In Genesis 26 we have the record of Isaac’s return to Beersheba from living among the Philistines. Along the way he dug a number of wells. Because water is an absolute necessity of life, and water sources in that area were scarce then (and now), forces which were unfriendly to Isaac either took his wells for themselves or filled them in so that Isaac would be discouraged and move on. Isaac did move on, but he continued to dig wells all along the way.
Isaac, an ordinary believer
Isaac has been called “the ordinary son of an extraordinary father” (Abraham) and the ordinary father of an extraordinary son” (Jacob). However, in the second half of Genesis 26 we see that Isaac also exhibited some extraordinary virtues. Genesis 26 is the only chapter in Genesis which concentrates exclusively on Isaac. A number of chapters focus on Abraham, Isaac’s father, and a number focus on Jacob, Isaac’s son. Numerous commentaries have been written on Abraham and Jacob, but far fewer on Isaac. Isaac comes across in Scripture as an ordinary believer, so we should be able to identify with him.
In the first half of Genesis 26 we read that, during a famine, Isaac went to live in southern coastal Canaan, an area occupied by the Philistines. It appears that he had not consulted the Lord before he moved. Although God would have preferred for Isaac to remain where he was and trust Him to provide for his well-being, after Isaac made his move, the Lord appeared to him and gave him permission to stay temporarily in Philistine territory. At this time the Lord also reiterated the Abrahamic Covenant to Isaac, indicating that His unconditional promises to Abraham would be fulfilled through Isaac and his descendants. Ishmael and his descendants also received promises from God, but the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were not given to Ishmael (Gen. 21:8-21).
God made specific promises to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12). God promised spiritual and material blessing to him and his descendants. God promised Abraham that Canaan would belong to his descendants, and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Certainly this would be through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham.
Although Isaac knew that God had promised material blessings to him through the Abrahamic Covenant, he apparently did not trust God to provide for him during the famine. Taking matters into his own hands, Isaac moved to the land of the Philistines. While he was living with the Philistines, he lied about his wife, Rebekah. Like Abraham his father had done in similar circumstances in Egypt, Isaac told the Philistines that Rebekah was his sister. He placed his wife in danger to protect his own life! He clearly didn’t trust God to protect them, and once again took matters into his own hands. But God was faithful to His promises and rescued Isaac and Rebekah from the potentially tragic consequences of this lie (26:7-11). The Lord continued to keep His promises despite the weak faith, mistakes, bad decisions and lack of trust of His people.
The Philistines didn’t want Isaac living in their area because, through the blessing of God, Isaac had become very prosperous. The Philistines were envious of his success and they feared him because he was becoming powerful. In order to drive Isaac away, the Philistines continued to fill in the wells that Isaac’s servants had dug. Rather than fight, Isaac backed off, and finally returned to Beersheba where Abraham had lived.
Visitors to the archaeological site of Beersheba today, can see an ancient, deep well. It may be the same well mentioned in 26:33. Isaac called it Shebah, which means “oath,” and to this day the town is known as Beer Sheba, which means “well of the oath.”
The Lord appeared to Isaac on the night he returned to Beersheba, which is a good indication that Beersheba is where God wanted Isaac to live. While the area of the Philistines was part of Canaan, and God had permitted Isaac to live there during the famine, God did not want Isaac living there permanently and flirting with the culture and practices of these pagans.
Even though Isaac had prospered while living in Philistine territory, the Lord did not appear again until he came home to Beersheba. Thus we see that there is a difference between the Lord’s material blessings and the Lord’s presence in the life of a believer. Scripture does not record that Isaac built any altars while living with the Philistines. The fact that he built an altar when he returned to Beersheba indicates that his heart was now right and fellowship with the Lord was restored. Isaac emerged with a trust in God which we should emulate.
Meekness is not often seen, but it can be!
Most of us equate meekness with weakness, but they are not the same. Meekness is enduring injury with patience and without resentment, even when you have the power and means to retaliate. A meek Christian turns all problems, insults, injustices and troubles over to the Lord, and trusts Him to protect, defend and provide for him. The meek believer understands and practices the principles of Romans 12:17-21.
Isaac exhibited meekness. When the Philistines filled in his wells or claimed the water, Isaac did not retaliate. He could have! The Philistines even admitted “You have become too powerful for us” (26:16). But in the interest of peace, Isaac did not fight for his rights. He could have appealed to the treaty his father Abraham had made with the Philistines (Gen. 20). But again, for the sake of peace, he endured the hostility of the Philistines with meekness.
