Isaac Is The Heir And God Is The Gospel

Genesis 26:12-33 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”

17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “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.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 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.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

INTRODUCTION

In my initial reading of this passage I came away with a bunch of questions. What’s up with the wells?. Clearly they are an important part of this section, but why? I wondered why the Philistines would have stopped up—rather than used for themselves—the wells of Abraham. Why was Isaac so compliant when the Philistines contended for the wells he redug? Why didn’t he put up more of a stink about the men of Gerar coming in and claiming the wells/water? Why did God appear as He did to Isaac? What was the significance of His appearing at that place and point in time? Was Isaac’s peace treaty with Abimelech a good thing in God’s sight, or merely a convenience thing in Isaac’s?

As is often the case, however, after spending more time reading, thinking, studying, and praying through the passage, it quickly became clear that those weren’t really the right questions. (There’s an important lesson in there for all bible study. Be careful with your initial observations from a passage.) They weren’t wildly off or entirely irrelevant, but answering them wouldn’t quite get me to the heart of the matter either.

After working through the passage more thoroughly I think there are two main points to this passage of Scripture: (1) Isaac was the chosen one of God and (2) God is the gospel. To help you see those two things we’ll consider the three main sections of this passage (12-17, 23-25, and 26-33). Let’s pray for God to help us see all that He means us to see here and do all that He means us to do in light of it.

FAMINES CAN’T STOP GOD (12-17)

Isaac was the chosen one of God and God is the gospel. Those are, once again, the main points of this passage. The first step in helping you see those things in this text is in looking at vs.12-17. And in considering that passage we’ll see that by God’s mighty hand, for Isaac there was food where there shouldn’t have been food and water where it shouldn’t have been water.

Food Where There Shouldn’t Have Been Food

Remember (from vs.1-11), this is the year of the famine. Remember also that in response Isaac contemplated following his father’s example in looking to Egypt to provide rather than God. But God intervened and told him to remain in the land of the promise. Isaac obeyed, but we were left with the question of how God would provide for him in the midst of a famine. This passage answers that question.

12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”

God ordinarily works by certain, predictable means (that’s why science and works). Ordinarily God provides for His people by making soil, seeds, rain, and sunlight combine in a certain way to produce a certain result. That is, He ordinarily does so by causing the seeds to grow in the ground and produce a fairly predictable yield after a fairly predictable period of time. This is how He ordinarily works, but He is not bound by His ordinary workings.

There was a famine, but famines can’t stop God; indeed, nothing can stop God! Among other things, Grace, this passage helps us to see the folly of trusting in the ordinary rather than the extraordinary God. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised to find that contrary to reason, Isaac planted food and it produced a 100fold return (v.12). Farming shouldn’t work like, but it did for Isaac. How is that possible? Packed into v.12 is the answer to that question too. Without subtlety, the author of this passage lets us know that it was possible because, and only because, “the LORD blessed him.” And as you can see, this was no ordinary blessing. In a famine any amount of food coming out of the ground would have been amazing. But 100 fold?! To be even more clear the original reads something like this, “And the man became great, and he continually became greater, until he became very great” (Ross, CB, 466). Not only in food but in animals and servants as well.

Are you stuck in a hard situation that you cannot imagine getting out of? Are you confronted by a horizon that looks hopeless? Isaac was. Part of the reason this passage is here, then, is to help God’s people see that there really is no such situation. In Christ there is no place of true failure or despair. Even if there really are no earthly means of escape, the great news of the gospel and reality of this passage is that God is not limited to earthly means! Hope in the promises of God and the God of the promises, Grace, and you will never be let down.

Water Where There Shouldn’t Have Been Water

In the next section we find a different version of much the same lesson. By the supernatural power of God, in the midst of a famine there was food where there shouldn’t have been food and water where there shouldn’t have been water. Driven away by the Philistines’ envy at God’s blessing (more on that later), Isaac wandered.

17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

The wells should have been dry but—once again according to the blessing of God—they weren’t. The Philistines were jealous and therefore fought with Isaac over the water. In order to avoid contention, though, Isaac continued wandering. This happened several more times until God gave not only water, but a place without contention as well.

