- The Events of Isaac‘s Life
5. משׁמרת mı̂shmeret “charge, ordinance.” מציה mı̂tsvâh “command,” special order. חק choq “decree, statute,” engraven on stone or metal. תירה tôrâh “law,” doctrine, system of moral truth.
10. עשׂק ‛êśeq ‹Eseq, “strife.”
21. שׂטנה śı̂ṭnâh Sitnah, “opposition.”
22. רחבית rechobôt Rechoboth, “room.”
26. אחזת 'ǎchuzat Achuzzath, “possession.”
33. שׁבעה shı̂b‛âh Shib‘ah, “seven; oath.”
34. יהוּדית yehûdı̂yt Jehudith, “praised.” בארי be'ērı̂y Beeri, “of a well.” בשׂמת bāśemat Basemath, “sweet smell.” אילן 'êylon Elon, “oak.”
This chapter presents the leading events in the quiet life of Isaac. It is probable that Abraham was now dead. In that case, Esau and Jacob would be at least fifteen years of age when the following event occurred.
Renewal of the promise to Isaac. “A famine in the land.” We left Isaac, after the death of Abraham, at Beer-lahai-roi Genesis 25:11. The preceding events have only brought us up to the same point of time. This well was in the land of the south Genesis 24:62. The present famine is distinguished from what occurred in the time of Abraham Genesis 12:10. The interval between them is at least a hundred years. The author of this, the ninth document, is, we find, acquainted with the seventh document; and the famine to which he refers is among the earliest events recorded in it. There is no reason to doubt, then, that he has the whole history of Abraham before his mind. “Unto Abimelek unto Gerar.” The Abimelek with whom Abraham had contact about eighty years before may have been the father of the present sovereign. Both Abimelek and Phikol seem to have been official names. Gerar Genesis 10:19 was apparently on the brook of Mizraim Numbers 34:5, the Wady el-Arish, or the Wady el-Khubarah, a northern affluent of the former, or in the interval between them. It is on the way to Egypt, and is the southern city of the Philistines, who probably came from Egypt Genesis 10:14. Isaac was drawing toward Egypt, when he came to Gerar.
Isaac is now the heir, and therefore the holder, of the promise. Hence, the Lord enters into communication with him. First, the present difficulty is met. “Go not down into Mizraim,” the land of corn, even when other lands were barren. “Dwell in the land of which I shall tell thee.” This reminds us of the message to Abraham Genesis 12:1. The land here spoken of refers to “all these lands” mentioned in the following verses. “Sojourn in this land:” turn aside for the present, and take up thy temporary abode here. Next, the promise to Abraham is renewed with some variety of expression. “I will be with thee” Genesis 21:22, a notable and comprehensive promise, afterward embodied in the name Immanuel, “God with us. Unto thee and unto thy seed.” This was fulfilled to his seed in due time. All these lands, now parcelled out among several tribes. “And blessed in thy seed” Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18.
This is the great, universal promise to the whole human race through the seed of Abraham, twice explicitly announced to that patriarch. “All the nations.” In constancy of purpose the Lord contemplates, even in the special covenant with Abraham, the gathering in of the nations under the covenant with Noah and with Adam Genesis 9:9; Hosea 6:7. “Because Abraham hearkened to my voice,” in all the great moments of his life, especially in the last act of proceeding on the divine command to offer Isaac himself. Abraham, by the faith which flows from the new birth, was united with the Lord, his shield and exceeding great reward Genesis 15:1, with God Almighty, who quickened and strengthened him to walk before him and be perfect Genesis 17:1. The Lord his righteousness worketh in him, and his merit is reflected and reproduced in him Genesis 22:16, Genesis 22:18. Hence, the Lord reminds Isaac of the oath which he had heard at least fifty years before confirming the promise, and of the declaration then made that this oath of confirmation was sworn because Abraham had obeyed the voice of God. How deeply these words would penetrate into the soul of Isaac, the intended victim of that solemn day! But Abraham‘s obedience was displayed in all the acts of his new life. He kept the charge of God, the special commission he had given him; his commandments, his express or occasional orders; his statutes, his stated prescriptions, graven on stone; his laws, the great doctrines of moral obligation. This is that unreserved obedience which flows from a living faith, and withstands the temptations of the flesh.
Rebekah preserved from dishonor in Gerar. Gerar was probably a commercial town trading with Egypt, and therefore Isaac‘s needs during the famine are here supplied. “The men of the place” were struck with the appearance of Rebekah, “because she was fair.” Isaac, in answer to their inquiries, pretends that she is his sister, feeling that his life was in peril, if she was known to be his wife. Rebekah was at this time not less than thirty-five years married, and had two sons upwards of fifteen years old. She was still however in the prime of life, and her sons were probably engaged in pastoral and other field pursuits. From the compact between Abraham and Sarah Genesis 20:13, and from this case of Isaac about eighty years after, it appears that this was a ready pretence with married people among strangers in those times of social insecurity.
