Home > Biblical Theology, Old Testament > Genesis 26:1-31

Genesis 26:1-31

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob demonstrated great faith in God’s promises. The demonstration of their faith was that they continued to live and look forward to the promise of land in spite of the many trials and tribulations they faced. In fact, so powerful was their trust in God’s word that they confessed they were strangers and exiles on the earth because they were looking for a better country, a heavenly one (Heb 11:8-10, 13-16). Exactly how did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob demonstrate this faith in God’s promise? We find one such instance in Genesis 26:1-31.

I have often heard pastors preach this passage and the customary interpretation and application is that just as Isaac redug the wells of his father Abraham, so we should redig the wells of our fathers. These fathers being our American forefathers; thus, it is a call to return America to a Christian nation or to reconnect with the spiritual legacy that our biological or spiritual fathers left for us. The first idea is completely incorrect because America, while founded on morals, was a nation that reflected more of deism than biblical Christianity. The other interpretation and application, while true in one sense, also fails to rightly connect with what the text is really saying when considered in the larger framework of redemptive-history.

Abraham has passed away and Isaac is living in the land of his father (Gen 25:1-11). Isaac has two sons, Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:19-34). Isaac settles in the land of Gerar. A famine comes upon the land. God commands Isaac to stay in the land. Dwelling among the Philistines, God greatly blesses Isaac (Gen 26:1-14). The Philistines fill the wells of his father Abraham and command Isaac to move away from them because he became very powerful (Gen 26:15-21). Isaac is constantly harassed by those who do not trust in the Lord. Isaac’s tribulation in the land is demonstrated by having to move from place to place and the Philistines quarreling over wells that his father had dug. This series of events may seem insignificant, but they are demonstrations of Isaac’s faith in God’s promise. If you recall, God reaffirmed his covenant with Isaac after settling in Gerar (Gen 26:4). Part of the promise is that all the land shall be given to him and his descendants. Isaac’s belief in God’s promise is demonstrated two ways.

1.) When told to leave the dwelling place of the Philistines because he had become powerful he did so without fighting because he understood all the land was going to be his anyway. Isaac did not need to contend with Abimelech over the place he was living because he understood that one day God would make it all his.

2.) When the Philistines fill and then quarrel over the wells that Isaac redigs, he simply moves on and digs more wells. By not quarreling over the wells Isaac was demonstrating faith in God’s promise for he understood all of these wells and all of the land was going to be his one day.

Isaac avoids conflict with his enemies in the land because he believes God’s promise that he and his descendants will inherit the land regardless what others do and regardless of what hardships he might face. Isaac chooses not to take the land or wells by force because he believes God will give him the land and all that is in it (i.e., wells). Abraham demonstrated the same faith in God’s promise in Genesis 13:14-17 (cf., Gen 12:1-3). Abraham lets his nephew Lot have the first choice of the land because he ultimately knew that no matter where he lived and no matter who lived in the land he would be the ultimate recipient of it. Thus, Lot selects the choicest land, leaving Abraham the less favorable land. At Abraham’s demonstration of faith in the promise, God states that all the land will be his regardless of what others may do. Just as Abraham understood and believed that all the land would be his one day, so Isaac believes the same by taking possession of the land and redigging the wells of his father. Isaac redigging the wells of his father is another demonstration of faith for he knows the land is his to do with whatever he wants; however, when quarrels arose over the land he does not take it by force, but keeps entrusting himself to the Lord knowing that God will remain faithful to his promise.

Finally, finding a place to dwell, Isaac declares the goodness of God and continues to carry out the creation mandate of being fruitful. The idea of fruitfulness in the land is a repeated command in the book of Genesis (cf., Gen 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7; 17:6; 35:11; 47:27; Exo 1:7). God’s people were to be fruitful in producing a people who would submit to God as their king. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the fathers to this race of people who were to be faithful and obedient to their God. These faithful and obedient descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be the recipients of the land. In response to Isaac’s faith God reaffirms his covenant with him (Gen 26:23-25). Moreover, Isaac’s enemies come to recognize God’s blessing in his life and make amends with him (Gen 26:26-32). By entrusting himself to the Lord, two things become apparent.

