Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
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.Isaac the Peacemaker
Isaac gave up his wells rather than quarrel over them. A similar historical instance of peace-loving is given by Knox in his History of the Reformation. George Wishart, the martyr, a man, 'lowly, lovely, glad to teach, desirous to learn,' went by request to the church of Mauchline to preach there. But the Sheriff of Ayrshire, fearing the destruction of the ornaments of the church, got a number of the local gentlemen to garrison it against the preacher. One friend of Wishart's determined to enter it by force, but Wishart, drawing him aside, said: 'Brother, Christ Jesus is as potent upon the fields as in the kirk,... it is the word of peace that God sends by me; the blood of no man shall be shed this day for the preaching of it.' And so, withdrawing the whole people, he came, says Knox, to a dyke on a moor-edge, upon which he ascended and continued in preaching for more than three hours.
Reference.—XXVI. 12-25.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 201.
The Buried Wells
There is a deep sense in which every life might say, 'All my springs are in Thee'. With that vision in our hearts we need not be afraid to speak of springs of good in men's lives. To say that you can hear the ripple of a spring is not to say you never heard the splash of falling rain. You can honour the water in the well without despising the original and continuous bounty of the skies. And so, with the great overarching heaven in our minds all the time, we can begin our search for the earthly wells.
I. And they need looking for. They are often lost beneath the drift of the years, or choked up by the rubbish that a Philistine world has cast into them. And it is easy to forget that they are there. We see the ground trampled and dust-strewn, and there is little or nothing to suggest that down beneath that unpromising surface there is a spring that might be helping to refresh a tired and thirsty world.
Beneath the barren and trampled surface of humanity we must find the wells of reverence and faith and love that God Himself has sunk in these hearts of ours. Man was made to worship and believe and aspire. God made him so. This Philistine world succeeds in burying deep the springs of the heart's true life. The wells are choked.
II. That is the sad fact on which we have to concentrate our toil. But that involves another fact, bright and inspiring and thrilling—the wells are there. Isaac and his servants worked with a will, with a steady enthusiasm, amidst those piles of stones and heaps of earth. A bystander knowing nothing of the history of these desert spots might well have wondered at the sight of such hopeful toil amid such unpromising surroundings. But they who were doing the work were in possession of one fact that afforded them complete inspiration. They knew that there were springs of water if only they had the energy and patience to come at them.
The essential spirituality of human life is an ultimate fact. When we toil for the souls of men, we are not working on the strength of a speculation. We are not prospecting. Like Isaac of old, we work where our Father Himself has worked before us.
III. 'He digged again the wells of... Abraham his Father;... and called them after the names by which his father had called them.' Is not that the story of Jesus of Nazareth?
Even as Isaac found in the devastated valley of Gerar the wells of his father Abraham, so did Jesus find in the barren hearts of men the wells of His Father God. They were choked with sins and the cares of the years, but He found them and sounded them, and let into them the light and air of the sky of the Father's mercy, and set the water of life, love and faith and hope, flowing into these poor world-choked hearts.
—P. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, p. 157.
Reference.—XXVI. 18.—C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 135.
Life on God's Plan
Isaac is felt by every Bible reader to be a much less commanding figure than the men who stand on either side of him—his father Abraham and his son Jacob. He had neither the lofty and daring faith of the one, nor the other's passionate instinct of adventure. His qualities were not such as stir the imagination of the world. Passive rather than intense, he spent one of those lives that are largely controlled and arranged by other people. The influence of his friends always tended to be too strong for him; so it was, for example, when the wife he was to marry was selected by his father, and brought home to him by deputy. Hence we are apt to call him tame, torpid, and slow; at all events the too easy victim of over modesty and inertia.
But of course such a character has another side. Isaac, it is true, is unlike Abraham and Jacob; but it is they that are uncommon men, not he. Of the three he exhibits far the closest resemblance to average humanity. You will find a score of Isaacs for every Abraham that emerges. And just for that reason the fact that Isaac was given his place in the great patriarchal succession speaks to us of the truth that God is the God of ordinary people, not less than of those in whom there sleeps the Divine spark of genius or greatness. As some one has said, 'God has a place for the quiet man'. We may have neither distinguished talents nor a distinguished history, but one thing we can do, we can form a link in the chain by which the Divine blessing goes down from one generation to another... Pick out the three centres here, where the threads cross, and they are these, the altar, the tent, the well. There we see focused sharply, and gathered up, the main constituents or impulses which are always to be found in the life of a man after God's own heart; and without being unduly imaginative or fantastic, we may decide that they stand for religion, home, work.... The man of the tent is the prey of time, and passes; the man of the altar endures for ever. Religion has in it that which is superior to time.... Considered as one of the threads which God's hand is weaving into the strand of life, is not work a pure blessing? Is it not, like Isaac's will, an ever-flowing source of power and refreshment? Does not the will feed both tent and altar.
—H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 1.
Common Place People
Isaac is the representative of the unimportant but overwhelming majority, and his life and history stood to his descendants, and stand to us, for the glorification of the commonplace.
I. The World's Useful Drudges.—When shall we begin to see the poetry, the beauty, the eternal blessedness of common work; the loyalty, the patriotism, the high Christian service there may be in simply conducting an honest business or filling a commercial situation! Every man who conducts his business with clean hands is helping to bring in universal clean-handedness: every man who fills a situation as it ought to be filled is raising the ideal of service and enriching and beautifying his race. Isaac was not an Empire-builder like Abraham, not a great pathetic heroic figure like Jacob, he was a plain man of affairs. He stuck to his work as a sinker of wells, and for three thousand years men, to whom Abraham was a legend and Jacob a hazy tradition, have drunk of the sweet waters of Beersheba, and blessed the memory of the man who digged that well.
II. The Well-digger's Blessing. —And these things, important in themselves, are also parables of higher things. Your business gives you no time for the work you would so dearly like. It is all you can do to keep things straight in your own little world of trade. Never fear; you will supply your neighbour with an honest article at a reasonable price, and finding employment for those who otherwise might starve, you are digging one of father Isaac's wells. When with quaking heart you took that class book and tried to start that little class-meeting you digged a well, and thirsty souls have drunk of it and will bless you evermore. Your little Sunday-school class, your mission-room, is a well, and when this life is over for you, men will think and speak in blessing of the man that digged that well.
—F. R. Smith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 118.
References.—XXVI. 29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2238. XXVI.—F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 77. XXVII. 1-4.—F. W. Robertson, Sermons (4th Series), p. 123. XXVII. 13.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons, vol. ii. p. 255. B. Cooper, Fifty-two Family Sermens, p. 247.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.
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 they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.
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.
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.
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 Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.
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;
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.
And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.
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.
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.
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:
Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.