Exploring Perseverance


Biblical Truth: God’s people must persevere in the face of society’s opposition to them.

Understanding God’s Plan: Gen. 26:1-6.

[1]  Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. 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.” [6]  So Isaac lived in Gerar.      [NASU]

[1-3]  The words famine and Abimelech bring to mind Abraham’s sojourns in Egypt [12:10-13:1] and in Gerar [20:1-18]. The common route to Egypt took a traveler through the Philistine plain where in our passage the Lord intercepts Isaac at Gerar. Appeared provides the standard introduction to theophany. There are three exhortations that Isaac must follow, each with its own special significance. First, do not go down to Egypt echoes when Abraham went down to Egypt [12:10]. The emphasis on chapter 26 is the obedience of Isaac. By not escaping to Egypt, Isaac must endure the famine, trusting that the Lord will deliver him. The second exhortation, stay in the land of which I shall tell you, is a clear allusion to Abraham’s consummate act of faith at Moriah [22:2]. Functionally for Isaac, this call to wait on the Lord’s deliverance corresponds to Abraham’s ultimate test of obedience [cf. 26:5 to 22:18]. The term stay essentially means to “settle, dwell,” and it often describes the presence of God among His people by means of the tabernacle. Sojourn in this land is the third and final exhortation. The nuance of permanency made implicit by the word stay [2] may be further reinforced by the contrasting term sojourn. The word translated sojourn is a favorite term in Genesis, specifying the alien status of the patriarchs as foreigners. Its appearance here is another echo of Abraham’s visits to Egypt [12:10] and Gerar [20:1]. In this case the land refers to the region of Gerar. Since Gerar marked the southern boundary of Canaan [10:19], the location provided a telling place of decision when Isaac obeyed the Lord’s directive. By chapter’s end Isaac returns to Beersheba, the chief abode of the patriarchs in the Negev [26:23; 22:19; 28:10; 46:1,5]. The Lord repeats the essential patriarchal promises, establishing protection and prosperity for Isaac. I will be with you expresses the inviolate divine presence. Bless you repeats the promissory call in 12:2. In immediate proximity to this promise in 12:2 and 26:3 is reference to the resulting proliferation of the patriarch’s offspring. It will indeed require a prodigious nation to secure the extensive territories promised. There is no good reason for Isaac to remain in a barren land, excepting his adamant trust that God will sustain his family and possessions. Although the land is presently settled by foreign nations, the day will come when Isaac’s descendants will be its masters. The promise for to you and to your descendants I will give and its variations are standard in the divine promises.

[4-5]  This second mention of numerous descendants and inherited lands not only emphasizes these two important promises, but also repeats the two essential factors that make a people a great nation, providing the platform for the realization of the third promise, a blessing for the nations. I will multiply is part of the standard promissory rhetoric, coupled with the metaphor of innumerable stars, the language plainly relives the Moriah incident [22:17]. Occupation of all these lands is equivalent to the language gate of their enemies heard at Moriah [22:17]. The identity of the peoples who are in mind may be those already named in 15:18-21, where the similar language to your descendants I have given this land [15:18] introduces a catalog of nations. Because Abraham obeyed Me is virtually identical to 22:18, pointing to the sacrifice of Isaac as the event foremost in mind. The remaining statutory language of the verse resonates with the covenant of circumcision that required specific statutory compliance [17:7,9].

In this passage we find Isaac following in his father’s footsteps when confronted by the famine. This includes committing the same two sins that Abraham committed. First, Isaac intends to escape the famine by leaving the promise land and going to Egypt just as his father did [12:10]. Why was it so bad to go to Egypt? Egypt represents the world with its dependence on self and therefore cannot be the place of God’s blessing. If Isaac is to be blessed, he must remain in the land of promise. For it is there that Isaac must learn to trust God for His provision during the famine. That is why God stops him and tells him to stay in the promise land. It seems an extraordinary thing that we can fall into sin immediately after receiving a great blessing, but our nature is such that this is possible. This is what happened to Isaac. In Genesis 26:2-5, he has received a reiteration of the Abrahamic covenant. So far as we know, it was the first time in Isaac’s entire life that God had spoken to him directly. On the basis of that experience, he should have been floating on cloud nine. But immediately after this, while he is in Gerar, we find him repeating the sin of Abraham, lying about his wife for his own self-protection. Rebekah was beautiful. Isaac found himself worrying whether the men of Gerar might kill him for the sake of his wife. Abraham had twice worried about the same thing regarding Sarah; once when he was in Egypt, where Pharaoh ruled [Gen. 12:10-20], and once in Gerar, the land of King Abimelech [Gen. 20:1-18].