Success in this world does not always mean that God is pleased with us, just as hardship does not always mean He is displeased. But this passage helps us to see that Isaac prospered here because God chose to supernaturally bless him. Isaac is the chosen one of God. For Isaac there was food where there shouldn’t have been food and water where there shouldn’t have been water in the midst of a famine solely because he was the child of the promise.

All of this is really good news for Isaac. But the greatest news, however, wasn’t the material possessions or provision, but God Himself. God is the gospel. God is the great reward. Everything in the universe—every food, every drink, every animal, every piece of gold, every inch of land, every child—without fellowship with God is nothing. Nothing in the universe except God is everything. God was increasingly revealing that to His chosen people. We see it even more clearly in the next passage where God appears to Isaac once again.

GOD’S MARVELOUS WORKS ARE WORTH CELEBRATING AND COMMEMORATING (23-25)

Isaac was the chosen one of God and God is the gospel. The next step to seeing those things in this passage comes from looking at 23-25.

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “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.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

Because the land of the promise hadn’t yet been given over to Isaac, the child of the promise was forced to live in his land as a sojourner, a wanderer, as one in tents rather than houses, as one beholden to those who currently possessed his land. And so his dealings with the Philistines and his subsequent wanderings led Isaac back to Beersheba. There he was visited by, was blessed by, and blessed God once again.

Let me mention three quick things before returning to the main thrusts of the passage.

First, consider the remedy for fear. Are you ever afraid? Do you deal with anxiety? I don’t want to over simplify things, but I also don’t want to over complicate them. Knowledge of God’s presence to bless (which we always have in Jesus) cancels out fear. If we know that God is for us and with us (which he always is in Jesus), of what would we be afraid? If we truly believe that God only works good for those who love Him and that He is always working good for those who love Him, what place would fear have in our hearts? To experience the presence and blessing of the LORD—even in the midst of genuine tragedy—is to be in a place of peace. This means, then, that changing our circumstances (which is the most popular remedy I see) can only trick us out of fear. And this means that cultivating knowledge of the promises of God is the only real solution to the peace that surpasses understanding.

Second, consider the nature of the life of God’s people in this life. In a word, we are wandering-tent-dwellers. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all who lived on this side of the Promised Land are meant to be a picture for us of the kind of life we will all live until we die or Jesus returns. We will have better and worse days. We will have more and less comforts. We will be received with varying degrees of warmth. We will ebb and flow in our stability. But we will never truly be home here; and so we must not imagine we are or try to be. To be a friend to the world is to be an enemy of God (James 4:4). In this life we have no lasting city, and so we seek the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). Jesus kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). We must not love the world for if we do the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15). How much futile time and money and energy have been spent by those trying to make this world their home or bring heaven to earth? How many people have experienced continual frustration stemming from false expectations of what this world is and offers? This passage teaches us not to seek the things of heaven among the things of earth. We are here on a mission to call people to join us in the kingdom of God, not to imitate them in pretending it’s already here.

And third, notice that Isaac’s altar was built in response to God’s presence and blessing. In particular, I invite you to notice that as a result of his gladness in God, Isaac set up an alter to God that would provide an immediate place of worship and a lasting commemoration of this specific, marvelous work. Would you consider making this a part of your family’s mode of operation? Would you consider being on the lookout for God’s glory and opportunities to preserve and display it for future remembrance?

Back to the heart of the matter. That God visited Isaac in Beersheba, Abraham’s earlier home and the place that he (Abraham) made an agreement with Abimelech, that God identified Himself as the God of Isaac’s father, that God used some of the same covenant language (with Isaac as with Abraham), and that God explicitly stated as much (“for my servant Abraham’s sake”), are all clearly meant to help us see that Isaac was the chosen one of God.

Likewise, that the “LORD appeared to” Isaac and that God’s main declaration to Isaac was, “I am with you” are clear statements of the great reality that God is the gospel. Grace, I’ve said this before (even this morning), and by the grace of God you’ll hear me say it 10,000 more times:, in Christ, there are no greater words that we could possibly hear than “the LORD appeared to me” or “I am with you and will bless you”. God’s blessed presence is the highest possible reward. There is nothing greater that God has to offer than Himself, for there is nothing greater than God Himself. What do you desire most and how greatly do you desire it? If your answers are anything other than “God” and “with all my heart”, the problem (as C.S. Lewis famously said), is not that you desire something to satisfy you or that you desire it too much, it’s that you desire something lesser and too little.

