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2. Various Scenes from Isaac’s Life (chapter 26)
The incidents recorded in this chapter are the only ones in which Isaac figures as chief character. Immediately thereafter other persons stand out more prominently. This is in keeping with the character of Isaac. He is not the prominent, aggressive figure that Abraham is. Isaac, himself a great man in his own right, is quite overshadowed by the towering figure of Abraham. True Isaac is a quiet and unassuming man, patient and submissive in his contact with others. But to infer from this that he is unworthy of the patriarchal position would be wrong. He is a man of strong faith. But it is not given to all men to occupy equally prominent positions in the kingdom of God. The distinct advance made in Abraham’s day is carefully guarded by Isaac. Isaac lives in the fulness of truth revealed to Abraham. Spiritually he is a true son of his father. It has well been said that the experience of Moriah put its stamp upon Isaac and taught him that in patiently submitting to the Lord’s will one shall see the Lord’s salvation.
The pronounced parallel between events in Isaac’s life and those of Abraham’s can only disturb those who are too shortsighted to see that similar characters under similar circumstances in a given age are very likely to have similar experiences. A bit less of theorizing about such situations and a bit more of observation of real life will furnish a multitude of parallels equally startling.
2.717(a) Sojourn in Philistaea (v. 1-11)
1. And there came a famine in the land, other than the first famine that was in the days of Abraham; and Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, to Gerar.
The writer, conscious of the similarity of Isaac’s situation to that of Abraham’s, is at pains to remind us that this could not be the famine of Abraham’s time, and that we, therefore, have an entirely new case to deal with. In fact, a bit of computation reminds us that a full century had passed since that time. The second half of the verse is best construed as giving in characteristic Hebrew fashion the whole event in a summary fashion: Isaac went to Gerar. The details, beginning back in point of time before he actually started out, follow, beginning at verse 2. The Abimelech here mentioned can hardly be the Abimelech of chapter 20, who ruled Philistaea eighty years before. The common assumption that Abimelech was a standing designation of all Philistine kings, like Pharaoh for the Egyptian, finds definite support in the heading of Ps. 34, where Abimelech is used as a title for the man who 1 Sam. 21:10-15 appears as Achish. "Gerar" appears to be identical with Umm-Jerar, about ten miles south of Gaza.
2-5. And Yahweh appeared to him and said: Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land I tell thee of; sojourn in this land and I will be with thee and I will bless thee. For to thee and to thy descendants do I give all these lands. And I will fulfill my oath which I swore to Abraham, thy Father, and I will multiply thy descendants as the stars of the heavens, and I will give to thy descendants all these lands, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves in thy seed; because that Abraham hearkened to my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
2.718The situation is sufficiently important to call for divine intervention. God appears to Isaac as well as to Abraham; but only twice to Isaac: here and v. 24. He appears in the capacity of "Yahweh," because His graciousness as the covenant God watching over the covenant people is displayed. According to our interpretation of v. 1 this word was spoken before. Isaac set out from southern Palestine. Isaac may actually have contemplated a temporary sojourn in Egypt. This is denied him. Divine providence alone can determine whether what is permissible in one case is advisable in another. The statement, "dwell in the land I tell thee of," means, "in whatever land I may designate from time to time." There Isaac is to sojourn, and in every case he will be sure of the attendance of the divine presence as well as of the divine blessing. The blessings spoken upon Abraham are here being definitely renewed for Isaac in all their fulness with certain modifications of expression. The correspondence part for part with these earlier promises is too obvious to require to be pointed out: descendants, a land for these descendants, God’s blessing upon them in that land. If incidentally the one land is now thought of in terms of the constituent parts: "all these lands," the difference in expression is merely nominal. Ha’el, the shortened form for ha’elleh, is one of the peculiarities of the Pentateuch. All such gifts as are here promised are based upon that basic oath spoken to Abraham (22:16 f.) which is important enough to be alluded to again.
