fitting mask is sure in time to fall off. Actions good in themselves often lead to the detection of crimes.
III. A LIE REPROVED. The conduct of Isaac Abimelech rebukes—
1. With promptitude. Sending for Isaac, he charges him with his sin. It is the part of a true friend to expose deception whenever it is practiced, and, provided it be done in a proper spirit, the sooner it is done the better. Sin that long eludes detection is apt to harden the sinning heart and sear the guilty conscience.
2. With fidelity. Characterizing it as
3. With forgiveness. That Abimelech did not intend to exact punishment from Isaac, or even cherish resentment against him in consequence of his behavior, he proved by charging his people to beware of injuring in any way either Isaac or Rebekah. It is good and beautiful when mercy seasons judgment, and the reproofs of friendship are accompanied by messages of love.
Then Isaac sowed in that land,—viz; Philistia. Though a distinct advance on the purely nomadic life pursued by Abraham, this did not imply fixed property in, or even permanent settlement on, the soil, "but only annual tenancy" thereof. Robinson (1. 77) mentions a colony of the Tawarah Arabs, about fifty families, living near Abu Zabel, in Egypt, who cultivated the soil and yet dwelt in tents. "The Biblical patriarchs were not mere Bedawin wanderers, like those who now occupy the Eastern deserts. They had large herds of cattle, which genuine Bedawins have not; they tilled the ground, which these robbers never do; and they accommodated themselves, without difficulty or reluctance, to town and city when necessary, which wild Arabs cannot endure"—and received in the same year an hundred-fold—literally, an hundred measures, i.e. for each measure of that which he sowed; an exceptional return even for Philistia, though "the country is no less fertile than the very best of the Mississippi Valley"; and Arab grain stores at Nuttar-abu-Sumar, in the vicinity of Gaza, still proclaim the remunerative yield of its harvests. Herodotus speaks of two and three hundred-fold as having been reaped on the plain of Babylonia; but in Palestine the usual rate of increase was from thirty to a hundred-fold (vide Matthew 13:23). The reading "an hundred of barley" (LXX; Syriac, Michaelis) is not to be preferred to that in the Textus Receptus. And the Lord blessed him—as he had promised (Genesis 26:3).
And the man waxed great,—like his father before him (cf. Genesis 24:1, Genesis 24:35)—and went forward,—literally, went going, the verb followed by the infinitive expressing constant growth or progressive increase (cf. Genesis 8:3; Genesis 12:9; 4:24)—and grew until he became very great—"as any other farmer would who reaped such harvests" ('Land and Book').
For he had (literally, there was to him) possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants:—γεώργια πολλά (LXX.), i.e. much husbandry, the abstract being put for the concrete, "implying all manner of work and service belonging to a family, and so servants and tillage of all sorts" (Ainsworth); but the reference rather seems to be to the number of his household, or domestic slaves, plurimum familiae (Vulgate)—and the Philistines envied him. The patriarch's possessions (mikneh, from kanah, to acquire) excited jealous feeling (from root kana, to burn) in the breasts of his neighbors (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:4).
For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father (vide Genesis 21:30), the philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth. This act, commonly regarded as legitimate in ancient warfare, was practically to Isaac an act of expulsion, it being impossible for flocks and herds to exist without access to water supplies. It was probably, as the text indicates, the outcome of envy, rather than inspired by fear that Isaac in digging and possessing wells was tacitly claiming the ownership of the land.
And Abimelech said unto Isaac (almost leading to the suspicion that the Philistine monarch had instigated the outbreak of hostilities amongst his people), Go from us (a royal command rather than a friendly advice); for thou art much mightier than we. The same apprehension of the growing numbers and strength of Isaac's descendants in Egypt took possession of the heart of Pharaoh, and led to their enslavement (vide Exodus 1:9).
And Isaac—perhaps not without remonstrance, but without offering resistance, as became a saint (Matthew 5:5; Romans 12:17, Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9)—departed thence (i.e. from Gerar), and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar,—a valley or nahal meant a low, flat region watered by a mountain stream. The Wady Gerar has been identified with the Joorf-el-Gerar, the rush or rapid of Gerar, three hours south-east of Gaza—and dwelt there.
