Genesis 26:1−33

February 1st, 2016| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 0

Genesis 26:1−33

God’s blessings are sure, and obviate any need to secure them by retaliating against opposition.

Isaac finds himself in a famine,  God tells him to remain where he is, in Gerar (26:1–3), and Isaac and his descendants are also promised blessing and land.

What happens next is odd: In 26:7–11, Isaac passes off his wife, Rebekah, as his sister, fearing for the safety of his own life from the hoi polloi who might seek to appropriate Rebekah. Was this fear justified? After the divine promise of presence, grounded in a divine oath, and with the assurance of abundant blessing (26:2–5)? Could not the God who had commanded him to stay put in Gerar take care of him in Gerar? If that weren’t sufficient, look at this: the word “descendants” echoes four times in God’s utterance to Isaac in 26:3–4. If Isaac’s excuse was that he was afraid the amorous locals of Gerar would kill him for his beautiful bride (26:7, 9), how does that fear comport with the fourfold mention of “descendants” that God had promised him? How would Isaac die before producing at least one descendant? Rather than resting in the promise of God, Isaac would lie to save his own skin, regardless of what might happen to his wife.

But all ends well. Isaac’s wife–sister deception was discovered when Abimelech, the Philistine king, spied Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah (26:8). The ruler realizes that the couple are husband and wife, and orders that Isaac and Rebekah be protected from any harm. (The events of Genesis 26 likely occurred in the two decades of Rebekah’s barrenness, for it is inconceivable that the men of Gerar would have accepted Isaac’s lie that Rebekah was his sister, had there been two toddlers running around in the camp.)

Now commences a series of well-diggings and “well-fightings.” The first is mentioned in 26:15; the wells dug by Abraham were closed by the Philistines. Clearly the envy of the surrounding peoples was being manifested in these inimical actions that were intended to endanger Isaac and his people: no water meant no survival in the Middle East. The well-stopping seemed to be a not-so-subtle attempt to drive Isaac off the land. Isaac complies and moves (28:17). And again he is opposed, in 26:18–20. And once more in 26:21. Every time Isaac hits water, he is attacked.

This is an odd account because of what Isaac did not do. He does not so much as lift a pinky in protest. Isaac and his caravan had been acknowledged as “powerful” by no other than Abimelech (26:16); the narrator had affirmed that Isaac had “a great household” (26:14). Now if Isaac was anything like his father Abraham, who had raised a homegrown army of 318 soldiers with whom he successfully waged a few wars (Gen 14), he must not have been too shabby. Indeed, it appears that Abimelech was actually afraid of Isaac, as 26:29 reveals. But, strangely enough, the only “action” Isaac takes is to move and dig, move and dig, move and dig. No threats, no reloading of weapons, no flash of steel. Just moving and digging.

In the previous episode we had a scared patriarch. In this one, we find Isaac supremely confident. Apparently he had learnt his lesson from the first story: God was trustworthy and could be relied upon to protect and secure Isaac’s blessings even from fierce opposition. Hence, Isaac refrains from retaliation. Finally, even his enemies make peace with him (26:26–33), even as Isaac strikes water again! The man of faith, blessed by a trustworthy God!

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