The Testing of Isaac

Genesis 26

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2015

We are studying the Book of Genesis.  This book had fifty chapters.  Today we come to Genesis 26 so we are passing the middle of the book in terms of chapters.  This is the chapter that shows that Elon is a pagan university.  Elon was the name of a pagan Hittite man whose daughter Bathmat married Esau (26:34).

While that was intended as a joke, this chapter is a little different from the previous ones. It is not all that exciting on the surface.  It is a chapter about Isaac digging some wells.  In fact, some famous expositors who preach through the Book of Genesis skip this chapter completely and go right to Genesis 27 which is a little more interesting.

Who wants to preach a sermon on Isaac’s wells?  The whole chapter is a dispute on water rights.  There are five instances of well digging in this chapter.  If all Scripture is inspired and is profitable, that means this chapter is as well and that is why I do not believe in skipping any chapter of the Bible.  Every chapter of the Bible is important.

Why this chapter is in the Bible? This is the only chapter of the Bible specifically devoted to the life of Isaac and he lived a long time.

Genesis 35:28-29 says, “Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (NIV).  He lived to be 180.  He was not healthy for all of that time.  We will see in the next chapter that he had some health problems at the end of his life (blindness).

Isaac lived longer than any of the other patriarchs.  He lived longer than both his father and his son.  Abraham lived to be 175 (25:7) and Jacob lived to be 147 (47:28).  Joseph only lived to be 110 (50:26).

Isaac lived longer than any of these men but has less space devoted to him in the Book of Genesis.  Abraham has thirteen chapters of Genesis devoted to his life.  Jacob has ten chapters of Genesis devoted to his life.  Isaac has only one chapter devoted exclusively to him.  Why is that?

Apparently, Isaac was not as distinguished or as gifted as some other people in Scripture.  He did not have any great accomplishments.  He just built a few wells.  He dug up some of his dad’s old wells and dug some new ones.  He did not do anything heroic.

He did not do anything bold or daring.  He was not real creative.  He did not try to rescue a city from an invading army against incredible odds, like Abraham did. He was not a big risk-taker.  He never fought any battles.  He was a quiet man.  He liked to meditate (24:63).

Isaac was an ordinary man.  Someone called him the Calvin Coolidge of his day.  He was mediocre.  He was a little dull, like most Christians.

The old Baptist preacher Alexander Maclaren said, “Isaac was the ordinary son of a famous father, and the ordinary father of a famous son.”  Isaac was overshadowed by both his father and his son.  His son was much more colorful.  His father was much more accomplished but he did have a relationship with God.

Isaac not only builds wells in this chapter, he built an altar (26:25).  He worshiped God.  God appeared to him and spoke to him two times in this chapter.  God is called not only “the God of Abraham” but also “the God if Isaac” but apparently Isaac was not as close to God as Abraham was.  God appeared to him about eight times.  Abraham was called “the friend of God”.  Isaac was not called this.

There are two lessons here.  The good news is that God uses ordinary people.  He can bless ordinary people.  He can speak to ordinary people.  Most of us are more like Isaac than we are like Abraham.

Not everyone can be an Abraham.  The other lesson is that great men do not always have great sons.  Our kids are in many cases very different form us.  King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived but his son who took over after him was a complete fool.

We want to look today at the life of Isaac. So far, we have looked at the life of Abraham.  We saw how God called him in Ur in complete idolatry.  We saw his obedience to go to a new land.  We saw the covenant that God made with him and formalized with a strange ceremony in which some animals were sliced up and God walked in between the pieces.

We looked at Abraham’s faults, as we as his faith.  He slept with an African concubine in order to secure the promise of a child.  It led to a child but it also led to all kinds of trouble in the home and that child, along with his mother, was eventually sent away.  We also saw his deception and the disaster it caused.  It almost put the entire program of God at risk.  God had to intervene to stop it.

We saw the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham.  He has a child with his barren wife at the age of one hundred years old.  This chapter is devoted to the life of this miracle baby.

He is now an adult.  His dad is dead.  He was seventy-five when he died (because Isaac was born when Abraham was one hundred and he died at 175).  This chapter takes place in the last one hundred years of Isaac’s life.