And Isaac digged again—literally, returned and digged, i.e. re-dug (cf. 2. Kings Genesis 20:5)—the wells of water, which they (the servants of Abraham) had digged in the days Of Abraham his father;—from which it appears that Abraham had digged other wells besides that of Beersheba (Genesis 21:31)—for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham:—which was a violation of the league into which Abimelech had entered with the patriarch (vide Genesis 21:23)—and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them—and with which Isaac was sufficiently acquainted.
And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. Literally, living water (cf. Le Genesis 14:5, Genesis 14:6; Zechariah 14:8; Revelation 21:6).
And the herdmen of Gerar—i.e. Abimelech's servants (Genesis 21:25)—did strive with Isaac's herdmen,—as Lot's with those of Abraham (Genesis 13:7)—saying, The water is ours:—literally, to us (belong) the waters—and he called the name of the well Esek ("Strife"); because they strove with him—the verb being עָשַׂק, to strive about anything.
And they digged another well (Isaac having yielded up the first), and strove for that also:—"The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water" (Proverbs 17:14) and he called the name of it Sitnah—"Contention" (from שָׂטָן, to lie in wait as an adversary; whence Satan); probably in Wady-es-Shutein, near Rehoboth (vide infra).
And he removed from thence (yielding that too), and digged another well; and for that they strove not (perhaps as being beyond the boundaries of Gerar): and he called the name of it Reheboth;—i.e. "Wide spaces" (hence "streets," Genesis 19:2); from רָחַב, to be or become broad; conjectured to have been situated in the Wady Ruhaibeh, about eight and a half hours to the south of Beersheba, where are still found a well named Bir-Rohebeh and ruins of a city of the same name—and he said, For now the Lord hath made room (literally, hath made a broad space) for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.
A good man's prosperity.
I. WHENCE IT PROCEEDED.
1. The industry of Isaac. "Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold." An intimate connection subsists between diligence and prosperity.
2. The blessing of God. "And the Lord blessed him. As without Divine assistance the best contrived and most laboriously applied means may fail in the accumulation of material goods, so with heavenly succor the least likely instruments can achieve success. The harvests of the farmer depend more upon the goodness of God than upon the excellence of the plough (cf. Psalms 127:1, Psalms 127:2).
II. IN WHAT IT RESULTED.
1. The envy of the Philistines. Envy, one of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19; James 4:5), a frequent characteristic of evil men (1 Corinthians 3:3; Titus 3:3), an occasional infirmity of pious souls (1 Corinthians 3:3; Philippians 1:15; 1 Peter 2:1), and straitly forbidden by the law of God (Exodus 20:17; Psalms 37:1; James 5:9), is commonly excited by observing the prosperity of others (Psalms 37:7; Psalms 73:7; Ecclesiastes 4:4; cf. Rachel and Leah, Genesis 30:1, Genesis 30:15; Joseph's brethren, Genesis 37:4-11, Genesis 37:19, Genesis 37:20; Acts 7:9; Miriam and Aaron, Numbers 12:1-10; the princes of Darius, Daniel 4:4), is usually accompanied with some degree of hatred (Cain, Genesis 4:4 8; Sarah, Genesis 16:5, Genesis 16:6; Laban, Genesis 31:5), and inevitably tends, as in the case of the Philistines, to hostility, secret or open.
2. The suspicion of Abimelech. The growing power of the patriarch had filled the monarch's mind with alarm. Interpreting the character of Isaac by his own, he conceived it impossible to possess large resources without using them to acquire dominion over others. Modern kings and statesmen are scarcely further advanced, the prosperity of neighboring empires being commonly regarded as a menace to the liberties of their own. It is the mission of Christianity, as regards both nations and individuals, to show how power of every kind can be possessed without injury, and wielded with advantage, to the highest interests of others.
III. HOW IT WAS MAINTAINED. By—
1. Patience, or the exhibition of a meek and unresisting spirit in submitting to injury. When Abimelech requested him to leave the town of Gerar, he left. When the Philistines filled up his father's wells, he quietly dug them out again. When the herdmen of Gerar wrangled with his shepherds about a spring, he simply gave it up, and sought another; and when this too was disputed, he retired and sank a third. And all the while his flocks and herds kept on multiplying. A beautiful example of the spirit which Christ has enjoined (Matthew 5:39-42): and of the promise which Christ has made (Matthew 5:5) to his followers.
