And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar.
And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
Not just that, but for the first time we see obedience broken into charges (mishmereth), commandments (mistvah), statutes (chuqqah), and laws (towrah). We don’t know if this refers to some other body of instructions, or just the commands recorded earlier in Genesis. It fear the commands didn’t include a prohibition on false witness:
And the men of the place asked [him] of his wife; and he said, She [is] my sister: for he feared to say, [She is] my wife; lest, [said he], the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she [was] fair to look upon.
Well, Isaac apparently didn’t learn his father’s lesson; or perhaps learned the wrong one. That is a risk when God (or man) is merciful and protective; it inhibits painful learning. Conversely, Abimelech (presumably a descendent of the original), learned his lesson extremely well:
And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac [was] sporting with Rebekah his wife.
Well, the first thing we notice is that is that at least they haven’t carried Rebekah away. One suspects that the Abimelech’s story was passed down with great relish, and perhaps caused the king to be cautious of travelers with “sisters.”
Then follows a familiar interview:
And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she [is] thy wife: and how saidst thou, She [is] my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her.
I’m sorry, I know that may well have been a valid fear, but it still sounds like sniveling.
And Abimelech said, What [is] this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.
The implication, I suppose, is that they would’ve felt no guilt (‘asham) about sleeping with a woman against her will and that of her brother. Still, some shame is better than none at all, I suppose.
And Abimelech charged all [his] people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.
Now, here is where the stories diverge. Rather than giving gifts, he just orders (tsavah) protection. One suspects that the earlier awe had faded into simple fear. Though Isaac prospered (gadal) anyway (without the gifts):
Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:
But this time, that led to envy (qana’):
For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.
On the other hand, the implication is that they had resented Abraham as well, though they feared to show it openly:
For all the wells which his father’s servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.
This leads to a parting of ways:
And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we. And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.
Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to go far away. He takes up Abraham’s old haunts:
And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.
And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdmen, saying, The water [is] ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.
and at Sitnah (Sitnah, enmity):
And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.
Finally, he finds peace at Rehoboth (Rachobowth, plural of wide):
And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.
He then receives another vision at Beersheba:
And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I [am] the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I [am] with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake
And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.
Then follows a passage of such freaky parallelness, one wonders whether it is a scribal error:
Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.
And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
If Isaac inherited his father’s cowardice, at least he also inherited his ability to trust God, prosper, and make peace.
O Lord, what fools we mortals be. We fail to learn the lessons of the past — or learn the wrong lessons — and follow in the sins of our ancestors, and thus must repeat their journey of reconciliation. Father, teach me to observe all the charges, commandments, statues and laws. For your words are not just important to my safety and prosperity, but also my ability to bless the peoples around me. Grant me an outward focus that inpsires me to bless my wife, and increase the fruitfulness of those I know. Free me from fear, that I may be filled with wells of living water. In Jesus name, Amen.