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Genesis 26 : In his father’s footsteps

Genesis 26 is truly a remarkable chapter. The focus is on Isaac and it summarizes his life in a nutshell, but show astonishing parallels with His father, Abraham. It is as if Isaac is literally repeating the essential moments in his father’s life in just the same way – he even repeated his father’s sins!

It is in exactly these parallels that the message of this chapter is contained, as well as the application on our lives for today.

Let us first divide this chapter into a few main sections and see what is contained there, and then, at the end, we will look at what the message is for us.

Early in the life of Abraham there was a famine that triggered a series of events that had a great impact on Abraham’s life. The same way there was a famine early in Isaac’s life. It was two different famines. Isaac then left for Gerar and then decided to go on to Egypt. Just like his father had done.
However, it was not God’s plan for Isaac to go to Gerar and that is why the Lord appeared to him in verses 2-5 and told him that Gerar is not the place for him, but promised that He would soon lead him to the country where he should be – according to God’s will and plan. In the same breath the Lord reconfirmed the Abraham-covenant with Isaac, because the promise passed over onto Isaac. The Lord therefore also promised Isaac that his descendants would be numerous. And we know from the NT that these descendants/seed would actually be the Lord Jesus as well as all the believers from all the nations who were to be in Christ.
This is exciting: The covenant namely that what God gave to Abraham, He now gives to Isaac.
What we should also see is that the fulfillment of the covenant-promises hinges on God’s faithfulness, and not on the merit of man. With his very own eyes, Isaac saw the truth of that on Mt Moriah. But from his side Isaac also had to believe the covenant-promises and appropriate it for himself. That is what verse 5 implies. It is pointless that God’s faithfulness is given and the promises are given, but man does not live in obedience inside the covenant. Isaac had to learn that.

One can hardly believe this, but it is true. Isaac does exactly the same what his father did. Even Abraham’s sins. It is something that his father did twice: to lie about his wife out of fear for his safety and to pretend that she is his sister. Both Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives to Abimelech of the Philistines. Though they were not the same people, because Abimelech was more of a title than a name. And there was a period of many years between the separate episodes.

But yet the similarities are significant: Both father and son are chastised by the Philistine king. Both had beautiful wives. Both were fearful for their safety. Both were afraid that they might be killed and that someone would marry his wife. Both said that their wife is their sister. Both of them did not realize how great their sin was before God.

There are also some differences: Isaac waits until someone approaches Rebekah before he spins out his lie. His courage failed him at number 99, while Abraham had had his plan worked out beforehand.

In addition, the younger Abimelech quickly discovered the truth when he saw that Isaac did not treat Rebekah like a sister, but rather like a wife. In Abraham’s case the Lord had to speak directly to Abimelech.

The great reason for the similarities between Isaac and his father are because Isaac was a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus – who on occasion said: “The Son can do nothing by Himself, He can only do what He sees His Father doing” (John 5:19).

Of course, this does not mean that God the Father (like Abraham) sinned and that Christ repeated it after Him! It is about the principle.

Isaac symbolizes the Lord Jesus by his unity with his father. In this way we once more discover Jesus in the OT and in Genesis!

God promised that He would lead Isaac back to the place where he had to live. Isaac would however never have guessed the way it was to be brought about, namely by suffering and opposition!

One could not really say that Isaac was experiencing any opposition. In Gerar he had successful harvests and he became rich (verses 12-14). The Lord blessed him despite his lie about his wife.

But Abimelech did not see Isaac’s prosperity as a blessing from the Lord. He saw Isaac as a powerful figure and a threat to the Philistines – particularly because of his father Abraham. The Philistines had all the wells (that Abraham had dug) stopped up and filled with earth. Because digging a well, was the same as taking ownership of the land. That is why the Philistines had the wells stopped up. Because they wanted to prevent Abraham and his descendants to lay claim on that land. A well was as valuable as a goldmine at that time. But Isaac had many flocks and herds, and for the sake of survival he opened up the wells that his father had dug, and also dug additional wells that yielded lots of water – almost like a fountain. He did so for survival, but the Philistines saw it as land-occupation. Hence the opposition against Isaac – which is humanly explicable. But the Lord used the opposition to lead Isaac to the land where HE wanted him to live.

Everywhere Isaac dug a well, a dispute started from the side of the Philistines.

With the result, when Abimelech asked Isaac to move away from them, he left! He did not want to be where there was conflict and discord. Once again a prefigure of Jesus.

But he dug another well – over which, wonder above wonder, there was no dispute. Perhaps because he was on the move and the distance from the Philistines was already considerable.

Isaac named this well “Rehoboth” – an indication of the hope Isaac now had that this was the place where the Lord wanted him to live.

Then something unexpected and strange happened. In verses 23-25 we find the key to understand the entire chapter.

Up to this point, Isaac’s decision about where he wanted to stay was based on the presence of enough water and the absence of enmity. But now that he dug a well that was not causing any dispute and that brought rest and peace, now he moves up to Beersheba! One would have expected that he would settle by His Rehoboth-well. But verse 23 simply says – without giving reasons – Isaac went up to Beersheba.

