Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.XXVI.
ADVENTURES OF ISAAC AT GERAR.
(1) Isaac went . . . unto Gerar.—Following the stream of Semitic migration (Genesis 12:15), Isaac had originally purposed going to Egypt, but is commanded by God to abide in the land, and upon so doing he receives the assurance that he will be confirmed in the inheritance of the promises made to his father. Isaac was now dwelling at the well Lahai-Roi, and though the exact site of this place is unknown, yet it lay too far to the south for Isaac to have gone to Gerar on his direct way to Egypt.
And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:(2) The Lord appeared unto him.—Only once besides does Jehovah manifest himself to Isaac (Genesis 26:24), and sixty years had now passed since the revelations recorded in Genesis 22. Excepting to Abraham, it was only at rare and distant intervals that God spake to the patriarchs. The greater part of their lives was spent under the control of the same ordinary Providence as that which governs our actions now; but on special occasions God was pleased to confirm their faith in Him in a way not necessary now that we have had made known to us the whole counsel of God.
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;(3, 4) These countries.—On the archaic form of the pronoun these, see Note on Genesis 19:8. The countries are enumerated in Genesis 15:19-21. For the “oath,” see Genesis 22:16; and for the metaphor, “as the stars,” see Genesis 15:5.
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.(7) He said, She is my sister.—We have already seen that Abraham at Gerar showed no consciousness of having done wrong in denying his wife (Genesis 20:2); and we now find Isaac imitating his example with even less reason for his conduct. The circumstances are, however, different. It is the people who inquire about Isaac’s relation to Rebekah, and though she was “fair to look upon,” yet no annoyance followed upon his denial of her. The king after “a long time” detects their intimacy; but there are no presents, and no marks of respect to Rebekah, and no friendship. It is only after long quarrels, during which Isaac is obliged to withdraw to a long distance from Gerar, that finally peace is made between them.
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.(8) Abimelech.—Upon this title of the Philistine monarchs see Note on Genesis 21:22. As eighty years had elapsed since Abraham’s sojourn in Gerar, it is highly improbable that the same king was still reigning; but both king and people maintain on this occasion the good character previously deserved. The Philistines, however, at this period, were a feeble colony of strangers, and were kept in restraint by a sense of their weakness. They had received a vast accession of strength from abroad before they became formidable enemies of the Israelites at the end of the period of the Judges. (See Genesis 10:14.)
Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.(12) Isaac sowed in that land.—When Abraham planted a tamarisk-tree at Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:33) it showed that he regarded the place as a permanent residence, which it was worth his while to adorn, and to provide for its increasing pleasantness. Isaac and Jacob took a still further step in advance towards a settled life when they began to cultivate plots of ground. At first, however, Isaac did no more than the Bedaween do at present; for they often sow a piece of land, wait till the crop is ripe, and then resume their roving habits. Permanently to till the soil is with them a mark of inferiority (Genesis 25:16). But the tendency, both with Abraham and Isaac, had long been to remain in the region about Beer-sheba. Isaac had been driven thence by the famine, by which he had probably lost much of his cattle, and many even of his people. Apparently he was even so weakened thereby as to be no match for the Philistines of Gerar. His large harvest recouped him for his losses, and made him once more a prosperous man; and in due time Beer-sheba was again his home, and with settled habits agriculture was·sure to begin.
An hundredfold.—The Heb. is, a hundred measures, but the word is unknown elsewhere, and the LXX. and Syriac read, a hundred of barley, measures being understood, as in Ruth 3:15. Herodotus (Book i. 193) mentions two—and even three—hundredfold as possible in Babylonia; but our Lord seems to give one hundredfold as the extreme measure of productiveness in Palestine (Matthew 13:8). Such a return, like Isaac’s, would be rare and extraordinary.
For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.(14) Great store of servants.—Marg., husbandry. In Job 1:3 the word is rendered household in the text, and husbandry again in the margin. Literally it means making employment, and answers to our word business. But if in a man’s life there is much activity and plenty to do, there must be people to do it, and profits made whereby to maintain them. And thus the translation, “great store of servants,” gives the sense; but we see besides that Isaac kept them all actively employed,
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.(15) The wells.—In the East the digger of a well is regarded as a public benefactor; but the Philistines stopped those that Abraham had digged, probably because they regarded his possession of them, though confirmed by the covenant between him and Abimelech (Genesis 21:32), as an intrusion upon their rights as the people of the country, Envious, too, at the rapid increase of an alien’s wealth, they determined to drive Isaac away; and for this no expedient would be more effectual than the preventing him from procuring water for his cattle. Following upon this came an express command of the king to depart, which Isaac obeyed; for he had sought refuge there because of the famine, and had no right to continue at Gerar, if the people refused their hospitality.
And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.(17) The valley of Gerar.—The word nahal, rendered “valley,” means a narrow defile through which a summer torrent flows. In the bed of these streams water can generally be found by digging, and Isaac hoped that he was far enough from the city for the enmity to cease. But he was mistaken, though he seems for a short period to have been left in peace.
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.(18-22) Isaac digged again the wells . . . —This activity of Isaac called forth anew the opposition of the Philistines, His first well was in the wady of Gerar, and was the more valuable because it was not the mere remains of the water of the torrent, but was fed by a spring, as we learn from its being called “a well of living water.” But though Isaac had a right to these wells by reason of the old covenant between his father and the king, yet when his claim was resisted he abandoned the well, but in token of displeasure called it Esek, contention. When compelled to resign his next well he called it by a harsher name—Sitnah, enmity; for their opposition was developing into bitter persecution. And now, wearied with the strife, he withdrew far away, and the Philistines, having gained their end, followed him no farther. In quiet, therefore, he again dug a well, and called it Rehoboth, wide open spaces. It has been identified with one in the wady Ruhaibeh now stopped up, but originally twelve feet in diameter and cased with hewn stone. It lies to the south of Beer-sheba, at a distance of 8⅓ leagues, and about forty miles; away from Gerar.
And he went up from thence to Beersheba.(23-25) He went up from thence to Beer-sheba.—This was a very serious act on Isaac’s part He leaves the solitudes where he had found a refuge from the enmity of the Philistines, and returns to a place scarcely five leagues distant from their city. Should the old rancour revive, it may now take the form of actual war. And next, he does not go back to the well Lahai-Roi, where he had so long resided, but to Beer-sheba, his father’s favourite home. It was a claim on his part to the rights and inheritance of Abraham, and the claim was admitted. The same night Jehovah appears to him, bids him put away his fears, and renews to him the promises which were his by the right of his birth.
My servant Abraham.—A title of high honour and significance, given to Moses repeatedly, to Joshua (Joshua 24:29), to Israel (Isaiah 41:8), and to the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13). It means God’s prime minister and vicegerent.
He builded an altar.—In returning to Beer-sheba, Isaac had apparently faced the dangers of his position, through confidence in the promises made to his father, with whom he identified himself by taking up his abode at his home. And no sooner are the promises confirmed to him than he restores the public worship of God in the very place where Abraham had established it (Genesis 21:33).
Digged a well.—The word is not that previously used in the chapter, but one that signifies the re-opening of the well which Abraham had dug, but which had become stopped by violence or neglect.
Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.(26) Abimelech went to him.—The return of Isaac to Beer-sheba was a matter of serious importance also to Abimelech. The Philistines were themselves an alien race, and an alliance between Isaac and Ishmael, and others of the Semitic stock, might end in their expulsion from the country. Abraham had also been confederate with the Amorites (Genesis 14:13), and on friendly terms with the Hittites (Genesis 23:6), the two most powerful races of Canaan, and they might be ready to aid his son. When, then, Isaac thus retraced his steps, Abimelech, uncertain of Isaac’s purpose, deter mined to offer peace and friendship, and to propose the renewal of the old covenant which had existed between Abraham and the people of Gerar.
Ahuzzath.—This is one of several points peculiar to this narrative; but it is uncertain whether it be a proper name, or whether, with the Targum and Jerome, we are to understand by it a company, that is, an escort of friends. If it be a proper name, the rendering should be, Ahuzzath, his friend, that is, his confidant and privy counsellor.
Phichol.—See Note on Genesis 21:22.
And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?(27) Wherefore come ye to me?—Isaac’s return had brought matters to a crisis, and the king must now decide whether there was to be peace or war.
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;(28, 29) Let there be now an oath.—The word literally signifies a curse. Each side uttered an imprecation, with the prayer that it might fall upon himself if he broke the terms of the covenant.
The Lord was with thee . . . blessed of the Lord.—This use of the word “Lord,” that is, Jehovah, is very remarkable. In Genesis 21:22-23 Abimelech uses the term Elohim, God, in accordance with the careful discrimination in the use of the names of the Deity often previously referred to. By the long residence, first of Abraham and then of Isaac, in their territory, the Philistines would indeed have become better acquainted with the religion of the patriarchs; but as Jehovah was not their special title for the Deity (Exodus 6:3), we must conclude, with Rosenmüller, that it was Moses who wrote Jehovah in the place of the word actually employed by Abimelech. We gather, however, that the king did not use any generic or heathen names of the Deity, but that whereby the patriarchs worshipped their covenant God, and his so doing was probably intended as an act of homage to Him.
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.(32) We have found water.—As there are two wells at Beer-sheba, it is uncertain whether this was Abraham’s well, re-opened by Isaac (see Genesis 26:25), or a new one.
And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.(33) Therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day.—There was no city at this time at Beer-sheba, but one is mentioned at the conquest of Canaan by Joshua (Joshua 15:28). This note, as is the case generally with those which speak of a thing existing “unto this day,” was added by Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue, after the return from Babylon (comp. Genesis 22:14); and its meaning is that, whereas Abraham’s name had been forgotten while the place lay desolate, this remarkable coincidence of the water being again found, just when the covenant had been confirmed by the customary sevenfold sacrifice, so impressed the minds of the people that the title of Beer-sheba never again passed into oblivion.
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:ESAU’S MARRIAGE WITH CANAANITISH WOMEN.
(34) Esau was forty years old.—He was there fore of exactly the same age as Isaac was when, sixty years before, he married Rebekah. But by thus inter marrying with idolaters Esau violated the great principle laid down by Abraham (Genesis 24:3), forfeited thereby his birthright, and, as such marriages were illegal, is even called a fornicator in Hebrews 12:16. As his conduct was regarded by his parents with “grief of mind”—Heb., bitterness of spirit: that is, with mingled anger and sorrow—Esau partially repented, and took as a third wife a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9). In the Tôldôth Esau (Genesis 36:2-3) the names are different, and a fourth wife, of the inhabitants of Seir, takes the place of Judith.
Judith.—The names are remarkable, as showing that the Hittites spoke a Semitic tongue. Judith is the feminine form of Judah, and means praised. Beeri can scarcely be the original name of her father, as it means well-finder, but was probably gained by his skill in discovering water. We find it, however, in the genealogy of Hosea (Hosea 1:1). Bashemath or Basmath, the fragrant, was the name also of a daughter of Solomon (1 King 4:15); and Elon, oak-grove, was the name of a judge (Judges 12:11).
As this conduct of Esau prepares the mind for his final rejection and loss of the birthright, the place of these two verses would rightly be at the beginning of Genesis 27. The Jews arrange them as a separate section.