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“Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army.  Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?”  They said, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even 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.’”  Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.  In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace.  Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac’s servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.”  Gen. 26:26-33

Genesis 26 with Isaac contains many of the same narrative elements as Genesis 20-21 with Abraham, including  a treaty with King Abimelech.  There are some notable differences as well, some of which may not be picked up on due to common translations, or perhaps predispositions.

First we see Abimelech brings his advisor as well, which may have made for a less intimidating visit than just the king and the commander of his army.

Abimelech refers to previous oath, as some translations read “let the oath between us/ourselves now be between us and you”.  Common translations seem to imply that Abimelech makes no reference to the covenant with Abraham, as if it were disregarded.  On one hand it is understandable to assume this considering what happened with Abraham’s wells getting stopped up after his death, but, as we learned in the covenant with Abraham, not even the king knows everything his subjects are doing:

“And Abimelech said “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.””  Gen. 21:26

Abimelech is not only recognizing the previous oath, but making it more bold by adding a curse for whoever violates the oath, by the phrase “that you will do us no harm”, which was not part of the covenant with Abraham.

It is easy from a plain reading to assume that Abimelech is not a follower of God.  I would disagree based upon his interactions with Abraham and Isaac, noting that he shows both a fear and respect for God by not taking Rebekah after what happened with Sarah.  Additionally because he has had an interaction with God and now adds a threat of retribution to whoever (be it his own subjects or Isaac’s camp) violates the oath for harm, it appears he intends to uphold it as he placed himself knowingly under the possibility of divine punishment.


“But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him.  Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah.  He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, “At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.””  Gen. 26:19-22

This is one of many narrative portions of scripture that if we merely read at face value, we only glean historical, seemingly anecdotal information about the life is Isaac.  We must always ask ourselves what lesson we can learn from the text and how we can apply it to our own lives.

Consider how frustrated Isaac likely already was at the fact that the Philistines stopped up his father’s wells.  Abimelech asked him to leave Gerar proper, and now while trying to make his own space, he and his servants go through all the effort to dig a well, only to have the Philistines commandeer it.  And then it happens a second time!

The land of Canaan was given to Abraham and Isaac by God, and yet Isaac can’t seem to claim any of it for himself.  Likewise it was probably frustrating for Abraham that, although the land was his in the eyes of God, he had to buy a cave to bury Sarah, including a field he didn’t want, for an exorbitant price!

What we must glean from this part of scripture is that at times, life will seem unfair; we will be wronged on occasion, and often our efforts will seem to be in vain.  Isaac shows us great character through the ordeal however, most notably his being slow to anger, and his perseverance.

We should take note that many of the hurdles Isaac faces in this story are extremely similar to those of Abraham, up to and including issues over wells with Abimelech.  God may at times bring us through similar ordeals to see if we handle them differently and with better character than our fathers, or than we ourselves have in the past.

This is what the story of Isaac is about; Improving our reactions to life’s challenges.  This becomes clear when, after all this strife with the Philistines in Gerar, Abimelech eventually comes to make a covenant with Isaac.  It is true this was done with Abraham as well, however what is important to note is the tone of each of these covenants:

Abraham hears Abimelech out, then decides to complain about the issues with the wells,   stubbornly insists that Abimelech recognize that the wells were his, then they part ways. (Gen. 21:22-32).  It is as if he agrees to peace, but he is not really at peace about it.

Contrast this with Isaac, who had even more trouble over the wells, and in addition probably felt his father’s reputation slighted over stopping the old wells up (v. 15).  When Abimelech and his entourage show up to make a peace covenant with Isaac, there is a distinct feeling of goodwill that was lacking from the covenant with Abraham.  Not only does Isaac not complain about his treatment – he makes them a feast (a custom Abraham decided to skip) and we are told in v. 31 that Abimelech left “in peace”, something also missing from the covenant with Abraham.

This story teaches us about spiritual maturity, personal growth and improvement in our relationships.  The blessing from this?  Consider v. 32:

 “Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac’s servants came in and told him     about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.”

Life indeed.

