Sunday, March 05, 2006


Genesis 26


March 5th, 2006

Good morning! It is time to return to our study of Genesis, The Book of Beginnings. You will remember that last week in chapter 25, we learned about the birth of twins to Isaac's wife Rebekah. Esau and Jacob. We saw Esau sell his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage. Today we will see that God recognized that sale and confirmed the birthright by extending the blessing he had given Abraham to Isaac and we will also see that Esau will confirm by his behavior that the birthright should not have been his. Let's begin with the last verse of chapter 25 to give us the context of Esau's treatment of his birthright.

Genesis 25:34-26:6. Read.

Our study today will start and end with Esau despising his birthright. How many Christians, having “put their hand to the plow”, turn early from serving the Lord, live nonproductive carnal lives and end their days in bitterness and strife in their families and congregations? In every Christian organization in which I've ever been involved, with the possible exception of this assembly, there are always some who never function to advance God's word, but repeatedly seem to live to cause contention and pessimissm.

Genesis 26:1. Read.

As those who take God at his word and accept his narrative as literally true, we have to smile at the liberal theologians who claim that this famine story is a mythological retelling of the the earlier famine stories about Abraham. God does not give us this out and has Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit state plainly it is a different one. Time and again in our studies we have seen God cut the ground out from underneath those who would claim they get to pick and choose what part of scripture to believe.

When Phylliss and I go to Kansas City, as we did this weekend to visit our granddaughter, and incidentally her parents, we have a “half way” point on our journey. We stop at the Iowa welcome center just north of the Missouri border to take a short break and have some refreshment. For sojourners at the time Isaac, Gerar was the stopping off point on the road to Egypt. So Isaac stopped through on his way and of course paid respects to Abimelech. Remember that Abimelech is a title name such as “Pharaoh” or “Caesar”. In the language of the time it carried with it the idea of “father”. We might compare it to the German word used for Hitler, “Fueher”.

Genesis 26:2. Read.

This is a Theophany, that is, an appearance of God in some form prior to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Many theologians believe that all such are the appearance of the Lord Jesus and thus call them “Christophanies”. This is likely the first time God has appeared or spoken directly to Isaac. God repeats to him what he had told Abraham, which was to not go into Egypt and also promises that there is another land, not Gerar where he wants him to “dwell” or live permanently.

Genesis 26:3. Read.

The first thing to notice in this renewal of the covenant, is that he is to “sojourn” in the land of Gerar, NOT “dwell” there. This is to be a temporary situation. Please note also that if Isaac keeps this covenant that all these little nations such as Gerar will be his anyway. How often we settle for what little we can gain for ourselves, when God has mighty victories we could win if we would let him make the decisions.

God also points out to him that the covenant he made with Isaac's father, Abraham was unconditional and he goes on to repeat it:

Genesis 26:4,5. Read.

In verse 5 Jehovah points out to Isaac that he is able to continue this covenant with Isaac because his father kept it and, I also believe, the verse carries the idea that Isaac should keep his part, because Abraham his father did so. We also see that the fact the 10 commandments had not yet been given to Moses on Mt. Sinai did not mean that he had left his children in ignorance of what a holy God expects, nor were they free to engage in any behavior they chose. He had given Abraham charges, commandments, statutes, and laws. Sinful man has always done what was right in his own eyes, but never with the approval of the Father.

And now we come to the shortest verse in the chapter and the saddest. We are going to find out if Isaac obeyed God fully after he appeared to him, or partially. Did Isaac sojourn in the land temporarily as God had told him, or did he move in permanently?

Genesis 26:6. Read.

What happens when we do not obey God totally in one area? We start disobeying him in others.

Genesis 26:7-17. Read.

Don't you just want to shake Isaac and say, “what were you THINKING”? He had to have heard how his father did this twice and how wrong it was. But these were the days of sealing alliances between kingdoms and chiefdoms by handing over a new addition to the more powerful leader's harem. The were also the days when a Bedouin warrior would look upon a beautiful woman that he desired and think that she was only one sword stroke from being a widow. So Isaac, who had already turned from full obedience by moving to the land permanently, lied. Remember that had he only sojourned a short time this would not have been an issue, but one sin led to the lie to cover it.

