12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.” 17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” 23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. 26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day. 34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
Sometimes it seems like you just cannot get a win. Think about it: when we are disobedient we are rightly robbed of all joy and peace. But when we are obedient the devil attacks us with greater ferocity. In other words, it may appear sometimes that the Christian life is one of great struggle: to repent when we disobey and to endure when we obey!
To say that is to be too pessimistic, of course, for the mercies of God are ever available to His children and, indeed, Jesus promises us rest in Matthew 11:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This must be understood and grasped: Jesus offers us rest! There is joy and peace in the Christian life. Even so, it is telling that immediately after verse 28 He says this:
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus gives us rest, yes, but it is in the midst of carrying His “yoke” and “burden.” And while these are “easy” and “light,” they are a yoke and burden nonetheless. What is more, the dominant theme of discipleship involves carrying the cross, as we see in Matthew 16:
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
What this means, then, is that there is rest to be found in Jesus but it is oftentimes a paradoxical rest that comes in the midst of struggle and spiritual attack. This is pictured nicely in the remainder of Genesis 26 in the trials that Isaac undergoes in the midst of his being blessed by God. We will consider the ways that Isaac was harassed and attacked while he walked with God as a picture of how we are or will be attacked when we do the same.
The devil will try to get you to forget how God got you to where you are.
Yes, Isaac had stumbled in calling Rebekah his sister, but Isaac was still a man of God and we still rightly esteem him as one of the great patriarchs of the faith. Genesis 26, beginning in verse 12, is an account of Isaac (a) walking with God and (b) being richly blessed by God. However, it is also an account of (c) Isaac being attacked and harassed as he walked with God. See first the great blessings of God:
12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy.
God richly prospered Isaac! This is in keeping with the covenant promises that God would give Isaac a home and a name and a future. This was the covenant that God made with Abraham and all of Abraham’s children. Here we see forward movement in its fulfillment. Quickly, however, ominous clouds appear on the horizon:
14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”
In quick succession, three negatives are spelled out: (1) the Philistines envy Isaac, (2) the Philistines fill Abraham’s wells with dirt, and (3) Abimelech asks Isaac to go away from him and his people. The world, in other words, and the spiritual forces at work behind the scenes, do not see the blessing of God’s people as a positive. Obedience and blessing did not translate into ease for Isaac and they do not necessarily translate so now for us.
What was Isaac’s response? Did he act with indignation or scorn?
17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them.
This reaction shows the spiritual maturation of Isaac. First, while he does depart Abimelech he still stays in the region, moving only to “the Valley of Gerar.” This suggests that Isaac, while seeking to comply with the command of an earthly king, still favored the command of his heavenly King that he, Isaac, stay in Gerar. He does not panic and flee to Egypt as he first intended. He seems to understand now that he must stay in the promise which means walking in obedience.
Secondly, Isaac “dug again the wells of water” that Abraham had dug. This is important. Those wells were visible, tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness to Abraham. They represented the first fulfillments of the covenant promises. They were, in other words, reminders of how Isaac got to where he was! There was a direct linkage between his father’s wells and his own existence in that land. By filling those wells with dirt the Philistines were trying to strike at the reminders of God’s faithfulness in Isaac’s life. By re-digging those wells Isaac was saying that he refused to forget!
Furthermore, and thirdly, Isaac “gave them the names that his father had given them.” He did not just shrug off the vandalism and dig new wells, though new wells he would dig. Rather, he restored Abraham’s wells down to their very names. Why? Because those wells were signposts, markers of God’s faithfulness and goodness. They were, we might say, ordinances of the covenant.
Jesus left the church a physical reminder of His covenant promises, but it was not a well. In Luke 22 we read:
19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
It is important to remember the faithfulness and saving grace of God, and physical markers are some of the ways we remember. The Lord’s Supper is the ultimate such marker. Christ calls us to remembrance, to not forgetting. Isaac’s well-restoration project was an exercise in rejecting forgetfulness just as our Lord’s Supper observances are.
Be aware: if you walk with God the devil will try to fill in your wells, will try to get you to forget and not see how good, how faithful, how kind, how unwavering God has been to you! But do not let him succeed. Carry your cross. Carry also your shovel! Dig out the markers! Fight against forgetfulness! Celebrate how God has gotten you to where you are!
The devil will try to dishearten you wherever you make progress in your own walk with God.
See, too, how the devil attacks our own personal advances with the Lord. After having restored Abraham’s wells, Isaac begins to dig his own. He is met with opposition each step of the way.
19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” 23 From there he went up to Beersheba.
So contentious are the digging of his first two wells that he names them with names of discord.
- Esek – “a wordplay on the word ‘dispute, contend’”
- Sitnah – “accusation”
The digging of a well was about a lot more than water. It was a kind of putting down of roots. It was a statement that one belonged to that area, that one could have a home there. So, on Isaac’s part, the digging of wells was his way of acting out the covenant promises in a personal sense just as disputing over the wells was the others’ way of disputing Isaac’s very presence in that land.
Make no mistake: to step yourself, personally, into the promises of God and to order your life around those verities is to invite the harassment of the devil. Dig a well, and the devil will seek to fill it with dirt.
We dig wells when we actually follow Jesus, when we become well-grounded in the scriptures, when we bear witness to the faith, when we love of our enemies. In short, Christians today dig wells whenever the implications of God’s promises in Christ manifest themselves in our life choices and actions. And, just like Isaac, our wells will be met with opposition until God brings us to Rehoboth, a place of room and rest and fruitfulness.
Do not be discouraged that all of your efforts to actually follow Jesus and live like Jesus are met with opposition! Such is the nature of discipleship, of cross-carrying, of well-digging.