Genesis 26:19 tells us that “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there” – most likely an artesian (fountain-like) well. In giving up this valuable source of water without a fight, in an area where water was scarce, Isaac showed true meekness. He had learned that God was trustworthy, and he could safely entrust himself, his affairs and his well-being to God!
Our Lord was meek. Peter wrote that “when they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats” (1 Pet. 2:23). He could have retaliated! With one word He could have destroyed those who caused His suffering. “Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” For our sakes, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24).
We, too, can show meekness – but it’s not easy! True meekness is not giving in to the demands of others because they are more powerful than we are. True meekness doesn’t mean we become “doormats” and allow everyone to step on us. True meekness means choosing not to retaliate in the interests of peace. From 1 Corinthians 6:7 we see that it may mean being wronged or cheated.
Over the years the great evangelist Billy Graham has shown meekness. He has been attacked many times, even by fellow-believers, but rather than retaliate against those who try to discredit him, in the interests of peace he has shown true meekness. We might say, “I’m not Billy Graham, I’m just an ordinary believer!” So was Isaac, and in the Lord’s strength he demonstrated meekness.
Would you give up an important position or possession for peace? Would you choose not to retaliate against negative statements made about you for the express purpose of making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)? Unity of believers was the prayer of our Lord just before He went to the cross (Jn. 17:9-11). Peace within the Body of Christ is a strong theme throughout the New Testament. In certain situations among those in the Body, mature believers may have to exercise meekness in order to preserve peace and unity in the body of Christ. Remember Isaac. True meekness is not often seen in believers, but it can be!
Forgiveness is not always practiced, but it should be!
When Abimelech came to make a treaty with Isaac, Isaac could easily have said “No!” After all, as Isaac rightly said to Abimelech in Genesis 26:27, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” And notice what Abimelech said to Isaac in verse 29, “We did not molest you, but always treated you well and sent you away in peace.” That was a lie. The Philistines had broken the treaty that Abraham made. They had filled in the wells and claimed the water from the wells that Isaac had dug. They had forced Isaac to leave their land – and not by peaceful means.
And after all this abuse, Abimelech asked Isaac for a peace treaty! What did Isaac do? He practiced the teaching of Romans 12:18. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Isaac forgave Abimelech and the Philistines in the interest of peace. He made the treaty. And notice that Isaac didn’t ask Abimelech for a formal apology, or force Abimelech to give him remuneration for the stolen wells. He completely forgave him and sent Abimelech away in peace. That’s true forgiveness.
This article is not suggesting that criminals and evil doers and law breakers not be brought to justice. No! Righteousness must be upheld. But when we choose to forgive, let’s face it, it’s usually on our terms. We expect an apology, and we may even look for some kind of repayment for wrongs committed against us. Is that true forgiveness? Is that the kind of forgiveness God has given to us? God has freely forgiven us – our salvation is a gift! He has paid the price for our wrongdoing! When we have been wronged, He asks us to forgive in the same way – freely and completely.
True forgiveness is not always practiced by believers, but it should be!
Remember, the Lord forgave His crucifiers.
The fact that Isaac’s servants found a new source of water the same day that the peace treaty was signed was God’s stamp of approval on Isaac’s act of forgiveness. Proverbs 16:7 tells us that, “when a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to live at peace with him.” True forgiveness always meets with divine approval.
The bottom line in true forgiveness is not the character of the person we’re forgiving, but our character. The Holy Spirit is constantly at work developing Christ-like character in true believers – love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness. As these traits of the Spirit are developed in our lives, we should increasingly be able to forgive – as freely as God has forgiven us.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger … along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32). True forgiveness means getting rid of all anger, bitterness, malicious talk and retaliatory acts. Complete forgiveness is what God has given to us, and He asks us to forgive others in the same way – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, He forgave those who crucified Him.
Throughout the Bible, water is used as a picture of God’s Word. For example, Psalm 119:9 speaks of being “cleansed” by the Word, and Ephesians 5:26 speaks of “washing with water through the Word.” As water is necessary for physical life, so God’s Word is necessary for spiritual birth and spiritual growth. Romans 10:17 says “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” And Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” But for the water of the Word to bring spiritual life, it must be heard, acted upon by faith, and hidden in our hearts. That’s what digging spiritual wells is all about. For spiritual cleansing, nourishment, refreshment and growth, we need to dig for the water of God’s Word.
Like the antagonistic Philistines, the world, the flesh and the devil will do everything possible to plug our wells and rob us of the benefits of the water of the Word. The forces of evil will create all kinds of barriers to keep us from getting to the spiritual water of the Word. Satan will attempt to steal the water by presenting distortions, false teaching and lies about God’s Word. He will try anything he can to prevent us from taking in the pure water of the Word. So what do we do? We move on and keep digging.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org