Genesis 24-26: Isaac

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

Genesis 24 (Isaac marries Rebekah)

This is the longest chapter in Genesis, and it shows that the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is being passed to Isaac-Rebekah.[1]

(24:1) Abraham was now very old, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.

What a life! It would be incredible to be Abraham and to live a life like this. He had seen God come through, and he had experienced his blessing “in every way.” All of his waiting on the Lord was worth it.

(24:2) He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh.”

The reference to putting the hand “under the thigh,” refers to grabbing the genitals. Wenham writes, “By putting his hand under Abraham’s thigh, the servant was touching his genitals and thus giving the oath a special solemnity. In the ancient Orient, solemn oaths could be taken holding some sacred object in one’s hand… placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh made an intimate association with some fundamental religious ideas. An oath by the seat of procreation is particularly apt in this instance, when it concerns the finding of a wife for Isaac.”[2] Mathews concurs, “The thigh indicates the procreative power and heritage of the patriarch’s position as the source of the family.”[3] For an article on cussing in the Bible, see 1 Corinthians 4:13 “Did Paul Swear?”

(24:3-9) Abraham said to his servant, “I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

5 The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

6 “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. 7 “The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.”

9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

Abraham makes his servant promise to get a wife for Isaac from his household—not from the Canaanites. He also makes him promise not to take Isaac to the Canaanite peoples.

(24:10) Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.

Aram Naharaim is between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia. This town was mentioned in the 18th century in the Mari tablets.[4]

(24:11-14) He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water. 12 Then he prayed, “LORD, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

The servant sets up a test to discern whom God is choosing as Isaac’s future wife.

(24:15) Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor.

What is Rebekah’s relation to Abraham? Rebekah was Nahor’s granddaughter (v.15). She was very beautiful, and she was an unmarried virgin (v.16). The servant felt like his sign had come true, and he visited with Rebekah’s brother, Laban (v.29).

(24:16-21) The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again. 17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.”

18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. 19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful.

“The woman was very beautiful.” The description of a woman’s physical beauty “is uncommon in Hebrew narrative.”[5]

Since the servant knew that he had a promise of guidance from a supernatural source (v.7), he prayed for a supernatural sign: He will ask one of the girls for a drink from the well, and whoever additionally offers water for his camels will be the girl for Isaac (v.14). This came to fruition through Rebekah (v.19).

(24:22) When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.

The man put the jewelry on her (v.47).

(24:23-30) Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, 27 saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.” 28 The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. 30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring.

Laban was a cunning and crafty man. He saw the gold jewelry, and he realized that this servant came from deep pockets. He wanted to explored this further.

(24:31-49) “Come, you who are blessed by the LORD,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” 32 So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. 33 Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.”

“Then tell us,” Laban said.

(24:34-49) The servant summarized the story to Laban. Finally, the servant asked Laban (Rebekah’s brother) and Bethuel (Rebekah’s father) if he could have Rachel to marry Isaac. Kidner comments on the servant’s speech, “The words of this good ambassador owe their power to their transparency. There is no flattery, no pressure.”[6] That is, the servant doesn’t put a spin on the story to pressure Rebekah’s father; he just tells them what happened.

(24:50-51) Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. 51 Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has directed.”

Rebekah’s brother and father agreed to the marriage. But what about Rebekah? Did she agree to this arranged marriage? Did she have a choice?

(24:52-55) When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the LORD. 53 Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. 54 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.” 55 But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.”

Laban and the mother had received “costly gifts.” So, they didn’t want to see the servant leave. Waltke notes, “The Hebrew is literally ‘days or ten.’ The amount of time is ambiguous. The Targums interpreted the phrase to mean ‘a year or ten minutes’; the LXX, as ‘a few days, say ten.’ It could mean a few days or a few years. Later, Jacob will unexpectedly remain twenty years (Gen. 31:38)!”[7] Thus, the servant refuses this suggestion.

(24:56-58) But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the LORD has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.” 57 Then they said, “Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.” 58 So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Rebekah agreed to the marriage.

(24:59-67) So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.” 61 Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.

62 Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. 63 He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. 64 Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel 65 and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?”

“He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. 67 Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

This arranged marriage worked out well. He genuinely “loved her.”

