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Like Father Like Son

The Covenant Continues (The Life of Isaac)

Part V

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 15, 1999

Genesis 26:1-17

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Genesis 26:1-17

Like Father Like Son

If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Genesis, chapter 26. We have studied through the life of Isaac beginning in Genesis 24. We said that though Abraham was still alive during the time of that chapter, the shift has turned to Isaac and his future. Genesis 24, verse 1 all the way to Genesis 25, verse 11 records for us the last days of Abraham. But those last days are in large measure concern with getting Isaac married and establishing him as the heir of the covenant line, Abraham's covenant successor.

And then the last time we were together we looked at Genesis 25, verses 12 through 34 which gives us a transcription of the legacy of Ishmael, and then again it immediately turns to Isaac and his family, and especially the story of the conflict between Jacob and Esau. And it retells two important events in the line of Isaac. First there's God's revelation to Rebekah when he told Rebekah that the elder would serve the younger. And then there's a scene, as you will remember right at the end of Genesis 25 where Jacob gains the birthright from Esau. And that incident gives us an insight into both Jacob's character and Esau's character. And really that section sets the stage for how we are to understand all of the relations in the rest of the book of Genesis between Jacob and Esau.

So tonight we come to Genesis 26, verses 1 through 17. Let's turn to God's holy word.

Genesis 26:1-17

Father, we thank You for this passage, and as we study father Isaac, the line of the covenant. We pray that You would confirm to us grace of the covenant in our own hearts that we might learn both positively and negatively from this great passage, so that we might honor you with our lips and with our lives. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Genesis 26 tells us, perhaps, more about Isaac than any other of the sections which speak of this son of Abraham. And in this passage we have three distinct scenes set before us. First of all, in verses 1 through 6, we have a description of the time that Isaac was staying in Gerar. His sojourn there. And God's confirmation of the covenant with Abraham with Isaac. And then if you look at verses 7 through 11, you have Isaac's repetition of the same sin that his father had committed. Then again, in verses 12 through 17, you see Isaac living amongst the Philistines and blessed by God. And at the same time envied by those who he dwelt with. I'd like to look at those three scenes with you tonight.

I. God confirms the covenant to Isaac.

First, let's look at verses 1 through 6 where we see Isaac sojourn in Gerar and God's confirmation of the covenant. We learn a lesson from this section, and the lesson is this. The Christian's confidence is drawn from God's unchanging covenant promises, not from our changing circumstances. That lesson is thrust upon us with the very first words of verse 1. Look at that verse with me. “Now there was famine in the land.

That verse, that phrase out of verse 1, sets the context for everything that happens in the rest of this chapter, but especially for what happens in verses 1 through 17. The circumstance of famine lets us know why it was that Isaac went to Gerar and to Abimelech, the Philistine king, in the first place. The reason that he was going there, is that Isaac was apparently was trying to make a move to respond to the problem of the famine. It is also entirely possible, especially from what God says to Isaac to verses 2 through 6, that Isaac was on the way to the land of Abimelech, but further headed to the land of Egypt. That is, his plan was to stop at Abimelech and then make his way to Egypt, which was apparently not so deeply affected by the famine condition in the promised land.

And then in verses 2 through 5, God reveals himself to Isaac. And remember this is the first time that God has spoken to Isaac, as far as we know. And it's a very eventful and important passage, because in this passage it's made clear that the covenant which Isaac is going to receive is not a covenant which is different from the covenant that God had made with Abraham. It is, in fact, the covenant which God has made with Abraham confirmed upon his successor, Isaac. So this is a very important passage. God reveals Himself to Isaac, then He reiterates the covenant promises that He had made to Abraham to Him. And at the same time He gives him warning and directions. I'd like to look at these verses very closely with you, so keep your eyes on verses 2 through 5, and follow through all the things that God does in this very brief section.

