Accompanying Bob Deffinbaugh sermon: Isaac Walks in his Father's Steps
Isaac's life definitely follows in his father's steps - but they are two different journeys nonetheless.
In our passage, God commands Isaac to remain in Gerar for a time, and He would direct him to the land he should go in God's good timing. He reiterates the covenant to Isaac, which seems like not a big deal to us reading it from this side of things - it's familiar to us, almost redundant even. But think of it - this is the first time God is confirming the covenant to Isaac. I cannot even imagine hearing the voice of God, never mind receiving a direct reassurance of the covenant promise. It must have been thrilling!
Unfortunately, Isaac follows in his father's steps by lying to Abimilech (likely a different Abimelech and Phicol, which are both likely terms similar to Pharaoh) about Rebekah being his sister. This time, God doesn't directly intervene or threaten any harm towards Abimelech. Thankfully, but ashamedly for Isaac, Abimelech seems to have a higher regard for marital purity than Isaac. Abimelech made sure neither Isaac nor Rebekah would be harmed, but he did not either ask them to leave or stay - they were simply tolerated.
God blessed Isaac, despite his sin - of which, like his father before him, he doesn't appear to repent. Unsurprisingly, due to Isaac's lack of character, Abimelech doesn't associate this blessing with God's favour, but rather happenstance or good luck.
Digging a well was tantamount to claiming ownership of the land in those days, and so the Philistines filled in Abraham's wells. Isaac had no interest in staying amidst conflict and hostility, so every time the Philistines filed in a well, he simply moved farther away, "coincidentally" towards the land of promise. Thus there is a human explanation for Isaac's journey, but we know it was also divinely orchestrated.
Isaac finally found a well that was undisputed - likely because it was far enough away from the Philistines that they didn't care. But, just when we would expect Isaac to stay there, enjoying this peaceful existence, he decides to move to Beersheba. Why?
I believe that a significant change has occurred in Isaac’s thinking. Circumstances had previously shaped most of his decisions, but now something deeper and more noble seems to be giving direction in his life. Beersheba was the first place that Abraham had gone with Isaac after they came down from the “sacrifice” on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:19). Isaac knew that God had promised to give him the land promised to his father Abraham (26:3-5). I believe he had finally come to see that through all the opposition over the wells he had dug, God had been guiding him back to the land of promise, back to those places where Abraham had walked in fellowship with God. Personally, I believe that Isaac went up to Beersheba because he sensed on a spiritual level that this was where God wanted him to be. If God had previously been “driving” Isaac through opposition, now Isaac was willing to be led.
The decision was shown to be the right one, for God immediately spoke words of reassurance:
And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham” (Genesis 26:24).
Verse 25 is of particular interest. Notice especially the order in which Isaac set up residence in Beersheba:
So he built an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well (Genesis 26:25).
Previously the touchstone for knowing the will of God had been circumstances—in particular, Isaac stayed wherever he dug a well, found sufficient water, and was not opposed. Yet in this verse the sequence of events is reversed. First Isaac built an altar; then he worshipped, after which he pitched his tent. Finally, he dug a well.
There is a great lesson in faith and guidance here, I believe. The place for God’s people is the place of God’s presence. The place of intimacy, worship, and communion with God is the place to abide. There we should dwell, and there we may be assured of God’s provision for our needs. Material needs are thus considered last, while spiritual needs are primary. Is this not what our Lord referred to when He said:
But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33).
From this point, things seem to change. Now that Isaac's priorities have changed, the blessings and guidance of God are more evident in his life to those around him as well - including Abimelech, causing him to want to make a treaty with Isaac like he had with Abraham.
What does this text mean for us?
This chapter underscores the two most common systems of guidance which are available to Christians of every age: living by principles or by providence. When we walk in accordance with the principles given in the Word of God, we walk closest to Him. When we walk by providence we shall still arrive where God wants us to be, but without the joy of being an active participant in the process. Instead, we are the passive object which God moves from point to point by circumstances. There is little joy or intimacy with God in this system.
The similarities between Abraham and Isaac's lives also have something important to teach us. First, is that each of us must go through a process of maturity. We all have to begin at the beginning.
If you are at all like me, you would prefer that your children not make the same mistakes you did, and I hope it is not necessary. I am simply pointing out the fact that Isaac did walk in a path nearly identical to that of his father. Let us be willing to allow our children to fail and to grow in the way God has purposed. Much as we would prefer it otherwise, our children cannot begin to relate to God on the level of our own walk. They must start at the beginning. That is the way it is.
Let me balance this somewhat by saying that the way we can best help our own children is by making certain that our footsteps are such that we would want our children to walk in them. If Isaac’s experience was, to some degree, a reflection of his father’s life, what a frightening thought that is. If our children’s lives are to mirror our own, what an awesome responsibility we have as parents to walk a path of obedience and submission to the will of God.
Deffinbaugh also articulates something I had been thinking/feeling:
I find myself disappointed and rather distraught by the thought that God did not come down on these men harder for their unchivalrous deception concerning their wives. I would have expected God to confront them sharply for their sin. If I had been an elder in their church, I would have strongly urged disciplinary action. Why, then, did God not respond more forcefully?
I think I am slowly beginning to understand the reason. Deception is sin, and God hates the lying tongue (cf. Proverbs 6:17). But lying here was a symptomatic sin and not the root sin. God did not smash the red warning light (deception) because He was concerned about getting to the root of the problem. The root sin, as I perceive it, was unbelief or lack of faith. In each case of deception, Abraham and Isaac lied out of fear (cf. 12:11-13; 20:11; 26:7). This fear was the product of an inadequate concept of God. They did not grasp the sovereignty or the omnipotence of God in such a way as to believe that God could protect them under any and every circumstance. Having solved the problem of too little faith, the sin of deception will not be an issue any longer.
It is my personal opinion that we sometimes become preoccupied with “symptom sins,” rushing about trying, as someone in our church said, to stomp them like roaches. While sin should always be taken seriously, many of our sins will be dealt with by an adequate conception of who God really is. The fundamental sin is that of unbelief, not only for those who are unsaved but also for those who are truly saved.
Do we have areas in our lives where we not believing God?
Monday's scripture focus: Genesis 27
Sunday's passage: 2 Chronicles 15-16
Monday's passage: 1 Corinthians 6, Psalm 119:161-168, 2 Chronicles 17-18