2. Perseverance, or the diligent exercise of means in selecting pasture grounds and digging wells; not permitting himself to be discouraged by the opposition of his neighbors, but, while peacefully allowing himself to be despoiled, steadily attending to his business. An illustration of that quiet, determined, and unwearied application which often contributes more to success in life than brilliant abilities.
3. Piety, or the grateful recognition of God's hand in putting an end to the irritation and annoyance of his neighbors, and giving him at last a comfortable settlement at Rehoboth. It is grace in God which affords quiet neighborhoods to reside in, easy circumstances to live in, and hopeful futures to trust in; and it is piety in us to acknowledge that grace.
1. That there is only one royal road to material prosperity, viz; diligence and devotion.
2. That if material prosperity can procure comforts, it is also attended by drawbacks.
3. That material prosperity is often thrown away in litigation when it might be preserved by submission.
4. That material prosperity should stir the heart's gratitude to God.
HOMILIES BY J.F. MONTGOMERY
Digging wells of salvation.
"And he removed from thence, and digged another well." Historically, an instance of a meek and quiet spirit in contact with the world. Wells precious. Often formed with much labor. Herdsmen of Gerar took what Isaac had digged. Twice he yielded for the sake of peace. Then he digged another, and for it they strove not. His example (cf. Matthew 5:39; 1 Corinthians 6:7). But we may also observe a typical significance. Wells, fountains, sources of "living water" (Isaiah 12:3; Zechariah 13:1) connected with spiritual blessings (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4 with John 4:14, and John 7:39).
I. ISAAC DIGGED, to find "the gift of God" (common. Eastern name for water). The gift is from God alone (Isaiah 44:3; Zechariah 12:10). His will to bless appears through the whole Bible—in the first formation of man, and in care for the salvation of sinners (Luke 19:10). But many, though thirsty, do not seek living water. They have not peace. Separation from God brings unrest (Isaiah 57:20). But the cause is not believed, and the way of comfort not loved. Many try all ways to find peace except the right one. They will follow preachers, or take up systems, or join associations. But Christ's word is "Come unto me." Again, many will not dig; content merely to wish. God who bestows the gift has appointed means (Matthew 11:12). These do not really desire a work of grace in their souls. Want to be made safe, not to be renewed; to be delivered from fear, but not disturbed just now. Hence do not search their Bibles (Psalms 119:130), or pray for the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 37:9), or care for the salvation of others (1 John 3:17). It is God's will we should dig. He may send a blessing unsought. But usually he works through means. The Bible, prayer, the Lord's table, Christian converse, Christian work (Proverbs 11:25), all are as wells, means for getting the water of life; nothing in themselves, yet made effectual where the blessing is desired.
II. HINDRANCES. Let none expect to possess wells of salvation without. They form the trial of faith (1 Peter 1:7). From those who love not God. A Christian member of a worldly family, or cast among careless associates, meets many hindrances. They may be open or veiled; in opposition or in mistaken kindness. And time for prayer is intruded on, and work for God is hindered, and a constant opposing influence is felt to chill the love of God. Or the hindrance may be from within. In prayer the mind overpowered by intrusive thoughts; besetting sins constantly gaining the victory; our spirits not in harmony with the "still small voice." Remember it is God's will through trial to give victory (1 Corinthians 10:13). Amalek fought against Israel (Exodus 17:1-16.) as the herdsmen strove against Isaac, but the way of victory was the same in both instances—trust and perseverance.
III. DIGGED ANOTHER WELL (Galatians 6:9). Will the Lord fail his people though surrounded by hindrances? Is some means of grace debarred? Is some line of Christian work, some way of Christian progress, closed against thee? Dig another well. Seek and pray for other channels in which to consecrate thy life. Perhaps the real foe hindering thee was self-will, and God has helped thee to put down self. Jesus cried, "Come unto me and drink." Whatever be the well, he is the source of its spring. Make it clear to your own heart that you are pressing to him. Tell God that it is indeed so. Then in some form or other the prayer, "Spring up, O well," shall have an abundant answer.—M.
And he (viz; Isaac) went up from thence (Rehoboth, where latterly he had been encamped) to Beer-sheba—a former residence of Abraham (Genesis 21:33), situated "near the water-shed between the Mediterranean and the Salt Sea" (Murphy), hence approached from the low-lying wady by an ascent.
