Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Genesis 26:1-33 (J). Isaac in the Land of the Philistines
1–6 (J and R). The covenant with Abraham renewed to Isaac.
7–11. Isaac and Rebekah at the court of Abimelech.
12–17. Isaac’s prosperity.
18–22. Isaac’s wells.
23–25. Isaac at Beer-sheba.
26–33. Abimelech’s covenant with Isaac.
34, 35 (P). Esau’s Hittite wives.
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.1. beside the first famine] Referring to the famine mentioned in Genesis 12:10. This clause is probably added by the Compiler (R).
Abimelech king of the Philistines] This can hardly be the Abimelech mentioned in Genesis 20:2. Possibly we ought to regard Abimelech as the dynastic name of the Philistine rulers. Strictly speaking, this portion of Palestine having not yet been occupied by the Philistines, their name is here used by a not unnatural anachronism on the part of the Hebrew writer, to whom the Philistines were well known on the S.W. of the Israelite territory1. See notes on Genesis 10:14, Genesis 21:32.
 See The Philistines, Their History and Civilization, The Schweich Lectures, 1911, p, 39, by Professor R. A. S. Macalister. (1913.)
Gerar] On the road from Palestine into Egypt: evidently a town of some importance; see Genesis 10:19, Genesis 21:1.
And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:2. appeared] The promises here made to Isaac are, for the most part, reiterated from Genesis 12:2-3, Genesis 15:5, Genesis 17:6-8, Genesis 22:15-18.
which I shall tell thee of] Cf. the similar phrase in Genesis 12:1, Genesis 22:2.
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;3. sojourn … land] The temporary dwelling of one who as a stranger had none of the rights of a native inhabitant; so LXX παροίκει; Lat. peregrinare. See note on Genesis 23:4, and cf. Hebrews 11:9.
I will be with thee] See Genesis 26:24, Genesis 21:20, Genesis 28:15. God’s Presence is the pledge of man’s blessing.
unto thee, &c.] The promises made to Abraham are here renewed to Isaac; see note on Genesis 13:14-17.
these lands] The plural is uncommon. Lat. universas regiones has.
the oath … sware] See Genesis 22:16-18.
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;4. as the stars of heaven] See note on Genesis 13:1-6; cf. Genesis 15:5, Genesis 22:17.
be blessed] R.V. marg. rightly, bless themselves. See Genesis 12:3, Genesis 22:18.
Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.5. because that, &c.] The blessing of Isaac is here treated as the reward of the obedience of Abraham; the emphasis is laid on the unity and continuity of the Chosen Family.
my charge … my laws] A strange redundancy of expression, reminding us of the style of Deut. The four words “charge,” “commandments,” “statutes,” “laws,” correspond to the more simple phrase “the way of the Lord” in Genesis 18:19. The observance of legal enactments, ascribed to Abraham, is, strictly speaking, an anachronism. Cf. Deuteronomy 11:1, “Therefore thou shall love the Lord thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgements, and his commandments, alway”; 1 Kings 2:3.
And Isaac dwelt in Gerar:
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.7. my sister] See Genesis 12:12-13, Genesis 20:5.
7–11 (J). Isaac and Rebekah at the Court of Abimelech
In this narrative Isaac from motives of fear tells the inhabitants of Gerar that Rebekah is his sister. The resemblance to the similar narratives in the story of Abraham (1) in Egypt, Genesis 12:13, (2) at Gerar, chap. 20, is obvious.
The plea of the relationship of a half-sister could be made for Sarah, but not for Rebekah. The same story was repeated in slightly different versions. It commemorated (a) the moral weakness of the patriarch, and (b) the protection which was accorded by Jehovah to the ancestors of the Israelite people. Contact with civilization brought perils no less real than the solitary life of the nomad.
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.8. at a window] The account suggests that Isaac and Rebekah were in the courtyard overlooked by the king’s residence. Cf. 2 Samuel 11:2.
sporting] See Genesis 21:9 marg., “playing.” The word in the original is the same as that from which the name “Isaac” was popularly derived; cf. Genesis 17:17; Genesis 17:19, Genesis 21:6. Here the meaning seems to be that of “fondling,” the caress of husband and wife, rather than of brother and sister. LXX παίζοντα, Lat. jocantem.