1.) God reaffirms his covenant with Isaac (Gen 26:23-25). Reaffirming the covenant demonstrates that God is pleased with Isaac and his continued expression of faith in God’s promise by redigging the wells of Abraham and avoiding conflict in the land.

2.) His enemies make peace with him (Gen 26:26-32). Isaac’s enemies making peace with him demonstrates that their existence in the land is not divorced from Isaac. Abimelech understands that the Lord has given the land to Isaac (demonstrated by God blessing him) and for him to remain in the land he must make peace with the one who will one day own all the land.

The faith of Isaac is quite clear by his actions. He was expressing faith in God’s promise in tangible ways. We see the same faith demonstrated in the promise of land when Joseph requests that his bones be taken out of Egypt, recognizing that Egypt was not the promised land (Gen 50:24; Exo 13:19; Heb 11:22). Most preachers would champion the faith of Isaac and call Christians to emulate his faith. While we should have faith like Isaac, our faith is never divorced from the larger picture. It is not enough to read Genesis 26:1-31 and call Christians to emulate Isaac’s faith, rather we must follow out the rest of the biblical plotline and show how Jesus fulfills Genesis 26:1-31.

God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding the land was framed in such a way that they could understand and relate to the promise. However, the progress of redemptive-history reveals that the promise takes on a different fulfillment in light of Jesus Christ. I would like to make three points of connection between Genesis 26:1-31 and the New Testament.

1.) The Israelites eventually entered the land and took possession of it. Although their enemies continued to exist in the land, the Lord declares that he has fulfilled the promise of land (Josh 23:1-14). However, the writer of Hebrews declares that the entering of the land by the Israelites was not the end of the promise, but a future promise of land remains (Heb 3-4; cf., Psa 95:11). This land is a heavenly land. Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not fully comprehend the end result of that promise, they believed anyway and continued to press on despite facing great trials and tribulations. The promise of land has been transformed through Jesus by having a global and cosmic dynamic. In other words, the promise is not just a parcel of land in the Middle East, but the whole earth and universe (Rom 4:13; cf., Matt 5:5). The promise is for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their descendants are not Jews of physical birth, but Jews of spiritual birth. In other words, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are both Jews and Gentiles who possess the same faith in the promises of God as they did (cf., Rom 2:28-29; 3:21-4:25; Gal 3:26-29). Jesus is not only the fulfillment of those promises, but he is the recipient of such promises (Gal 3:16). Because of this, the promise of land is tied to him. Just as Jesus will rule as king over the new heavens and new earth, so those who trust in him will share in this inheritance (Rom 8:16-17; Rev 21:7).

2.) When Isaac settled in the land he was then able to fulfill the command of being fruitful (Gen 26:22). Although Israel was fruitful (physical offspring) they never achieved what God intended, which was a people who loved and obeyed him from the heart. Jesus has inaugurated a new covenant by which God’s people can please him from the heart (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:22-38; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:13; 9:15; 12:24). Jesus not only inaugurates a new covenant, but is the forerunner to a new race of humans. Jesus has identified with humanity so that by his death, burial, and resurrection he might be fruitful and produce a new race of humans who are not born of the flesh, but are born again by the Spirit (John 3:1-21; 1 Cor 15:20-22, 45; Heb 2:9-18; Rev 14:4). Isaiah predicted how the Messiah would produce an offspring when he writes, “he will see his offspring” (Isa 53:10). The offspring of Christ are those who are born of the Spirit, being conformed to the image of the true man (Col 3:10), and will be raised on that last day just as Jesus was raised. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of Israel failed to produce a race of humans who would obey and love God from the heart. Jesus as the final Adam is fruitful and multiplying a new race of humans who are born of the Spirit. Not only is Jesus being fruitful and producing a new race of humans, but he is subduing all things, whether in heaven or on earth, in accordance with the creation mandate (Gen 1:28), to himself through his church (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:15-20).