4. The promise of numerous offspring is as much in place for Isaac as for Abraham, for in Isaac’s case, too, the chosen family had not yet displayed numerical strength. The second half of the verse brings the distinctly Messianic element in the promise. For there is but one thing sufficiently important to challenge the strongest interest of "all the nations of 2.719the earth" and that is the Messianic blessing. Here, however, a slightly different point of view obtains. In 12:3 the simple passive (Nifal) had been used, "be blessed." Here the reflexive (Hithpael) appears, "bless oneself." Naturally the latter is not radically different from the former, nor does it cancel the idea of the former. The passive speaks of objective blessings. The reflexive shows the subjective reaction: nations shall "bless themselves," i. e., wish themselves the blessings conferred through Abraham’s seed, the Messiah in particular. Heretofore we have been translating zéra’(" seed") as collective: "descendants" (also v. 3), but here we definitely believe that the One great Descendant is primarily under consideration, "the Seed," the Christ. We also hold that in the light of 3:15 (see explanation there) men like Isaac will have interpreted this word as referring specifically to One—a fact denied almost universally in our day but yet true.
5. Though, indeed, this promise originally given to Abraham was a promise of pure grace, without any merit or worthiness on his part, yet God’s mercy deigned to note with delight the one thing that Abraham did, which kept him from making himself unworthy of the divine promises: Abraham obeyed every divine injunction. Therefore, these manifold blessings, Isaac is told, come upon him for Abraham his father’s sake, or rather, because of Abraham’s faithful obedience. Remarkable is the scope of divine blessings that are mediated through faithful Abraham. In order to make prominent the thought that Abraham conscientiously did all that God asked, the various forms of divine commandments are enumerated; sometimes, of course, a divine word would fall under several of these categories. They are a "charge" or "observance" if they are to be observed mishméreth from shamar, ("observe"). They are "commandments" 2.720(mitswôth) when regarded from the angle of having been divinely commanded. They are "statutes" (chuqqôth) when thought of as immutable, and "laws" (torôth) insofar as they involve divine instruction or teaching. Under these headings would come the "commandment" to leave home ( ch. 12), the "statute" of circumcision, the instruction to sacrifice Isaac, or to do any other particular thing such as (15:8) to sacrifice, or (13:17, 18) to walk through the land, as well as all other individual acts as they are implied in his attitude toward Yahweh, his faithful God. By the use of these terms Moses, who purposes to use them all very frequently in his later books, indicates that "laws, commandments, charges, and statutes" are nothing new but were involved already in patriarchal religion. Criticism, of course, unable to appreciate such valuable and suggestive thoughts, or thinking Moses, at least, incapable of having them, here decrees that these words come from another source, for though J wrote the chapter, J, according to the lists they have compiled, does not have these words in his vocabulary, and so the device, so frequently resorted to, is employed here of claiming to discern traces of a late hand, a redactor.
6, 7. And Isaac dwelt in Gerar; and when the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said: She is my sister, for he was afraid to say: She is my wife lest the men of the place slay me because of Rebekah, for she was beautiful to look at.
Isaac, constituted much like his father, finding himself in a situation identical with the one in which his father has figured, does exactly as his father. The very strange thing about this action is that it is as wrong here as there, if not more wrong, For Isaac must have known how the matter turned out in the case of his father. But then, for that matter, sin is never logical.
2.721Criticism, with almost complete unanimity we know of only Koenig as an exception calls this a later (Isaac) version of the original (Abraham) legend, or else calls chapter 26 the original and chapter 20 derivative. Yet the differences, aside from the very plain statements of the text to the same effect, point to two different situations: here a famine, there none; here Rebekah is not molested, there Abimelech took Sarah; here accidental discovery, there divine intervention; here no royal gift, there rich recompense. Of course, criticism usually points to 12:10 ff. as being merely another form of the same incident. Yet at least one aspect of the critical approach can be refuted completely on purely critical grounds. For, as K. C. observes, it is unthinkable that J, to whom chapter 12 as well as chapter 26 are attributed, should have preserved two versions of one and the same incident.
8-10. And it came to pass after quite a number of days had passed, that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out of his window, and, behold, Isaac was caressing Rebekah, his wife. And Abimelech summoned Isaac and said: Look here, she certainly is thy wife, and how is it that thou saidst: She is my sister? And Isaac said to him: (I did it) because I said: that I might not die on her account. And Abimelech said: What, now, hast thou done to us? Quite easily some of the people might have lain with thy wife, and so thou wouldest have brought guilt upon us.