LIVING IN, BUT NOT OF THE WORLD (26-33)

Isaac was the chosen one of God and God is the gospel. We’ll see even more of that from the final section of our passage, 26-33.

God’s people were blessed to bless. Sometimes the people of the world would receive the blessing of the LORD through the people of the LORD, and sometimes, as in the first part of this passage, they despised and envied it. But sometimes the power of the LORD’ blessing was so overwhelming that, even if reluctantly, as in this last section of our passage, the surrounding nations would receive it (or at least knew it was folly to try to oppose it).

26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 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.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

The main point here is that Isaac lived in God’s pleasure, with God’s blessing, and according to God’s Word. He was in the world—as a sojourner in the land currently belonging to others—but he was not of the world. From all three sections we learn a few things about living in but not of the world.

  1. Concession is often preferable. We see this as Isaac simply walked away from the wells when he faced opposition. This wasn’t because Isaac was indifferent to injustice or even because he felt he had no claim to the wells. And it certainly wasn’t because he felt that his God was powerless to protect him. Presumably it was because God hadn’t told him to contend for them and Isaac was increasingly at peace in his trust in God to provide. When we trust in God’s promises we’re freed from fighting for a particular method of attaining them. We also see that concession is often preferable in that Isaac is willing to make a treaty with Abimelech. As it became clearer and clearer that the sojourner was indeed mightier than the owners, the sojourner could have pressed his advantage. Instead he gladly received their peace offer as yet another gift from the LORD. And so it ought to be with us. To honor God while living in this world we ought to be eager to keep peace.
  2. Contrast is critical. If we are to live rightly in this world as the people of God, our lives will be ones of ever increasing contrast. In this passage God’s unparalleled blessings provided the contrast. Isaac’s quiet trust in God provided contrast. And Isaac’s desire to be a blessing out of his blessing provided contrast. In our lives contrast might come from our calmness in the midst of trial, living lives of moral purity, sacrificial service, or selfless love. In reality, wherever we truly live as God commands it will provide contrast with the unbelieving world around us. To live in but not of the world is to live differently than the world in almost every way.
  3. Conflict is inevitable. Sometimes conflict will come out of jealousy/envy (v.14, 16) over the blessings of God, as was the case here. The Philistines were greatly jealous to the point that their leaders initially demanded that Isaac leave their land. Even as Isaac tried to comply, the men of the land continued to harass him in his pursuit of water. For us too conflict will often come from living lives of godly contrast. Whenever God’s people live as God’s people—no matter how well intentioned, upright, generous, and conceding we are—we will know contrast and then conflict.
  4. In spite of any amount of the world’s envy, opposition, or any other obstacle, God’s people must live wholly in light of the promises and presence of God. Again, the quiet calm and obedience Isaac displayed through the famine and conflict (in this passage anyway) is a model for us to follow. Our peace in this broken, fallen world can never come from peace with the world. It must come instead from unwavering trust in God’s promises.

The fact that Isaac was able to survive and thrive in a hostile land indicated once again that he was the chosen one of God. And the fact that these things so clearly came from God is further proof that God is the gospel.

Grace, you must learn these truths and learn to live in light of them in order that others would “see plainly that the LORD has been with you” and that they would clearly understand you are “the blessed of the LORD”. That is, our aim is to walk with God in such a way as to show the world around us that God truly is the gospel!

CONCLUSION

Everywhere Isaac turned he was the recipient of God’s blessing. There was food and water where there shouldn’t have been, peace with others where there shouldn’t have been, and the presence of God where it shouldn’t have been. All of this comes together, once again, to remind us that Isaac was the chosen one of God and God is the gospel. And all of that comes together to remind us that these things are only good news because God loved the world in such a way that He would one day send a son of Isaac, that whoever would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life, freedom, joy, peace, and blessing in and through fellowship with God!