“So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” 17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”  Gen. 15:9-18

Abram had just asked God “how may I know that I will possess [the land]?  Rather than a straightforward answer from God, He instead issues instructions to perform a sacrifice (v. 9).  This may seem like God is changing the subject at first, but in reality God is setting everything up to form and seal a covenant with Abram.  God will tell him about the future of his people, and calm his concerns by making a covenant concerning the giving of the land to his descendants.  Like the covenant God made with Noah (as well as with the earth and all living things) in Genesis 9, it is important to note that this covenant is one-sided; it obligates God but not man, and is not based on any specific performance or duties of man.

In verse 10 we see Abram does not split the birds he is offering.  Later in Leviticus 1:17, the law of burnt offerings is being explained, which in part reads: “Then he shall tear it by its wings, but shall not sever it.”  And so the method later prescribed for offering birds does not differ from what Abram does here.  God may have previously told Abram this was the preferred method, or God may have allowed Abram to set the method here, and then later ensured his method became law; we do not know.

In verse 11 birds of prey are descending upon the carcasses Abram is trying to offer to God, and he drives them away.  Some translations seem to indicate that Abram had to retrieve some pieces from the birds.  In any case this is generally meant to be taken symbolically – that there are things which try to distract and prevent us from making our offering to God, and that we will do well to drive whatever these things are away so we can complete what we have begun.  This does not take away from a literal interpretation of the verse, which I hold to be true as well.  Many verses in scripture have several levels of understanding.

In verse 15, God tells Abram that he will go to his fathers in peace at a good old age.  This is a stark contrast of the fate to befall the Israelites in Egypt, but what a relief to Abram!  To know one’s end will be peaceful would empower us not to fear death – if we have so great a promise we need not fear dying prematurely, nor dying due to violence or some form of disease.

In verse 17 we see a manifestation of the LORD passing between the pieces of the sacrifice.  Again note this covenant obligates God but not man.  We can contrast this to a covenant formed between God and the Israelites after they were rescued from Egypt, partially explained in Exodus 21:2 where Hebrew slaves were to be freed after six years of service, then released in the seventh year.  Jeremiah 34:18-19 recalls this event, where all the Israelites “passed between the parts of the calf…”  Abram’s offering here is before the law is instituted and does not place the burden of keeping the law as part of the covenant.

“Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you; the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark; even every beast of the earth.”  Gen. 9:9-10

This is known as the rainbow covenant, or the Noahic covenant.  These are interesting verses to isolate and read, as it forces you to realize that this was not just a promise to Noah, or to Noah and his descendants (all mankind), but rather a covenant with everything and everyone.  I like the last part of the verse 10 – ‘even every beast of the earth’ – a phrase which God said twice in this passage.

But what is the promise?  What is the covenant being made here?  There may be some debate.  Some would say the covenant begins at the start of chapter 9 and includes the commandment to multiply, the animals’ fear of man, the omnivore diet, and the warnings not to eat the animals’ blood and not to take another man’s life.

And yet I would also suggest that everything from Gen. 8:21-9:7 may just be blessings and commands from God before He specifically makes the covenant of the rainbow in 9:9-9:17.  In these verses, God makes a promise to us that appears unilateral; He is the one making the promise and it is not based upon our following any rules – He is not stating that He will not flood the earth again as long as we don’t eat blood or commit murder; rather He is stating He will not flood the earth again, period.  This is evidenced by God’s acknowledgement that humans have a tendency towards wickedness (Gen. 6:5 and Gen. 8:21); and the covenant ultimately made not to destroy the earth again with a flood is the outward expression of what God said to Himself concerning us in 8:21 after accepting Noah’s offering.

If so, the pictures becomes this:  God creates man and ultimately chooses to destroy all but righteous Noah and his family. After Noah steps out of the ark, among his first actions is to make an altar, and an offering to God.  God, upon accepting those sacrifices, makes the promise in is heart that He will no longer curse the ground or flood the earth.  Then God explains what He has decided to Noah concerning this, and offers the sign of the rainbow as a tangible outward expression of this covenant.

It is as if there is a beautiful mutual interaction between God and man going on here.  God shows He is the one that can create and destroy; Noah worships Him and thanks Him for having mercy on him and his family, saving them through the flood; lastly God makes a promise that it will not happen again.  I think it is too easy to get tied up in bullet-point lists of what this or that covenant entails and miss what is really happening.

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