The situation comes to a climax after quite a number of days had passed (literally, "the days had grown long for him"), when Abimelech, looking out of a "window," (one of the small latticed openings looking beyond the confines of the court), happened to see Isaac, who dearly loved his wife (24:25), "caressing" her (metsach (ch) eq —"fondling," "sporting." A.V.), a course of procedure not followed with 2.722sisters. Though the term "sister" is sometimes used loosely, even the relative truth involved by such use would in Isaac’s mouth have been employed in order to deceive, and would thus certainly have been an untruth.
9. The wayyiqra’ can hardly here mean: he called out to him from the window (Procksch), by which boorish behaviour on the king’s part a lifelike touch is supposed to be secured. Rather, he formally "summoned" Isaac. The king’s mode of stating the case implies suspicions that he has held right along: "Look (here), she certainly is thy wife," a shade of thought caught by Meek when he renders: "So she really is your wife." Taken to task for his lie, Isaac weakly admits that he had been afraid: men might have put him to death on her account. ‘Amûth ("die") is here really used in the sense of "lose my life." The kî is best explained as "because," and so it involves an ellipsis ("I did it").
10. Abimelech administers a well-deserved rebuke. The memory of what happened to his grandfather may perhaps have still been fresh at court. Kim’at could mean "almost," but that would imply what the text otherwise does not indicate, that some individual had been on the verge of approaching her. So "easily" (A.V.) is more in place. This Abimelech also has a measure of the fear of God still left in his heart, for he knows that adultery involves "guilt." However, obversely, by the argument from silence we dare not infer, as some do, that the king considered carnal intercourse with a maiden as entirely right. For it appears far more likely that a man who seeks to avoid guilt on the part of himself and his people will not have stood on so low a level morally, and will have referred to "guilt," ‘asham, in the sense of "great guilt." After kim’at the perfect always is used (K. S. 175). Hebe’tha with e (G. K. 76h). 2.723Mah-zo’th could mean "what is this?" perhaps "why?" but most likely the demonstrative is used for a mild emphasis: "what, now?"
11. And Abimelech gave orders to all his people, saying: He that toucheth this man or his wife shall without fail be put to death.
The king is a man who desires to have righteousness strictly upheld among his people, so he gives orders to all his people, apparently by some public proclamation. Hebrew: "this man and his wife" means "this man or his wife" (K. S. 375f). The same result is arrived at by construing the thought thus: "he that toucheth this man and he that toucheth his wife." In mûth yûmath the Hofal of the verb is strengthened by the Kal absolute infinitive, by which construction the verbal idea is made more positive not intensified; therefore: "shall be put to death without fail."
(b) His Prosperity (v. 12-17)
12-14. And Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped that year a hundred fold; and so Yahweh blessed him. And the man prospered and kept right on and prospered until he was exceedingly prosperous. And his property consisted of flocks and herds and many servants; and the Philistines were envious of him.
If Abraham cultivated fields at all, he did not do sufficient of such work to make it important enough to record. Isaac ventured into agriculture to such an extent as to allow us to classify him as a kind of seminomad. Consequently, though following for the most part in Abraham’s footsteps, Isaac must, nevertheless, be credited with a measure of initiative. He also dug new wells ( v. 19 ff.). For "reaped" the Hebrew text has "found" (matsa’), involving the idea of coming into the field and discovering how rich the crop really 2.724is. She’arîm means "measures," here most properly a hundred measures—"a hundred fold." Such remarkable fertility was sometimes found in days of old and is claimed for the Hauran, east of the Jordan, to this day. Here, however, a rich harvest is a token of divine favour. Therefore the "and he blessed" (waybhárekh) is meant in the sense "and so Yahweh blessed" (K. S. 369 g). Though such a material blessing could most properly have been ascribed to Elohim, here the ascribing of it to Yahweh involves that He was blessing him because Isaac stood in covenant relation with Him.
13. In terms and construction reminiscent of 7:18, 19 the increase of Isaac’s prosperity is here described. Gadhel, "be great," can hardly here be used of achievement or renown, and so we have rendered it "prospered." The Hebrew idiom for "he kept growing richer and richer" is: "he went forward, going on, and became prosperous." Halokh, absolute infinitive (G. K. 113 u).
