Like Father, Like Son
Genesis 26:1 – 33
Like Father, Like Son
I dug a hole ...
20 years ago this year, the movie, The Castle was released, and quickly became a classic, heading straight to the pool room of Australia’s heart!
Many of you will know the film, centred on the Kerrigan family, who live under the flightpath of the airport, and although many of us probably like to imagine that we’re slightly higher on the social ladder than they are, still if you listen to conversations in Australia, you’ll hear lots of lines that have come straight out of the movie into every-day life.
We show how much we value something, by saying that it will go “straight to the pool room”,
When someone’s trying to rip us off, we say, “tell him he’s dreaming”,
The greatest compliment that one Australian bloke can give to another bloke is not to call him an “ideas man.”
The movie taught us how to enjoy “the serenity”, and and the scientific formula for a successful fishing expedition; “Dad reckons fishing is 10% brains and 95% muscle, the rest is just good luck.”
And of course there’s a few others that I can’t repeat here!
But the movie also introduced us to Dale Kerrigan, and his seeming fascination with digging holes. We get these recurring stories, “I dug a hole, Dad.”
“I dug another hole. It’s filling with water.”
And we never quite find out why Dale was digging holes all over the backyard! But he’d fit right in in Genesis 26, wouldn’t he?
People are digging holes left, right, and centre!
Of course, in this case, we know why, they’re digging wells! So they’re quite pleased when, like Dale’s hole, they fill with water!
But think about what we just read in this chapter,
There’s promises of blessing, twice,
Isaac passes his wife of as his sister,
There’s the is apparent fascination with digging holes all over the Promised Land looking for water.
I reckon we’d be hard pressed to find a more disparate collection of details to lump together in one chapter.
And yet, we can see the author’s deliberate intent with each detail as we go through.
God blesses Isaac, as the promises to Abraham are repeated (1 – 6)
And he doesn’t waste any time, reminding us that God is still committed to his promises.
Remember, a great nation,
The promise of this land,
The promise that his family would be blessed by God and would be the means of other people knowing God’s blessing.
However the family is pretty dysfunctional;, Esau’s turned his back on God’s blessings entirely, and doesn’t think they’re worth even as much as a takeaway lunch.
But God is still very committed to his promises.
And the author goes to great lengths to show Isaac as a, as a duplicate, if you like, of Abraham,
The continuation of Abraham.
Abraham’s name is repeated all through here.
If you ever felt that you lived in the shadow of your father, this is probably Isaac’s best chapter in the whole Bible, and yet his dad’s name is all the way through it.
Twice in verse 18,
And twice in verse 24,
And part of the reason that there’s so many disparate elements in this story, is because the author tells us when Isaac does the sorts of things that Abraham had also done, both the good and the bad.
The digging of wells,
Alliance with the Philistines,
The focus on the town of Beersheba
How does Isaac get to where he is by the end of the chapter?, peace, blessing, prosperity?
By copying his father.
But pretty much straight away, there’s a speed bump, isn’t there?
there was a famine in the land.
So much for blessing,
And inheriting a land,
You can’t live there, and you can’t eat!
And so Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.
And here, in the middle of a famine, God repeats his promise of blessing:
See verse 2, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.,
I will be with you and will bless you, verse 3,
to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham,
And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed
Did you see the mention of Abraham again, to remind us that these are the promises that God had made to him.
These are the Genesis 12 promises that drive all of the story of the Bible
And just like Abraham obeyed, verse 5, Isaac does, too.
I’ve never lived through a famine. That’s probably obvious from my physique! But no doubt the temptation is to go somewhere else where there is no famine!
But of course God has said this is the place where you’re family’s going to be,
And so when God says Stay in this land for a while, verse 3, and then verse 6, So Isaac stayed in Gerar.
We’re seeing exactly the same kind of obedience that God has just commended in Abraham.
Isaac hears God’s Word, and he’s faced with a choice, isn’t he?
“What I see, is famine.
There’s not enough food here”,
The natural response is, “leave here, go to find food.”
But God’s said something else.
God’s Word is “stay here.
Because I’m going to bless you here.”
It’s a choice between obedience to God’s Word,
And doing what would seem natural,
What other people would be telling you to do.
