Here in Genesis 26 we have the only chapter of Scripture that is solely about Isaac. Yet when reading it feels like a case of déjà-vu. The whole passage seems to mirror the story of Abraham, Isaac’s Father, in so many ways.
First we have “another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham’s time.” From the first verse we are drawn into recalling the story of Abraham.
Then we have in verse two the Lord appearing to Isaac and delivering a confirmation of His covenant to Abraham. Just as the Lord, the Word of God, appeared to Abraham, so He does Isaac. Just as He made a covenant with Abraham, so He renews it with Isaac. What we see is that because of the famine Isaac had set his heart on going to Egypt, the bread basket of the ancient world. This is exactly the same plan his father had. But this time God steps in to stop him from following in Abraham’s footsteps. Instead, Isaac stays in the ‘promised land’ and settles in Gerar – just as his father had been a stranger and alien in the land promised to him so now was Isaac.
Then comes the ‘shocker.’ Isaac follows his father not only in his faith in God but in his sins as well. Though this should not really surprise us, how closely he follows the dark path of Abraham is remarkable. Both Abraham and Isaac fear that their wife will be sought after by the locals for her beauty. So they both concoct the plan to play her off as their sister! Remarkably some people even have the same names as back in the time of Abraham. Perhaps they were related, perhaps not.
Once again we find a man named Abimelech. Likely this is not a normal name but a royal name – just as there have been many King Henry’s and a number of Queen Elizabeth’s. Alternatively it may be a title like ‘pharaoh’ or ‘emperor.’ The fact that it is likely not a real name per-se is shown by the fact that Psalm 34 refers to a king Abimelech but we know from 1 Samuel 21 that his real name was Achish. The word Abimelech means simply “my father is king.”
Continuing through the story we find that just as his father Abraham had a conflict with locals over water and wells, so too does his son Isaac. Abraham fought and argued with Lot and Lot’s servants over wells and in the current passage it is explicitly these wells that Abraham dug that are re-dug and become a source of contention. Both Abraham and Isaac name the same place Beersheba! Again Moses, the author, wants us to see the links between father and son.
Just as in Abraham’s lifetime the people of the land sought peace and diplomatic treaties with Abraham, so now they do with Isaac who is so obviously, as was his father, blessed by God.
Clearly Isaac is a patriarch after his father’s own footsteps and fits snugly in his father’s shoes.
Yet, Isaac is also a pale shadow of the largely righteous man Abraham was. He makes many of the same errors as his father but adds countless more.
Firstly, like Abraham, he does the despicable thing of fobbing off his wife as his sister. It must have become a national stereotype joke among the locals. Oh the German’s are efficient and put towels on deckchairs early in the morning, the Italians are smooth and always being romantic, the British are prudes and keep a stiff upper lip, oh and the family of Abraham, well they pretend their wives are their sisters.
Isaac had no excuse. His father’s testimony should have been clear enough that it was a bad move. Yet in this instance Isaac didn’t even need to do it – he spent quite a while in Gerah and no-one tried to kidnap, abuse, or seduce his wife!
Then Isaac reveals himself to not only be a liar – a selfish liar – but he is proven to be one who lacks even basic discretion when he is found out because he couldn’t keep his hands off his wife and intimates foreplay with her in public – in clear view of the King’s window! Maybe this was the equivalent of the modern mile-high club, but in any case it was a stupid move by a man who needed to have his passions under control.
We also learn from last week and will learn next week too that Isaac favoured his son Esau over Jacob despite, and in rebellion to, God’s clear statements that Jacob was the chosen one. To his shame, Isaac even fails to find a good wife for Esau, something Abraham had been at pains to do for him.
Later, when Abimelech approaches him to make a treaty and bring peace Isaac is rude, brash, belligerent and inhospitable. He is immediately questioning and doubting and insulting the locals whilst refusing to hear their side of the picture first.
Clearly Isaac is not exactly what you would call a role-model. Yet he was God’s chosen instrument by which to continue His covenant promise. Despite the lies, sins, and failings, God blesses him one hundred fold. He was not only undeserving of God’s love and blessing but ill-deserving of it.
So why did God do it? Why did God love him and bless him? Because He made a covenant with Isaac’s father Abraham – though even Abraham was a deeply flawed sinner. Even though Abraham sinned, in view of God’s free gift of grace, Abraham was seen to uphold the covenant.
In this sense, Abraham and Isaac are an image of us and Jesus, an image of our salvation.
God is our Father and we are made in His image. But we mar and dirty it every day. We are pale shadows and muddy reflections. We are sinners from the moment we are conceived, we are born in a state of rebellion against God by nature. We are all Isaacs who are undeserving and ill-deserving of the promise to eternal life.
Yet what does God tell Isaac? “I will be with you and I will bless you.” This is the first time God is called something like ‘Emmanuel’ – God will be with us, God with us.
Because of the covenant promise He made to us before we deserved it, and He made this promise knowing full well that we would break our side of the bargain. But to fulfil the covenant the Father gave up to us Jesus His only begotten Son from all eternity.
Why will the covenant occur and all nations be blessed?
“Because Abraham listened to My voice, and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions.” (26.5)
Only Jesus is without sin, only Jesus truly kept all God’s commands, truly kept all His statutes, truly listened at all times to God’s instructions. Jesus was the sinless sacrifice needed to destroy and remove our sin – to obliterate it as Calvin would say. Jesus was the sinless sacrifice needed to remove God’s perfectly just and righteous wrath against us and our sin.
When we believe in Jesus, His record of keeping the whole Law perfectly, of living the perfect life of holiness, is given to each of us just as 2000 years ago He took all of our filth and sin and wickedness, the full extent, the unabridged form, of our terrible record and He nailed it to the cross in His body and blood. And He died crying out ‘it is finished’ – and at that moment so was our sin, so was our shame, our guilt, our darkness.
In verse 24 when the Word of God again visits Isaac He tells us what our response to this Good News should be:
We should not be afraid.
We should know that He is with us.
We should be blessed by God.
We should all be afraid, terrified even, of God and His righteous judgement, of the sentence of death and Hell against all sins – BUT ONLY IF we don’t believe in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour.
We must acknowledge, humbly, that we are Isaac and have done nothing to deserve God’s love. But we must know that because He loves the elect anyway – those who truly believe - we who believe need have no fear or condemnation but rather know He is with us in every moment of our lives and He is a God of innumerable blessings.