First of all, God gives Isaac a command which was mixed with a warning. He says do not go down to Egypt but stay in the land. Now isn't it interesting when you look at Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of them were faced with the problem of famine in the promised land. When Abraham was faced with that problem, God did not tell him what to do, and he went down to the land of Egypt, and God blessed him and brought him out. When Isaac was faced with the problem of famine, God told him not to go down to the land of Egypt. And he didn't, and he stayed in the land, and God blessed him. When Jacob was faced with famine, God told him to go down to the land of Egypt, and God blessed him and brought him out.

Isn't it interesting with each of those patriarchs, God dealt differently. We’re not told why here, but I wonder, especially in this case of Isaac, given his compliant personality, whether God did not want him going down into Egypt, lest he be influenced by surroundings. You remember the Lord, at least through Abraham, his father, didn't want him even going back home to Mesopotamia when he was to collect his wife. Perhaps Abraham saw something in his son's character which led him to make that decision not to send Isaac back. And again, the Lord keeps Isaac from going down to the land of Egypt. At any rate Isaac obeys and stays in the land.

Then, in verse 3 God gives another command. But this command is linked with a promise: Wander in this land and I will bless you, and I will be with you. Here's where your sojourn's going to be Isaac. You stay in this land even though it's in the midst of a famine, I promise you two things. I will bless you, I’ll favor you, and I’ll be with you. My presence will be near you. And so again, Isaac is blessed by the Lord in surprising circumstances. You remember in Genesis 25, verse 11 when Isaac was mourning the loss of his mother? The Lord blessed him. Blessed him with a wife. Now Isaac, in the midst of a famine is blessed by the Lord with favor and plenty. Derek Kidner says this: “Blessing had come to Isaac in bereavement; now again God meets him with blessing in adversity.” God is good to Isaac. And then if you look again at verse 3, God begins to give a promise to Isaac. I will give you and your descendants this land. Now that promise is not only a reiteration of the promise that God had already given to Abraham. It is also the reason which God gives to Isaac, or the first part of a two-part reason, that God gives to Isaac for staying in the land. Look closely. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you for because to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands.

And then at the end of verse 3, He gives the second part of His reason why Isaac ought to stay in the land: I will confirm the oath I swore to Abraham. I will establish the oath which I swore to your father, Abraham. Now both of those promises make it very clear that the covenant promises that God is making to Isaac, are the same promise that He has already made to Abraham. This is not a new covenant, this is the same covenant of grace which God has established with Abraham. But God doesn't stop there.

Look at verse 4. He goes on reiterate the covenant promise is to Abraham when he says, I will multiply your descendants, and I will give them the land. And he goes on to say that they have a mission, and their mission is that they would be a blessing to the nations. Your descendants will be blessed. And by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed. So Isaac's descendants are given this covenant promise in order that they would be a blessing to the nations.

And then something very surprising is said in verse 5. God says that the reason He is going to do these things is because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws. Abraham's obedience, God says, is the reason why these blessings are going to be upon Isaac and his descendants. And again, this is a reminder that Isaac has done absolutely nothing to deserve the promises of God.

This is a picture of grace. Abraham does something, and Isaac gets the blessing. Now even Abraham, however, receives this blessing from God by grace. And Calvin has a very wonderful comment on this passage. He says that God sometimes in the Bible says that we have earned things that He has in fact given us by grace. So even God's blessings upon Abraham were by grace, as the life of Abraham bears out. Could we really say that Abraham had perfectly obeyed God in His charge, His commandments, His statutes and His law? No. Moses will let you know that Abraham failed at certain crucial points, and yet God says to Isaac, I'm going to bless you because your father, Abraham, obeyed. That not only tells us something about the overall tenor of Abraham's life, it tells you something about the grace of God. So the theme of the grace of God is already flowing through this passage with Isaac.

Now, of course, this word in verse 5 is also given to spur Isaac on to obedience, as well as to assure him of the certainty of God's blessings. And it shows us an important principle that obedience is the proper response to grace. Abraham received grace. His response was to obey. God now reminds Isaac of that, so that Isaac's response to God's grace will be to obey God.