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.
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.10. lightly] Lit. “as a little”: i.e. “it might easily have happened.” See Genesis 12:18, Genesis 20:10. For “lien” = “lain,” cf. Psalm 68:13 A.V. and P.B.V.).
guiltiness] Heb. âshâm; LXX ἄγνοιαν; Lat. grande peccatum. In spite of ignorance, national guilt would be involved in such an outrage as marriage with the wile of another man. For “guiltiness,” “guilt,” cf. Psalm 68:22; Proverbs 14:9.
And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.
Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.12–17 (J). Isaac’s Prosperity
12. an hundredfold] Lit. “a hundred measures.” LXX ἑκατοστεύουσαν κριθήν = “barley bearing a hundredfold,” mistaking the Hebrew word for “measure,” and confusing it with that for “barley.” So also the Syriac Pesh. “An hundredfold,” i.e. one hundred for one.
Isaac’s agricultural pursuits offer a contrast to the roaming life of a nomad. But see, in Jacob’s career, Genesis 30:14, Genesis 37:7.
blessed him] See Genesis 26:3, Genesis 24:1; Genesis 24:35.
And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:
For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.14. and a great household] i.e. a large number of slaves and attendants.
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.15. his father’s servants] Cf. Genesis 21:25.
had stopped them] Wells were of priceless value to large owners of cattle and sheep. The “Philistines” adopted the most malignant method of spiting the Hebrews, and of rendering their continued sojourn in the land impossible. See 2 Kings 3:25.
And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.16. Go from us] Abimelech recognized that, after such conduct on the part of his people, it would be best in the interests of peace that Isaac should withdraw. Isaac’s attitude is one of concession and compliance towards the people among whom he sojourns. He is the type of the race that grows rich, but excites envy and hatred in the land of its sojourn.
And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.17. the valley of Gerar] The word “valley” (naḥal) represents the bed of a stream, often dry during summer. Here, possibly, it is the Wady Jerâr, into which several other wadies open.
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.18–22 (J). Isaac’s Wells
18. in the days of Abraham] Instead of “in the days,” Sam., LXX, and Lat. read “the servants,” i.e. “which the servants of Abraham his father had digged.”
And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.19. springing] Heb. living. A well (be’êr) might contain either the water that came from a spring, as here; or water that was stored from rainfall. The word rendered “springing” appears as “running” in Leviticus 14:5 and as “living” in Jeremiah 2:13; cf. Zechariah 14:8; John 4:10.
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.20. Esek] That is, Contention. LXX Ἀδικία; Lat. Calumnia. In this and the two following verses we have popular tradition as to the origin of the names of wells in the region associated with the sojournings of the patriarch.
And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.21. Sitnah] That is, Enmity. This name is connected with the same root as the word satan, “adversary”; cf. Numbers 20:22; 1 Samuel 29:4. It has been doubtfully identified with a modern name, Wady-Sutem.
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.22. Rehoboth] That is, Broad places, or, Room. LXX Εὐρυχωρία; Lat. Latitudo. This has been identified by modern travellers with a place called. er-Ruḥaibeh, 20 miles S. W. of Beer-sheba, where there is a well.
we shall be fruitful] i.e. prosperous. Prosperity depended upon unhindered access to a supply of water. The same word is used as in Genesis 1:22, Genesis 41:52, Genesis 49:22.
And he went up from thence to 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.23–25 (J). Isaac at Beer-sheba
24. the same night] The manner of the appearance of Jehovah is not defined. Was it “in a vision” (Genesis 15:1), or “in a dream” (Genesis 20:3)?
fear not] The words of encouragement are probably spoken in reference to the hostility Isaac had recently experienced, and to his loneliness in the land of his sojournings; cf. Genesis 15:1 (J).