What do we see in this chapter?  God appears to Isaac.  He speaks to Isaac.  Isaac gets a word from the Lord twice in this chapter.  God reaffirms his covenant to him, the same one he made with Abraham.  He blesses Isaac. Whenever he dug a well, he found water and water was scarce in that day.

We are also told that Isaac was wealthy.  In fact, the text says that he was VERY WEALTHY. “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy” (26:12-13).

Isaac has material wealth.  He had financial wealth.  He was wealthy in flocks, herds and servants (26:14). Isaac was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He wasn’t lazy and pampered.  He worked hard.  He was out digging wells.  He did not just spend all day praying.  God did not dig the wells for Isaac.  He dug them.

His business was also successful. Isaac plants some crops and reaps a hundredfold in a famine. That is interesting.  There is a famine and no rain.  Isaac plants some crops.  Not only do they grow, they grow a hundredfold (26:12).  How much is a hundredfold increase?

Twofold means a hundred percent increase of something.  If you start with one hundred you end up with two hundred.  A hundredfold increase means you multiply what you started by one hundred. Going from $10 to $1000 is a hundredfold increase.  Isaac harvested a hundred times more than he planted.  We are given a similar promise in the NT about a hundredfold increase that I want to look at.

Hundredfold Promise Today

“Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive A HUNDRED TIMES AS MUCH in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28-30 NIV).

This raises a very interesting question.  Does this mean that if we give a ministry $10, we will receive $1,000 in return and if we give it $1,000, we will receive $100,000 in return?  Is this God’s law of compensation for believers today?  I want to try to answer that question because this is a very misunderstood passage.  This is a principle of divine compensation for us today but we need to remember two things about this passage.

1) The focus is on relationships, not money.

This is not talking about material prosperity.  It is not primarily a reference to money or riches.  None of the Apostles were millionaires.  Peter did not live in a palace in Rome.

The emphasis in this passage is on people (brother, sister, mother, father, children).  Jesus did NOT say, “If you see everything you have and give to the poor, you will get a hundredfold increase and be wealthy”.

That goes against the whole context of the passage.  Right before Jesus said this, He said something else.  He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (10:25).

Jesus is not encouraging wealth.  He actually says that it is harder for wealthy people to get into heaven.  If you use this as a get rich quick scheme, you have missed the whole point of the passage.

There is one other way we know that this is not talking about money primarily.  It is the two words WITH PERSECUTIONS.  It is only found in Mark’s Gospel.  We like the idea of getting a hundredfold increase but not getting persecution.  Jesus promised both.

When we think of persecution, we think of someone mocking our faith.  In the early church, it meant being beaten, thrown in prison or fed to some hungry lions.  It does not fit the idea that we will be filthy rich and living the good life.  It means that we would have to go without something, not living like kings.

This is talking about believers leave their family and land to become a missionary somewhere.  It is talking about believers who are persecuted for their faith and are kicked out of their house (which happens in many Muslim countries).  In orthodox Jewish homes, they often hold a funeral service for someone who converts to Christianity.

Jesus says if you lose your physical family, you gain a spiritual family.  If you lose your relationship with your physical brother or sister or mother or father because of Christ, you gain fellowship with hundreds and thousands of other believers.  If you lose a father, mother, brother or sister because of the gospel, you get one hundred more.

2) The hundredfold reference is not literal.

It CANNOT be literal.  If you take this literally, it would mean that if your wife leaves you because you are a Christian, you will get a hundred more wives (Luke 18:29; Matthew 19:29 MT; Mark 10:29 MT).   The Muslim paradise involves seventy virgins in the next life.  A literal reading of Luke 18:29 would mean a hundred wives in this life.

In fact, Luke does not say, “If you leave mother, father, brother and sister for me, you will receive a hundredfold increase”.  He simply says we will receive “MANY TIMES AS MUCH in this age, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:30), which is another indication that hundredfold is not literal.  What is the point of this passage?  If you have to give some things up for Christ, you will be rewarded in this life and the life to come.

What lessons can we learn from Genesis 26?  This chapter is all about trials.  Abraham was already tested in the book ten times.  This chapter deals with the tests of Isaac.  Before we look at Isaac’s trials, let’s apply this to us.

