It was every evening. And every evening as he laid in bed as a child, he would hear his mother crying out to God. She was crying out for him, asking God that her little boy would turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. It was every evening. And every evening as he laid in bed as a teenager, he would hear his mother crying out to God. She was crying out for him, asking God that her teenage boy would turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. It was every evening. And every evening as a grown man he knew that his mother was praying that her son would turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. It was a Sunday morning. He could not explain it, but he just felt the need to attend a church worship service. And he did. It was a Sunday morning. He could not explain it, but he just felt the need to attend the church worship service for a second time. And he did. It was the third consecutive Sunday morning, he could not explain it, but he just felt the need to attend the church worship service. He did. And he as sat there, he turned to his wife and said, “I do not know about you, but today I am getting saved.” He was 40 years old.
It was a Saturday morning. And on this morning, at 81 years old, he laid in a hospital bed. He smiled. And he would hear his grandson remind him, “Be strong and courageous, Papa. Do not be afraid, Papa. Do not be dismayed, Papa. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
What is it All About?
Really pay attention to Genesis 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.” But also, really pay attention to Genesis 26:34-35. “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”
Genesis 26 is one chapter. It is one chapter in a section of Genesis called the account of Isaac (Genesis 25:19). The account of Isaac consists of ten chapters beginning with Genesis 25:19 and concluding with Genesis 35:29. Most of those ten chapters, most of the account of Isaac is about his twin sons Esau and Jacob…except for Genesis 26. Genesis 26 is the most extensive chapter about Isaac in the account of Isaac. But really pay attention to how the chapter begins. Notice who is mentioned as the chapter begins – Abraham, Isaac and Abimelech. Abraham was Isaac’s father. Isaac was Abraham’s son. And Abimelech was a king.
But also, really pay attention to how the chapter ends. Notice who is mentioned as the chapter ends – Esau, Judith, Basemath, Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the son of Isaac. Judith was Esau’s wife. Basemath was Esau’s wife. Isaac was Esau’s father. Rebekah was Esau’s mother. Notice who is not mentioned as the chapter ends. Isaac had two sons. Jacob is not mentioned as the chapter ends. Why? Better yet, what is similar to how the chapter begins and how the chapter ends? Abraham and Isaac. Isaac and Esau. Abraham was Isaac’s father. Isaac was Abraham’s son. Isaac was Esau’s father. Esau was Isaac’s son.
So, we want to ask, what is Genesis 26 really all about?
Like Father, Like Son
Let’s look again at Genesis 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.” What is the point? There is a famine. This is the account of Isaac and there is a famine. But what do we also know? This is the second famine. The first famine was in the days of Abraham. And who was Abraham? He was Isaac’s dad. What is the point? Like his dad, Isaac lived during a famine.
But there is more. Notice the rest of Genesis 26:1. “And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.” What is the point? There is Abimelech, he is a king. There is the time that Abraham went to Gerar to Abimelech. So, what is the point? Like his dad, Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech. What is Genesis 26 really all about? Like father, like son both have in common a famine. And like father, like son both have in common Abimelech. And like father, like son both…
You Are So Beautiful to Me
In Genesis 12 when there was a famine, Abraham went down to Egypt. And when Abraham went down to Egypt, he said to his wife, “You are so beautiful to me…let’s tell everyone that you are not my wife, but my sister.” And why? It was because Abraham was afraid. He was afraid that other men would obviously see how beautiful Sarah was, kill him and take her. In Genesis 20 when Abraham went to Gerar to King Abimelech, he did the very same thing! He told the very same lie. “You are so beautiful to me…let’s tell everyone that you are not my wife, but my sister.” And why? It was because Abraham was afraid. He was afraid that other men would obviously see how beautiful Sarah was, kill him and take her. In Genesis 26 when there was a famine, Isaac went to Gerar to King Abimelech. He looked at his wife and thought “She is so beautiful to me.” And when someone asked about his wife he told them, “She is my sister.” And why? It was because Isaac was afraid. He was afraid that other men would obviously see how beautiful Rebekah was, kill him and take her. Like father, like son both told a lie, the same lie. Both got found out and rebuked too. But there is so much more!
And like his dad, Isaac ends up staying in Gerar for a while (26:8). Like his dad, Isaac gets wealthier in Gerar (26:13). Like his dad, Isaac has disputes with the men of Gerar over wells of water (26:15-22). Like his dad, he digs a well at a place called Beersheba (26:23-25). Like his dad, Abimelech makes an oath with Isaac because it is better to have Isaac as a friend than an enemy (26:26-33). And like his dad, Isaac calls upon the name of the Lord at Beersheba (26:25; cf. Genesis 20:14; 21:22-34).