Who’s ever faced that choice?!
Ha! We have, haven’t we?
Actually quite often!
If you’re a follower of Jesus, which, probably most of us are, this is a choice that we’re faced with over and over, isn’t it!
A choice between the life and decisions that Jesus calls us to,
And what seems normal,
What others would encourage us to do.
Even in those moments when we might think, “God, what are you doing?
Have you lost control a bit?
You’re asking me to live in a land where there’s famine.”
Sometimes it feels like that, doesn’t it?
That God’s called you to live in a land where there’s famine?! and you can see something else over that that looks much better.
Now we’re not Isaac.
The repeated promise of blessing reminds us that he’s the successor in God’s plans for worldwide blessing and redemption,
By the time we come along, these plans have been fulfilled. Jesus has lived,
He’s poured out the blessings of relationship with God on all nations, just as God promised here.
We are not Isaac,
But Isaac, and Abraham, they’re mentioned along with scores of others in the letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament, as examples of faith, what it is to trust in God’s Word.
They had a choice.
They could follow what they saw, and listen to the world around them,
Or they could obey God’s Word, when it calls them to some kind of distinctiveness.
And the reason the author of the letter to the Hebrews includes them in his letter is to say to us, “It is possible!
It’s possible to hear God’s Word and obey it,
Even when, it feels like God’s called you to live where there’s famine!
Even when, you can’t see anyone else who’s doing it,
There have been countless others who have walked this way before you,
Let their example encourage you,
Follow in their steps of faithful obedience, just as Isaac followed in Abraham’s
God’s promises are still on track,
Faithful obedience to God’s Word and his free, gracious promises, is still the way to enjoy the blessings of God.
Isaac repeats his father’s sins – doubting God’s Word (7 – 11)
But even with all that having just been established, Isaac has a moment, or more than a moment, of doubting God’s Word.
See verse 7, 7 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.”
Now Isaac might think it’s almost some sort of compliment; She’s so beautiful that blokes might kill me on account of her!
It is a certain vote of confidence in her beauty, isn’t it?
It makes you wonder about the Valentine’s Day cards he would have sent Rebekah. “You’re so beautiful, I’d call you my sister!”
But it’s pretty appalling isn’t it?
Yes, if they think she’s his sister, they won’t kill him in order to marry her, but what’s going to happen to Rebekah? She’s going to get taken off by one the Philistines a wife?
It’s an appalling way to treat her.
And it also displays an appalling lack of trust in God.
God’s just finished telling Isaac in verse 3, I will be with you and will bless you,
God’s committed to some significant outcomes, and yet, what does Isaac conclude here? God’s not up to the job of keeping me alive.
God says, I will be with you and will bless you,
Isaac says, “I’m going to pretend she’s my sister so I don’t die.”
To Isaac, the Philistines are more powerful, than God’s promise.
Even though meeting Rebekah, and her becoming his wife was clearly God’s work,
The water jars, all of that remember from chapter 24,
There are “God at work” signs all over that whole process.
But now he chooses not to trust God,
I’d better step off God’s path, because it’s a dead end.
If all of that was not bad enough, on it’s own,
This shocking choice, is one that Isaac’s father, Abraham, made on, not one, but 2 separate occasions!
So in chapter 12, a famine sends Abraham out of the land, down to Egypt. Sound familiar?!
And there, he tries to pass of Sarah as his sister, so that no one who fancies her will bump him off.
And then in chapter 20, right here in Gerar, he did it again.
And Isaac repeats the sin of his father.
Isaac, had every reason in the world, not to lie about his relationship with Rebekah,
The promises of God,
The terrible mistakes of his dad,
And yet he chooses the same sin.
Does that sound at all familiar? Are we ever in that situation? We have every reason to trust in God’s promises, but we decide to step off God’s path and go wandering down this other way somewhere, because we think God’s path is a dead end.
But Isaac’s lie gets discovered, 8 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah.
Those words, When Isaac had been there a long time, show us that his fears had been groundless.
He wasn’t under threat.
God did have it under control,
He had ample opportunity to set the record straight,
To repent of his sin, but he doesn’t.
Sometimes we get so caught up in a lie that we just go along with it, don’t we?