It is a strange thing. God had appeared to Isaac to say that he would bless him. He said that He would make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, that He would give him all the lands promised to his father Abraham, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. Yet here was Isaac, worrying whether God could preserve his life in the Philistines’ territory. Strange? Yes, but no stranger than our own failure to trust God to care for us. We acknowledge God’s sovereign power and ability to keep all His promises, yet when trouble comes, we fear for our safety and often sin because of that fear. This episode ends in a manner almost identical to that of the earlier episode involving Abraham. Abimelech, who here was more upright than Isaac, rebuked him [26:10]. This reaction from Abimelech is probably due to the strong warning he received from God in Genesis 20:7 concerning Sarah.

Unwanted by Society: Gen. 26:12-16.

[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. [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.”    [NASU]

[12-14]  The passage describes Isaac’s wealth according to a plentiful harvest and numerous livestock. Multiplying livestock and servants characterized the wealth of Abraham and Jacob. But the notion of abundant crops is unusual when Genesis describes the wealth of the patriarchs. This feature of Isaac’s wealth is in keeping with the chapter’s emphasis on the land promise, but it also explains the tension that his farming created with his neighbors. The semiarid state of the region required a diversified economy for survival, involving animal husbandry and dry farming. Migratory groups settled seasonally near more sedentary centers whose contacts produced at times disputes over water rights and grazing tracts. This explains the strain that Isaac’s arrival placed on the limited resources in the region. Two aspects made the bumper crop remarkable: first, the return was a hundred times the seed invested, and it occurred immediately the first year. The bounty proved that the Lord had blessed Isaac, indicating the first step toward the fulfillment of the promises revealed in verses 3-4. That the mighty Philistines became envious further heightens the immense wealth that the passage depicts.

[15-16]  The action of the Philistines threatened Isaac’s herds by cutting off treasured water resources. That they destroyed all of the wells indicates the intensity of their anger. Twice the name Abraham as the father of Isaac appears [15,18] hinting at the parallel between the two men but also showing that the son had valid claim to the water [21:25-30]. The means of stopping up the wells was filling them with dirt. Since the wells could be redug, this could only slow down Isaac’s progress and discourage his herdsmen. Abimelech expelled Isaac because of his numerical strength. The term rendered powerful occurs only twice more in the Pentateuch, referring to the frightening increase of Hebrew children born in Egypt [Exodus 1:7,20].

Undeterred by Opposition:  Gen. 26:17-22.

[17]  And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there. [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.”    [NASU]

[17-19] Isaac consented to the demand of the king. From there is a recurring term in the chapter, calling attention to the repeated migrations and discoveries by Isaac [8, 17, 19, 22, 23, 25]. Despite Isaac’s retreat to the valley of Gerar, the squabble over water rights between the two peoples remained. Isaac’s men persisted in reclaiming the wells that had been excavated by Abraham. By reassigning to the wells the names given by Abraham, Isaac upheld his entitlement to them. Additionally, the never-ending need for water in the Negev led his servants to find a valuable subterranean source of flowing water [19]. [20-22]  A conflict immediately arose over the newly found spring. The Gerarites made their claim to the water, probably on the basis that it fell within or near their territory, at least close enough to alarm them. Isaac named the well Esek creating in the original language a wordplay on the word for dispute; and a second well of contention, Sitnah, meaning accusation. These occasions are evidence of the ongoing struggle the patriarch faced in that region. Isaac took another step toward establishing good relations with his neighbors by moving yet again [22], abandoning the wells to the Philistines. The sign that he had relocated sufficiently far enough was the absence of any challenge to the discovery of a new well. He named the well Rehoboth meaning “wide, broad or spacious,” commemorating the Lord’s provision for his growing wealth. Experiencing peace at last, Isaac recalls the promises that the land would belong to a multitude of descendants. Be fruitful appears for the first time in the patriarchal story. Thus Isaac’s expression of faith in God’s promises anticipates the renewal of these promises in verse 24.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          Why did God instruct Isaac to stay in the land of promise instead of going down to Egypt during the famine?

2.          After receiving such wonderful promises from God, why would Isaac give in to his fears and sin against God by not trusting Him? Why is it that we can trust God in one area of our lives but have great difficulty trusting Him in another area? What areas of your life do you struggle to trust God’s provision instead of being controlled by your fear?

3.          Because Isaac had obeyed God by not going down to Egypt, God now gave a hundredfold harvest in the midst of the famine [26:12-13]. How do the Philistines react to the tremendous material blessings that God gives to Isaac? How does Isaac respond to the demands of the Philistines? What does 26:22 tell us about Isaac’s mindset during these dealings with his enemies? What can we learn from these events concerning

how to deal with adversities in our lives?


Genesis 12-36, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis 11:27-50:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

Genesis 16-50, Gordon Wenham, Nelson.

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