The Lord Is With You
He Didn't Fight
1. In today's passage of scripture what we have written is the story of a truly odd man. That man would be Abraham's son, Isaac.
2. In order to flee the famine, he sojourned in the Philistine land of Gerar. That was the place where his father Abraham had once fled a famine in the same way and had sojourned there. Just as the ancient semi nomadic peoples used to do regularly, he made a covenant with the people of that land, and then he was allowed to practice the breeding of cattle and the cultivating [of the land] while there. But now, when Isaac as still a foreigner gradually became wealthy and started to have power, troubles started to emerge with him among the people of the land. Just before this passage it is written as follows: "When Isaac sowed seeds for grain in that land, he had a harvest of one hundredfold within the year. Isaac received the blessings of the Lord, he became wealthy, and he grew more and more prosperous, and when he started to have many flocks of sheep and cattle and besides that many servants, the Philistines grew jealous of Isaac," (verses twelve through fourteen).
3. When they got down to it and said, "How did something like this happen?," the Philistines stopped up the wells. [They were] harassing [him] to drive [him] out. On top of that an expulsion order was delivered to him by the Philistine king Abimelech. It was not because Isaac had worked anything illegal. Their reason was "You have become much stronger as compared to us." Worse still, they demanded this of him without any compensation. In claiming the household of Isaac was so many foreigners, isn't this a very cruel claim?
4. However though, Isaac accepted their demands simple as that and went on. He had many flocks of sheep and cows. How did he intend to keep his flocks alive? He had many servants. How did he intend to nourish them? But, he doesn't even protest, he doesn't even show his terms and trade off. Unconditionally and without reserve, he left the good bumper crop ground, took his household and went on.
5. Having departed there, Isaac pitched camp in the valley of Gerar and came to settle [there]. It might be called a "valley," but it wasn't the kind of place you could praise for its water any time of the year. In the dry season, the water disappeared. Wells had to be dug in order to live. There were a number of wells there that his father Abraham had once dug up. But, after Abraham's death, they were filled in by the Philistines and stayed that way. Isaac re-dug the wells and fixed them. His servants began to dig the wells all over again new. Then, finally, they hit wells that would gush forth water aplenty. With them, they would be able to survive and overcome the dry season. But, when they found out that water was coming out of the wells which Isaac's servants had toiled over and dug, the shepherds of Gerar began to claim "This water is ours." As you remember, Isaac and his people were aliens. They hit upon a rich water source, but not [with the claim], "This water is ours." But, he did name the well "Esek (Dispute)," and then surrendered it to them. Then, he began digging another well.
6. Then, at last the servants of Isaac struck another well. With this one they would be able to go on living. But then again like before the Philistines demanded the well. Isaac realized that they were not doing this simply because they wanted the water, but out of harassment based on [hatred and] hostility towards his house. He named that well Sitnah (Hostility). However, he did not resist the unjust harassment, but surrendered it over to them after all and moved on to another place. Then, over time, he struck upon another well again. The text says, "Disputes no longer arose over it," (verse twenty-two). He named that well "Rehoboth," which means "Wide Place." In the statement (verse twenty-two) of "Now, the Lord has given us a wide place for our prosperity," we feel his troubles, all the way till finding room for them to live in, soaking through.
7. As we've seen from the above, if we were to describe this odd man in one sentence, we might say he was "A Man Who Doesn't Fight." How should we evaluate this kind of character? Some may give an evaluation of this man as [having] "Give-up-itis" or an "Ostrich-policy-for-peace mentality." Should he just allow this tyranny from the strong to usurp the right to exist and do nothing? Should he yield to their unjust demands? Shouldn't he stand up and face them straight on? If people like Isaac were to increase, wouldn't the perverseness of this world spread more and more? -- I've heard that voice of criticism before and still do. I think it's with good reason. I don't intend to defend Isaac's way of being as right, and I don't intend to show his avoiding disputes as a virtuous model for us. But in this story, I think at the least it is worth remarking upon the point I will discuss next.
The Lord Is With You!