When this kind of thing happens in a TV show, I can’t watch it! I get knots of anxiety in my stomach!
They just carry on with the lie. And as opportunities to set the record straight just fly by, we find ourselves deeper and deeper in.
But notice here, God, in his grace and kindness, restrains sin.
Rebekah doesn’t get taken off as a wife for one of the Philistines,
That’s the possibility that Isaac had opened up.
So let’s make no mistake;, doubting God’s goodness,
Not trusting God’s Word,
They’re not just philosophical positions that we adopt up here.
A decision not to trust God’s Word has consequences, often even consequences for other people.
And the classic example that I keep being reminded of all through Genesis is about who I date, or who I marry. Now of course this doesn’t apply to lots of us because we already are married, but if we want to be able to give good advice to our single Christian friends when they ask us, it will be good to have this clear in our heads.
And others of us here are not married and so this is right now kind of stuff.
If we’re living with Jesus as our king, there’s a pattern for life and relationships that he calls us to;
The New Testament speaks to us of who to marry,
What to look for in a spouse,
How to conduct ourselves in relationships with members of the opposite sex.
But there are times when it can seem, that I’m forced to make a choice, if I’m a single person, between the very clear pattern that Jesus calls me to, and the very real possibility of no relationship at all,
I can feel torn between trusting in God’s Word, the promise that the pattern for life to which Jesus calls me is best, and on the other hand, what I’m really convinced that I need.
And so plenty of Christian people choose not to trust God’s Word, but to seek after the things they want.
And they marry someone they shouldn’t
They get entangled in relationships that are unhelpful or even destructive,
And what happens?
There are consequences.
Sometimes for the rest of their lives,
Sometimes for the rest of their children’s lives,
Sometimes for the rest of their grandchildren’s lives.
Even though we have so much more from God than his people back here,
We have the complete story of God’s plans for salvation and his purposes for us,
God speaks to us through his Word, every day.
We have the Holy Spirit at work in us.
And yet we sometimes make the same choice, not to trust God’s Word, because his path looks like a dead end, and we give little thought to the consequences.
It’s not just in terms of relationships, of course.
Think about how you choose to spend your money.
Do you obey the words of King Jesus? “Invest in heavenly things”
Or do you think, “No, that’s a dead end.
I have to put myself first, and then God can get the leftovers,
And then, having chosen not to trust Jesus with how you handle your money, do you wonder why you never feel that you have enough?,
That you’re unsatisfied with what you have?
That your children have picked up your spending habits, and think so little of investing in others, or in God’s work in his world?
We mustn’t ever think, that choosing not to trust God’s Word is merely an intellectual exercise, it’s always going to work itself out in our lives.
And may there are some of us, who can see that that’s exactly what we’ve done.
And maybe there’s not even any way to undo it.
God sovereignly rules and can bring his purposes through our choices (v11)
And certainly my intention is not to load us up with guilt this morning, for perhaps bad choices,
Actually what I want us to do is to see the Bible’s encouragement, that God can even uses our poor choices, even our sinful choices, for his purposes.
See there in verse 11, 11 So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
This is actually God’s blessing coming true, isn’t it?
God has now seen to it, that Isaac and Rebekah have the full protection of the king of the Philistines.
Far be it from the Philistines being a risk to Isaac, like he thought they were going to be. God is sovereignly able to use the Philistines as his instruments of protection and preservation.
It would be a bit like if you applied for a passport, and you lied to the government, you gave a false name and address, because you were afraid of terrorists, and you didn’t want them to find out where you live
But the government learns that you lied, and you arrive home one day, to discover that in God’s kindness, the government has sent a squadron from 16th Air Defence at Woodside Army Barracks to encamp around your house, and to escort you wherever you go!
There are times, when God can use even our sin,
Even the things we fear the most,
The experiences that almost crush us,
And that we feel are enough to destroy our faith and cut us off from God,
Sometimes those are the exact experiences that God uses to achieve his purposes for us.
You might be able to see that, actually, looking back at your own life.
What you thought was a disaster, looking back now, you can see that’s what God was using to achieve his purposes for you.
Of course, for us, it’s not about God promising us land,
Or protection, making sure no one’s going to harm us,
Just look at the life of Christians around the world and we see there’s no promise of protection of the sort that Isaac gets here.
