After Sarah and Abraham had died, and when their son Isaac was living in the land of Canaan, famine again struck the territory, just as it had done years earlier in Abraham’s time. Isaac, the same as his father, also found it necessary to leave the area so that he could feed his family and herds until the famine had come to an end.
Unlike his father however, Isaac did not go to Egypt. In fact, the Lord forbade him to do so. It may be that he started out for that country, but the Lord interrupted his plans.
“Do not go down to Egypt,” the Lord told Isaac. “Rather, stay in the land where I will tell you.”
God continued: “Sojourn in this land (speaking of the land of the Philistines) and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham” (Genesis 26:2-3).
The area of the land of the Philistines where Isaac began to wait out the famine was known as Gerar, which was toward the Mediterranean Sea and to the west of where he was living with his wife. Abraham had also gone there at one time some years earlier. It is where he got in trouble with the ruler Abimelech because he had tried to deceive the king regarding Abraham’s wife Sarah.
Isaac’s wife was named Rebecca, and as Isaac’s own mother had been, his wife Rebecca was also a very beautiful woman. She was so beautiful, in fact, that while in Gerar, Isaac had the same fear that his father had had while in Egypt and also in Gerar. Isaac was afraid that the men of the area would kill him in order to take Rebecca for their own.
I do not know if this is a case of a son doomed to repeat the sins of his father, but like Abraham, while Isaac was in Gerar, he also began telling the people that Rebecca was his sister instead of his wife. If you recall, Abraham had also used this same timid and failed strategy while he and Sarah were there, just as he had done in Egypt (Genesis 12, 20).
This time with Isaac and Rebecca, there is no mention of harems or anything like that, but Rebecca probably had the men of the area trying to come up with a plan to get together with her. They were that is, until the king of the area looked out of his window and saw Isaac doing something very unbrotherly with Rebecca.
Not How a Brother Acts Toward His Sister
The king of Gerar, just as in Abraham’s time, was called Abimelech. The word Abimelech is probably not a name, but actually the title for the king, not unlike the term Pharaoh was in Egypt. The Abimelech of Isaac’s time almost certainly was not the very same as in the days of Abraham, but most likely the son or perhaps even the grandson of the king of that day. If it was the same Abimelech, he would be quite an old fellow by this time.
As far as what the king saw Isaac and Rebecca doing outside of his window, most Bible translations say that he saw Isaac “caressing” Rebecca. A couple Bible versions say that the two were “making love.” One version however (ESV), says that Isaac was “laughing” with Rebecca.
The Hebrew word here actually often is translated as “laughing.” It is in fact, the same word that is used to describe what Isaac’s mother Sarah did when she heard that she was going to have a child when she was ninety years old. “She laughed to herself” (Genesis 18:12).
In addition, a form of this Hebrew word is also used to make up Isaac’s own name. The name Isaac means laughter, or he laughs.
I do not know what exactly Abimelech saw as he looked out his window, but I do not think that what he saw was Isaac telling Rebecca a good joke and the two laughing about it. However, I am equally sure that the two were not “making love,” as we would generally understand the term.
Whatever the king saw, Isaac and Rebecca were doing something that a brother ought not to do with his sister. I think that “flirting” would have probably been a better choice for a translation, or possibly “playfully flirting” or even “passionate flirting.” The author may have used the word laughing as a reference to Isaac’s own name.
“We Have Seen This Before!”
Perhaps Abimelech had been suspicious of this brother/sister story from the beginning. If it was the same Abimelech of Abraham’s day, he would have remembered the incident of that time with Isaac’s father. If this Abimelech was a son, the father possibly told him of the story of what the coward Abraham did to protect himself. Once again, with Isaac as also happened with Abraham, the pagan king Abimelech had to reprimand one of the followers of God.
Abimelech said to Isaac, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”
The king then put out a general warning to all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Once again, it seemed that the pagan king had more fear of the God of Abraham than did the family of Abraham.
Isaac Becomes Wealthy
Isaac and Rebecca did not leave the area, however. They stayed in the general vicinity of Gerar, and just as God had promised them, they prospered in that land. That same year Isaac reaped a hundredfold from his crops. He also acquired flocks and herds and many servants, so much so that the people of the area first envied him and then feared him. Isaac was becoming too powerful!
