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. – Genesis 26:17-35 ESV
The blessings of God were clearly evident in Isaac’s life. He had become a wealthy man while living among the people of Philistia. But they soon grew jealous and suspicious of this stranger’s expanding presence in their land, so they demanded that he leave. But Isaac didn’t go far. He ended up settling in the Valley of Gerar, where he began the process of digging wells for his growing flocks and herds. Unfortunately for Isaac, the wells his father had dug many years earlier had been decommissioned by the Philistines. In an effort to rid themselves of Abraham and his future descendants, they had filled in all the wells he had dug. This forced Isaac to dig new wells, a laborious and time-consuming task.
But each time Isaac’s servants dug a productive well, they found themselves in a contentious standoff with the local citizens, who claimed it as their own. It seems that everywhere Isaac turned, he was faced with opposition. The Philistines were going out of their way to make his stay in their land as uncomfortable as possible. And because the entire land of Canaan was experiencing a famine, Isaac was having a difficult time caring for all the flocks, herds, and servants with which God had blessed him. He even ended up giving two of the wells the highly descriptive names of “Contention” and “Enmity.” Things were not going well.
They say the third time is the charm, and that proved true for Isaac. A third well dug by his servants proved to be uncontested, prompting Isaac to give it the name, Rehoboth, which means, “to make room.” It seems that Isaac was expressing his gratitude to God for having made room for them among the Philistines. Despite all the opposition they had faced, God had provided them with a much-needed source of fresh water. And Isaac vocalized his gratefulness for God’s blessing.
“For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” – Genesis 26:22 ESV
The water provided by the well was another sign of God’s blessings upon Isaac. Not only would he be able to sustain the life of his flocks, but he would have water necessary to plant and harvest crops – in the middle of a famine.
But after an undisclosed length of time, Isaac moved his growing clan to Beersheba. This small town was located at the southernmost tip of Canaan, on the very edge of Negev Desert. It was in Beersheba that Abraham had made an covenant with King Abimelech. It was there, decades earlier, that the servants of Abimelech had unlawfully seized a well dug by Abraham. In exchange for seven ewe lambs, Abimelech acknowledged the well as belonging to Abraham and his descendants. The name Beersheba means “well of seven” or “well of the oath.” It was while living in Beersheba that Isaac received a vision and message from the Lord.
“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.” – Genesis 26:24 ESV
God reiterated His covenant commitment to Isaac, ensuring him that the promises made to Abraham would be fulfilled through him. Abraham was dead but God’s promises were very much alive and well. He would do what He had promised to do. Like his father before him, Isaac built an altar to Yahweh and “called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33 ESV).
Having demonstrated his devotion and gratitude to God, Isaac commissioned the digging of yet another well, probably an indication of his vast wealth and the growing size of his flocks and herds. One well would not suffice. And when Abimelech received word that Isaac had settled in Beersheba just as Abraham had done, he determined to pay the young man a visit. This entire scene is reminiscent of a similar trip made years earlier by Abimelech and Phicol, his army commander.
At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.” – Genesis 21:22-24 ESV
History has a way of repeating itself and chapter 26 of Genesis is proof. Here we have the king of Gerar and his army commander making another unscheduled visit to Beersheba in order to strike another agreement with the son of Abraham.
“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, 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.” – Genesis 26:28-29 ESV
Abimelech renewed his covenant with Abraham, but this time, with his son. He saw the handwriting on the wall and seemed to understand that Abraham’s God was going to continue to pour out His blessing upon Abraham’s offspring. The names may have changed, but the outcome seemed as certain as ever. Even this pagan potentate understood that Abraham’s offspring were the heirs of God’s gracious provision and protection. So, he made a peace treaty with Isaac and celebrated their agreement with a feast.
Then Isaac was informed that yet another well had been dug in Beersheba, which he promptly named, Shibah, which means “oath.” There is more to this name than a recognition of an oath sworn between two men. This entire pericope is meant to stress the covenant-keeping nature of God Almighty. He had made an oath to Abraham and He was going to stand by it, even though Abraham was long gone. Isaac would be the next in line to receive the blessings of God. And soon, his son, Jacob would follow in his footsteps.
But Moses ends this section with a brief update on Esau’s marital status. Esau was technically the firstborn son, but he had sold his birthright to Jacob for the price of a bowl of stew. And in these closing verses of chapter 26, Moses reveals that Esau ended up taking two foreign wives from among the Hittites. These were the descendants of Heth, who had been one of the sons of Canaan., who was the grandson of Noah. Ham, the son of Noah had dishonored him so, as a result, Noah had placed a curse upon Ham’s descendants (Genesis 9:25).
Esau, who had treated his birthright with contempt, ended up marrying two different women from among the descendants of Heth. And Moses flatly states, “and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). Noah had declared that the offspring of Canaan would end up being the servants of their own relatives. And it seems that this curse came to fruition in the life of Esau. By marrying women from among the sons of Heth, Esau sealed their fate and assured an ongoing conflict between the sons of Jacob and Esau.
But Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. – Genesis 26:35 NLT
How? They ended up bearing Esau children who would become the enemies of Jacob’s descendants. And the stage is set for a growing conflict between Jacob and Esau. But God is at work, behind the scenes, orchestrating everything according to His sovereign plan.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.