14. Since Abraham already was very rich (13:2; 14:23) and the bulk of his property had gone to Isaac, such an increase as this in Isaac’s wealth must have brought his possessions up to a startling total. However, his wealth was that of the nomad only, "flocks, herds, servants." The Hebrew designates the first two as "possession of flock" and "possession of cattle." Apparently, he had abstained from raising camels and asses. However, a requisite number of servants also belonged to his establishment—"many servants" —’abuddah, abstract "service" (Dienerschaft) for concrete "servants." A problem resulted from this unusual prosperity: the Philistines grew envious. This is here added to explain the clash with the Philistines on the subject of wells, which is about to be touched upon.
2.72515-17. Now all the wells which the servants of his father had dug in the days of Abraham, his father, these the Philistines stopped and filled with dirt. And Abimelech said to Isaac: Go away from us, for thou art altogether too powerful for us. So Isaac went away and pitched tent in the valley of Gerar and settled down there.
Envy on the Philistines’ part turns to spite. The wells so essential to the herds of nomads, wells that dated back to Abraham’s time, and may for half a century or more have been recognized as the peculiar property of Abraham’s family because he himself had had them dug, these the Philistines now begin to fill with dirt (’aphar) and so stop them up. Such a loss is very painful, for it shuts off the prime necessity of physical life. So the result of the envy of the Philistines is described. Criticism quite commonly insists that v. 15 is a later insertion. Critics would have preferred v. 16 as the continuation of v. 14. But what strange reasoning! Before the final result is related, we have the summons to depart. Why cannot another intermediate stage be recorded, namely, instead of 1. envy 2. summons, 1. envy, 2. spite 3. summons. In this latter case 2., 3. make a good sequence, for when the Philistines have done Isaac wrong, the king according to a common psychological procedure blames Isaac, asserting he has become too powerful. "Wells" —a nominative absolute (K. S. 341 c).
16. Numerically Isaac’s household was so strong as to constitute a threat to the safety of the Philistines, had Isaac been minded to use his power selfishly. The king’s summons is a combination of flattery ("thou art altogether too powerful for us") and of an ungracious attitude ("go away from us").
17. Isaac is a pacifist in the best sense of the word. Power is safe in his hands. He shows no 2.726inclination to abuse it. Secure in his strength but mindful primarily of his responsibilities to his God, he yields to pressure and moves farther up the valley, i.e., southeast from Gerar, and there pitches his tent with the intent of staying there permanently (he "settled down" —yeshebh —"sat down"). On yichan from chanah see G. K. 75 r.
(c) Strife over Wells (v. 18-22)
18-20. Then Isaac let the wells of water be reopened which had first been dug in the days of Abraham, his father, and which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham, and he gave them the names which his father had already given them. Then Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found a well of running water. But the herdsmen of Gerar strove with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying: Ours is this water. So he called the name of the well Esek (Contention), because they contended with him.
It may seem like an account of prosy trifles to have such petty strife recorded in the Scriptures, but against the background of these trivialities the character of a man like Isaac is displayed to advantage. Trivialities serve to reveal true nobility of character when a man rises above them.
To understand the situation correctly for criticism again believes v. 18 to be a later insertion we must note that though Isaac had departed partly because of stopped-up wells (v. 15), yet Isaac’s herds and flocks were spread over a great territory, and, apparently, very many wells had been stopped up all along the valley of Gerar. So abandoning those wells nearer Gerar, which had been one immediate source of contention, Isaac feels justified in reopening those wells at a distance from Gerar which Abraham had 2.727dug. The Hebrew construction: "and he returned and dug" —he "reopened." However, since the patriarch merely took steps to have this done, we may render: "he let the wells be reopened." The statement that they were wells that Abraham had first dug is not superfluous after v. 15 but clearly establishes Isaac’s claims to these wells. To indicate, further, his right to these wells and to indicate his respect for what his father did, Isaac in every case revives the original names of these wells. On shûbh used adverbially for "again" see G. K. 120 d; K. S. 332 v; 369q. In waysattemûm ("and they stopped") the converted imperfect takes the place of the relative construction with ‘asher, which had preceded (K. S. 366 c).
19. This verse, of course, refers to additional digging operations carried on by Isaac’s servants. Apparently, because of the rapid increase of Isaac’s wealth there was need of additional wells. But the Philistines kept close watch. What could not be claimed by right of possession from Abraham’s time was contested, especially in this case where "running water" (Hebrew idiom: "living water," mayim chayyîm) was found.