He was becoming so powerful that the local people began to fill the water wells that Isaac owned with dirt in order to weaken him. These were wells that dated back to the days when Abraham had lived in the area and that Isaac had reopened to water his own animals.
Wells = Life
On a purely practical and physical level, in that day the presence of a well meant life. The general area is semi-arid and with very few flowing streams of water. This sometimes left a well as the only source of life water.
There are many stories throughout the Bible where a well plays a significant role. We saw even a couple posts ago how the woman Hagar was twice found at a well in the wilderness. We cannot live without water, and having a source of water is life.
Isaac first used wells that had been dug decades earlier by his father Abraham. In using these wells that had been established by his father, there was a sense in which Isaac was still drawing on the life that Abraham had provided for him. It was because of what his father had done that Isaac became wealthy in livestock and in crops.
A Dependent Son
Throughout his history as a child and a young man, all that Isaac had and all that he did came from his father. It could even be said that for most of his life, Isaac did nothing original or of his own initiative. Even the task of finding a wife was arranged by his father. There was no courtship between Isaac and Rebecca. Rather than this, the elderly Abraham, fearing that he would die before he saw his son married, sent a servant to find a wife for his son.
Isaac had grown up constantly looking to his father not only for provision, but even in making what should have been very personal decisions for him. As a result, he modeled his father in almost every way.
We saw how he even followed the example of his father in a negative way when he told Rebecca to lie about her relationship to him. This negative emulation of his father only brought negative consequences.
But now in using the wells of his father, there is a sense that he was drawing on the positive aspects of his father’s example. He was drawing upon Abraham’s life. He was beginning to benefit from his father in a way that taught him life. It even made him wealthy.
In fact, as I have already stated, Isaac became too wealthy for the local people. The Philistines began to envy Isaac. Knowing that a source of water meant life, the Philistines filled up his wells with earth. They assumed that if they kept Isaac from the source of life, he would be weakened.
However, it did not seem to be enough, since the king next told him, “Move away from us, for you have become too powerful for us.”
Isaac—the Man of Peace
Even though in the eyes of Abimelech, Isaac had become too powerful for them, Isaac complied with what Abimelech wanted. He did not take an adversarial position, but rather left the area and settled in a valley in a nearby region. Abraham had apparently also lived there at some time in the past, since there were other old wells of his in that place. Sometime after Abraham left, the Philistines had also filled these wells with earth, perhaps for much the same reasons that they had filled up the first ones that Isaac was using. They did not want these foreigners to settle there.
But despite the wishes of the Philistines, Isaac pitched his tents in that area. He also once again opened the old wells of Abraham to water his flocks and herds. Isaac began to settle down to make it his place of sojourning. He even named them with the same names that had been given to them by his father.
In all of this, we still see Isaac drawing on the life of his father just has he had done his entire life.
However, we also see something new in Isaac’s life at this point, because for the first time, he did something original. He had his servants dig a new well in the valley. This was the first well that he dug on his own initiative. As a result, his servants discovered it to be a spring. Life springing up from the ground purely on its own strength.
This well represented life that did not come to Isaac because of his father’s efforts, but because of what he himself had initiated. God was showing Isaac that he wanted to bless him.
Contention and Enmity, and Finally Room to Expand
Nevertheless, the local herdsmen did not like the idea of the life of their own territory to go to Isaac. When they learned of the spring, the contended for it. “This water is ours!” they complained to Isaac.
Once again, Isaac seems to have simply complied with their wishes. When the well had been dug, he perhaps had another name in mind for it, but he ended up naming it “Esek,” which means contention. It was a well of contention. God had blessed Isaac, and others contended for what he had been given. Isaac moved on.
His servants next dug another well in the new area where Isaac tried to settle. Again, the local people claimed the water. Again, Isaac moved on. He called that well “Sitnah,” which means enmity, and moved on.
Isaac arrived at yet a third location, and as before, his servants dug a well. This time, no local people came to claim the water. “Now the Lord has made room for us,” he said. “Here there is room for us to be fruitful.”