I am with thee] Cf. Genesis 26:3, Genesis 28:15, Genesis 31:3. Isaac might feel lonely as a stranger (gêr) in the land, but he was assured of the presence of Jehovah wherever he went.
for my servant … sake]. See note on Genesis 26:5. The title “my servant” here given to Abraham is only found in this place in Genesis. LXX reads “thy father.” But it was the obedience of Abraham that won for him this great title: cf. Isaiah 41:8, “Israel my servant … Abraham my friend.”
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.25. builded … there] As Abraham had done, Genesis 12:7, Genesis 13:18.
called … Lord] See notes on Genesis 4:26, Genesis 21:33.
digged a well] According to Genesis 21:30 a well had already been digged by Abraham. The word in the Hebrew is not the same as that used in Genesis 26:22; see Genesis 50:5.
Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.26–33 (J). Abimelech’s Covenant with Isaac
26. Then Abimelech] The king of Gerar discerns that Isaac’s prosperity can only be explained by the special blessing of Jehovah his God (Genesis 26:29). He deems it wise policy to make terms with so powerful a person. Abimelech is accompanied by his two officers of state.
Ahuzzath his friend] This proper name has a termination like that of the Philistine name “Goliath” (1 Samuel 17:4). The king’s “friend” was probably his chief favourite and councillor; cf. 2 Samuel 15:37; 1 Kings 4:5; 1 Chronicles 27:33. The LXX strangely renders by νυμφαγωγός, “the friend of the bridegroom” (cf. Jdg 14:11; Jdg 14:20; Jdg 15:2; Jdg 15:6), i.e. “the intimate friend.”
Phicol] See Genesis 21:22. Possibly also a Philistine name. Phicol represented the army, Ahuzzath the court.
And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?
And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee;28. an oath] A compact sealed by an oath. Cf. Deuteronomy 29:12; Nehemiah 10:29.
covenant] See on this word (b’rîth) the note on Genesis 15:18.
That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the LORD.29. as we have … but good] This statement, scarcely veracious in view of Genesis 26:15; Genesis 26:20-21, is evidently made in the interests of policy.
the blessed of the Lord] Cf. Genesis 26:12 and Genesis 24:31.
And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.30. a feast] A “feast” was partaken of by the two parties in a covenant. Cf. Genesis 31:54. Here it is an evening “drinking banquet” cf. Genesis 19:3.
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.31. betimes] More often rendered “early”; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15. The etymology of the Old English word is “by time,” i.e. “in good time.” See Psalm 5:3 (P.B.V.).
sware] Cf. on Genesis 21:31.
And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water.
And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.33. Shibah] This word, denoting “oath-taking” or “swearing,” is here given as the explanation of the name “Beer-sheba.” For another tradition as to the origin of the name, see Genesis 21:31. The narrative there is from E; the narrative here from J. Shebûah, of which shib‘ah is a rare variety, is an “oath”; sheba‘ is “seven.” Aquila and Symmachus πλησμονή; Lat. abundantiam; reading sib‘ah.
unto this day] See note on Genesis 22:14.
And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:34, 35 (P). Esau’s Hittite Wives
34. forty years old] The same age as Isaac, when he married Rebekah, Genesis 25:20.
Judith … Basemath … Hittite] See Genesis 36:2-3. Judith and Basemath are here described as “Hittites,” by which name were known, according to P, some of the principal inhabitants of the land; cf. note on Genesis 23:3. Groups of Hittites doubtless had come from the north and settled in Canaan. But in P there is little difference between Canaanites and Hittites.
Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.35. a grief of mind] Heb. bitterness of spirit. Cf. Genesis 27:46, Genesis 28:8. Isaac and Rebekah regarded a mixed marriage with the people of the land as a source of dishonour to the race; cf. Genesis 24:3. By “a grief of mind” we should understand soreness and disappointment; cf. Proverbs 14:10. The LXX ἐρίζουσαι, Lat. offenderant animam, took the meaning to be that Judith and Basemath were quarrelsome, and had given offence to Esau’s parents.