3.) Abimelech (a Gentile) recognizes that his existence in the land is tied to Isaac (Gen 26:26-32). He sees that God has blessed Isaac and; therefore, makes peace with him, knowing that only by making peace with the eventual inheritor of all the land will he continue to live in the land himself. Throughout redemptive-history there were other Gentiles who believed the promises of God and made peace with Isaac’s descendants (e.g., Rahab, Ruth). Jesus, as the true Isaac (Heb 11:19), now is the one who receives the blessings of God. We have already seen that Jesus is the inheritor of the whole world, that he is being fruitful by producing a new race of humans who are born of the Spirit, and now we see that it is only in him that Gentiles can be sharers in these promises. Just as Abimelech made peace with Isaac knowing that God was with him and blessing him; now only those who make peace with the greater Isaac will live securely in the land. Not only do we see that salvation is tied to Christ, but we also see that salvation to the Gentiles was always part of God’s purposes when we read the numerous instances where Gentiles were blessed by God through his servants in the Old Testament (see God’s Purpose for the Nations part 1, 2, 3). Gentiles now come into peace with God through Jesus Christ. Where Israel failed to be a light to the Gentiles Jesus does not fail (Matt 4:12-17; Luke 2:32).

Only those who trust in the true Isaac will share in this inheritance of the whole world, only those who trust in the true Isaac will be part of this new race of humans who will enter the kingdom of God, and only those who trust in the true Isaac will find peace and salvation. As Abimelech paid homage to Isaac, so all the peoples of the earth must pay homage to the true Isaac. The Psalmist reminds us of this truth.

I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware. Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psa 2:7-12)

  1. Jason
    June 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Chad,

    I like your thoughts in your point on the “new humanity” established in Christ. I’ve heard somewhere that Christ, as fully Man, was the only “true” human being to ever live (even considering Adam), so that only “in Christ” can man be restored (for the first time) to true humanity. This is why Adam (as Man) is typological because he too finds his true humanity in Christ. Is this how you understand things? How will our “humanity” in the consummation differ from Jesus’ “humanity”? Or will it? Thanks!


  2. Chad
    June 25, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Jason,

    Yes, I agree with what you have said.

    Jesus is the only true human to ever live. He shows us what it means to be human. This is the point of Hebrews 2:5-18. Jesus is the true-man, the man par-excellence because he did what Adam did not do, which was do the Father’s will at all times. Thus, he can truly sympathize with us. As the true man he also accomplishes the command to have dominion over the earth. Adam, as God’s representative, was to exercise judgment over the creation, but we know he sinned. Jesus as the sinless man now receives that right as judge over creation (both nature and humanity). I believe this is Paul’s point in Romans 1:1-4. Jesus was raised from the dead with a new kind of power/authority. It is not that he wasn’t powerful before, but by obedience to God he proved to be the true Adam who will have dominion over all things and is given the right to judge all things. Paul also makes this point in Acts 17:31. As we are being conformed to the image of Christ we are being renewed to what we were always created for as God’s image bearers. In other words, I am becoming “more human” as I look to Christ, the true human. Thus, I look and listen not to Old Testament characters (e.g., have faith like Joseph, David, etc.), but I look to Christ as Lord and Lawgiver (cf., Mark 9:7).

    The Scriptures are clear that when we see Jesus we will be like him and all those who have this hope are pure as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3). Of course, we will not be divine, but I believe that we will be like Christ. In other words, our bodies will not be bound to location or space, we can eat if we want, we can choose not to eat, we can appear and disappear, etc. There is no reason to think that our bodies will not be like Jesus’ resurrected body while he was with his disciples. Not only will our bodies be like Christ’s, but as co-heirs with him, we will share in his authority and riches (cf., Rom 8:1ff, Rev 2:26-27). Not only does God redeem us, perfect us, but also makes us partakers in his Son’s glory. All of this is possible because of Jesus. The humility and greatness of Christ is seen not only in his incarnation, but his permanent identification with us. In other words, he is still human. He didn’t cease to be human when he ascended to the Father. Although God is Spirit we will see him because we will see Jesus. When we see him, we shall see him as the true man and we will all marvel (1 Thess 1:10).

    I am sure you have this book, but see Phillip Hughes, “The True Image.” Excellent.


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