He named the well, “Rehoboth.” It means plenty of room. Isaac had found his own place in this land. He was no longer in the shadow of his father, but he had found his own path in his world and had room to grow.
On to Beersheba
But despite now having plenty of room, Isaac was not to stay in Rehoboth. It was not where God intended him to settle. We are not told how long he remained there, but it apparently was until the famine in the land of promise was over. When the famine did subside, Isaac again moved on. From the beginning, he knew that his stay in the land of the Philistines was to be a sojourning, and not to become his permanent place of living.
Isaac next moved to a place called Beersheba. Beersheba was back toward the land of promise, and was sometimes considered to be controlled by the Philistines, and sometimes part of the Palestine. It was a site in the middle of the Negev, which is an arid region.
Abraham had also lived there in the past. Like Isaac, he had settled there for a time after being in the land of the Philistines. It was a place with a history between the family of Isaac and the family of Abimelech. When Abraham arrived at the site, his servants dug a well, as was the general practice.
While Abraham was living there, the Abimelech of his day came to him, along with the commander of his army. They came asking for a covenant. “Swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me, or with my offspring, or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown you, you shall show to me, and to the land in which you have sojourned” (Genesis 21:23 NAS).
Abimelech had been kind to him in some ways, but Abraham still had a complaint. He brought up a matter of a well that he had dug while in Abimelech’s land, and which was seized by his people. Abimelech said that he had not heard of the matter until that very day, so Abraham apparently let it go. However, the mere mention of it had put Abimelech on notice.
The Well of Seven
The two men did make a covenant on that day. As part of the formalities, Abraham gave seven ewe lambs to Abimelech.
“What is the meaning of these lambs,” the king asked Abraham.
“You should take these lambs from my hand as a testimony that I have dug this well,” Abraham replied.
It was on that day that the well was called “The Well of Seven.” It was in reference to the seven lambs, but there is also the fact that the number seven was often associated with the making of a covenant or an oath in those days. Thus being, it is also sometimes referred to as “The Well of the Oath.”
Isaac in Beersheba
This was the same Beersheba to which, years later, Isaac also journeyed. The very night he arrived, the Lord appeared to him.
“I am the God of Abraham your father,” the Lord told him. “Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
Isaac built an altar at Beersheba and “called upon the name of the Lord.” This is a phrase that appears often with the patriarchs of those days in connection with worship. It was their own affirmation that the Lord God is their God. It was an act of dedication to God. Abraham had also called upon the name of the Lord in this place years earlier (Genesis 21:33).
Isaac pitched his tent in that place. Interestingly, just as Abimelech the elder came to Abraham at Beersheba to request a covenant with him, when Isaac was settled here, Abimelech the younger also came to him. With him he brought his advisor and also the commander of his army.
Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you.
They requested of Isaac much the same thing that had been asked of Abraham: “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you…Let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord” (Genesis 26:28-30 ESV).
That night Isaac arranged for a great feast, then early the next morning, they exchanged oaths before Isaac sent them on their way in peace. Later in the day, his servants came with more news: they had dug a well and found water. Isaac called it Shibah: Seven. Again it was a seven that commemorated the oath that he swore there along with Abimelech.
Unique in One Way
This is actually the last we hear of Isaac’s life until we see him in the next chapter of Genesis as a very old man. When compared to the biographies of his father Abraham and of his son Jacob, the account of Isaac’s life is very brief. There are a great many details about his life that we simply do not know. Actually, in his short biography, the singular deed that stands out in his life as an accomplishment, is the digging of wells.
And yet, Isaac has something written about him in the Scriptures that is said about no one else other than Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, in contrasting Isaac with the child Ishmael, who he said was born “according to the flesh,” Paul says Isaac was born “according to the spirit” (Galatians 4:29).
Why So Much Press Coverage Over the Digging of a Few Wells?
To Isaac, and speaking strictly in practical terms, finding water meant finding life. If he did not find water, he along with all those alive and who were him, could not have existed. They would have died there in the middle of the Negev.
In the beginning, the wells that Isaac had were ones that had originally been established by his father. He was drawing life from his father. He later also dug his own wells, but despite his best efforts, these did not bring him life. The people of the area contended for the water and took it from him. These wells brought him only “contention” and “enmity.” The life that he sought did not come because he was not yet in the land where God intended him to settle.
