What does Genesis 26:1 mean?
ESV: Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines.
NIV: Now there was a famine in the land--besides the previous famine in Abraham's time--and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.
NASB: Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.
CSB: There was another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham's time. And Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, at Gerar.
NLT: A severe famine now struck the land, as had happened before in Abraham’s time. So Isaac moved to Gerar, where Abimelech, king of the Philistines, lived.
KJV: 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.
NKJV: There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
Verse Commentary:
Isaac's experiences in Genesis 26 parallel those of Abraham, as described both in Genesis 12 and particularly in Genesis 20—21. In both instances, lies are told about a marriage out of selfishness and fear. Some scholars suggest this is a different version of the same events between Abraham and Abimelech, as told in chapter 20. Others, however, insist the two stories are separate and meant to show that God would be faithful to Isaac just as He had been faithful to Abraham.

In any case, this verse makes clear that this famine is not the same one that drove Abraham and Sarah to Egypt in Genesis 12. This is a separate time of hardship. In the following verse, the Lord will tell Isaac explicitly not to go to Egypt in search of food. Instead, Isaac made his way to Gerar, a land ruled by Abimelech, king of the Philistines, to find more fertile territory.

Though not all scholars agree, most believe this Abimelech is not likely to be the same one Abraham interacted with. Approximately 90 years have passed since that event. It's possible "Abimelech" may have been a title—like "Pharaoh" or "Caesar"—rather than a personal name. The same might be true of the name of the army commander (Genesis 21:22; 26:26), or these might be names passed from fathers to sons.

This Abimelech is said to be king of a people called "Philistines." These Philistines, apparently, are not the same group that will later plague Israel. The title seems to be regional, not ethnic, and implies the people living in a certain area.
Verse Context:
Genesis 26:1–5 contains God's assurances to Isaac that He remains faithful to His covenant promises even after the death of Abraham. In a time of famine, the Lord commands Isaac not to travel to Egypt for relief but to settle in Gerar, the land of the Philistines. Isaac obeys, just as his father had done. This passage emphasizes that Abraham's trust in God was demonstrated through his actions.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 26 focuses on God's assurances to Isaac to be with him and to bless him, mostly while Isaac and his household are settled in the land of the Philistines. Just as Abraham did, Isaac fearfully lies about his wife being his sister, nearly bringing disaster on Abimelech and his kingdom. Still, God blesses Isaac with greater and greater abundance to the point that Abimelech sends Isaac away because he has become too powerful. After continued disputes over water rights, Abimelech and Isaac eventually make a covenant of peace.
Chapter Context:
Genesis 26 seems to jump back in time to the season before Jacob and Esau were born, as described in the previous chapter. This is common in ancient literature. The Lord establishes and renews His covenant promises to Isaac, blessing him abundantly in the land of Philistines during a time of famine. Eventually, Abimelech sends Isaac away due to his growing power and disputes over water rights, but they end up forming a peace treaty. Esau's marriage to foreign women creates strife, adding more fuel to the controversy which is soon to occur. In the next chapter, Jacob will steal his older brother's rightful blessing.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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