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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 26

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 26:0


Isaac Settles in GerarIsaac and AbimelechStories About IsaacIsaac Lives at GerarIsaac at Gerar
Genesis 26:1-5Genesis 26:1-5Genesis 26:1-5Genesis 26:1-5Genesis 26:1-6
Genesis 26:6-11Genesis 26:6-11Genesis 26:6-11Genesis 26:6-9a
Genesis 26:9b
Genesis 26:7-11
Genesis 26:10-11
Genesis 26:12-17Genesis 26:12-16Genesis 26:12-16Genesis 26:12-15Genesis 26:12-14
The Wells Between Gerar and Beersheba
Genesis 26:15-18
Genesis 26:16-18
Quarrel Over the WellsGenesis 26:17-22Genesis 26:17-22
Genesis 26:18-22
Genesis 26:19-20Genesis 26:19-22
Genesis 26:21-22
Genesis 26:23-25(vv. Genesis 26:24)Genesis 26:23-25Genesis 26:23-25Genesis 26:23-25Genesis 26:23-24(vv. Genesis 26:24)
Genesis 26:25
Covenant With Abimelech The Agreement Between Isaac and AbimelechThe Alliance with Abimelech
Genesis 26:26-33Genesis 26:26-33Genesis 26:26-33Genesis 26:26-27Genesis 26:26-30
Genesis 26:28-31
Genesis 26:31-33
Genesis 26:32-33
Esau's Foreign WivesThe Hittite Wives of Easu
Genesis 26:34-35Genesis 26:34-35Genesis 26:34-35Genesis 26:34-35Genesis 26:34-35

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:1-5 1Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2The LORD appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. 3Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. 4I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws."

Genesis 26:1 "Now there was a famine in the land" This is very similar to the occurrences in Genesis 12:10 that forced Abraham to leave the Promised Land.

"So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines" The Philistines were a mercenary people from the islands of the Aegean. They attempted to invade Egypt, but were repulsed and so they settled in the southwestern coast of Palestine, somewhere around 1200 B.C. Because the name Abimelech is mentioned earlier in Genesis 21:22, this must have been the common name to denote all of the Philistine kings. This is similar to the use of Hadad in Syria and Pharaoh in Egypt.

It is surely possible that

1. there were earlier Philistine tradesmen in Canaan

2. that a Canaanite group merged with the Philistines and this name is an anachronism

3. Philistines are listed in Genesis 10:6-20 coming from Ham and the Canaanites, not Japheth (Islands of the Aegean). It is possible the name refers to several groups associated with Palestine/Canaan (NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 1049).

Genesis 26:2-3 YHWH's appearance to Isaac has several directives and promises.

1. "do not go down to Egypt," Genesis 26:2, BDB 432, KB 434, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

2. "stay in the land," Genesis 26:2, BDB 1014, KB 1496, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. "sojourn in this land," Genesis 26:3, BDB 157, KB 184, Qal IMPERATIVE

4. "I will be with you," Genesis 26:3, BDB 224, KB 243, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

5. "I will bless you," Genesis 26:3, BDB 138, KB 159, Piel IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

6. "I will give all these lands," Genesis 26:3, BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

Genesis 26:2 "and the LORD appeared to him and said, 'Do not go down to Egypt'" This may have been because of Abraham's experience in Egypt or because Isaac needed to trust God for provision in the Promised Land.

Genesis 26:3 "I will be with you and bless you" This again is a reaffirmation, not only of God's presence (cf. Genesis 28:15; Genesis 31:3), but His blessings and a reaffirmation of the covenant.

"and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham" This is a reference to God's special promises to Abraham which are found in Genesis 12:15, Genesis 12:17 and 22.

The VERB "establish" (BDB 877, KB 1086, Hiphil PERFECT) is used several times in Genesis.