He did later even come to a place where he was able to dig a well that was uncontested and where he had room to expand—Rehoboth. But this place was still within the land of the Philistines. Even here, the life that the well brought him was only transient. It was not his place of permanency.
It was only when he arrived in Beersheba that God appeared to Isaac and renewed the covenant with him that he had made with his father. It was because this was a place that fell within the land that God had promised to give to him
“I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Genesis 26:24).
“Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, ‘We have found water.’ He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day” (Genesis 26:32-33).
It is true that the city was already named Beersheba when Isaac arrived. Abraham had already named it that. He had already dug a “Well of Sevens.” Again we may think that Isaac was doing something unoriginal—something that had already been done by his father.
Nevertheless, despite the appearances, this act of Isaac’s was perhaps the most original of all his actions as a man. This was not simply a repetition of his father’s oaths that he was making, but this was his oath. He “called upon the Name of the Lord.”
In his early life, Isaac depended upon his earthly father for almost everything. After Abraham had died, Isaac seemingly emulated his father in every way. He made the same error that his father made, he used his father’s wells, he named them the same names as his father had given them, and he followed the same route of sojourning that his father had made.
Even at Beersheba he was still in his father’s shadow, but it was only there that God renewed the oath to Isaac as an individual. At Beersheba, it was not his father’s life that gave him blessing, but this was his own commitment oath before God—his own Well of Sevens. This was now his own Beersheba, his own “Well of the Oath.”
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
What Jesus meant by this was that it is not enough to simply be born into an earthly inheritance and do the best that you can with what you have been given in this life. He was saying to Nicodemus that he must put his sights to gain a life in the place of promise, that is, a life that exists in heaven. One must be born into that heavenly existence.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” Jesus told him. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7).
Isaac merely followed the faith of his father for much of his life, and lived under the covenant given to his father. It was not until the Lord appeared to him at Beersheba that the same oath was made his own.
Many people in our present day practice a faith that is not actually personal, but are only followers of others. They have been brought up in Christian homes and went to church as children. They still may even do “churchy” things. Their parents may have even had them baptized as children.
But you see, this is not the child’s faith; it’s the parent’s faith. It is the actions of the parent that are carried out for the sake of the child. The child still lacks the crucial element in his or her faith. It is not yet their own. It is thus far the faith of Abraham, but it is not yet that of Isaac. It has not yet become the child’s own faith.
What has to happen to have a personal faith? It happens by God appearing to you and giving you a promise. It happens when you yourself “call upon the Name of the Lord.”
I do not know the manner in which God appeared to Isaac. I do not know if it was in the form of the angel of the Lord, as he sometimes did in that era, or if it was in a dream, as he also often did. Perhaps it was just in an inner sense where Isaac knew that it was the Lord speaking to him.
Likewise, it is never the same how the Lord speaks to each one of us. For me, it was an inner perception of God that I could not deny and I could not ignore. God was speaking to me! In many ways, it is a mystery. Jesus likened it to the wind. We do not know where it has come from or where it is going, but we hear it and we feel its effects.
That is what it is for anyone born of the Spirit. We may not know exactly how it happens, but the Holy Spirit gives us new life.
God’s Well of Oaths with Us
God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice and an oath to redeem the people of the world. Whoever puts their trust in this oath and believes in Christ will never perish, but will have eternal life.
God did not send his Son into the world in order to judge everyone. Rather than this, he sent Jesus into the world to save a dying humanity.
Everyone who places his or her trust in this salvation will not be judged, but whoever does not believe this is already judged and condemned, because he has not believed in the provision that God made for his salvation.
This is the judgment—Light came into the world to show us the way, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. They are rightly afraid that if they come to the light, their evil deeds will be exposed. They do not want these deeds to be exposed because they know that if they are, then who they truly are will also be exposed. It is because of this that they refuse to come into the light.
But for the one who seeks and practices truth—that one gladly comes into the light. He knows that by doing this, it will be shown that the deeds that have saved him are not his own, but are what God has done in his life. (From the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus—John 3:16-21)