It is said that history repeats itself. By recounting this part of Isaac’s life which parallels his father’s, Moses shows us that Isaac had much the same fears as Abraham. Neither Abraham nor Isaac were perfect in their walk with the LORD. There were times that they leaned on their own understanding instead of trusting Him to protect them. Yet God was always faithful to His promises. It was evident to all that despite Isaac’s faltering, God was with Him. Our response demonstrates whether we are truly trusting God or not. Would the family of Abraham continue to trust God and obey Him or would they seek to find their own place in the land of Canaan?
1 Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham.
Like his father before him, Isaac attempted to escape the famine by going to Egypt. However, he only made it to Gerar before the LORD stopped him.
So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2 The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn 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. 4 I 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; 5 because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”
The LORD did not permit Isaac to leave the land of Canaan, for He was going to give it to his descendants. He repeated the covenant promises to him as surety that everything that had been said to Abraham had been passed on to him. God was pleased with Abraham, for Abraham had walked according to the words of the LORD. Though his obedience was tainted by self-sufficiency (and he reaped the fruit of that self-sufficiency), God was pleased by the trust that Abraham exhibited by his obedience.
Isaac also obeyed God, demonstrating His trust in the covenant promise of God to give him the land with an abundance of descendants who would cause the earth to be blessed.
6 So Isaac lived in Gerar. 7 When 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.”
Isaac’s fears were proven unfounded. It is unclear whether this Abimelech is the same who knew Abraham. Abimelech may have been the title given each king in Gerar. If he was the same man, he surely remembered Isaac, who had been born while Abraham lived among them.
Like Abraham, Isaac spent a long time in Gerar.
8 It 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. 9 Then 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.’” 10 Abimelech 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.” 11 So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Keeping Isaac and Rebekah kept their true relationship secret while their twin boys were living with them must have been difficult. What eventually gave them away was a display of intimacy that Abimelech happened to observe. Whatever Abimelech saw Isaac and Rebekah doing, it was something a brother and sister would not do. So Isaac’s lie was found out, and Abimelech again feared for his people lest they had unwittingly committed sin. He also gave Isaac and Rebekah his protection from the people, commanding that they not be touched under penalty of death.
12 Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the LORD blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; 14 for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.
The LORD blessed Isaac with material wealth just as He has prospered Abraham. Isaac’s wealth probably exceeded that of his father. He was the envy of the Philistines who lived in Gerar.
Like Abraham, Isaac also had disputes concerning wells.
15 Now 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. 16 Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” 17 And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.
Abimelech was afraid, because the LORD was prospering Isaac. He commanded that Isaac move elsewhere. So Isaac moved just far enough away to be on the open land. However, he was still close enough to have disputes with the Philistines.
18 Then 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. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, 20 the 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. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah. 22 He 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.”
At last, Isaac found water that was undisputed, and he credited the LORD for giving them a place in the Promised Land. It wasn’t because of Isaac’s aggressiveness that they had finally found their place in the land, for Isaac had passively moved on when a water dispute was made. He had learned to wait for the LORD and to continue knocking until a door was opened.
23 Then he went up from there to Beersheba.
This was the ‘well of oath’ (or ‘well of seven’) that Abraham named after his covenant with Abimelech.
24 The 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.”
God recited the covenant promises to Isaac for a second time. Isaac probably needed to hear that God was with him, having moved from place to place seeking a spot in the land that God had promised. God reminded him that He would indeed bless him with multitudes of descendants for the sake of Abraham, whom He had covenanted with. Thus Isaac had no need to fear.
25 So 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.
Like Abraham, Isaac built an altar to worship the LORD. He set up his camp there and dug a final well.
26 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They 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, 29 that 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.’” 30 Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace. 32 Now 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.” 33 So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
Just as Abimelech and Phicol had come to seek out a covenant with Abraham, so now they come (with the addition of Ahuzzath) to make a covenant with Isaac. Even though Abimelech’s covenant with Abraham had been for the succeeding generations as well, Abimelech felt the need to establish a covenant with Isaac, who was growing stronger and mightier than even Abraham had. Isaac’s observation that the LORD had been with him was confirmed by Abimelech’s observation of God’s blessing on him.
So God had promised Isaac that His Word was true: He was going to give him many descendants who would live in the land and bring blessing upon the earth. After a time of wandering throughout the land just to find a spot to live (not possess), Isaac found confirmation from the LORD. What happened next must have been hard for him to reconcile with this promise.
34 When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
Esau married when he was forty, just as his father Isaac had. However, he was not like his father. He married two Canaanite women, bringing grief to his parents. Esau had found his place in the land by marrying two of its inhabitants. He was assimilating himself into the land through marriage instead of faithfully waiting for God to bring about His Word. He had no regard for God’s commands or for the wishes of his parents.
So Isaac has been contained to the land of Canaan, so that he would not wander away from the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. Now, however, one of his sons has married Canaanite women, something that they were not to do, lest they develop ties with the Canaanite people. Will the other son, Jacob, also marry a Canaanite woman? Or will he obey Abraham and Isaac’s wishes that he marry a woman from their own country just as Isaac did?
It is through Jacob that the Messiah came. God was faithful to His promises despite the deceit of Isaac. Jesus Christ came to reverse the curse and conquer the kingdom of Satan by dying in the place of sinners. It is only through belief in the forgiveness of sin through His death and resurrection that we are saved.