And the Lord appeared unto him the same night (i.e. the night of his arrival at Beersheba), and said (in a dream or vision), I (the pronoun is emphatic) am the God (the Elohim) of Abraham thy father (the language is expressive not alone of the covenant relationship which subsisted between Jehovah and the patriarch while the latter lived, but also of the present continuance of that relationship, since Abraham, though dead, had not ceased to he): fear not (cf. Genesis 15:1, in which the same encouraging admonition is addressed to Abraham after his battle with the kings), for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed—a repetition of promises already given to himself (vide Genesis 26:3, Genesis 26:4)—for my servant Abraham's sake—a reason declaring God's gracious covenant, and not personal merit, to be the true source of blessing for Isaac.
And he (i.e. Isaac, in grateful response to the Divine Promiser who had appeared to him) builded an altar there,—the first instance of altar building ascribed to Isaac; "those erected by his father no doubt still remaining in the other places where he sojourned" (Inglis) and called upon the name of the Lord,—i.e. publicly celebrated his worship in the midst of his household (vide on Genesis 12:7, Genesis 12:8)—and pitched his tent there (the place being now to him doubly hallowed by the appearance of the Lord to himself as well as to his father): and there Isaac's servants digged a well—a necessary appendage to a flockmaster's settlement.
Then (literally, and) Abimelech went to him from Gerar,—the object of this visit was to resuscitate the alliance which had formerly existed between the predecessor of Abimelech and Abraham (Genesis 21:22-32); yet the dissimilarity between the two accounts is so great as to discredit the hypothesis that the present is only another version of the earlier transaction—and Ahuzzath one of his friends,— מֵרֵעֵהוּ; neither ὁ νυμφαγωγὸς αὐτοῦ (LXX.), nor a suite or number of his friends (Onkelos), nor one of his friends (A.V.); but his friend, and probably his privy councilor (Keil, Kalisch, Murphy), whose presence along with the monarch and his general marks the first point of difference between the present and the former incident—and Phichol (vide Genesis 21:22) the chief captain of his army.
And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore— מַדּוּעַ, contr, from מָה יָדוּעַ, what is taught?—for what reason (cf. τί μαθών)—come ye to me, seeing (literally, and) ye hate me, and have sent me away from you? While animadverting to the personal hostility to which he had been subjected, Isaac says nothing about the wells of which he had been deprived: a second point of difference between this and the preceding narrative of Abraham's covenant with the Philistine king.
And they said, We saw certainly—literally, seeing we saw, i.e. we assuredly perceived, or, we have indeed discovered. Abimelech and his ministers first explain the motive which has impelled them to solicit a renewal of the old alliance—that the Lord was with thee:—the use of Jehovah instead of Elohim, as in Genesis 21:22, does not prove that this is a Jehovistic elaboration of the earlier legend. Neither is it necessary to suppose that the term Jehovah is a Mosaic translation of the epithet employed by Abimelech (Rosenmüller). The long-continued residence of Abraham in Gemr and Beersheba afforded ample opportunity for Abimelech becoming acquainted with the patriarch's God. The introduction of Jehovah into the narrative may be noted as a third point of dissimilarity between this and the previous account—and we said, Let there he now an oath—i.e. a treaty secured by an oath or self-imprecation on the transgressor (cf. Genesis 24:41; Deuteronomy 29:11, Deuteronomy 29:13)—betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee,—a farther particularization of the parties to the covenant for the sake of emphasis—and let us make a covenant with thee. The phrase "to cut a covenant," here used in a so-called Jehovistic portion of the history, occurs in Genesis 21:27, Genesis 21:32, which confessedly belongs to the fundamental document.
That thou wilt do us no hurt,—literally, if thou wilt do us evil (sc. thy curse come upon thee!); the force being to negative in the strongest way possible any intention of injury (cf. Genesis 21:23)—as we have not touched thee,—i.e. injured thee; which was not true, as they, through their servants, had robbed Isaac of at least two wells—and as we have done unto thee nothing but good,—Abimelech's estimate of his own behavior, if exceedingly favorable to himself, is at least natural (vide Proverbs 16:2)—and have sent thee away in peace (without open violence certainly, because of Isaac's yielding, but scarcely without hostility): thou art now the blessed of the Lord. Regarded by some as an instance of adroit and pious flattery, these words are perhaps better understood as explaining either why Isaac should overlook the injuries which they had done to him (Calvin, Bush), or why he should grant them the oath which they desired (Ainsworth),—he requiring no guarantee of safety from them, since Jehovah was on his side (Murphy),—or why they had been stirred up to seek his favor and alliance (Rosenmüller).
