In this chapter we see Isaac in various difficulties and how he is encouraged and helped through them by God. Firstly because of a famine in the land he has to move from his home, then he denies that Rebekah is his wife due to his fear of being killed and later he has trouble with the Philistines over some wells.
The ‘former famine’ mentioned at the start of this chapter is the one recorded in chapter 12:10, which resulted in Abraham (then still Abram) going down to Egypt. So we wondered why Isaac is particularly told by God not to go to Egypt, but to stay in Gerar. Maybe God knew something about the strength (or weakness) of his faith, because God reassures Isaac that He will be with him while he is in Gerar. Gerar means ‘lodging place’ and is was a Philistine town and district in what is today south central Israel
In the first verse we read that Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, which is also what Abraham did some 100 years before, (as recorded in chapter 20:2). Abimelech was a common name for the Philistine kings, like Caesar was for the Roman Emperors.
The blessings listed in verse 4 are an amalgamation of those given to Abraham in chapters 12:3 and 15:5. We noted in verse 5 that God says it was because Abraham obeyed His voice and ‘kept his charge, commandments, statutes, and laws’ that these blessings are still valid.
We noted that both Isaac and Abraham experienced problems with Abimelech due to the beauty of their wives; both describing them as their sister, although Rebekah was actually Isaac’s cousin. We felt that this incident seemed to show a lack of in trust in God on Isaac’s part.
However, in verse 12 we are told that Isaac reaped a hundredfold in the same year he sowed. That is God’s blessing indeed. And the Philistines envied him for it, sending Isaac and all his household and great possessions away from them.
Between verses 17 to 23 we see that Isaac is very diligent and hardworking. And although he knew that God had promised the land to him he does not fight for the wells he dug, but moves on and digs another, then another. This eventually pays off because in verse 22 the well is named ‘Rehoboth’ – meaning, enlargements or room enough. So, people who seek after peace will find it eventually.
And then God appears to Isaac again and tells him not to fear because He is with him. Again we note that this is for Abraham’s sake. This seems to revive Isaac’s faith and he builds an altar, pitches his tent and digs another well there in Beersheba; which is also what his father Abraham had done, as we read at the end of chapter 21.
Now the Philistines come to Isaac and make a covenant with him, in verses 26 – 33. Perhaps Abimelech had received by tradition the warning that God gave to his predecessor not to hurt Abraham (chapter 20), and that made him stand in such awe of Isaac.
And the chapter ends with Esau marrying the Hittites Judith and Basemath – these were Canaanites, who were strangers to the blessing of Abraham, and subject to the curse of Noah (chapter 9:26 & 27).
This was very disagreeable for Isaac and Rebekah.
Here we read of four people individually motivated by one vital blessing and despite all the deception it is God’s word that comes true.
Esau has caused bitterness to his parents by his marriages, yet it seems that he is still his father’s favoured choice for the blessing (verses 1-4); though his mother has a very different idea of the way things should be. Rebekah’s plot to secure the blessing for Jacob, ver. 6 – 17, was probably motivated by her idea of justice because of what she had been told by God in chapter 25:23 and also the fact that her eldest son had already sold his birth-right to his younger brother Jacob.
Isaac tells his eldest son to get some venison that, “I may; bless you before I die” – Esau must go hunting and prepare some food for his father in order to receive his blessing. It seems like Isaac’s love for his eldest son blinded him to the reality of how little regard Esau had for the blessings contained within the birth-right.
In verses 5-17 we see Rebekah contriving to obtain the blessing for Jacob, which was designed for Esau.
Even though her motivation was good, her means were bad, and no way justifiable. If not a wrong to Esau to deprive him of the blessing, he himself having forfeited it by selling the birth-right, yet it was a wrong to Isaac to take advantage of his infirmity: and it was a wrong to Jacob, whom she taught to deceive, by putting a lie in his mouth.
Rebekah should had gone to Isaac, and with humility reminded him of what God had said concerning their sons; and how Esau had forfeited the blessing, both by selling his birth-right, and by his marriages. Had this happened we felt that Isaac would have agreed to confer the blessing on Jacob, and would not have needed to have been cheated into it. This would have been the more honourable and worthy way; but perhaps God left her to herself to take this indirect course, that he might have the glory of bringing good out of evil.
The blessings that Isaac gives in verses 28 & 29 are:
- Plenty; physical and spiritual. 2. Supremacy; particularly dominion over his brothers, and ‘peoples and nations’. 3. Friendship with God; so that ‘cursed be everyone that curses you and blessed be everyone that blesses you’. This was part of the blessing of Abraham when he was called to be the father of the faithful Genesis 12:3.
Although it is clear that Isaac is initially shocked by the news that it was in fact Jacob he blessed and not Esau, his favourite, he soon recovers himself and ratifies the blessing he had given to Jacob; ‘I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed’ (verse 33) – It seems that now at last he is aware that he was wrong when he intended it for Esau.
When Esau discovers that he has been duped he begs with his father to obtain a blessing, , but there is nothing left for him other than the promise that he would eventually break loose from Jacob (verse 40). But Esau doesn’t even want to accept the truth about who was at fault for selling the birth-right to Jacob in the first place; he says that Jacob ‘took away my birth-right’, whereas in fact he sold it to him (chapter 25:33).
Esau now hates his younger brother so much he plans to kill him, so Isaac sends Jacob away to Haran, where his brother Laban lives (verse 43). At this point it rather looks like everyone has lost out.