1. to establish or ratify a covenant, cf. Genesis 6:18; Genesis 9:9, Genesis 9:11; Genesis 17:7, Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21

2. give effect to or confirm the covenant, Genesis 26:3; Genesis 26:3 (note Leviticus 26:9; Deuteronomy 8:18)

Genesis 26:4 There seem to be three specific promises mentioned: (1) abundant descendants; (2) land (cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:18-19; Genesis 17:7-8; Genesis 26:1-5; Genesis 28:10-15; Genesis 35:12); and (3) all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Isaac and his descendants.

"as the stars of heaven" This had been mentioned earlier to Abraham in Genesis 26:5 and 22:17. The other two metaphors used by God to describe their fruitfulness were the sand of the sea and the dust of the earth.

"all these lands" This was part of the promise to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8).

"all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" This phrase is literally interpreted "shall bless themselves." There are two distinct VERBAL forms of this promise. The Niphal is found in Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 28:14. It is also quoted in the NT in Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8. Genesis 26:4 is in the Hithpael, which is found only here and in Genesis 22:16-18 and should properly be translated "shall bless themselves." In truth, there is little difference between "bless themselves" and "shall be blessed." As a matter of fact the Septuagint translation makes no distinction between these VERBAL forms at all. The obvious, tremendous blessing is that through Abraham and his children God was seeking to bless the entire world. God chose one man to choose a nation to choose a world. We must keep in mind that the Jews were chosen, not for a special blessing, but as an instrument for the redemptive blessing to come to all men. Israel was always meant to be a kingdom of priests (cf. Exodus 19:5-6). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

Genesis 26:5 "because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" The two VERBS in this verse emphasize the human aspect of the covenant (cf. Genesis 12:1; Genesis 17:1, Genesis 17:9-14; Genesis 22:16; Genesis 26:3-5).

1. "obeyed" (lit. "hear so as to do"), BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERFECT

2. "kept," BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal IMPERFECT

Both denote ongoing action.

There is a real (and purposeful) tension between God's free grace given to one human/nation to call all humans/nations (cf. the unconditional action of God in Genesis 15:12-21) and the recurring mentioning of obedience (i.e., the conditional nature of God's promises). Both are true! Human performance does not bring fallen humans into Divine acceptance. However, once we have had an encounter with Him, we cannot be unaffected, unchanged (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 2:10). The goal of God is a righteous people to bring the nations to Himself. The danger is a free grace with no conditions and a merited grace with many conditions. The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-38 show us the waya new heart, a new mind, a new spirit. God's external code becomes an internal mandate.

The listing of "charge" (BDB 1038), "commandments" (BDB 846), "statutes" (BDB 349), and "laws" (BDB 435) is found only here in the early books of Genesis - Numbers, but appears often in Deuteronomy. See Special Topic: Terms for God's Revelation following the next paragraph.

This seems to be an allusion to Genesis 15:6. In this account, Abraham's belief that he would have a child was taken by God as an act of faith and was reckoned unto Abraham as righteousness. This significant OT passage is used as the theological underpinnings by the Apostle Paul for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, explicated so beautifully in Romans 4:0 and Galatians 2-3. The word "laws" here is the first use of the term "Torah" (BDB 435), which is a Hebrew word meaning "teachings" or "guidelines." This term came to be the title for the first five books of Moses.

Notice the repetition of the personal PRONOUN!

SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION (using Deuteronomy and Psalms)

Verses 6-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:6-11 6So Isaac lived in Gerar. 7When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "my wife," thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful." 8It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. 9Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, "Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, 'She is my sister'?" And Isaac said to him, "Because I said, 'I might die on account of her.'" 10Abimelech said, "What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us." 11So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, "He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

Genesis 26:7 "She is my sister, for he was afraid to say, 'my wife'" Some see this as a cultural element related to the Nuzi Tablets, where a man actually adopted his wife. If that is the case then Isaac is telling the truth. But, it seems that Isaac is simply following in the footprints of his father (cf. Genesis 12:13; Genesis 20:2, Genesis 20:12). In Abraham's case this was a half-truth, but in Isaac's it is uncertain because in this verse (and Genesis 26:9) his action is attributed to his personal fear. It shows a lack of faith on Isaac's part because God had promised to be with him and protect him. Yet, in the midst of Isaac's unbelief, as with Abraham, God was faithful.

Genesis 26:8 "Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah" This term "caressing" (BDB 850, KB 1019, Piel PARTICIPLE) is from the same root as the name for Isaac, which means "to laugh" or "to play" (BDB 850, cf. Genesis 17:17, Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:12; Genesis 21:6, Genesis 21:9). Here it has a sexual connotation as it does in Genesis 39:17 and Exodus 32:6. Some translations use the term "fondling."

Genesis 26:10 "And Abimelech said" Both the Abimelech of Abraham's day and the Abimelech of Isaac's day come across as much more morally and ethically sensitive than the Patriarchs. This may imply that at this stage of history the Canaanites had some degree of spirituality.

Genesis 26:11 YHWH's protection is behind this decree!

The phrase "shall surely be put to death" reflects a Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a Hophal IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 559, KB 562), which was a grammatical way to show intensification.

Verses 12-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:12-17 12Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, 13and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; 14for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. 15Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. 16Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us." 17And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.

Genesis 26:12-14 Note the blessings.

1. reaped a hundredfold, Genesis 26:12

2. became rich and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy, Genesis 26:13

3. had flocks and herds, Genesis 26:14

4. had a great household, Genesis 26:14

The second item in #2 is a Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Qal IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 229, KB 246), which denotes intensity.

The third item in #2 is an ADJECTIVE and VERB of the same root (BDB 152, KB 178, Qal PERFECT).

Genesis 26:12 "the LORD blessed him" This is a direct theological recognition that it was God and not Isaac's husbandry that was the source of blessing.

Genesis 26:14 "the Philistines envied him" This is the VERB (BDB 888, KB 1109, Piel IMPERFECT) "to be jealous."

1. they stopped up Abraham's wells, Genesis 26:15

2. they sent Isaac away, Genesis 26:16

Isaac's prosperity was intended to help the Philistines come to YHWH, but instead it caused jealousy and resentment.

Genesis 26:15 "Philistines stopped up" As Isaac grew, both in numbers and wealth, he became a source of fear for the Philistines. They show their distress and fear by stopping up Isaac's wells. Knowing that Isaac was a herdsmen, lack of water would force him to move away. This section of chapter 26 shows us the patience and faith of Isaac. Much of his personality type can be discerned by how he handles this tension over water rights.

Verses 18-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:18-22 18Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them. 19But when Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, 20the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah. 22He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, "At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land."

Genesis 26:18 "he gave them the same names which his father had given them" This is simply keeping the family tradition or it may have been a religious act relating to the covenant with his father.

Genesis 26:20-22 "Esek. . .Sitnah. . .Rehoboth" This is a series of three wells which were used to show what was happening in Isaac's relationship with his neighbors.

1. the first well means "contention" (BDB 796)

2. the second well means "enmity" (BDB 966 II)

3. the third well means "broad places" (BDB 932), which is a Hebrew idiom to represent rest and peace and happiness

Genesis 26:22 "At last the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land" Isaac had the manpower to easily overcome the Philistines, but he chose to wait in faith, on God who had made him a promise. The name of the third well and "room" are the same (BDB 932).

Verses 23-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:23-25 23Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24The Lord appeared to him the same night and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham." 25So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well.

Genesis 26:23 "Then he went up from there to Beersheba" This is a site in the southern area of the Judean wilderness which was an important sojourning camp for Abraham (cf. Genesis 22:19).

Genesis 26:24 "The LORD appeared to him the same night and said" This is the second time YHWH appears to Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:2). Here it was in a dream at night (cf. Genesis 15:5, Genesis 15:12; Genesis 21:12, Genesis 21:14; Genesis 22:1-3; Genesis 26:24). Many of the revelations in Genesis are recorded in poetry, as is Genesis 26:24 (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:1, Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:1-2, Genesis 17:4-5; Genesis 35:10, Genesis 35:11-12).

"I am the God of your father Abraham" Notice how YHWH and Elohim are parallel (cf. Genesis 2:4). This is a more formal and complete revelation than Genesis 26:2. It is structured similarly to God's revelations to Abraham.

"Do not fear, for I am with you" What a great promise (also note Genesis 15:1; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 46:3).

"for the sake of My servant Abraham" This is a special honorific title used for Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David. It may be the origin of the Pauline phrase, "a slave of Jesus Christ."

Genesis 26:25 The sites of YHWH's personal revelations became sacred places. Altars were built in these places and they became places of worship, prayer, and sacrifice (cf. Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:7, Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4, Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9).

"dug a well" Water is a precious commodity in these semi-arid lands. Isaac patiently waited for YHWH's help and direction. The several successful wells mentioned in this context show YHWH's presence and blessing.

Verses 26-33

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:26-33 26Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. 27Isaac said to them, "Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?" 28They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'" 30Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace. 32Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac's servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, "We have found water." 33So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

Genesis 26:26 "Abimelech. . .Phicol" Although these names are exactly the same as in Genesis 21:22, it has been about 75-80 years and obviously cannot refer to the same men. From the introduction to Psalms 34:0 it seems obvious that these are titles instead of proper names.

Genesis 26:27 Obviously Isaac still felt the pain and embarrassment of being expelled!

Genesis 26:28 "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you" There are several grammatical features of this verse.

1. "plainly see," this is a Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Qal PERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 906, KB 1157), which denotes "it was plain that"

2. "let there now be an oath," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal JUSSIVE; the word "oath" (BDB 46) is found only here and Genesis 24:41 (twice), even Genesis 26:31 is a different word (BDB 989). It can mean oath or curse (e.g., Numbers 5:21, Numbers 5:23, Numbers 5:27; Deuteronomy 29:12, Deuteronomy 29:14, Deuteronomy 29:19, Deuteronomy 29:20, Deuteronomy 29:21). It implies "may one be cursed if they do not keep the oath."

3. "let us make a covenant," BDB 503, KB 500, Qal COHORTATIVE

This is the theological purpose of the blessing of the Patriarchs. It was not to give them more physical things, but to show others their unique relationship to YHWH (cf. Genesis 26:29c).

Genesis 26:30 "he made them a feast" The normal procedure for cutting or sealing a covenant was a fellowship meal.

Genesis 26:32-33 "they had dug a well . . .'we have found water'. . .Shibah" Obviously these wells had physical and spiritual significance. They mark the blessing of God in the life of Isaac. Verse Genesis 26:33 may be a rival etymology for the name Beersheba (i.e., "may it be given," BDB 988) in Genesis 21:31, where the name is explained as "the well of oath" or "the well of seven." Shibah may be a way of referring to the "oath." The Hebrew words "seven" and "swear" are quite similar. Quite often in the OT the etymologies are popular rather than technical and, therefore, may have two popular origins.

Verses 34-35

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 26:34-35 34When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

Genesis 26:34-35 These two verses really set the stage for chapter 27, particularly Genesis 27:46. The author is weaving elements into this account that will later have great theological significance (i.e., cause Isaac and Rebekah to send Jacob back to Haran to find a wife).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Is the Abimelech of Genesis 21:0 the same as the one in Genesis 26:0?

2. What is the origin of the Philistines?

3. Why did both Abraham and Isaac claim that their wives were their sisters?

4. What is the purpose of so many wells being alluded to in this chapter?

5. Explain the ancient rites of a covenant feast and how it impacts biblical revelation.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 26". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-26.html. 2021.
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