Now this whole section, as we said, is set in the context of famine. And as Isaac had to trust God's word, not looking at the famine condition, so also we are called to look to God's unchanging promises and not to look at the changing circumstances in which we are placed. God shows us in Isaac's obedience staying in the land a pattern for our own conduct when God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight. Again Derek Kidner says, “The promise given to Isaac was searching; to refuse the immediate plenty of Egypt for mostly unseen and distant blessings demanded the kind of faith praise in Hebrews 11, verses 9 and 10 and proved Isaac a true son of his father, even though, like Abraham, he was to mar his obedience at once.” Isaac then trusted God, he didn't look at the circumstances. He said, yes, Lord, I'm in the midst of famine conditions, but you tell me not to go down to Egypt, so I'm going to stay here in the land. Isaac obeys and trusts God's word. That's a pattern for us.

II. Isaac's failures.

Now if we look together at verses 7 through 11, we’ll see just like Abraham did on a couple of occasions, Isaac, after this great act of faith, great act of trust in God, immediately imitates his father's cowardice, and he earns the reproach of pagans. Even the Philistines see the inappropriateness of what Isaac has done once he is discovered.

And again, we learn here in verses 7 through 11 that Christians are always liable to temptation to doubt God's providential care. What had Isaac just done in verses 1 through 6? He had trusted in God's providential care even though his circumstances were difficult. What does he do in verses 7 through 11? He doesn't trust God's providential care, even though his situation was difficult. So, one minute he's trusting in God, and the next minute in the same circumstance, he turns around and he attempts to find a way to help himself. He tries to find a way to protect himself. And so in doing so he violates God's law. When the fear of the men of Gerar overtook Isaac, he sinned, and he lied. You see that in verse 7.

And it's amazing to us, isn't it? It's amazing in the wake of this extraordinary revelation. God has spoken to him for the first time. He's heard the voice of God pronouncing Abraham's covenant and blessings upon him even in the wake of that extraordinary revelation. Isaac falls prey to unbelief. That's a warning to us, isn't it? There's never a time where we can sit back and say, “Oh, I won't fall prey to unbelief.” Unbelief can come upon us. It crouches at the door like sin and in this context of unbelief, Isaac uses the same ploy that his father did.

You know our example teaches our children, one way or the other. That is a more and more frightening thing to me, as my daughter gets older and sees more and more of how I act. It's a frightening thing for me to take into consideration that my example does teach my child. That's a fact. Our example, teaches our children.

Now, by the way, even though this story is similar to the story of Abraham's encounter with Abimelech, the details are too different in these accounts for this to be called a doublet, or a duplication which was accidentally put in by the author.

At any rate in verses 8 through 10 we see a very interesting response from a pagan king. Abimelech sees Isaac, and he sees Isaac behaving towards Rebekah in a way that brothers do not behave towards a sister. Immediately Abimelech knows what is going on. And he calls in Isaac and he confronts him. And he asks why have you lied to me? And he confronts Isaac for his sin. And I'd like you to see two or three interesting things about Abimelech.

First of all, notice that Abimelech's respect for marriage shows us the power and the reality of the light of conscience. Abimelech didn't have the Bible. Abimelech had no scriptures. Abimelech had no weekly worship service where the law of God was propounded. But Abimelech knew that marriage was a sacred relationship and it ought not be violated. And he was afraid that his people might violate it. And so he calls in Isaac and he rebukes him.

Isn't this a testimony to the power and the reality of the light of conscience God has written His law on all our hearts? Isn't this a testimony of the law of nature and of nature's God? Isn't this a testimony to the reality of what Paul speaks of in Romans 2:15 when he says that God has written his law on our hearts? That's exactly what we're seeing in Abimelech. He has no Bible, but he knows that marriage ought to be respected.

And let me say that it is a testimony to the depths of our depravity in modern America that we, at least our culture around us, doesn't think that marriage needs to be respected and even this Philistine knew that marriage ought to be respected.