And he made them a feast,—so Lot did to the angels (Genesis 19:3). There is no mention of any banquet in the case of Abraham's covenant, which may be noted as another point of difference between the two transactions. A similar entertainment accompanied Jacob's covenant with Laban (Genesis 31:54); while in the Mosaic system the sacrificial meal formed an integral part of the regularly-appointed sacrificial worship (Le Genesis 7:15, 31; Deuteronomy 12:7, Deuteronomy 12:17; vide Kurtz, 'Sacrificial Worship,' § 79)—and they did eat and drink.
And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another—literally, a man to his brother. On the derivation of the verb to swear from the word for seven, see Genesis 21:23—and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
And it came to pass the same day (i.e. the day of the treaty), that Isaac's servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged,—the operation of sinking this well had probably commenced on the day of Abimelech's arrival at Beersheba (vide Genesis 26:25). Almost immediately on the king's departure the well-diggers returned to the patriarch's encampment to report the success of their operations—and said unto him, We have found water. The LXX; mistaking לוֹ, to him, for לֹא, not, read, "We have not found water;" the incorrectness of which is sufficiently declared by what follows.
And he called it Shebah ("Oath;" which he would certainly not have done had it not been a well): therefore the name of the city (which ultimately gathered round the well) is Beersheba—i.e. the well of the oath (vide Genesis 21:31). Isaac must have perfectly understood that the place had been so named by his father three quarters of a century previous; but either the name had been forgotten by others, or had not come into general use amongst the inhabitants, or, observing the coincidence between his finding a well just at the time of covenanting with Abimelech and the fact that his father's treaty was also connected with a well, he wished to confirm and perpetuate the early name which had been assigned to the town. It is not certain that this was Abraham's well which had been rediscovered; the probability is that it was another, since at Bir-es-Sheba two wells are still in existence (vide Genesis 21:31) unto this day—an expression used throughout Genesis to describe events separated from the age of Moses by several centuries (vide Genesis 19:37, Genesis 19:38; Genesis 22:14; Genesis 32:32).
And Esau was forty years old—literally, a son of forty years; the age of Isaac when he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20)—when he took to wife Judith (Jehudith, "Celebrated," "Praised,'' if Shemitic; but the name is probably Phoenician) the daughter of Beeri—("of a well"? "The Well-finder," vide Genesis 36:24)—the Hittits, and Bashemath ("Sweet-smelling," "Fragrant") the daughter of Elon the Hittite)—adding to them afterwards Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, and sister of Nebajoth (Genesis 28:9). On Esau's wives vide Genesis 36:2, Genesis 36:3.
Which were a grief of mind (literally, bitterness of spirit) unto Isaac and to Rebekah—possibly because of their personal characters, but chiefly because of their Canaanitish descent, and because in marrying them Esau had not only violated the Divine law which forbade polygamy, but also evinced an utterly irreligious and unspiritual disposition.
A good man's environment.
I. ISAAC AND JEHOVAH.
1. Jehovah's grace to Isaac.
2. Isaac's gratitude to Jehovah.
II. ISAAC AND ABIMELECH.
1. Abimelech's request of Isaac.
2. Isaac's reception of Abimelech.
3. Solemn adjuration. "And they swore one to another." Though religion does not lie within the sphere of politics, politics lie within the sphere of religion. Nothing should be done by a good man that he cannot sanctify by the word of God and prayer (Colossians 3:17, Colossians 3:23).
4. Peaceful dismissal. "Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace." Those who come for peace should never go without peace. It is the saint's interest as well as duty to follow after peace (Matthew 5:9). No sooner had Isaac dismissed Abimelech and his ministers, than his servants came with tidings of their successful operations in sinking a well. Peace-makers seldom fail to find a recompense (James 3:18).
III. ISAAC AND ESAU.
1. Esau's sinful marriage.
2. Isaac's bitter grief.
1. That God's gracious visits to his people are always admirably suited to their needs in respect of time, place, and manner.
2. That when a man's ways please God he maketh even his enemies be at peace with him.
3. That while a wise son maketh a glad father, a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 26". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany