GENESIS - CHAPTER 26
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
26:1. “And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.”
We have noticed already that Abraham seems to represent that aspect of the believer’s life which is related to the daily experience of life in the body, here on earth. Isaac, on the other hand, seems to portray the believer’s spiritual life in the context of earthly experience. That being so, we can see why there is recorded of Isaac what seems to be a duplicate of what is recorded of Abraham. What the believer does in the body affects also what he does in the spirit. When we elect to live by the world’s business and social standards, as represented by Egypt, or by its religious standards, as represented by Babylon and Philistia, our spiritual life is also affected adversely. (It is to be noted that the world’s religion is represented by both Babylon and Philistia, the distinction being that Babylon represents false religion generally, but Philistia, the realm of apostate Christianity).
As noted in our study of chapter 12, literal famine is but the symbol of spiritual starvation. There, in response to the testing of famine, Abraham went down into Egypt, and here in response to the same testing, Isaac goes into the land of the Philistines. Abraham’s going to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan portrays the believer’s returning to the world when there is spiritual famine in the local church, and his experience in Egypt portrays how disobedience affects the believer’s relationship with grace. Isaac’s experience in Philistia portrays the effect of disobedience on the believer’s spiritual life.
In chapter 20, in what appears to have been another lapse of faith, and by God’s permissive rather than His directive will, Abraham had also gone into the land of the Philistines, and that experience portrays what happens to the believer’s relationship with grace when he turns to the world of apostate Christianity, just as Isaac’s going there portrays what happens to the believer’s spiritual life generally in connection with the same error.
We can see, then, why the experience is repeated in the case of the man who portrays the spiritual, rather than the physical experience of the believer. What we do in these earthly bodies affects what we are in the spirit.
As noted in earlier studies, Abimelech, meaning my father is king, seems to have been a title rather than a personal name, just as was Pharaoh, and he seems to represent that human authority which has usurped Christ’s place in the professing church, and which is passed on by each “king” to his successor. The popes are the most obvious examples of this hierarchical rule, though the same system prevails throughout Christendom.
Gerar means dragging away: ruminating: sojourning. It represents anything that entices us from the path of obedience, that “drags us away” from God. But “ruminating,” the second meaning of Gerar, reminds us that no true believer can be long away from God without “ruminating” (thinking about, remembering) his former happy state, and without thinking on the ultimate end of continued disobedience. And the third meaning sojourning must surely remind the carnal as well as the spiritual saint that at the end of our brief earthly sojourn, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Co 5:10).
26:2. “And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of.”
The Lord’s forbidding him to go down into Egypt seems to imply that he did intend to go there, but was forbidden to do so. The lesson surely needs no amplification. Nothing ever justifies the believer’s returning to the world from which God has called him. In Ga 6:14 it is written, “... in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ ... the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” In Re 11:8 we read, “And their (the two witnesses) dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt (the world) where also our Lord was crucified.” We have to live in the world, but its standards are not to be ours. We are citizens of heaven, and are to live accordingly.
It is significant that before giving him permission to sojourn (dwell temporarily) in Philistia, God commanded him to dwell (live permanently) in “the land which I shall tell thee of.” Since Isaac had already been living in Canaan, this statement would indicate that God had more to tell Isaac about Canaan. We must of necessity “sojourn” for a little while here in the land where the “Philistine” rules, but our eternal dwelling place is heaven, and while we sojourn down here, God, from the pages of Scripture, tells us more of that good land that is to be ours eternally.
26:3. “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father.”
God’s word “sojourn” seems to be more permissive than directive, reminding us that while He may bless in what He permits, the richer blessing accompanies what He directs. He permitted Israel to have Saul as their king, the man of their choice, but they were blessed only when David, the man of God’s choice, sat on the throne. Fullness of blessing comes only when we are where God has directed us to be, rather than where we are permitted to be because we wanted to be there.
In His promised presence and blessing, even while Isaac was in Philistia, God is reminding us that His presence and blessing will be also with us while we are down here in the “Philistine’s” land. But there must be obedience if that presence and blessing are to be enjoyed, for earth is the sphere where we may choose to walk either in the circle of God’s permissive will, or of His directive will. Fullness of blessing is to be enjoyed only when we are living according to His directive rather than His permissive will.
As to why He should have permitted Isaac to sojourn in the Philistine’s land, one reason certainly is that through Isaac’s experiences there we might learn necessary lessons for our “sojourn” here on earth. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world (age) are come” (1 Co 10:11).