Notice also that though Abimelech has no Bible, he knows right from wrong. The ultimate source of morality is found in the Creator God. And that standard of morality which is set by the very character of the Creator God is not only revealed to us in the Bible, but God tells us in the Bible that he writes it on our hearts. And so even Abimelech knows right from wrong.

Notice also that Abimelech in response to Isaac's wickedness, establishes extraordinary protection for Isaac and Rebekah. He says look, if you so much as touch Isaac or Rebekah, it's the dealt penalty for you. He builds a hedge around them. An extraordinary protection.

Isn't it interesting God here showing the power of His providence by using a pagan prince to protect the heir of the covenant from himself. Here God is using this pagan who knows nothing of His grace and of His glory to protect the heir of the promises to Abraham. God is wise, and God is surprising and God is awesome, and God is powerful.

Now when we focus more on our circumstances and on God's promises, we're certain to go wrong, and that's exactly what Isaac did. Our example is picked up by our children more quickly than our words. You know no doubt Abraham had told Isaac don't make the same mistake that I made, that he had taught Isaac by his example twice. And Isaac remembered the example, not the words. But it's encouraging, isn't it? As we see God protecting Isaac by this pagan prince, we remember that nothing and no one is outside the reach of God's employment in His providential protection of His people. God rules the world for the sake of His people, and God uses even this pagan monarch to protect Isaac and the line of promises.

One thought before we look at the last section. There's nothing in this passage to indicate it and this is perhaps a bit of speculation. But it's very clear by Genesis 27 that Isaac and Rebekah's relationship has drifted apart. The initial closeness that seems to be there in Genesis 24 is no longer there. And I wonder, I just wonder, if this incident in Gerar could have been the beginning of the distance which seems to be apparent later in this relationship which began as a great love story. If so, it is yet another example of the consequences of sin.

III. God blesses Isaac.

We look then at verses 12 through 17 as we close. Here God blesses Isaac in the midst of famine condition, but the Philistines envy him. And again we learn that God often blesses His people in spite of their weakness, but in this world all temporal blessings are mixed. God may give us real blessings in this world. But in this world which is fallen, all those temporal blessings are mixed. By God's blessing we are told in verses 12 and 13 and in the first half of verse 14 that God caused Isaac to reap 100 fold his crop in the midst of a famine year. He becomes rich in the midst of a famine year. It's up in the delta. All the cotton farmers are having bad yields, and Isaac comes rolling in with 100 times the yield that he would have expected. This was clearly the blessing of God. It is clear, not only in this passage, but in the passages to follow that the Philistines understood that that blessing was because of God. They recognized that God's hand of favor was upon Isaac. But, the Philistines were also jealous. And so in charitable fashion when they saw Isaac prospering, they just filled up the wells of Abraham. Give him problems so he doesn't have a place to graze his herds and water them.

And so openly in verse 16, the king asked him to leave, and Isaac does. Now remember that, because that incident is going to come into play in the future. You see an example here of God's real favor towards Isaac. He really does bless him, but that doesn't mean that Isaac has no opposition in this world. In fact, even though God's temporal blessing is real, it does not mean that Isaac is impervious to the jealousy of the wicked.

And the same is true for us. God may truly bless us with certain things, certain temporal blessings in this life. That does not mean that there will not be corresponding to that certain trials and certain difficulties. A friend of mind has been upheld by the Lord for the last four or five years with cancer. I got to see him yesterday, but the cancer has caught up with him. It looks like he is in for a very, very difficult time. I don't think we should discount at all the fact that the Lord has spared him for a period of time from a very virulent disease. At the same time, that blessing was mixed. We’re in a fallen world. Every single one of you can relate to that. But that's a pattern you already see in the word. The Lord's blessings are real, but that doesn't mean they are not mixed in a fallen world. There will be a place where those blessings will be unmixed, but not here. May God strengthen us to trust until we reach that place. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we cannot do justice to the richness of Your word. But we love it. We love to feed upon Your truth. Help us to drink it in and believe it. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.