Isaac was a vital link in the chain that gets to Jesus. That’s where these promises find their fulfilment.
God was working towards Jesus. Isaac, as we’ll see next week, has to bless Jacob, who becomes the father of the nation of Israel, and, 39 Old Testament books later, the promises reach all their fullness in Jesus.
So God isn’t working on exactly the same outcomes, for us.
But he’s still sovereign, able to use even those things which we perhaps imagine are beyond redemption, for our good.
The clearest example of this is the cross of Christ. In Acts 2 the Apostle Peter describes the crucifixion of Jesus as the work of wicked men,
It looks like God’s lost control,
The forces of evil seem to have the upper hand, and yet the death of Jesus, the innocent man, is the means by which we can be forgiven for our rebellion against God.
In fact it’s the means by which these promises made to Isaac here, are realised. Blessing to all nations on earth, through the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus makes.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we should go and disobey God deliberately!
Isaac’s family have live with the consequences of their lack of trust in God, for generations.
But God, in his kindness, still achieves his purposes.
Well, well, well, God blesses (v 12 – 33)
And so we come to the wells that are being dug all over the place. There are 3 in verses 19 to 22, all with very un-imaginative names; Dispute,
And I’ve labelled this section on your outline, “Well, well, well”, really just because I couldn’t resist! But actually there’s more than just these 3 wells, isn’t there?
And verse 32, they’re all over the place!
And other stuff happens as well. There’s this oath with Abimelek and his commander, which we won’t really deal with,
But the wells give us, kind of a lens or a framework, for thinking about everything that happens in the second half,
Anton Chekov was a Russian playwright and author in the late 19th Century. He’s well-known for the principle that’s today called “Chekov’s gun.” It’s the thinking that everything that’s mentioned in the story, must be relevant to what’s being told.
It’s “Chekov’s gun”, because he once said this:, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story.
If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.
If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."
Well the author of Genesis was writing a few millennia before Anton Chekov, but I’m pretty sure he agrees with the principle.
The details of the wells, repeated as they are, and popping up even at the end of this section, after what me might think is the kind of, climax and resolution of the story, in the oath between Isaac and Abimelek,
It’s not an irrelevant detail that we can gloss over.
And it’s not just the wells, but even the interaction between Isaac and others,
Verse 16, Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”
Even between his servants and others.
Verse 19, 19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20 But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!
The thirst, for more and more water, shows us that Isaac is becoming so powerful and prosperous, that the Philistines don’t want him around anymore.
He’s become super rich,
Or put it in other words, I will bless you
Actually the narrator puts it in exactly those words in verse 12 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him, and verse 14, He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.
No wonder he’s looking everywhere he can for water.
This constant thing about the wells really is Chekov’s Gun. They’re important details that God’s promises are coming true.
They’re the proof, that God’s Word can be trusted.
Now, you probably noticed that God’s pace of bringing his promises to fruition is pretty quick. The hundredfold harvest happens that same year.
God doesn’t say, “well, Isaac, let’s see how you do,
You got off to a pretty shaky start in the trust department, so why don’t we wait until your first term report comes in, and then we’ll see about some blessing.
That same year.
Now, my garden is proof that there’s no promise of a bumper crop for God’s people today!
God blesses Isaac in this way because he’s responding in faith to the promises God made to him.
Sometimes in looking at the unfolding relationship of God and his people, it’s helpful to analyse it under the categories of God’s people,
In God’s place,
Under God’s rule, or receiving God’s blessing.
People, Place, Rule and blessing.
Take one of those things out, and the relationship is not as God wants it to be.
So think of Adam and Eve. They’re God’s people, they’re in relationship with him.
They’re in God’s place, the Garden where God had put them,
And they’re receiving God’s blessings, and living under God’s rule. As they listen to his Word and obey it, they enjoy the many good gifts of God.
People, Place, Rule and blessing.
But then when they decide they don’t want to live under God’s rule,
Things go badly, and ultimately they are cast out of the place, they can’t live in the garden,
Their relationship with God also suffers;, they lose that access to God that they had.