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-9. What are Abraham’s stipulations for finding Isaac a wife? What do you think is motivating Abraham?

Read verse 5. Was this a forced arranged marriage?

Read verses 12-14. What do you think of the servant’s method for choosing a wife for Isaac? Are there any principles in his approach for choosing a spouse today? Or should his method be totally rejected?

Read verses 15-25 and 57-67. What do we learn about Rebekah’s character from these verses?

How does God continue to protect his promise to Abraham through this marriage between Isaac and Rebekah? (consider verses 26-27)

What do we learn about Rebekah’s character from this chapter?

Genesis 25 (Death of Abraham and the Fate of Ishmael)

Sailhamer[8] refers to Genesis 25 as a “transition chapter.” That’s correct. In this chapter, the narrative moves from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob at a quick pace. Sarah died at the age of 127 (Gen. 23:1), and Abraham was 137 when she died (Gen. 17:17). Abraham lived to the age of 175 (Gen. 25:7). So, he remarried in his old age.

Abraham’s second wife: Keturah

(25:1-4) Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. 3 Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.

“Abraham had taken another wife.” The text doesn’t tell us when Abraham married Keturah. Mathews writes, “This passage does not follow chronologically on the death of Sarah, leaving it uncertain when Abraham took this concubine and produced children.”[9]

Abraham had six other sons with Keturah. The Ashurites, Letushites, Leummites, and the Midianites came from this second marriage. It seems that Keturah was originally “Abraham’s concubine” (1 Chron. 1:32). He must have married her after Sarah died, because she is called his “wife” in this text.

The Death of Abraham

(25:5-11) Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east. 7 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi.

“Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac.” Despite the fact that Abraham had other children, the promise and inheritance went to Isaac alone (v.5). Abraham gave his other children gifts (v.6), but they didn’t receive the inheritance of God’s promise.

“Abraham sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.” In Genesis, the desire to go “east” repeatedly refers to going away from God: “The language ‘east(ward)’ marks events of separation in Genesis.”[10] This theme appears with the first humans (Gen. 3:24), Cain (Gen. 4:16), Lot (Gen. 13:10-12), and now, Abraham’s other sons (Gen. 25:6; cf. 29:1).

“Isaac and Ishmael buried him.” Formerly, Isaac and Ishmael were alienated from one another. But now, they are reunited to bury their father. Similarly, Isaac’s sons (Jacob and Esau) will later reunite to bury their dad (Gen. 35:29). Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham next to Sarah (v.10) in the Promised Land.

“After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac.” Isaac carries on the blessing and inheritance.

Ishamel’s line

(25:12-18) This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s slave, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. 17 Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. 18 His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.

Ishmael had a strong family ancestry, and God still chose to bless him. They continue to appear in the narrative of Genesis (Gen. 28:9; 36:3; 37:27-28; 39:1). He had twelve tribes come from him (v.16), and he lived to the age of 137 (Gen. 25:17). They settled in “Havilah” which is “South Arabia.”[11] The other land of “Shur” is “probably a reference to the Egyptian border forts along the line of the Isthmus of Suez in order to protect Egypt from the incursion of Asiatics.”[12]

“They lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.” This is a fulfillment of Genesis 16:10-12.

Isaac’s boys: Jacob and Esau

Early rabbinical teaching ironed out the deficiencies in Jacob’s character (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan; Genesis Rabbah 63.7-9; Pirque Rabbi Eliezer 24, cited in Matthews). Mathews writes, “Early Jewish interpretation attributed to Jacob merit that won for him the appointment in the divine oracle, whereas Esau was regularly condemned for his impiety.”[13] The rabbis heaped moral deficiencies onto Esau to show why he lost the birthright—such as being a murderer and an idolater (Genesis Rabbah 63.11; Baba Bathra 16b; Toledoth 8 (91), cited in Mathews). By contrast, Jacob was “perfect in good work,” who spent his time in the tents studying the Torah (Targum Neofiti 1). Mathews continues, “So troubled were some Jewish interpreters that the “younger” Jacob (25:23) had preference despite the law of primogeniture (25:31–34; cf. Deut 21:15–17) that they offered an elaborate midrash explaining that in truth Jacob was the first formed fetus within the womb (Gen. Rab. 63.8). He grasped the heel of Esau “by right,” because Esau though formed second emerged first (see Rashi).”[14] This revisionism tries to make Jacob’s calling one of works, rather than one of pure grace.