Abimelek observes Isaac sporting with Rebekah as only husband and wife should, constrains him to confess that she is his wife, charges him with the impropriety of his conduct, and commands his people to refrain from harming either of them on pain of death. We see how insecure a female‘s honor was in those days, if she was in a strange land, and had not a band of men to keep back the hand of violence. We perceive also that God mercifully protects his chosen ones from the perils which they bring upon themselves by the vain self-reliance and wicked policy of the old corrupt nature. This remnant of the old man we find in the believers of old, as in those of the present time, though it be different and far less excusable in its recent manifestations.
The growing prosperity of Isaac. “And Isaac sowed in that land.” This does not imply a fixed property in the soil, but only an annual tenancy. “A hundred-fold.” The rates of increase vary from thirty to a hundred. Sixty-fold is very good, and was not unusual in Palestine. A hundred-fold was rare, and only in spots of extraordinary fertility. Babylonia, however, yielded two hundred and even three hundred-fold, according to Herodotus (I. 193). Thus, the Lord began to “bless him.” The amazing growth of the stranger‘s wealth in flocks and herds and servants awakens the envy of the inhabitants. The digging of the well was an enterprise of great interest in rural affairs. It conferred a sort of ownership on the digger, especially in a country where water was precious. And in a primeval state of society the well was the scene of youthful maidens drawing water for domestic use, and of young men and sometimes maidens watering the bleating flocks and lowing herds, and therefore the gathering center of settled life. Hence, the envious Philistines were afraid that from a sojourner he would go on to be a settler, and acquire rights of property. They accordingly took the most effectual means of making his abiding place uncomfortable, when they stopped up the wells. At length the sovereign advised a separation, if he did not enjoin the departure of Isaac.
Isaac retires, and sets about the digging of wells. He retreats from Gerar and its suburbs, and takes up his abode in the valley, or wady of Gerar. These wadys are the hollows in which brooks flow, and therefore the well-watered and fertile parts of the country. He digs again the old wells, and calls them by the old names. He commences the digging of new ones. For the first the herdmen of Gerar strive, claiming the water as their property. Isaac yields. He digs another; they strive, and he again yields. He now removes apparently into a distinct region, and digs a third well, for which there is no contest. This he calls Rehoboth, “room” - a name which appears to be preserved in Wady er-Ruhaibeh, near which is Wady esh-Shutein, corresponding to Sitnah. “For now the Lord hath made room for us.” Isaac‘s homely realizing faith in a present and presiding Lord here comes out.
Isaac now proceeds to Beer-sheba. “Went up.” It was an ascent from Wady er-Ruhaibeh to Beer-sheba; which was near the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Salt Sea. “In that night” - the night after his arrival, in a dream or vision. “I am the God of Abraham thy father.” Isaac is again and again reminded of the relation in which his father stood to God. That relation still subsists; for Abraham still lives with God, and is far nearer to him than he could be on earth. “The God of Abraham” is another name for Yahweh. “Fear not,” as he had said to Abraham after his victory over the four kings Genesis 15:1. Then follow the reasons for courage: I, with thee, blessing thee, multiplying thy seed; a reassurance of three parts of the promise involving all the rest. Then comes the instructive reason for this assurance - “for the sake of Abraham my servant.” “An altar” - the first on record erected by Isaac. “Called on the name of the Lord” - engaged in the solemn and public invocation of Yahweh Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8. “His tent there.” It was hallowed ground to his father Genesis 21:33, and now to himself. “Digged a well,” and thereby took possession of the soil at least for a time. We hear of this well again in the next passage.
The treaty with Abimelek. This is an interview similar to what Abraham had with the king of Gerar; and its object is a renewal of the former league between the parties. Besides Phikol, the commander-in-chief, he is now accompanied by Ahuzzath, his privy counsellor. Isaac upbraids him with his unkindness in sending him away, and his inconsistency in again seeking a conference with him. “We clearly saw.” His prosperity was such as to be a manifest token of the Lord‘s favor. Hence, they desired the security of a treaty with him by an oath of execration on the transgressor. “Do us no hurt.” The covenant is one-sided, as expressed by Abimelek. “As we have not touched thee.” This implies the other side of the covenant. “Thou art now blessed of Yahweh.” This explains the one-sidedness of the covenant. Isaac needed no guarantee from them, as the Lord was with him. Abimelek is familiar with the use of the name Yahweh. Isaac hospitably entertains and lodges the royal party, and on the morrow, after having sworn to the treaty, parts with them in peace. On the same day Isaac‘s servants report concerning the well they had digged Genesis 26:25 that they had found water. This well he calls Sheba, “an oath,” and hence the town is called Beer-sheba, “the well of the oath.” Now the writer was aware that this place had received the same name on a former occasion Genesis 21:31. But a second well has now been dug in like circumstances in the same locality. This gives occasion for a new application of the name in the memories of the people. This is another illustration of the principle explained at Genesis 25:30. Two wells still exist at this place to attest the correctness of the record.
Esau at forty years of age forms matrimonial connections with the Hittites. Heth was the second son of Kenaan, and had settled in the hills about Hebron. Esau had got acquainted with this tribe in his hunting expeditions. From their names we learn that they spoke the same language with himself. They belonged to a family far gone in transgression and apostasy from God. The two wives chosen from such a stock were a source of great grief to the parents of Esau. The choice manifested his tolerance at least of the carnal, and his indifference to the spiritual.