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6-7)

What does that passage say?  We face not only trials but ALL KINDS of trials.  Peter says that we should GREATLY REJOICE in these trials.  Why?  They strengthen our faith

“We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2-4)

That says that we should GLORY IN our sufferings.  How many Christians do that?  Why?  They improve our character

We have already seen how Abraham was tested.  How did God test Isaac?  What were some of the ways he was tested?

1. Marriage

He had to wait forty years to get married (25:20).  He may have wanted to get married much earlier.

2. Childbirth

He had to wait twenty years for his wife to have a baby (25:20, 26). He prayed for decades for a child before his wife got one.  He had to deal with an unhappy wife for twenty years.

3. Famine

He experienced a famine (26:1).  Food and water was scarce.  That was a test that every one of the patriarchs had to deal with and they all experienced it in the Promised Land, in the very land that God promised them.

Abraham experienced a famine when he first arrived in Canaan Genesis 12 and now Isaac experiences one in Genesis 26.  Later on in the book, we will see that Isaac’s son Jacob will experience a severe famine in Genesis 43.  How did Isaac respond to this trial?  He started to leave the country but God intervened.  He appeared to him and told him to stay in the Promised Land.

“Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (26:2-4)

God says, “Don’t leave.  I will be with you”.  That is a comfort.  There is a famine but God promised to be with him in the famine.  If God is with us, we can go through anything.  It is a comfort to know that no matter how bad your health is or how bad your marriage is or how bad your financial situation is to know that God is with you.

4. Fear

The next test was fear.  How would Isaac respond when he feared for his life?  This test he failed.  He responded the same way his dad did in the same situation.  He lied.  In fact, that is where he learned to respond this way.  Isaac was a chip off the old block.  Like father, like son.  All of us want our kids to follow our good traits but sometimes they pick up our bad traits as well.

So Isaac stayed in Gerar. When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful” (26:6-7).

Here we see Isaac walking in his father’s footsteps.  Abraham lied and now Isaac lies.  Abraham at least told a half truth.  Sarah was his half-sister.  Isaac told a blatant lie.  It was a bold-faced lie.  Isaac had faults, like we do today.  His fault was deception.  He was a liar.  That may not be our fault.  We may have different sins.  Isaac’s sin was a family sin.  Abraham lied.  Isaac lied.  Jacob lied.  That raises an important question.  Does your family have a family sin?  What is it?

Some say that God never punished Isaac for his deception.  He kept blessing him.  That is not true.  God did not rebuke Isaac, because he didn’t have to.  Abimelek did it instead (26:8-11).  This was a different Abimelek than the one Abraham dealt with.  Abimelek was a dynastic name, like Pharaoh.

Abimelek saw the two of them kissing and knew that this was not his sister and rebuked Isaac.  It is pretty bad when the unsaved rebuke the saved.  This pagan king was more honest than Isaac was. He had more integrity.

5. Mistreatment.

Isaac built a well and someone stole it.  They said it is on our land, so he went and built another well and they stole that one as well (26:19-21), so he moved farther away and built another one.  This is very interesting.  Isaac is the example of a meek man.  He is the example of someone who turns the other cheek.  He was years ahead of his time living the Sermon on the Mount out before it was ever given.

Isaac does not complain, argue or insist on his right.  He doesn’t fight back.  He just moves to a different location.  Isaac has three different residences in this chapter.  Isaac was a man of peace.  He was non-confrontational.  He tried to avoid strife, like his father Abraham did when he had a family dispute.

Another example is Genesis 26:16.  “Abimelech ordered Isaac to leave the country. “Go somewhere else,” he said, “for you have become too powerful for us.”  Isaac could have said, “If I am too powerful, then it is you who needs to leave not me”.  He could have said, “make me”.  Instead, he avoided all conflict and just left.

We can learn from Isaac.  There are times when it is right to insist on your rights and times when it is right to take wrong.  There are times when we need to be confrontational and times we need to be non-confrontational.  It takes wisdom to know the difference.  Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”.  It is not always possible but we should try to be peace makers.

7. Parenting

Isaac did not have perfect kids. “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (26:34-35).

Isaac did not marry any Canaanite women.  His son Esau married not one but two pagan Hittite daughters who worshiped false gods.  This was a test on Isaac.  It brought grief to his family.  He did not have a perfect family.  That will be the focus of our next lesson.

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