By Mike Willis
Most of us desire peace with one’s fellowman, although many of us are not willing to pay the price of peace. We are too concerned with standing up for our rights to look for and desire peace. The patriarch Isaac displayed an example of a righteous man who desired peace more than his desire to stand up for his rights. His great spiritual character displays many lessons for us.
The Story of Isaac Displays His Spirit (Gen. 26)
Isaac was forced to leave the promised land because of a famine (26:1). His intention was to go to Egypt, but the Lord forbade him (26:2). The Lord assured him of divine protection in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises (26:3-4). He settled in Gerar. Fearing for his safety, he lied saying that Rebekah was his wife (26:7). Perhaps he learned from his father Abraham to follow this course!
The men of Gerar believed the lie. But for the providence of God, they would have sinned against the marriage relationship of Rebekah and Isaac (26:10). (We see the relationship between believing a lie and sin in this case. The believing of Isaac’s lie did not make the men of Gerar sinners. Had they taken Rebekah as their wife, they would have sinned!) The marriage relationship of Isaac and Rebekah was perceived when Isaac was seen “sporting” with Rebekah. The Hebrew word for Isaac (qxcy) and “sporting” (qxcm, Piel part. of qxc) are derived from the same root.
Abimelech commanded the Philistines not to harm Isaac or his wife (26:11). Having the assurance of Abimelech’s protection, Isaac settled in the land (26:11). Isaac prospered in the land (26:12-15). However, his prosperity caused Abimelech to drive him from the land (26:16).
Isaac’s sweet spirit is perceived in the conflict over the wells (26:17-33). The wells that Isaac’s father Abraham had dug were filled in by the Philistines (26:18). To understand how serious this was, one must remember what water meant in that country. It was literally the “water of life.” Isaac’s servants dug a well of “springing water” (26:19). The Philistines took the well from him (26:20). Isaac named the well Esek (q#(, “contention”) because they strove together over the well. Isaac’s servants dug another well (26:21). The Philistines strove with him over this well and took it from Isaac. Isaac named this well Sitnah (hn+#, “hostility,” derived from the word N+#, “adversary”). Isaac’s servants dug a third well (26:22). The Philistines left Isaac alone to have this well. Isaac named the place Rehoboth (twbxr, from the root that means “broad”). The meaning is that there was room for Isaac here. Later, Isaac returned to Beer-sheba (26:23) where his
servants also found water (26:32-33).
Lessons From Isaac
1. Isaac yielded to the Lord’s command not to go to Egypt (26:2-3) . The land of Egypt was notoriously prosperous at the time, but it was outside the land of promise. The Lord commanded Isaac not to go there and he yielded. His desire to move was not motivated in pleasure, but in necessity. Nevertheless, he yielded to the Lord’s command.
Thomas Whitelaw observed, “But the behaviour of this Hebrew patriarch is sometimes outdone by that of modern saints, who not simply project, but actually perform, journeys, of pleasure or of business, across the boundary line which separates the Church from the world, into places where their spiritual interests are endangered, and that too not only without the Divine sanction, but sometimes in express violation of that authority” (The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis 325).
2. Prosperity sometimes causes envy and conflict (26:12- 14). Isaac’s success caused the Philistines to envy him. One sometimes can bear another’s prosperity easier than he can another’s prosperity. Rachel could not rejoice in Leah’s children (Gen. 30:1, 15). Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph’s place in the family (37:4-11, 19, 20). Miriam and Aaron could not enjoy the place Moses had over Israel (Num. 12:1-10).
The proper attitude toward a brother’s success should include: (a) Joy. We should rejoice with those who rejoice, just as we weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26). Elizabeth’s neighbors shared her joy at the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:58). The friends of the one who lost the sheep and coin rejoiced when they were found (Luke 15:5-10). Barnabas shared the joy at Antioch at the conversions that occurred in that city (Acts 11:23). Think of some of the occasions of joy that we should share with our brothers: (1) A raise in pay; (2) A promotion; (3) A new car; (4) A new house; (5) New furniture; etc. Surely, none of us would be like the Philistines who became envious at Isaac’s prosperity and drove him from them. (b) Thankful that one of our brothers was blessed of God to be so prospered. Who had we rather see so blessed as one of our brothers? See 3 John 2.
Some attitudes one should not have toward a brother’s prosperity are: (a) Envy; (b) Jealousy; (c) Suspicion. Abimelech seemed to suspect that Isaac’s increase in power was some threat to his kingdom.
3. The efforts Isaac made to live at peace. He gave up three very precious possessions (wells) rather than fight with the Philistines over them. In an age that demands its rights, this spirit is rare. Indeed, some would even equate it with pusillanimity.
The spirit of Christ teaches his children to give up their rights for the sake of the brother who might stumble because of exercise of their rights (1 Cor. 8:10-12). One is to pursue those things that make for peace (Rom. 14:19). Why did Isaac not fight for those wells? There is no indication that he did not fight because of his inability to win. The Scriptures imply that his giving up the wells was a reflection of Isaac’s peaceful nature.
Isaac was a peacemaker (Matt. 5:9). He chose to be defrauded rather than contend (1 Cor. 6:7). He manifested the attitude toward his enemies that Christ commanded (Matt. 5:39-42), as shown by his willingness to enter a covenant with Abimelech even after he had been so abused (26:30).
How many church conflicts would end if brethren reflected the magnanimous spirit of Isaac! Rather than belligerently standing for one’s own way, sanctifying it of course with “I’m standing for the truth,” why not display more of the spirit of Isaac? Sometimes brethren display more of the spirit of a pit-bulldog which bites and holds on in a death struggle rather than turning loose of something. We are not stating that one should sacrifice the revealed word of truth for the sake of peace, but in matters of judgment and personal preference, such a yielding spirit should characterize each of us.