Genesis chapter 26

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What does Genesis chapter 26 mean?

Genesis 26 focuses on the Lord reassuring Isaac. God states that His relationship with Abraham, and its blessings, are for Isaac, as well. God appears to Isaac not once, but twice in this chapter. In both cases, the Lord restates and emphasizes the covenant promises He had made to Abraham, and is now making to Isaac.

For the majority of this passage, no mention is made of Jacob and Esau, and Rebekah's marital status is obscured. It's likely that most of this chapter is set back before Jacob and Esau are born. Isaac and Rebekah were childless for 20 years, leaving plenty of time for these events to occur (Genesis 25:20–26).

A season of famine falls on the land. It is a different famine than the one that drove Abraham to move to Egypt in Genesis 12. In fact, the Lord appears to Isaac and commands him not to move to Egypt, but to settle instead in Gerar, the region of the Philistines ruled by King Abimelech (Genesis 26:1–5). Scholars disagree on whether this is the same Abimelech Abraham knew in Genesis 20—21 or a new one. Interestingly, both the king and the commander of the army have the same names as in the incident with Abraham (Genesis 21:22). This might prove they are, in fact, the very same men. Or, it might simply mean the fathers had passed down both their names and positions to their sons. Given how long it has been since Abraham's encounter, it seems most likely this is a new ruler.

In any case, Isaac settles his large household in Gerar, in obedience to the Lord. When some locals ask about Isaac's beautiful wife Rebekah, he immediately follows in his father's footsteps and tells them she is his sister. He is afraid they will kill him to take her from him. The same failure Abraham made—twice—Isaac now makes in his own life.

The lie is revealed when King Abimelech himself catches the couple being intimate. He is furious because Isaac's lie could have brought guilt about the kingdom, just as Abraham's had done. Still, the king decrees that anyone who harms Isaac or Rebekah will be killed. God demonstrates that He will protect Isaac as He did Abraham, fearful and faithless or not (Genesis 26:6–11).

The Lord then blesses Isaac by giving a hundredfold return on his crops in a season of famine. In fact, Isaac becomes so rich and powerful that old disputes about water rights crop up. Abimelech sends Isaac away for being "much mightier" than the Philistines (Genesis 26:12–16).

Resettled in a different part of Gerar, Isaac continues to have disputes with the locals about the wells he is digging to water his herds and flocks. Eventually, Isaac travels to Beersheba, given its name in Genesis 21 by Abraham himself. In Beersheba, the Lord again appears to Isaac, commands him not to be afraid, and renews His promises to be with Isaac and bless him and multiply his offspring for Abraham's sake (Genesis 26:17–24).

Isaac responds with worship, building an altar and calling the Lord's name. He also pitches his tent and commands his servants to begin digging a well (Genesis 26:25).

Abimelech arrives to visit Isaac. Though suspicious at first, Isaac agrees to the king's proposal of a peace treaty between them. To honor the treaty, Isaac names the well his servants have dug after the word for "oath" (Genesis 26:26–33).

Finally, the story jumps well into the future. Esau marries two Canaanite women, Hittites. Those marriages make life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah, perhaps because Esau did not marry from among Abraham's people (Genesis 26:34–35). This angst, combined with Rebekah's clear preference for Jacob (Genesis 25:28) will play into an infamous act of deception, which will occur in the next chapter.
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