8. It is "How did this Isaac look to the Philistine king Abimelech?" Along with his staff officer Ahuzzath and his military chief Phicol, king Abimelech of Gerar came unto Isaac from Gerar. It is Isaac who is surprised. He asked why they came here [to him]. Whereupon, Abimelech and those with him gave the following answer. Please look at verse twenty-eight. "For, we have clearly seen that the Lord is with you. Thus, we have considered it and we would like to exchange mutual vows, that is, with you and us and make a covenant with you. In the past, we have not added any kind of harm to you, instead we were deliberate in letting you be and we sent you away without incident. Thus, you, too, please do not give us any kind of harm. You are certainly blessed by the Lord," (verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine).
9. "For, we have clearly seen that the Lord is with you." What did they see? They didn't say, "The Lord is with you" when they saw Isaac getting stronger and his bringing the shepherds of Gerar to their knees [though] they made an unfair demand upon him. Abimelech and the shepherds of Gerar were still as ever clearly stronger than Isaac both in position and in power, which was why they were able to bully him around and trample over him. They were able to rob his wells to make it so that he couldn't make it. But, no matter how much they bullied him, stepped on him, and harassed him, they could not destroy Isaac's house. If they stole one well with their power, God gave him another well and made him live. In weak Isaac and his household they truly saw the fact that God was with them and allowing them to live.
10. If we get great, get strong, or have the controls [over others], we can testify to the Lord. We can show that the Lord is with us. Often times that's how we think. But, the fear invoking power of the Lord who was with Isaac was manifested right there in the midst of the weaknesses of Isaac's house. It was for that very reason that the Philistine king became afraid. He was shaken up with fear. Therefore, he humbled himself and asked, "Please do not give us any kind of harm," and pleaded that he wanted to make a covenant of mutual non aggression with him.
11. "For, we have clearly seen that the Lord is with you." That's what Abimelech had said and he certainly must have seen a sight to behold. We, too, had better put our eyes in the same place. As I said earlier, Isaac was no mere model of virtue. The main thing is Isaac's relationship with God, which was behind his actions.
12. While we are thinking about this, we must also touch upon one of Isaac's failures as well, as recorded in this chapter. When he fled the famine and moved to Gerar to live there, Isaac told a lie. Look at verse seven. "When the people of that land questioned the matter of Isaac's wife, he was afraid to say she is my wife, and answered, 'She is my sister.' -- Because he thought since Rebekah was beautiful, the people of the land might kill him for her," (verse seven). Actually, there is a similar account in the stories of Abraham, and his father Abraham had told the same lie twice as he did (12:13,20:2). In ancient times, it was not strange for a man with a beautiful wife to lose his life over her.
13. But, his lie ended up coming out into the open. At that time, Isaac would receive the following criticism from Abimelech. "What have you done? If anyone of my people had slept with your wife, you would have made us fall into sin," (verse ten). It is quite different from the words we hear from Abimelech later in verse twenty-eight. Isaac was attempting to preserve his own life and the living of his own family by his own methods and by his own hands. But, the results exposed the chastity of his wife to danger, and only resulted in giving a temptation for the people to fall into sin. He was told this truth by a Gentile king, of all people.
14. Continuing in the article of this failure of his, the text says, "When Isaac sowed seeds for grain in that land, he had a harvest of one hundredfold within the year," (verse twelve). What does this mean? It means that while Isaac failed big time in trying to keep his life, God was steadfast in nourishing the life of Isaac and his house as he fled the famine. Life is not something that one preserves by one's own hands, but comes from God. God gives life. That was what Isaac learned in Gerar.
15. Therefore, the main thing in Isaac's actions as depicted after this is not that he just avoided disputes, but he acted as "a person given his life by the Lord." The thing that expresses this quite well is the manifestation of the Lord while at Beersheba. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid. I am will with. I am blessing you, I will increase your descendants, on behalf of my servant Abraham," (verse twenty-four).
16. This statement was enough for Isaac. He lost many a well. But, that was okay. If he has the words "I am with you," that's enough. The most important thing to Isaac was the Lord God's being with him. Therefore, Isaac built an altar there, and worshipped by calling upon the name of the Lord. Since he was with the Lord, he could set up tent there and live. He didn't think about the lost wells, he was able to begin to dig all over from there and live.
17. Well, how does this story conclude? On that day when he sent the Philistine king Abimelech away in peace, [though] he once had driven him off [the land], the servants of Isaac who had been digging the wells, went home giving ecstatic exclamations. They said, "Water has come out!"