God’s rule, and blessing
It’s just a way of helping us understand what’s going on at any moment in salvation history.
Think of the exile to Babylon.
God’s people have thrown off his rule, so they get exiled from their land, they lose the place.
And so on.
And I’m sure you can see, how in all these details that perhaps seem irrelevant to us on first reading,
That Isaac, though far from perfect, is very clearly, God’s person. The author’s made that clear! And of course it’s good news for us, as we’ve seen, that God’s person can be far from perfect! This guy who makes some pretty major poor decisions, is drawn into relationship with God and given a hugely significant role in God’s plans and purposes,
He’s God’s person,
And we’ve seen that he’s in God’s place. God had said I will give you all these lands,
Stay here, don’t leave.
Isaac stays. Trusts God’s Word.
And this whole second half is about Isaac receiving God’s blessing
And in case we were really not paying attention, and we hadn’t realised that all the wells, and all the flocks, and needing to move away from the Philistines was the result of God’s blessing, God himself tells us, in verse 24. I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
And practically at the same time, or actually, at the same time, verse 26, meanwhile, the Philistines come back to Isaac, wanting peace.
It’s a bit like the non-aggression pact between the Germans and the Soviets in 1939 where they promised not to attack each other! That one only lasted 2 years until Operation Barbarossa, which was 76 years ago this week.
This one lasted, and so once again, it’s the foreigners, the potential enemies, who become God’s instrument of blessing.
He’s God’s person,
In God’s place, and you can barely read a sentence in the second half of this chapter, without seeing more ways in which God is causing him to prosper, and fulfilling the promises he’s made to him.
Even when the political drama is all sorted out, and the treaty’s been ratified with a feast, that day, Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” 33 He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.
It’s like the author is trying to get us to ask, “Is there any way, in which God has not poured out his blessings on Isaac?”
Which for us, most of us, God’s people, in what the Bible calls the new covenant,
The place where we relate to God is not Gerar, not even Beersheba, the place is now Christ.
We come to him.
We gather in Christ, to be brought to God, not in a building, or a particular geographic area,
But that question, “Is there any way, in which God has not poured out his blessings, is a good one for us to ask, don’t you think?
How often do you stop and give thanks to God for the many blessings that he has poured out on you in Christ?,
The indwelling of God’s own Spirit,
I could go on, but, “Is there any way, in which God has not poured out his blessings on us?
Is there anything good we lack?, that God is with-holding from us?
I think the answer is no.
But maybe, if, right at this moment, it feels like God’s called you to live in a land of famine,
A land where the blessings seem few and far between,
If it looks like God’s path of faithful obedience is a dead end,
If right now, because of the challenges of your life, the blessings of being God’s person, in Christ Jesus, living in obedience to God’s rule, are hard to spot, then perhaps today, Isaac’s experience of God, can be an encouragement to you.
The sheer abundance of the blessing is staggering.
God obviously longs to do good for his people. Isaac’s barely got his seed in the ground and God’ already multiplying it a hundredfold,
There’s well’s opening up all over the place to feed his livestock,
And all this, is just one step, towards God’s ultimate plan for blessing. The one that you, Christian person, are a recipient of, and that you could be a recipient of, if you’re not yet a Christian.
If this is just, step 2, 1900 years out from the climax, and the blessing is already this lavish, then consider how truly amazing the gifts of God’s grace are, that come to us in Jesus.
But as I say, if you can’t see them,
If they seem far off and obscured,
Then look at these ones, and know that this same God, was working here, to bless you in Christ Jesus.
In writing, there’s a plot device that’s the opposite of Chekov’s gun.
It’s called a MacGuffin. It’s a stupid name because these dramatic arts people are a weird mob. That one comes from Alfred Hitchcock.
But if Chekov’s gun is an element in the story that is absolutely significant even if it doesn’t really seem like it at first glance, then a MacGuffin is something that looks useful or significant, but is really of no importance at all, and by the end of the story, it’s often, forgotten completely.
Well, well, well, well, well.
Let’s not confuse Chekov’s gun, for a MacGuffin.
Genesis 26 is a strange collection of episodes, that paint a dramatic picture of God’s blessing, a blessing that finds its fulfilment in another episode that looked insignificant, but could not have been more world-changing.