20. The strife arises only among the herdsmen, the initiative, apparently, being taken by those of Gerar, who are mentioned first and whose assertive claim is mentioned: "Ours (emphatic) is this (demonstrative use of the article) water." No doubt, the distance from Gerar was sufficient to establish Isaac’s claim to the well, otherwise this fair-minded man would never have sanctioned the digging. Isaac’s policy is in keeping with the word, "Blessed are the meek." He leaves a memorial of the pettiness of the strife behind by calling the well Esek —"Contention" —the Quarrel Well. Perhaps a mild and tolerant humour lies in the name. Yet after all, what a fine testimonial to a great man’s broad-mindedness and 2.728readiness to sacrifice, lest the baser passions in men be roused by quarrelling.
21, 22. Then they digged another well and there was strife also over it. So he called its name Sitnah (Hostility). So he moved away and dug still another well, about which there was no strife. So he called its name Rehoboth (Plenty of room), saying: For now Yahweh has given us room and we shall be fruitful in the land.
A second attempt at a new well meets with the same result. In this case the opposition seems to have been even more spiteful, for the stronger name "Sitnah" (Hostility) is left behind for the well. But everyone must recognize that it is magnanimity and not cowardice on Isaac’s part when he yields, because Isaac had ample manpower at his command.
22. Isaac goes as far as possible in the interest of peace: he even "moved away." By this time his generous example seems to have shamed the opposition. No doubt, too, the site of the latest, well is still farther removed from territory which Gerar may rightfully claim. The resultant peace Isaac in true gratitude ascribes to Yahweh, tokens of whose favour he has been meeting with continually. The name "Rehoboth" is to convey this reminder. Rechobhôth means "wide places" and signifies in reference to the well more than "room" (Meek), rather "plenty of room." "Be fruitful" (parah) can hardly be referred to good crops—"we shall be fruitful" —but rather to numerical growth as in 1:28. Isaac is thinking of v. 4.
(d) The Appearance of Yahweh (v. 23-25)
23-25. From there he went up to Beersheba, and Yahweh appeared to him that night, saying: I am the God of Abraham, thy father; be not afraid, 2.729for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and make thy descendants numerous for the sake of Abraham, my servant. And he built an altar there and called upon the name of Yahweh and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.
23. Though Beersheba is said to lie lower than Gerar, yet the general expression for approaching any part of Palestine from the southwest is to "go up" (’alah).
24. "Yahweh" appears to Isaac, for covenant issues are under consideration. Isaac has behaved in a manner calling forth divine approval. Besides, Isaac’s faith needs to be strengthened in the matter of the realization of the covenant promise. For one part of this promise is: numerous descendants. Isaac has been thinking along this line (see the close of v. 22). He shall have to walk by faith very largely as did Abraham. That this faith might be well established he is informed that God will surely bring this promise to pass. So we see that the situation is sufficiently important to call for the appearance of Yahweh, the second and last that is granted to Isaac. The substance of Yahweh’s promise is: Fear not as to the realization of the promises given thee, for I am with thee, I the God of Abraham, thy father, who never failed to make good what I promised to him; I guarantee to make thy descendants (Hebrew "seed") numerous, for the sake of Abraham, my servant. It is here only in Genesis that the title "my servant" is applied to Abraham. By it another aspect of Abraham’s relation to the Lord is covered: he stood in God’s service all his days and faithfully did His will.
25. A place marked by a divine appearance is a sacred spot where Yahweh is to be worshipped in a particular sense. So, following the good example of his father, Isaac builds an altar, where, of course, he offers sacrifice—a thing so obvious that it is not 2.730even mentioned—and engages in public worship in the course of which God’s character and His works are extolled, for this is involved in "calling upon the name of Yahweh" (see notes on 4:26). Because of Yahweh’s manifestation such a spot becomes dear to Isaac, and he pitches his tent there, and since a relatively permanent residence is involved, he has servants dig a well here too. Karah, the verb for "dig" here used, differs from chaphar used earlier in the chapter, in that the former simply means "to dig," whereas the latter involves the idea of "search." Both may imply the successful completion of the digging operations.