(25:19-21) This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.

“She was childless.” The theme of barrenness appears throughout the Bible. Rebekah was barren, just like Sarah was barren (Gen. 11:30). Key women in the OT are barren, but God works supernaturally to bring about an heir. This theme is ultimately fulfilled in the ultimate barrenness and ultimate supernatural birth: the virgin conception of Jesus.

(25:22) The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.

Even in a preborn state, the boys struggled with each other. This foreshadows the relationship that these boys would have with each other: Esau and Jacob will have antipathy toward one another for most of their lives.

(25:23) The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

God later refers to the Edomites as Israel’s brother throughout the rest of the Bible, because those people came from Esau (Num. 20:14; Deut. 23:7-8; Obad. 10; Mal. 1:2; Rom. 9:11-13).

(25:24-28) When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Esau means “red.”

Jacob means “may he be at the heels,” and it can have a positive sense of meaning that “God will be the rearguard.” But it can also have a “hostile sense of dogging another’s steps, or overreaching, as Esau bitterly observed in 27:36.”[15]

Jacob and Esau were quite different from one another:

Esau and Jacob

Hairy (Gen. 25:25)

Smooth (Gen. 27:11)
Skillful hunter (Gen. 25:27)

Peaceful (Gen. 25:27)

Outdoorsman (Gen. 25:27)

Homebody (Gen. 25:27)
Dad loved Esau (Gen. 25:28)

Mom loved Jacob (Gen. 25:28)

(25:29-31) Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” If Esau was such a “skillful hunter” (v.27), why does he need food from Jacob?

“Quick, let me have” (lāʿa) means “to gulp down.”[16]

Since his brother was bigger and stronger, Jacob learned to use his cunning and intellect to win against his brother. When Esau came home famished, Jacob saw this as an opportunity to steal from his brother.

(25:32) “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

Esau was “famished” (v.31), but was he really about to die? If he was truly going through starvation, he wouldn’t be able to walk or even speak.

(25:33-34) But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

Esau took the deal, and Jacob threw in a piece of bread. Hosea writes, “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God” (Hos. 12:3). Kidner writes, “The two verbs of Hosea 12:3 enshrine in their Hebrew form his two names, recording the beginning and end of his pilgrimage from Jacob (āqab, ‘took by the heel’) to Israel (śārâ, ‘strove’).”[17]

“Gave… ate.” This is the same language of Eve giving the fruit to Adam to eat.[18]

Questions to Consider

Read verse 23. How is this prophecy fulfilled? Is this referring to the individual lives of Jacob and Esau? Or something else?

Read verses 27-28. What was the source of Esau and Jacob’s quarreling with each other?

Read verses 29-34. What do we learn about Esau and Jacob from this text? What were the strengths and weaknesses of both men?

Read verse 31. Jacob describes the “birthright.” What does this refer to? What was he asking for from Esau?

“Esau despised his birthright.” Good authors can either show or tell what they are trying to communicate. Moses tells us that Esau didn’t care about his birthright. How does Moses show that Esau despised his birthright?

How would you apply the concept of “selling our birthright” to the Christian life today? What are areas where we are tempted to “sell our birthright”?

Genesis 26 (Fighting over the wells)

This chapter contains very similar to the challenges those that Abraham faced:

  • Both stayed in Gerar (Gen. 20:1; 26:6).
  • Both referred to their wives as their sisters (Gen. 20:2; 26:7).
  • Both were rebuked by the Philistine king for lying (Gen. 20:9; 26:10).

Despite Isaac’s cowardice and problems, God is faithful. Thus, Sailhamer writes, “The lesson that is conveyed is that God’s faithfulness in the past can be counted on in the present and the future. What he has done for the fathers, he will also do for the sons.”[19]

(26:1-6) Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2 The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” 6 So Isaac stayed in Gerar.

“Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.” This seems to be a different person than the man mentioned in Genesis 20:1-18. The name “Abimelek” means “my father is king.” This is probably used as a title—not a name—just as the Egyptians used the word “Pharaoh” as the title of their rulers.[20]

“Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land where I tell you to live.” Famine strikes the land. Abraham had a good relationship with Abimelek in Egypt. So, Isaac thinks it would only make sense to seek refuge with him. But God tells him to remain with the Philistines. Perhaps the temptation of falling into sin in Egypt was too strong, though the text doesn’t say. Kidner comments, “To refuse the immediate plenty of Egypt for mostly unseen (3a) and distant blessings (3b, 4) demanded the kind of faith praised in Hebrews 11:9, 10 and proved him a true son of his father—even though, like Abraham, he was to mar his obedience at once.”[21]

“Because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him.” This clause makes it sound like the Abrahamic Covenant wasn’t conditional on Abraham’s obedience. We can understand this passage in one of two ways:

  1. In his foreknowledge, God knew that Abraham would obey. In this way, the statements about obedience were not conditions on the covenant—but results of the covenant.
  2. Abraham’s obedience related to his own personal blessing in God’s plan—not the overall conditions of the covenant itself. That is, those individuals who did not become circumcised could forfeit the covenant. Later in Israel’s history, the nation could temporarily forfeit the promise, but they could not ultimately forfeit the promise. Note that in Numbers 14, the willful disobedience at Kadesh Barnea could delay the blessings of the land for 40 years—but this was not indefinite or permanent. Likewise, Esau forfeited the personal blessing to Jacob—but God still kept his overall promise through Jacob (Gen. 25:27-34). For more on this subject, see comments on Genesis 26:4-5.

(26:7-11) When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

8 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?”

Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”

10 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” 11 So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

“She is my sister.” Where did Isaac learn this fear? Like father, like son. Abraham made this same cowardly lie—twice (Gen. 12:13; 20:2). This shows how the sins of the father can be passed down intergenerationally (Ex. 20:5).

(26:12-16) Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. 13 The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14 He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. 15 So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. 16 Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”

God blessed Isaac’s crops a “hundredfold,” and he became “rich” and “wealthy.” But even though God blessed him in this way, it resulted in the Philistines envying him (v.14). They must’ve hated that this foreigner had become so wealthy so quickly. Instead of becoming destitute in the famine, Jacob becomes rich. His fears were never realized.

“All the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.” This might’ve been a way to drive Isaac out of the land. After all, even if he was rich, he still needed water.

(26:17-23) So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. 19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there.

20 But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” 23 From there he went up to Beersheba.

Abimelek had made a covenant with Abraham that he would not touch these wells (Gen. 21:30-32). But these Philistines weren’t as noble as Abimelek. They were trying to pressure Isaac out of their land (v.16).

Isaac dug a number of wells, and tried to rename them with their names from Abraham. But the local men quarreled over the wells. In such an arid place, men would frequently dispute over water sources like this (vv.18-22).

(26:24-33) That night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” 25 Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well. 26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces.

27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the LORD.”

30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully. 32 That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” 33 He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.

God reiterates the Abrahamic Covenant to Isaac in a dream (v.24). Isaac and Abimelek make a covenant, and they live in peace (vv.26-31).

(26:34-35) When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

Is this small narrative out of place? No. It serves as an excellent introduction to the events in chapter 27.[22] This reveals Esau’s character, and why he forfeited the inheritance from God.

This is not a good look for polygamy. After Esau fell into polygamy, the text tells us, “They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”

Questions for Reflection

Isaac had the famine and the Philistines threatening him, but he had God’s promises and presence in the midst of this. God told him, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham” (Gen. 26:24). What do we learn about facing fearful circumstances from this chapter?

[1] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 321.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1994), 141.

[3] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 326.

[4] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.328.

[5] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 333.

[6] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 159.

[7] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.331.

[8] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 179.

[9] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 352.

[10] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 478.

[11] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.168.

[12] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), p.254.

[13] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 379.

[14] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 379–380.

[15] Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p.162.

[16] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 392.

[17] Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p.161.

[18] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 395.

[19] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 185.

[20] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 403.

[21] Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1967), 163.

[22] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 189.