What does Genesis 26:20 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, 'The water is ours!' So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him.
NASB: the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, 'The water is ours!' So he named the well Esek, because they argued with him.
CSB: But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's herdsmen and said, "The water is ours! " So he named the well Esek because they argued with him.
NLT: But then the shepherds from Gerar came and claimed the spring. 'This is our water,' they said, and they argued over it with Isaac’s herdsmen. So Isaac named the well Esek (which means 'argument').
KJV: And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac's herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.
God had commanded Isaac to stay in Gerar (Genesis 26:2–3), but the local king is bothered by Isaac's great wealth and prosperity (Genesis 26:14–16). To satisfy both sides, Isaac and his large estate are newly encamped in the Valley of Gerar (Genesis 26:17). If they're going to stay, it's essential they find plentiful water. The previous verse describes the discovery of a spring by Isaac's servants. Now we learn that the local herdsman claimed the rights to that water.
The conflict is similar to the plot of many old western movies, in which ranchers would battle over rights to the water from the local river to grow crops or maintain sheep and cattle. Isaac, however, seems unwilling to battle over anything. His reputation as a passive man comes, in part, from his seeming refusal to fight or even challenge those who stand up to him. Instead of using his considerable power to keep the well, Isaac bows out. He names this well Esek, which means "quarrel" or "contention," and moves on to another one.
Genesis 26:6–35 describes Isaac's interactions with the Philistines while living in and around the land of Gerar. After Isaac is caught in a lie about Rebekah being his sister, king Abimelech is angry. However, he protects Isaac and Rebekah. God blesses Isaac abundantly, and his wealth grows to the point where his power provokes the king to send him away. Following a series of disputes over water rights, the king and Isaac eventually make a treaty of peace. God appears to Isaac for a second time, telling him not to fear, and renewing His promises.
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.
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.
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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