In the divine promise “unto thy seed, I will give all these countries” we have the OT echo of the promise given us, “... they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Ro 5:17). “If we suffer (endure), we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). In a day soon coming we shall reign with Christ over the world where now the “Philistine” rules. Our coming reign is linked with that of Christ, and here in the type, that truth is emphasized. The promise was, “... unto thee, and unto they seed, I will give all these countries.” As has been noted in an earlier study, that “oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father” is but a picture of the “better covenant, which has been established upon better promises” (Heb 8:6).
26:4. “And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
In Ge 13:16 God had promised Abraham, “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth,” and in Ge 15:5, “Tell the stars if thou be able to number them ... so shall thy seed be” and in Ge 22:17, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.” We have noted in this connection that the stars point to a spiritual posterity, as the dust and the sand do to an earthly. It is significant that when discussing the promise with Isaac, whose life represents the believer’s spiritual experience in the context of earthly experience, God refers only to the heavenly, rather than the earthly symbol, “I will make thy seed ... as the stars.”
In this, God is reminding us perhaps that as a heavenly people we are the recipients of spiritual, rather than temporal blessings. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (things) in Christ” (Eph 1:3). As we noted in our study of chapter 25, we would eliminate much frustration and disappointment from our lives if we sought spiritual enrichment rather than temporal. In the reiteration of the promise to give to his seed the countries in which Isaac sojourned as a pilgrim and stranger, we have emphasized again the promise to us that in resurrection, we too will possess what we now pass through also as pilgrims and strangers.
”... and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Ga 3:16), makes it clear that when God referred to Abraham’s seed He had Christ in mind, “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many: but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” It is in Christ that all the nations of the earth will be blessed. This in no way precludes the lesson for ourselves that we should seek to make ourselves the channels of divine blessing to others by obeying the Lord’s commission, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” ((Mk 16:15).
26:5. “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
The emphasis here is upon the truth that blessing is linked to obedience. The blessings that Isaac and his seed were to enjoy are directly related to Abraham’s obedience. Since Abraham’s life portrays the actual earthly experience of the believer as a man still in a body of flesh; and Isaac’s, the spiritual experience of that same man, we see why the blessing is linked to Abraham’s obedience, rather than to Isaac’s. It is as a man of faith, but in the body, and having to contend with an indwelling corrupt nature, that we yield obedience by rejecting the impulses of the old nature, and yielding to those of the new. The spiritual nature of which Isaac is the representative, has no such conflict. It delights in holiness, but the old nature delights in sin. It is in Abraham therefore, rather than Isaac, that we see that struggle portrayed.
“... and kept my charge.” The Hebrew word that is here translated charge is mishmereth, and it means “a thing to be watched.” In such a context it reminds us that the Lord watched, or had His eye upon, the joy that was set before Him, and because He had, it is written of Him in Heb 12:2, “... who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
In Heb 12:1 we are enjoined, “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.”
Paul too had his eye on something beyond earth, for in Php 3:13-15 we read, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore ... be thus minded....” Heb 11:10 indicates perhaps the thing which Abraham watched, “For he looked for a (the) city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
The word that has been translated commandments is literally precept (a thing set up), and a precept is a rule of conduct or action. Abraham’s conduct was governed by God’s precepts. He who would be blessed must also be governed by those same precepts.
Statute means a decreed limit: portion. With only a few rare exceptions (which assure us that he was only a man, as we are), Abraham didn’t go beyond the limits appointed by God. Jude, after describing some who had gone beyond the divinely appointed limits, exhorts his readers, “Keep yourself in the love of God” (verse 21).
Our obedience must be impelled by love for Him.
The word which has been translated laws is torah, which means direction: teaching. Do we desire blessing? Then God must be our Teacher. He alone must direct our steps. David, desiring to have the Lord’s direction, prayed, “Teach me thy way, O Lord;, and lead me in a plain path” (Ps 27:11).
26:6. “And Isaac dwelt in Gerar.”
In verse 3 he had been told to sojourn (reside temporarily) in Gerar, but instead he dwelt (settled down) there. Since the spiritual lesson is virtually the same as in chapter 20, it is suggested that the notes on that chapter be studied again, so that needless repetition may be avoided, and the present space used to examine the obvious differences between Abraham’s visit and that of Isaac.
26:7. “And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister; for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.”
As Sarah’s physical beauty portrayed the moral beauty of grace, so does that of Rebekah portray the moral beauty of what she represents, i.e., the expression of the spiritual life of the believer, and in this connection it is necessary to note that what is symbolically portrayed by the godly wife is not the believer’s spiritual life itself, but the expression of that life. This explains the flaws in the lives of some of these godly wives. The new life possessed by the believer is perfect because it is the very life of God Himself, but the expression of that life is a different matter: it is not always perfect.
26:8. “And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.”
There is at least one significant difference between the experiences of Abraham and Isaac in Gerar. Sarah was taken into Abimelech’s house, Rebekah wasn’t. Sarah represents grace, but as already noted, Rebekah represents the expression of the believer’s spiritual life. That is something that cannot, even temporarily, enter into “the house” of another. The believer may, through disobedience, cut himself off from grace, but he and the expression of his spiritual life are inseparable.
There is undoubtedly some instruction in its being said, not that Abimelech looked out, but that he looked out at a window, but I regret being unable to discern what that instruction may be, though one thought suggests itself. Inasmuch as a window speaks of the entrance of light, which is itself the symbol of spiritual light, the typological picture may be of the first ray of enlightenment coming to Abimelech, for the sequel indicates that he became a believer.
26:9. “And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife; and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.”
Abraham had feared that the Egyptians would kill him so that they might have Sarah, and it would appear that he had entertained the same fear in regard to the Philistines in chapter 20, and now Isaac displays the same fear in regard to Rebekah and the Philistines. Surely the lesson God would teach us in all of this is that the world, whether as represented by Egypt, or by Philistia, is a place of danger for the believer.
26:10. “And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon is.”
The lesson here is similar to that taught in chapter 12 when Abraham denied Sarah in Egypt, and in chapter 20 when he denied her also in Gerar. It is a grave offense to refuse to confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord. Not only does it dishonor Him, but it endangers the souls of the unsaved who are witnesses of how we live, for it leads them to conclude that something other than faith in Christ is all they need to fit them for heaven. Not knowing that she was Isaac’s wife, one of the Philistines might have taken her, and unwittingly made himself guilty of taking another man’s wife. The spiritual counterpart of my refusal to confess that faith in Christ is the reason for my moral behavior, is that the unconverted observer may be led to believe that all he needs to save him from hell and fit him for heaven is a moral life.
26:11. “And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Isaac’s confession of the true relationship existing between him and Rebekah is a picture of a believer’s confession of Christ. It is only when we present clearly the plain simple truth of the Gospel, that we deliver ourselves, and enable sinners to deliver themselves. Abimelech’s charge to his people was the result of Isaac’s confession, and it pictures what results from our clear presentation of the Gospel: the hearer learns that my salvation cannot be his: each man must make Christ his own personal Savior.
26:12. “Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold; and the Lord Blessed him.”
Only when Isaac had confessed that Rebekah was his wife was he blessed. Only when we confess Christ will we be blessed. Sowing is almost invariably the Biblical figure of sowing the good seed of the Gospel, as is made clear by the Lord’s interpretation of the parable of the sower in Mt 13. Isaac’s sowing in the land of the Philistines would remind us that the spiritual need is just as great in the world of apostate Christianity as it is in the godless world of business and pleasure, or in heathendom.
The hundredfold result of his sowing is the symbolic confirmation of Ps 126:6, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” If we are faithful to sow, God will give a harvest, for it is written, “For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa 55:10-11).
The yield was a hundredfold, and we shouldn’t forget that the yield is God’s responsibility. Paul said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Co 3:6). It is our responsibility to sow, and leave with God the giving of the increase, but without sowing there can be no increase. The sowing of the good seed of the Gospel must always bring blessing, even though the results may not be revealed until that day when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
26:13. “And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great.”
This speaks of progress in Christian growth, and in Isaac’s literal prosperity we have a symbolic picture of the fulfillment of the injunction in 2 Pe 3:18, “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The man who is faithful in spreading the Gospel will always be spiritually rich.
26:14. “For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.”
The word used here for flocks usually means sheep; and the one used for herds usually means oxen. The double use of the phrase “had possession of” would indicate that God is emphasizing a distinction between flocks and herds, and since they represent the believer’s spiritual possessions today, it seems that we are to look for a distinction in that realm. The problem is to know what spiritual possessions are represented by these respective animals. In Scripture the sheep is always used to portray us both as sinners and as saints, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isa 53:6), but as converted men we are Christ’s sheep, for “When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (Jn 10:4). In the good sense therefore, the sheep speak of meek submission, for it is written of the Lord that, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7). Confirmation of this interpretation seems to be given here in that it is emphasized that it was a female sheep that was used to represent the Lord’s submission, and as has been noted in other studies, the female is always associated with submission.
Isaac’s possession of many sheep therefore, seems to point to the truth that the Christian virtue of meek submission to God in all things is a possession of great value. It enables the believer to enjoy the Lord’s gift of peace, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn 14:27). The enjoyment of this peace is possible in spite of adverse circumstances for, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).
The ox is the Biblical symbol of patient service, and in relation to the believer, points to his work for God. It speaks of the activity, rather than the submission of the will. Both are necessary for the well-balanced Christian life. There must be not only a willing submission to the divine will, but also a vigorous activity in doing what that will requires.
Isaac’s being rich in oxen therefore, points to the fact that the believer who would be blessed will be not only submissive, but also active in carrying out God’s will.
”... and great store of servants.” This symbol isn’t hard to read. A servant is one who is under the control of a master. In the spiritual realm our bodies were once the servants of sin, yielding obedience to every impulse of the old nature, but as believers, we are urged to, “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Ro 12:1). Our bodies, once the servants of unrighteousness, are now to be the servants of righteousness, doing the will of the new nature, as they once did that of the old. The servants were both male and female, and in this we are being taught that Isaac’s “great store of servants” speaks of that which marks the life of the believer who would be blessed. His bodily members are to yield no service to the old nature, but, by both passivity and activity, are to be constantly employed rather in the service of the new.
“... and the Philistines envied him.” The religious, but unconverted, will always envy the believer’s spiritual possessions, for with all his religion, the natural man can never possess these spiritual blessings. They belong only to obedient faith.
26:15. “For all the wells which his father’s servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.”
As already noted, these wells of water represent the Word. Their having been dug and enjoyed in the days of Abraham would remind us that as a past generation of Isaac’s people had enjoyed the water from those wells, so has a past generation of Christians enjoyed the pure water of the Word, but as it was with Abraham’s literal wells, so has it been with the spiritual wells of the Word: the “Philistines” (the great apostate church), have stopped them, and filled them with earth.
The pure faith which in the early days of the Church’s experience enjoyed the pure water from the wells of the Word, passed away all too quickly. What had once been the exclusive possession of faith, fell into the hands of the “Philistines” as unbelievers assumed the name of Christian, and there emerged the great apostate system, calling itself the true church, but which God describes as “the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” (Re 17:1).
The corrupt system which is Satan’s counterfeit of the true Church has ruled for centuries. How effective she has been in stopping the wells and filling them with earth can be measured in what she has done with the Word. For almost two thousand years she has denied men the right to read the Bible for themselves, keeping it in a language (Latin) which only her priests were able to read. And when she could no longer prevent its publication in English, nor enforce her edict against its being read, she has decreed that only she may interpret it. The “Philistines” have indeed “stopped the wells and filled them with earth”. Instead of the pure water of the Word, the harlot system presents her own “earthy” interpretation, which has the same relation to the true Word as earth has to water. Where you mix earth and water you have a contaminated mixture that no one can use either for drinking or cleansing. The pure water of the Word is for both uses spiritually: it refreshes and cleanses the obedient believer.
Since it is generally recognized that verse 18 of the KJV ought to follow verse 15, we will discuss it now before looking at verse 16. The reopening of these wells would appear to have been an absolute necessity for Isaac’s increased flocks and herds, and it is difficult to believe that there could have been such increase had the wells not been opened. The spiritual analogy adds also its own confirmation to this view. Apart from the “water” drawn from the open wells of God’s Word there can be no spiritual increase, and sound exegesis requires us to view Isaac’s literal prosperity as a picture of the spiritual man’s spiritual prosperity.
26:18. “And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.”
The lesson God would teach in Isaac’s digging again the wells which Abraham (faith) had dug, is that faith, no matter what age it lives in, cannot live without what the wells represent, i.e., the pure water of the Word. It is only as we re-dig those wells from which past generations of faith have drunk, that we can expect to prosper spiritually. There must be a return to the Book! Faith, as represented here by Isaac, has the same need as faith represented by Abraham: both need the water out of the same wells.
All digging is hard work, and the digging of an earth-filled well is particularly so, the difficulty increasing the deeper we dig. We shouldn’t miss the spiritual lesson in this. He who reads quickly, casually, skimming the Word, will find little water. The man who would drink must be prepared to dig. He must be prepared to invest time and effort in the study of the Word. And each man must dig for himself. As Abraham had dug so must Isaac.
The Philistines had stopped them “after the death of Abraham.” They couldn’t stop them while he lived, nor can the wells of the Word be stopped in the presence of a living obedient faith.
”... and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.” It was a new generation using them, but the names of the wells remained the same. The Word of God never changes. (Since the significance of those names has already been discussed in earlier studies, we will not repeat that discussion here. (The earlier references are Ge 16:14; 21:25-33; 22:19; 24:62; 25:11).
And now to return to verse 16 -
26:16. And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.”
Faith and unbelief can dwell together only when faith is willing to compromise and abandon Scriptural principles. As soon as the true relationship between Abraham and Sarah (representative of faith and grace respectively) was confessed, Abraham was dismissed from Egypt. As soon as the true relationship between Isaac and Rebekah (the man of faith, and she who represents the expression of his spiritual life) was known, and as soon as he began to be fruitful (literal fruitfulness is symbolic of spiritual fruitfulness), he was dismissed from the presence of Abimelech. When David, for fear of Saul, fled to Achish the king of Gath, he was able to dwell there in the enemy’s land only by pretending to be a madman (1 Sa 21:10-15).
”... thou art much mightier than we.” The obedient believer is always “much mightier” than the enemy, for all the power of God is at the disposal of obedient faith.
26:17. “And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.”
Isaac was a tent-dweller always (Heb 11:9), but it is significant that it is only here, as he departs from the presence of the Philistine king, that there is direct mention of his pitching his tent. The spiritual lesson isn’t difficult to discern: the pilgrim character of his life is emphasized again, reminding us that we too are to be “tent-dwellers” - pilgrims and strangers passing through this world on our way home to heaven.
As has been noted already, Gerar is a picture of this world in which the believer sojourns. As Gerar was then under the control of the Philistines, so is the world in which we live, under the control of the spiritual Philistine, i.e., the great apostate world church. But, as it was in regard to Gerar, so is it also in regard to this world: we shall one day reign over it with Christ, see verse 3.
26:18. See end of verse 15.
26:19. “And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.”
The well of springing (living) water is a type of the written Word, and their finding it by digging reminds us that the water of the Word will be found only by those who “dig” for it, i.e., give time and effort to the study of it. The water had always been there, it took digging to uncover it. The spiritual water of the written Word is hidden under the literal language. He who would drink must “dig,” i.e., read, meditate, and study.
26:20. “And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.”
Esek means strife. This strife between the herdmen of Gerar, and Isaac’s servants depicts, not only the strife between apostate religion and true faith, but it also portrays the strife between the old and the new natures, both of which reside in the believer’s body. It was the water that caused the strife, and it is the “water” of the Word that causes the strife between the two natures. There is no strife in the spiritual realm until the believer begins to use the water of the Word. The claim of the Philistine herdmen, “The water is ours” is the OT type of the claim of the great false church. She too claims possession of the water of the Word, arrogating the right to say how it shall be used and interpreted.
26:21. “And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.”
Sitnah means hostility: accusation, and the spiritual lesson is clear: when the well of the Word is opened anywhere in the “land of the Philistines,” i.e., where the great false church rules, there is first strife and then hostility. The history of the great harlot travesty bears eloquent testimony to the bitterness of this hatred. Every page of that history is stained with the blood of true believers slain by her tyrannous hand.
26:22. “And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not; and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
Isaac had removed himself from the strife and hatred connected with the first two wells, and it was to Rehoboth that he had come. There was no strife for this third well, for it speaks of what is exclusively for the spiritual believer. The “Philistine” can’t understand it, and he sees no worth in it, therefore he cares nothing about it. It is on a plane he can’t reach.
This well is called Rehoboth meaning broad places. It represents that part of the Word which ministers to the believer above and beyond the practical. It is not the Gospel, nor is it doctrine or Church order, etc., important though all of these things are. The waters of Esek strife and Sitnah hostility: accusation are within the reach of the “Philistine,” but those from the well at “Rehoboth” are beyond the reach of strife and hatred, for they represent that part of the Word which reveals Christ, and our part as joint heirs with Him. These waters are enjoyed in peace in the “broad places” where only the spiritual believer can walk. Neither the “Philistine” nor the carnal believer can approach there, for it is available only to the man who lives in the daily enjoyment of the truth proclaimed in Ga 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ” nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself or me.” There, delivered from occupation with all the things that make up daily life, from occupation with even legitimate Christian service, the believer can drink in Christ and Him only. We would be a happier people if we spent more time drinking the water from the well at Rehoboth. The hymn-writer knew something of the experience that can be ours at Rehoboth when he wrote, “The things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
“... the Lord hath made room for us.” Since we must sojourn for a little while down here in the “Philistine’s” land, the Lord makes room for us: we too are given a well at “Rehoboth.”
“... and we shall be fruitful in this land.” With a “Rehoboth” provided for us, we too can be fruitful in the “Philistine’s” land.
26:23. “And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba.”
Here we find him back in the land, and as Isaac went from Rehoboth to Beer-sheba well of the oath, so does the spiritual believer, for Rehoboth and Beer-sheba belong together. From the “broad places” into which the believer is brought through his contemplation of Christ, he turns naturally to the “well of the oath,” the Word which guarantees us every blessing in Christ.
26:24. “And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
It is emphasized that it was in the same night that Isaac had gone up to Beer-sheba, i.e., when he had returned to the land, that the Lord appeared unto him. Being in the land is synonymous with obedience. The man who is obedient, and who dwells on the promises of God, is the man to whom the Lord reveals Himself. The appearance was at night. It is in the world’s spiritual “night time” while the Light of the world is absent, that the obedient believer enjoys communion with God.
”... I am the God of Abraham thy father,” i.e., the God of the man of faith. As Abraham had begotten Isaac, so does faith beget what Isaac represents: the spiritual man here on earth. And the encouragement and promises given Isaac are the same as those given every man of faith: “Fear not, for I am with thee.” What have we to fear with the God of heaven by our side? “... and will bless thee.” Confidence in this promise was the answer to all of Isaac’s fears, as it is also the answer to all of ours. Faith can view every seeming adversity in the context of this promise, and in the light of the assurance of Ro 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
“... and multiply thy seed.” This perpetuation of Isaac’s life in the lives of succeeding generations is but the symbolic declaration of the truth that the believer’s life will be perpetuated to endless generations, for it is eternal, it is the very life of God Himself.
“... for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Every blessing promised to Isaac was for Abraham’s sake, but since Abraham represents faith, the lesson God would teach us is that it is faith in Christ that makes the believer the heir of all the divine promises.
26:25. “And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.”
It is instructive to note that it is at Beer-sheba that we read, for the first time, of Isaac’s building an altar, the symbol of worship. The contemplation of all that is ours in Christ evokes worship.
“... and pitched his tent there.” It is only as we live in the enjoyment of God’s promises that we can “pitch our tents,” that is, assume the role of pilgrims and strangers here on earth, knowing that our treasure and our eternal dwelling are both in heaven.
”... and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.” It would appear from verses 32 and 33 that when Isaac first returned to Beer-sheba, the well which had been there in the days of Abraham, had also been stopped by the Philistines, and that his servants were now employed in re-digging it. It is significant that when Abraham (during what would appear to have been one of his few lapses from faith) was dwelling in the Philistines’ land, they had “violently taken away” this same well, see chapter 21:22-34.
As has been noted already, the lives of Abraham and of Isaac seem to be a portrayal, from different view points, of the same experiences in the life of a believer, Abraham’s life depicting them more as they have to do with the believer’s actual physical experience, and Isaac’s depicting them as they have to do with the believer’s spiritual experience. This enables us to understand, then, what seems to be almost duplicate situations in the lives of these two men. When the believer walks in disobedience, and goes into the “Philistines’ land” he makes it possible for the “Philistine” to take away the well of the Word. Disobedience cuts off the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit, apart from which Scripture conveys as little to the saint as to the unbeliever, with the result that the Bible becomes a well filled with earth, a useless thing.
26:26. “Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phicol the chief captain of his army.”
In the almost identical incident involving Abraham in chapter 21, Abimelech and Phicol came seeking a covenant, and the fact that it is a king and captain having the same names, who now seek a covenant with Isaac, seems to indicate that Phicol, like Abimelech, is a title rather than a name. On this occasion they are accompanied by Ahuzzath, meaning possession. In chapter 21 we took the similar incident with Abraham to be a picture of the blessing of the Gentiles, and of their subjection to Israel, in the Millennium (see comments on verses 22-24 of that chapter).
Since the events in Isaac’s life which duplicate those in the life of Abraham, seem to be symbolic pictures of the same truth, but with the emphasis on the spiritual rather than the physical, it seems that we should view this incident as being also a picture of the subjection and blessing of the Gentiles in the Millennium. The introduction of Ahuzzath, however, ought to have some special spiritual significance, and it may be that he represents the fact that spiritual life will be the possession of those Gentiles who emerge from the Tribulation into the Millennium. There being three of these men appears to confirm this view since three is the number of resurrection, and those passing out of the Tribulation into the Millennium will have had that experience of having been raised up out of spiritual death into the possession of eternal life.
26:27. “And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?”
This closely parallels Abraham’s rebuke of Abimelech in chapter 21:25, and, as there, it may represent the judgment of the nations prior to the beginning of the Millennium. Abraham’s rebuke of Abimelech related to the violent seizure of a well, but Isaac’s relates to what is spiritual rather than physical: their hatred of him.
26:28. “And they said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee.”
What was declared in the earlier Abimelech’s seeking a covenant with Abraham is declared also in this Abimelech’s seeking one with Isaac: it was the acknowledgement of the superiority of Abraham and his son, and is the symbolic foreshadowing of the truth that in the Millennium the nations will acknowledge the supremacy of Israel.
26:29. “That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the Lord.”
This is a virtual repetition of the confession made to Abraham by the Philistine king in chapter 21, and it is instructive to note that in the coming Tribulation one of the things that will mark the converted Gentiles will be their kindness to Israel as she suffers under the hand of the Beast during that terrible time of trial. The good done to Isaac by Abimelech foreshadows what will be in the Tribulation.
26:30. “And he made them a feast, and thy did eat and drink.”
In Isaac’s providing the feast we have the symbolic announcement of the truth that in the Millennium Israel will be the channel of blessing to the Gentiles. As Abimelech and his company ate and drank of the literal good things which Isaac provided, so will the millennial nations eat and drink spiritually of what will be made available to them through the testimony of converted Israel. Eating and drinking, it is to be remembered, are symbolic of the communion which the believer enjoys with God, as the Lord Himself declared, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life” (Jn 6:53-54).
A practical lesson to be learnt from this is that during this present age of grace we have the privilege and responsibility of presenting the Bread of Life to the nations.
26:31. “And they rose betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.”
The ratification of that peace covenant, in the morning, as a new day was dawning, points to the covenant of peace that will be ratified between Israel and the nations as the morning of the millennial day dawns.
Their peaceful departure to their own place continues to foreshadow what will be in the Millennium. With Israel restored to her rightful place of supremacy among the nations, each nation will dwell in peace in its own country. The animosity of the nations toward Israel, and each other, will give place to peace and good will during the reign of the Prince of Peace, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa 2:2-4). Mountains and hills, incidentally, represent governments great and small.
26:32. “And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water.”
“... the same day” i.e., the same day that the peace covenant was made between Isaac and the Philistines: prophetically it foreshadows the beginning of the Millennium, the return of Israel and the nations to the place of obedience and blessing.
That same well had yielded water in Abraham’s day, but then after his death the Philistines had stopped it with earth. Now as this new day dawns, it was opened again to yield water for Isaac. Prophetically it points to the fact that the well of the Word, which had yielded its water to the men of faith in past dispensations, but which the “Philistines” i.e., apostates, will stop with earth (corrupt) in the Tribulation, as they have done in every age, will be opened again for the blessing of the millennial nations.
The practical lesson is that as the “death” of faith (disobedience) permits the “Philistine” to stop the well of the Word with earth, i.e., rob it of all spiritual meaning, so does a return to obedience result in the removal of the “earth,” and the restoration of the well of the Word to its proper function.
26:33. “And he called it Sheba: therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day.”
Sheba means seven: oath, and in view of the statement in verse 18 that Isaac gave to these reopened wells the names that had been given them by Abraham, it emphasizes the truth that it is in the written Word, which the wells represent, that all our blessings are not only revealed, but also guaranteed.
In our study of chapter 21 we noted that the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech, and sealed with the seven ewe lambs, was a type of the great covenant sealed with the blood of Christ, which guarantees eternal blessing to the believing Jew as well as the believing Gentile. The difference between the covenant between Abraham and the Philistines, and that between them and Isaac, is that Abraham’s points to the temporal blessings of the millennial age, while Isaac’s portrays the spiritual blessings that will continue beyond the Millennium.
Beer-sheba means the well of the oath. There was a city connected with the well, and its permanence is indicated in the words “unto this day.” There is a city connected also with the well of the Word. It is Jerusalem. As to the permanence of the earthly Jerusalem, it is one of the world’s oldest cities, and the Bible assures us that it will continue till the end of time, when it will be replaced on the new earth by the eternal heavenly Jerusalem. That is the city Abraham looked for, and in which he, and all the men of faith from all ages, will dwell with God for ever. The covenant connected with the well at Beer-sheba points on to that eternal city.
26:34. “And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.”
26:35. “Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.”
(These last two verses of chapter 26 belong properly with chapter 27). Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born, and here Isaac is a hundred years old when his son Esau marries these two Hittite women. We see therefore, a continuation of the parallel between Abraham’s life and that of Isaac, and the closeness of the parallel will be the more apparent when we remember that Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, like Isaac’s firstborn, Esau, represents the old nature; and Abraham’s second born, Isaac, like Isaac’s second born, Israel, represents the new nature.
Lest we should forget that Abraham, who represents the believer here on earth, still in the body, was a spiritual man of the highest caliber, we are told that when he was a hundred years old Isaac was born to him, Ge 21:5. Isaac is a type of Christ, and Abraham’s begetting him is simply a picture of the spiritual believer’s producing Christ, or Christ-likeness in his life. And lest we should forget that Isaac, who represents the spiritual life of the believer, had also the old nature within him, we are reminded here of the activity of that old nature in Esau’s marrying these Canaanite women. The nature of that activity, symbolically disclosed in his marriages, warns us that the old nature can be subtle in its workings in the life of even the most spiritual believer.
Esau married these two women when he was forty (number of testing) years old. It may take a long time for the old nature to manifest its presence in the spiritual man, but when the time of testing comes it is exposed. But even when exposed, it seeks to disguise itself. The first named wife is Judith, which means Jewish: Jew’s language. If nothing else were told us of this women, this alone would render here suspect, for when the name Jew rather than Israelite is used it always has a bad connotation. Throughout the NT the Jews are presented as opponents of Christ, as their religion is of faith. Judith, therefore, speaks of what is religious, but of religion opposed to God.
Her father’s name Beeri means my well. The well here still represents the Word, but the Word as wrested by the Jews to condemn Christ, instead of being accepted as the testimony that supported all His claims.
Its being “my well” speaks of that arrogance that marked the Jews in regard to the Scriptures: they had made them their well, i.e., their own exclusive possession in an evil sense, so that by those same Scriptures even the Lord Himself was made to be a transgressor.
If any further confirmation of the evil significance of Esau’s first wife were needed it is found in that she was also a Hittite, meaning terror. This speaks of fear, reminding us that all false religion is the expression of superstitious fear of God rather than a reverent trust in Him. It is not infrequently found also linked with the fear of man. That the Jews’ religion bore this characteristic is evidenced by such passages as Jn 7:13, “no man spake openly of Him (Christ) for fear of the Jews,” and Jn 19:38, “Joseph of Arimathaea ... a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews....”
All of this speaks of the rebellion of the old nature even in the spiritual man, but it is rebellion disguised as religion. The lesson to be learnt from it is that there is the danger that even in spiritual things mere religious form may subtly take the place of true spiritual exercise.
The second wife was Bashemath which means spice, and she was the daughter of another Hittite name Elon, which means might. The fragrance of spice is the symbol of worship, e.g., “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense” (Ps 141:2). See also Ex 30:1-8 in connection with the altar of incense. Her father’s name, meaning might, links worship and might together, but it is Hittite might, and therefore evil. The practical lesson is that even in worship there is the ever-present danger of the intrusion of that which is of the old nature. Much in Christendom today which passes for worship is nothing but the power of Satan manifesting itself in a disguise which is the evil corruption of true worship.
”Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.” Keeping in mind that, as his firstborn son, Esau represents the old nature in the life of Isaac, it isn’t difficult then to discern the spiritual lesson of the grief caused Isaac and Rebekah by Esau’s marriages with these two Hittite women. The activity of the old nature can cause nothing but sorrow to the spiritual man.