Isaac is a very unique figure in the Book of Genesis. A full 14 chapters are devoted to the life of Abraham. Ten chapters chronicle Jacob and 12 feature Joseph as the most prominent person. As for Isaac, Chapter 26 is pretty much it. Sure, he is spoken of as early as Chapter 12 when God promises his father Abraham that he will become a “great nation.” In fact, Isaac’s impending birth is a key subject throughout the life of Abraham. But what are we told once Isaac finally arrives? Remarkably little.
The details given to us in Chapter 26 of the prime of Isaac’s life (the following chapter opens up with Isaac in his old age) are at first glance quite mundane. But what we are shown are truly the highlights that are of the greatest importance. Unlike his father Abraham, there are no great journeys undertaken, no wars waged. His life is not portrayed as his son Jacob’s: filled with intrigue, deception, and family struggles that would rival the most riveting of soap opera plots. But the events of Chapter 26 are precisely the things which God finds important. These are the things that really matter.
God’s Covenant Is Confirmed
In Verses 1-5, and then again in Verse 24, God appears to Isaac and confirms His promises that He had originally made to Abraham. I am with you, I will bless you, I will multiply your descendants. God does not actually appear to very many people in the Bible, Isaac was one of the few. If we were told no more than this, it would serve to fix Isaac’s as one of the most extraordinary lives ever lived.
Like Father, Like Son
“The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 26:2)
There are several uncanny similarities between the events in Isaac’s life and Abraham’s. So much so that some have questioned whether or not the details were maybe muddled over time and confused before they were written down. Famines, kings called Abimilech, army commanders named Phichol, lies about wives really being no more than sisters. As baseball great Yogi Berra said: “It’s déjà vu all over again!”
But it seems that the names Abimilech and Phichol were more likely titles given to men in those positions (such as “Commander-in-chief” or “Pharaoh”). Famines were definitely a common occurrence, and we are specifically told that this famine was in addition to the first famine in the days of Abraham (Verse 1). When famine strikes in the land this time, Isaac’s first instinct is to do what his father had done and go down into Egypt. But the Lord restrains him from doing so. When he arrives in the land of Gerar, he also emulates Abraham’s actions and tells the locals that Rebekah is his sister. Isaac not only learned the noble and commendable traits of his father, he learned the sinful and baser tendencies, as well. We learn here that Isaac was not a perfect man, and we are reminded of the importance of modeling godly behavior in front of our own children.
Patience And Meekness
“ Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth.” (Genesis 26:15)
We glean two very exceptional (and very rare) attributes of Isaac when we read of how he patiently re-dug the wells of Abraham which the Philistines had covered. They are the virtues of patience and meekness. No sooner does he strike flowing water beneath the valley floor than the local herdsmen run him off and claim the well as their own. He does not threaten, he does not retaliate (compare 1 Peter 2:23); he simply moves on. He digs a second well, and the same thing happens again. But patiently and peacefully Isaac moves to yet another spot. There, at the Well of Rehoboth, Isaac praises God that He has provided a place in the land for him.
Busy Digging Wells
Finally, the whole tone of this chapter, indeed of Isaac’s whole life, is that he busies himself with the digging of wells. In the face of opposition, in the face of strife, in the face of trouble and turmoil: Isaac digs wells. Though there are those who would fill his wells with earth, though there are those who would try to steal the precious, life-giving water found beneath them: Isaac continues to dig wells. In good times and bad: Isaac digs wells.
When we consider that we have a Well ourselves, a Well that is the Lord Jesus Christ, filled with living waters (John 4:10), waters that we may drink of and never thirst again; we realize that our lives, too, are best spent with the patient digging into this Well. Digging deeper into the Well of His Word, coming to know Him better. Even when others would seek to steal the life-giving water that we find in Him (though no man can), even when others strive with us as we press on — digging ever deeper.
The digging of wells may not seem to be the most exciting of undertakings, in fact, we know that it takes a great deal of persistent effort. It can be back-breaking, exhausting, and downright heartbreaking when we have dug and dug and still failed to strike water. But Isaac is perhaps best known as a digger of wells. May we all be.
To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published May 13, 2010]
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]