Genesis 26:8. Read.

We see that he has been in the land a long time, so he is dwelling, not sojourning, and Abimelech looks out the window. The word “sporting” here means “caressing”. This was the intimate touching that only a married couple should indulge in. Isaac's lie is found out.

Genesis 26:9. Read.

Once again, a pagan leader shows himself more moral than God's chosen. But Isaac immediately confesses and admits he acted out of fear.

Genesis 26:10,11. Read.

We are reminded once more in this passage that adultery is a PROPERTY crime. When a man and a woman become one flesh, they belong to each other. Each becomes not only a part of each other in oneness... there is a belonging. To have the wife or husband of another is to steal their property. In those days, before jails and prisons, the punishment for theft that could not be repaid financially, was death.

This passage states “might lightly have lein”. This carries the idea of “might casually have raped.”, which gives you some idea of the low value placed on women in that society.

Now did Isaac reap rewards from God for his immediate confession when his deceit was exposed and rebuked?

Genesis 26:12. Read.

MacDonald tells us, “Confession leads to blessing.” And he is certainly correct. For every seed Isaac planted he reaped one hundred at harvest. Do you see the lesson God is teaching him and us here? Sew dishonesty and fear and you reap shame and wrath; sew confession and obedience and you reap a different harvest.

Genesis 26:13,14. Read.

So we see there are two harvests here and one results from the other. If God gives us a rich harvest of possessions, there is a harvest of also of envy by those not so well blessed. I wish I could say it is only the ungodly “Philistines” who behave thus, but far too often it is those who identify themselves as Christians.

Genesis 26:15. Read.

We see how jealous the Philistines were. They knew that Isaac needed this wells to irrigate his hundredfold crops and water his herds and provide for his servants so even though Abraham had dug the wells to their benefit, they filled them up with dirt.

Last year Phylliss and I, as you know, camped in the desert of Big Bend National Park for several weeks. We kept noticing at each place we pitched out tent in the desert pipes about 6” in diameter coming up about 3' out of the ground with a cap welded over the end. It wasn't until I found old topographical maps and overlayed them on the new that we figured out what they were. Each was a well that had been stopped up and capped! When our government handed Big Bend over to the control of the United Nations Man And Biosphere project back in the 1970's they apparently decided that the environment would be more “natural” and people would not be as likely to misuse the desert and that the administration would have more control over visitors if everyone had to come to a central point to get their drinking water. It has worked obviously. It has also made it possible to control the movement of illegal aliens through the park. In like manner the Philistines wished to control Isaac's use of their lands. And the motivation was envy.

If you look at the Middle East today, you will see the rage of the Arab nations surrounding tiny Israel which increases every year as the Jews take that land that the Arabs left desert and swamp and each season make it increase “a hundredfold” in crops and herds and possessions.

Genesis 26:16. Read.

Abimelech had the numbers and the army and possession of the land, but Isaac had God's blessing. Remember this. You and God are mightier than any adversary. Unable to tolerate this, Abimelech orders Isaac out.

Genesis 26:17. Read.

It appears that Isaac had been camped close to the city where Abimelech ruled. After all the king was able to look out his window and watch Isaac and Rebekah, so the whole tribe leaves and travels to a large valley that is part of the kingdom. Would it have been better from the start had Isaac obeyed God? Yes, it always is.

Genesis 26:18-33. Read.

If you should go out to Colorado where my brother lives, you would find that there is one thing more important than grass, or roads, or fences and that is water rights. Whoever controls the water, controls everything. The Philistines knew that the wells dug by Abraham made it possible to use the desert without seeking their permission where they held the oasis. Sounds like Big Bend again, doesn't it? So they filled in the wells. Isaac opened them back up but he didn't stop with that.

Genesis 26:19,20. Read.

