Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Genesis 26. Genesis 26. Genesis is the first book in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Genesis 26, beginning in verse 1. After twenty years of waiting, Isaac and Rebekah have given birth to twins – Jacob and Esau. God promised that the younger, Jacob, would be the heir of the kingdom and promise. Right after the boys quarrel and Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew, a famine strikes the land. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land the I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “My wife,” thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.” When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah. So Abimelech called for Isaac and said, “So she is your wife! Why then did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought I might die because of her.” Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.”
Isaac sowed seed in that land and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. He has possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. (Now the Philistines has stopped up and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham.) And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”
So Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham; for the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them all the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the well Esek, because they contended with him. Then they dug another well and they quarreled over that one also, so he called it Sitnah. He moved from there and dug another will and they did not quarrel over it, so he called it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
From there he went up to Beersheba. And that very night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there, called on the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzah his advisor and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” They said, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you, so we say, let there be an oath between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you so that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.” So he made them a feast and they ate and drank. In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths; and Isaac set them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. That same day Isaac’s servant came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water!” He called it Shibah, therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
What happens when God’s people leave the promised land?
What does it look like for the people of God to head out of the church into the world? In other words, for us, what does it look like to walk out of the doors of this sanctuary into the world in which we have been called to live?
In order to answer these questions, I want us to look closely at the true story of Isaac in Gerar in Genesis 26. As we do, we will look at where this story takes place, what happens, and how it all points us ahead to Jesus Christ.
First, we need to reckon with where this story takes place. It’s verse 1: Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines.
A famine strikes the promised land and Isaac is forced to leave. This has happened before. If we were reading all the way through Genesis, we would pick up how frequently famines occur at this point, but in case we forget, we are told explicitly that this is a different famine than the one that happened to Abraham. So Isaac leaves and heads to Gerar.
This is a form of exile for Isaac. The land will not support him and he is thrust out into the world of the nations.
Gerar is a region situated between Egypt and the promised land. South of the promised land but not all the way to Egypt. It is the land of the Philistines. In the Bible, Egypt is a land of oppression, slavery, and temptation to idolatry. Gerar is near Egypt, but not quite Egypt. It is a ‘between’ land. It is a land of Gentiles, it is out of the land of promise, out in the world of the nations, but it is also a place where there can still be alliances between the people of God and the people of nations. In fact earlier in Genesis, Abraham went to Gerar and made a covenant with a different Abimelech who was king of the Philistines.
Gerar is a between land where there are the dangers and challenges of being in the world, but there is still some possibility of entering into fruitful relationship. As we will see, this will not be easy. There is danger, envy, quarreling, deceit, and more. Living in Gerar will not be easy for Isaac, but his faithful witness there will make an impact.
In many ways, the church in North America is living in Gerar. We are not in the promised land. We do not live in a land where the LORD is acknowledged as King, where every knee bows and all the people, like Abraham, obey God’s voice and keep his charge, his commandments, his statutes, and his laws. We don’t live in the promised land, but, like Isaac, are in a place of exile, outside of the land. Christ has not yet returned to call us home into the eternal promised land and so we live outside the land, in exile.
However, we do not yet live in Egypt. We do not live in a land, at this point, where resistance to the gospel has reached the point of oppression and violence. Don’t get me wrong, there are some quarters in our society who would like nothing more. There are places in this world where the church is certainly living under the oppressive yoke of Pharaoh. There may come a day where that is reality for us, but not yet. Instead, we live with Isaac in this challenging between land of Gerar. A land of danger and challenge, but also somehow still a place of possibility.
Next, what happens while Isaac is in Gerar? What does his witness look like and what does God promise him while he is there?
As soon as Isaac leaves the land and heads to Gerar, the LORD appears to him and tells him not to go down to Egypt. Abraham went down there during a famine and later the family of Jacob will go down as well, but God does not want Isaac to go there. Perhaps the LORD knows exactly what Isaac can handle and that Egypt will be too much temptation for him, so God out of compassionate mercy commands him not to go down there – Gerar will be enough challenge for Isaac. Or perhaps the LORD has plans for Isaac in Gerar, to bear witness to the LORD before the Philistines. Either way, God tells Isaac to stay in Gerar and promises to be with him while he is there, and to bless and multiply him there.
However, that does not mean it will be easy. Immediately after Isaac settles in Gerar, there is a threat to his bride, Rebekah. Verse 7: When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “My wife,” thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.”
In the ancient world, it was the brother’s responsibility to negotiate for a marriage for his sister. This does not mean the woman had no say in the marriage, but that a suitor would need to work with the brother to convince him this was a suitable match. We saw this a bit with how Abraham’s servant appeals to Laban first for Rebekah to marry Isaac. It is a bit stronger and more formal than this, but it is sort of like how we often expect a man to ask a girl’s father’s permission before he asks for her hand in marriage. However, in the ancient world, it was the brother, not the father you needed to convince.
So Isaac tells everyone he is Rebekah’s brother so that he can protect her and protect himself. If Isaac is seen as the brother, then any man who is after Rebekah would want to get on Isaac’s good side and he would be able to buy time and potentially turn away suitors. But if he is seen as the husband, he is an obstacle in the way for the men who want Rebekah. Is Isaac misleading the people? Yes. But is he right to be afraid for his life and his wife?
Isaac’s concern is justified when we see the conversation between him and Abimelech. Abimelech looks out of a window and sees Isaac and Rebekah are clearly not siblings, but married. He confronts Isaac and asks why he deceived him. Isaac responds that he was fearful for his life. Then listen to Abimelech’s response: Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife and you would have brought guilt upon us.” Abimelech admits that the people of his land are the kind of people who would have just taken Rebekah without any consideration. Abimelech does not deny that Isaac’s concern for Rebekah was well-founded, but he has the audacity to say that if one of the men of Gerar raped Rebekah it would have been Isaac’s fault!
Yet, by God’s grace, Rebekah is protected. God lets no harm come to the bride, to the church. Abimelech warns the whole nation to touch neither Rebekah nor Isaac.
After this, Isaac experiences blessing in Gerar. He plants and reaps a hundredfold. He grows rich because God blesses him. However, this sparks jealousy. The Philistines stop up the wells that Abraham dug, working to destroy Abraham’s name and legacy and prevent the land from being fruitful for Isaac. They want to remove the blessing that they were living in because of Abraham. The Philistines wanted to deny his memory and their debt to him. Eventually, even the king drives Isaac away because he has become too powerful.
In God’s providence, Gerar is both a place of danger and struggle as well as a place of blessing. To live in the between land of Gerar is a place where success leads to envy, where quarreling runs rampant, and where the safety of the church is threatened. However, to live in the between land of Gerar is also to live in a land of blessing. God promised to be with Isaac and bless him, even in the land of Gerar.
Isaac leaves the city and settles in the valley below and begins to dig again the wells that the Philistines had stopped up. After this, he digs three more wells – Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth. By digging wells, Isaac is opening up the land to be fruitful. Whereas before the wells had been stopped up and the animals and crops could not get the water and irrigation they needed, Isaac opens them up so that the blessings of water would flow. Isaac pours out blessing and restores the name of his father Abraham by digging again the wells he dug. Isaac does not work to make his own name great, but to elevate the name of his father. Isaac does not horde the blessing of God, but works to pour out blessing in a land that is not his own – Gerar. Even when the people quarrel with him, Isaac keeps on digging. He does not let their opposition keep him from being a blessing.
Isaac goes into Gerar – into this between land of danger and possibility – and he is faced with threats on Rebekah, false accusations, envy, he is driven out, and the Philistines want to quarrel with him over the water that comes from the wells he dug. Isaac faces challenges and opposition at every point. Yet, he finds himself blessed by God and he pours out that blessing by digging wells so that the land would prosper. God promised that he would bless Abraham and his descendants so that they would be a blessing to the nations and we see that already through the life of Isaac.
How does Isaac live in Gerar? He struggles to protect his bride – to protect the church – from all who would seek to harm her. He is patient in the face of accusations, diligent in pouring out blessing, and in all things does not seek to make a name for himself, but to elevate the name of the LORD and the name of his father Abraham.
After all of that, the people who hated Isaac and drove him away, come to him and say, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you.” Through blessings received and blessings poured out, Abimelech and the Philistines see plainly that the LORD has been with Isaac. They want to enter into covenant with him, to be covenant partners with Isaac and the people of God. Through Isaac’s witness in Gerar, the Gentiles are brought in. They come and want to be in covenant with the covenant people. The joy of this covenant is sealed by the discovering of another well of water – Shibah.
We asked at the beginning what it looked like for the people of God to leave the promised land and what it looked life for us to leave this sanctuary this morning and live in the world. We saw that Isaac left the land and settled in Gerar, a between land, neither the land of oppression in Egypt, nor the land of promise. It was a place of danger and possibility. We saw how much opposition and danger he faced there – including the threat to Rebekah and the filling in of the wells that Abraham had dug. We noted that living in contemporary Gerar also comes with the challenges and threats to the church, but that the LORD protects his bride, just as God protected Rebekah. But we also saw that Gerar – then and now – is a place to receive God’s blessings and pour out blessing. We hope and trust that, like Isaac, this blessing will let the world see plainly that the LORD has been with us and cause them to come and seek him.
What will that look like for you? Maybe it will mean digging a well at the corner of West ST and the 403 through participating in the food drive, pouring out the blessing so that the world will wonder and seek the LORD. Perhaps it will mean continuing to bless others even when they curse you or envy you or blame you. Perhaps it will mean working to protect the church, not in a defensive fashion but out of love for her and her calling. Perhaps it will mean Rehoboth, the LORD making room for us and then, in turn, making room for others.
But before we close, I wonder something. Does this story sound familiar to you at all? Heading in the land of the Gentiles, facing threats to the bride, blessing upon the people of God, blessing poured out to the nations, God appearing and promising, and then the Gentiles being brought in to the covenant. Does that pattern we saw here seem familiar?
We see it over and over again in the Bible. This is the story of Abraham in Egypt, Abraham in Gerar, Isaac in Gerar, Jacob in the house of Laban, Joseph in Egypt, Israel and Moses leaving Egypt, David entering the land of the Philistines. Over and over again, God leads his people out into the world where they face challenges and threats only to be blessed, pour out that blessing, and then draw the Gentiles in.
We see this again and again because all of these stories are pointing us ahead to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who descends to take on human flesh and enter into the land of the lost. It is Jesus Christ who faces envy, false accusations, quarreling and opposition and ultimately does die for the sake of his bride, the church. It is Jesus Christ is is blessed and pours out his blessing, opening the well and pouring out the Holy Spirit upon his people and his blessing to the nations. And it is Jesus Christ who does all this and draws the Gentiles in, even us. We are all here this morning because what was seen in Abraham, what we see here in Isaac, what happened in Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David was all pointing ahead to its greatest fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.