And the question remains, what is Genesis 26 really all about? Like father, like son. But which father and son? Which father and son is Genesis 26 really all about? It is important to remember how the chapter begins and how the chapter ends. There is Isaac and there is Esau.
Now There was a Famine in the Land
Listen again to Genesis 26:1. “Now there was a famine in the land.” Highlight the word famine. What is always true about a famine? Famines are about lack, here specifically, a lack of food. And when there is a lack of food, people go hungry. And when people go hungry, there is death. Famines are serious.
But what I want us to notice is that the present circumstance is this famine. And we know it is the present circumstance because we are reminded of the former famine in the days of Abraham, a famine in the past. Interestingly, from the viewpoint of Genesis 26 there is this past famine in Genesis 12, but there is also a future famine. It begins in Genesis 41. The past famine was in the days of Abraham. This present famine is in the days of Isaac and the future famine will be in the days of Isaac’s son Jacob.
But really important is that this famine, this present circumstance is Isaac’s present circumstance. And in this present circumstance it seems that he thinks it best to go to Egypt. Why? Egypt has a year-round water supply called the Nile. No famine is there and if there is water and no famine, there is food. As he goes, God tells him to stop. “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 26:2). Now notice verse three. “Sojourn in this land.” This land is the land of Gerar (cf. Genesis 26:1). Sojourn is a command. God is commanding Isaac to stay in Gerar. And Gerar is in the same land as the famine. Listen to what God is commanding Isaac to do. Stay in your present circumstance. It seems logical and sensible and wise to go to Egypt. His dad did. And when Jacob his son endures a famine, God will command him to go to Egypt (cf. Genesis 46:3-4). Listen to what God tells Jacob at that time. “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt.”
But God commands Isaac to stay; stay in the midst of the famine; stay in the present circumstance. Interestingly, sojourn means a temporary stay. So, what does that tell us about the present circumstance? It too is temporary. Present circumstances are always temporary. But there is also Genesis 26:8. Isaac stays a really long time. Present circumstances, although temporary, can sure feel long.
And I Will Be with You
The end result is that Isaac obeys and in obeying he was reminded that his father’s life was marked by obedience (cf. Genesis 26:6; 5). But what I want us to see is what God says for Isaac in this present, temporary albeit long circumstance. I will be with you. I will bless you. I will give all these lands to you and to your offspring. I will establish the oath made to Abraham. I will multiply your offspring (26:3-4a). Notice that these are promises. It is the first time that God has made promises to Isaac. But also notice that each promise is future. For Isaac’s present, temporary albeit long circumstance he has God’s promises.
When we first really get introduced to Isaac he was married, and his wife was barren. And since she was barren, Isaac prayed and prayed and prayed for her. Isaac prayed for her convinced that God was faithful to God’s promise to Abraham. Here in Genesis 26, Isaac does not have God’s promises to Abraham. Instead, he has God’s promises to Isaac. The question for Isaac is, “will I live in a present, temporary albeit long circumstance convinced that God is faithful to his promises to me?” The question for us is, “will I live in a present, temporary albeit long circumstance convinced that God is faithful to his promises?” Better yet, how do you do that?
Genesis 26 is about like father, like son, but not so much Abraham and Isaac, but Isaac and Esau. And the big question is, is Isaac like Esau? Is Esau like Isaac? In the previous verses, Genesis 25:29-34, Esau was famished. He thought he was in a famine. “I am so hungry I could die! Feed me!” He sold his birthright to his brother for some soup. The birthright was all future, future promises. Esau lived for the present and forsook the future for the present. His dad lived in the present, in a real famine, for the sake of the future. How did Isaac do it?
Notice the very first promise in Genesis 26:3. “And I will be with you.” Notice Genesis 26:24. “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you.” Notice Genesis 26:28. “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you.” Future, present and past – God’s presence. How do you live in the now, endure present, temporary although rather long circumstances? In the future, God is with me. In the present, God is with me. In the past, God was with me. It is the special presence of God. God is spatially present everywhere always. But this, Genesis 26, is not the spatial presence of God. This is the special presence of God. Psalm 105:4 tells us to “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” This is about enjoying God even in the famines – he will be with me; he is with me; he was with me! But how do I do it? See too Isaiah 43:1-3.
Listen closer to Genesis 26:5. “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Why tell Isaac, why tell us about obedience? This is about enjoying God and seeking his presence. How do I do it? Listen to Jesus. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).