They struck a spring or artesian well. Isaac had the privilege of naming it and since the Philistines claimed it as their own, he named it “the well of contention”. So rather than have conflict, they dig another...

Genesis 26:21. Read

Here is a new word, Sitnah, that is worth looking at. We are seeing the word that will one day in English be known as “Satan”. It means “hatred”, “enmity”, “accusation”. Does he hate us? Is he our enemy? Is he the accuser? Yes, all of these, and the use of the word starts over a conflict about a well.

Genesis 26:22. Read,

Rehoboth means “room” or more precisely “living space”. It is the word in German Hitler used as an excuse for taking Eastern Europe: “lebensraum”. The conflict over water rights and space is driving Isaac further and further from Gerar. Perhaps he should have just sojourned there as God told him.

Genesis 26:23. Read.

He has returned to the spot where his father had covenanted with the Lord.

Genesis 26:24. Read.

So once again we see a Theophany. Once again God appears to his servant for the sake of a faithful father. Each of us who are fathers need to remember that God will bless our children based not only what they do, but on how faithful we are. And he reminds Isaac, who has already confessed his fear, that with God on his side he does not need to.

In response to this Theophany what does Isaac do?

Genesis 26:25. Read.

Four things: first, he builds an altar.. he sacrifices. Second, he worships. He calls on the name of the Lord. Third, AFTER he puts God first, he pitches his tent, sojourning now, not dwelling, he is in obedience. Fourth, he digs a new well. And the neighbors show up for a housewarming.

Genesis 26:26. Read.

With a friend, Abimelech is showing that he is capable of fellowship. With his captain comes the reminder of power. It is as Teddy Roosevelt said, “speak softly but carry a big stick”. Present are his soft speech and his big stick.

Genesis 26:27. Read.

Isaac is a little sarcastic here.

Genesis 26:28,29. Read.

God has just told Isaac he need not fear and now with God's blessing, he is feared by those with whom he had had conflict. God's promise begins to be fulfilled immediately upon his obedience and worship.

Genesis 26:30,31. Read.

NOW who is sending who away? Look at the difference God's blessing can make in our lives.

Of these verses, Williams says in his Student's Commentary: “It is when Isaac definitely separates himself from the men of Gerar that they come to him seeking blessing from God.... The Christian best helps the world when living in separation from it.”

Genesis 26:32,33. Read.

The very day of this nonaggression pact, his servants found water. It should not surprise us that liberal scholars look at this new treaty Isaac makes with the next Abimelech as his father had with an earlier one and try to say that this is the same one repeated because of the inaccuracy of the biblical record. I quote from the New Bible Commentary:

“The naming of Beersheba on this occasion is not a literary and contradictory duplicate of 21:24-32. The giving of the name to the locality was especially associated with the fact that on the very day of his ratification of the oath between Isaac and Abimelech the water was found. Abraham called the place 'The well of seven' (sheba'), alluding to their 'sevening' of themselves by means of the seven lambs (21:29-31). Isaac now gives the spot the same name as his father had given it. (26:18), but for his own additional and strikingly confirmatory reason, namely, the discovery the the water on the day of the oath (shaba'). To Abraham it was 'The well of seven', but to Isaac it was 'The well of the oath', both of which ideas were expressed by the one phrase 'Beer-sheba'.”

Genesis 26:34,35. Read.

I told you that our study would begin and end with Esau despising his birthright. I again quote from MacDonald:

“Esau's marriage to Judith and Basemath, two pagan women, caused grief to his parents, as have many other unequal yokes since then. It also brought out further his unfitness for the birthright.”

The application to our lives of today's lesson is almost self evident. As always, two paths lie before each of us. As always we are faced with choice. We can claim the birthright and choose the path of confession, obedience, and blessing. Or we can choose to despise the birthright of our salvation and choose instead, defiance, disobedience, and grief. We can drink from the well of Satan and take the cup of hatred, enmity, and accusation. Or we can choose the cup of the well of Beer-sheba, of the covenant of God and the oath of peace.

Let us pray.
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