We see therefore that a great change and transformation took place in Isaac’s thinking. Previously it was his circumstances that shaped his thinking. But now suddenly, it is as if something deeper and more noble directed his thinking.

Beersheba was the first place where Abraham went after he and Isaac had returned from Mt Moriah (Gen 22:19). Isaac knew that God promised to give him the land that He had promised to Abraham. He therefore realized – through all the opposition and disputes around the wells – that the Lord was leading him back to the promised land, back to the land where his father had walked with God. Isaac went – for no logical reason – up to Beersheba because he knew THAT was where the Lord wanted him to be.

And that decision was the correct one, because immediately the Lord gave him the words of reassurance (v 24): “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham”.

And verse 25 is particularly important. Look at the sequence of Isaac’s actions in organizing the place when he settled at Beersheba: “Isaac built an altar there and called on the Name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well”.

Now suddenly, digging a well is the last item on his list. And the altar is the first.

Previously Isaac tried to determine the will of the Lord by His circumstances. Where he dug a well with plenty of water and there was no opposition, there He lived. But in verse 25 it is turned around. FIRST he builds an altar, then he worships, then he pitches his tent and then he digs a well.

There is a great spiritual principle to be found in these verses. The place of the Lord’s people is in His presence. The place where a Christian belongs is the place where the Lord’s kingdom is found and served, where His Word must be embraced and His presence and communion and worship are valued above all else. Then He will also provide earthly things.

Before Isaac’s priorities changed, he allowed himself to be led mainly by how the Lord disposed and provided in his circumstances. But, now that his priorities have changed, the Lord’s blessings and His guidance are a lot more apparent in Isaac’s life.

Look what is happening here: Previously, the Lord’s hand of blessing was visible on Isaac’s life, but the Philistines were hostile and asked him to leave their country.

Now Isaac is living in Beersheba and the Lord’s blessing is clearly visible. What is happening now? The Philistines come all the way to him to ask if they could make a treaty with him!
What was the cause of the change in their attitude?

When Isaac lived among the Philistines, his behaviour was rather lamentable. He lied about his wife. They thought his material wealth was purely due to luck.

Now that his priorities have changed and he is living according to spiritual guidelines, the Lord’s provision was clearly visible once more. And now Abimelech – who was a pagan – saw that it was the Lord’s hand resting on Isaac, and that it is wise for them to live in a good relationship with Isaac. “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you” was Abimelech‘s testimony to Isaac.

That which was Isaac’s first priority, is now the least. But WATER was still important for His survival due to the amount of livestock he possessed. The Lord will not allow His servant to live without that which he needs. That is why the well yielded plenty of water. Take note: The Lord provides what is needed. The place of the Lord’s presence is therefore ALSO a place of provision!

To have the correct priorities and to seek the kingdom first, is no guarantee for a carefree life. It is not a bed of roses. Isaac and Rebekah had their heartaches. And the source of their GRIEF was their one son, Esau. Esau married someone from the Hettite nation. Not someone from God’s covenant nation. And they made life for Isaac and Rebekah very miserable (v 34).

Yes, even if one is in a right relationship with God, difficulties and problems will still be part of your life. Most of the time it is the struggles that are generally clinging to the fallen humanity. The devoted Christian is not being spared.

First, the chapter shows us the two systems whereby Christian-believers can experience the Lord’s guidance: 1 by living according to principles or 2 by living according to provision.

When we live according to the principles of the Word of God, we live the closest to His voice. When we depend only on His provision, we will also come to where He wants us to be, but without the joy of being part of the process. If one depends only on the Lord’s provision, one is merely a passive object being moved around from place to place by circumstances at the Lord’s disposal.

Secondly: We learn how a covenant-relationship with the Lord works. From the beginning of Isaac’s life, FROM GOD’S SIDE, he was drawn into the covenant life because he was Abraham’s son. As a sign of that he was circumcised on the 8th day. But somewhere in his life, he had to get to the point of personally appropriating God’s covenant-promises. He had to learn to walk with God in faith and obedience. And the process of covenant life/sanctification is not always a simple matter. It is a training-school of discipline. There are no shortcuts. Isaac learned it the hard way. But even though he often failed, he could be sure of the Lord’s faithful love.

Thirdly: Why did the Lord not discipline Isaac (and Abraham) harder and more strict over their lies concerning their wives? Should He not have been more severe?

Answer: That particular sin was not the root problem in his life. The root problem was a lack of faith-trust in who/what God is. The Lord wanted that Isaac should discover the root sin. The lies were merely a symptom. It was born out of fear. But the fear was brought forth from a deficient faith-vision. An inadequate realization of who/what the Lord is. Many, many sins will disappear out of our lives when we get a sufficient realization of who the Lord God truly is.

Translated by Marthie Wilson

Main Source: Bob Deffinbaugh

Category Genesis Series

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