Here is where the American prosperity gospel is seen for the truly wicked thing that it is. We are told by some of the guys on television and in certain churches that God wants you to be comfortable, prosperous, and at peace. We are told that God rewards strong faith with an easy road. We are told that health and wealth are what God intends for us.
Then, having fed on a steady diet of this, we do not know what to do when not only this does not happen but, instead, we find ourselves in conflict each step of the way. Now, thankfully, such conflicts do not necessarily happen literallyeach step of the way, but, on the whole, to walk with Jesus is to invite the fury of the devil. It can truly be said that there is never a point where the Christian can shift into neutral and coast.
Francis Chan put it like this:
If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream.
Or, to use another metaphor more familiar to city people, we are on a never-ending downward escalator. In order to grow, we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator, putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is gradually moving downward.
I believe that much of the American churchgoing population, while not specifically swimming downstream, is slowly floating away from Christ. It isn’t a conscious choice, but it is nonetheless happening because little in their lives propels them toward Christ.
That is a helpful image. Again, Jesus called us to carry a cross, not a pillow. We must expect the push and pull of spiritual warfare. We must expect our wells to be disputed and conflicted over by the devil. Such is the nature of following the King who dethrones the dark powers that so torment the world.
But do not be disheartened! One step after another, up the down escalator. One well after another: dig deep into the land of promise and the faithfulness of God.
The devil will try to harass you close to home.
When he cannot derail you from without, the devil will try to hit closer to home. The last two verses of Genesis 26 may seem like they do not really fit, but they are consistent with the general theme of the last half of that chapter: Isaac, though faithful and blessed, faced numerous hardships.
34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
Notice that Esau indulges in polygamy, though the primary dilemma of these verses is less that than who he marries. He marries two Hittite women. That is, he marries two pagan women. And he does so at the same age that Isaac married Rebekah. The contrast between the two could not be greater.
Abraham had taken great pains to send his servant to bring a woman from among his own people back to the promised land while Isaac stayed there. Isaac was to marry a woman, in other words, who would be willing to step into the unfolding covenant promises of God and be one of God’s people. She had to be a woman of faith and character to leave her home and journey afar just as Abraham had done. Isaac’s marriage is therefore a picture of covenant belonging and obedience.
Not so the marriages of rash and impetuous Esau. He marries two Hittite women, women who did not know the Lord God, who cared nothing for the covenant, who did not demonstrate the kind of faith their new mother-in-law had demonstrated.
And the result of Esau’s marriages? “They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” Tension and discord were now sown into Isaac’s own household by his son’s bad marriages.
See how the attacks against Isaac move from outside to inside. I am not suggesting that the devil has such a rigid template that this how it always works. Many times he attacks our homes first or simultaneously alongside our external lives. Even so, there is a kind of progression in the attacks and hardships Isaac endures. Observe:
- He is envied.
- He is told to leave.
- His father’s wells are filled in with earth.
- His own wells are disputed.
- His son marries poorly leading to strife.
And, again, all of this happens in the midst of (1) Isaac’s obedience to God and (2) God blessing Isaac.
To walk with God is to invite the anger of the enemy. To walk with God is to put a target on your back. However, to walk with God is to be with God, and that is enough.
The response: radical commitment and heartfelt worship.
That God’s presence is the great sustainer in the midst of trial is evident in verses 24-25 of Genesis 26. Notice what God says to Isaac in the midst of these trials and what Isaac does in response.
24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
“Fear not, for I am with you…”
And Isaac’s response? He does three things:
- Isaac builds an altar.
- Isaac pitches his tent.
- Isaac digs a well.
First, Isaac worships. Victor Hamilton writes that the building of this altar “seems to be spontaneous rather than mandated, for only once (35:1) is a patriarch expressly told by God to build an altar.” He further observes that the altar “was a place of worship, a place to commune with God.” This is important because it tells us that Isaac did not have be told to build an altar. He wanted to. Why? Because he knew that his very life and survival hinged on communion with God. But even that is an insufficient explanation, for Isaac was not using worship as a means to his own ends. No, alongside his need for God was his love for God. Isaac loved the Lord and saw the faithfulness of God and wanted to worship Him!
What do you do when you are under attack? Simple: you let heartfelt and committed worship and communion with God drive out fear and strengthen faith. You sing praises to God instead of curses upon your enemies. You bow the knee of worship instead of taking up the sword of vengeance.
Isaac did not build a weapon of war. Isaac built an altar of praise. So must we!
And Isaac pitched his tent and dug a well there as well. The IVP Bible Background Commentary notes that “the three acts of verse 25 are all related to possession of the land and are therefore a suitable response to the covenant promise of verse 24.” The authors define the verbs thus:
- “built an altar” – “gave recognition to the holiness of the place where the Lord spoke”
- “pitched his tent” and “dug a well” – “generally accepted means by which to establish a right to unclaimed land”
Isaac refused to run. He refused to flinch. He refused to fear. Instead, he said to any and all with his altar and tent and well that he was, as we so today, all in! He had determined to trust the Lord God with all that he was and all that he had. He would not be driven from the land of promise. He would not turn his back on the God who made him.
No, Isaac, in the midst of trial, worshipped and planned and dreamed and stayed.
Church, do not be disheartened or driven by fear. God has you where He wants you. He is with you. He has not forsaken you. Stay close to Jesus. Stay in the shadow of the cross. Dig your well and pitch your tent and refuse to be moved. You are not alone.
 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary. Old Testament, vol. 1B (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, Publishers, 2005), p.410.
 Francis Chan, Crazy Love (Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook, 2008), p.95.
 Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Gen. Eds., R.K. Harrison and Robert L. Hubbard (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p.205.
 John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p.59.