(e) Covenant with the Philistines (v. 26-33)
This passage presents a close parallel to Gen. 21:22 ff. which covers a similar case in Abraham’s day. But why should the thought be so repulsive that in Isaac’s day the situations that had previously prevailed in Abraham’s time were duplicated? Have the critics never noticed from their study of history how certain problems and situations are perennial in certain regions?
26, 27. And Abimelech came to him from Gerar together with Ahuzzath, his friend, and Phicol, the captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them: Why have ye come to me, seeing that ye on your part hate me and have driven me away from you?
As "Abimelech" is the standing title of the Philistine kings (see on v. 1), so "Phicol" seems to have been the standing title for the captain of the army. The additional personage involved in this instance is the king’s friend "Ahuzzath" (on the Philistine ending of the name cf. Goliath). The agreement to be entered into is to be more than a private diplomatic arrangement. Isaac discerns the purpose of their coming 2.731before they speak and points out a certain inconsistency manifest in their attitude: first they drive him out, then they follow after him to make a treaty of amity and good will. Besides, his manner of stating the case testifies to his innocence in the matter: "ye on your part hate me." The emphatic personal pronoun (’attem) indicates by an implied contrast that the ill will is entirely on their side; he on his part never bore them ill will, in fact, does not now. The Philistines had deserved this rebuke. Shillach here is stronger than "send away" (A.V.); they had actually "driven" him away. In v. 29 the meaning "dismiss" is the one implied by the Philistines.
28, 29. And they said: We plainly see that Yahweh is with thee, so we said: Let, we pray, an oath be between us—between us and you, and let us make a covenant with thee, that thou wilt do us no hurt, even as we have not touched thee, and even as we have done only good to thee, and have let thee go in peace—thee, now the blessed of Yahweh.
Through their whole speech this one idea shines forth: we are impressed with Yahweh’s blessings which continually go with thee. The Philistines refer to this at the beginning and at the close of their plea. They do not think it safe to be on bad terms with one who so manifestly stands in Yahweh’s favour. That the name "Yahweh" should be used by Philistines need not surprise us. They naturally do not know Him as the one who is what this name involves. They simply take the heathen attitude: each nation serves its own God; we have heard that Isaac serves Yahweh; it must be Yahweh who has blessed His faithful follower. The "oath" (’alah) here is a "curse-oath," a lower conception than is involved in shebhû’ah. Since, indeed, the king and his captain may have been quite innocent in the matter of the trouble over the wells, 2.732they give the most favourable statement of their side of the case and with a certain diplomatic glibness claim for themselves that they always gave evidence of the best of fair play. Isaac, the meek, will not broach a fruitless argument on the subject and answers the idle claim with a significant silence. The absolute infinitive (v. 28) ra’ô (G. K. 113 n) conveys some such idea as "plainly." The jussive (tehî) is followed by the cohortative nikhrethah (K. S. 364 g). Ta’aseh (v. 29) has tsere because it is not indicative (K. S. 183 c, G. K. 75hh).
30, 31. And he made a feast for them and they ate and drank. And they arose early in the morning and gave the oath one to another, and Isaac let them go, and they went from him in peace.
The customary thing in making covenants, apparently, was a covenant-feast in token of goodwill. Isaac omits nothing that makes for a friendly relationship. The Philistines may be diplomats rather than friends. The oaths are exchanged early the next morning before departure. Here shillach is not meant as "drove away" or "dismissed" —both of which would conflict with Isaac’s irenic treatment of his potential allies; therefore, "let them go" (Meek). At their departure the best of goodwill. ("peace") prevails as a result of Isaac’s discriminate handling of the case. In the expression "one to another" ‘îsh, singular, does not strictly harmonize with the preceding plural verb but makes the two parties to the covenant individually more prominent (K. S. 348 w),
32, 33. And it happened that day that Isaac’s servants came and told him concerning the well that they had dug, and they said to him: We have found water. And he called it Shibah (oath); therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.
2.733A coincidence, manifestly providential, marks that covenant day. After the departure of the noble guests Isaac’s servants reported that the well on which they had been working had actually yielded water. Isaac regards this as a token of divine favour and gives a name to the well that is reminiscent of the oath of that date "Shibah." The difficulty about shibh’ah is that the word as such usually means "seven." Now it is true that there seems to be some deeper connection between the Hebrew roots "seven" and "swear." But here the matter is simplified if we give different vowel points to the consonants of the text, namely shebhu’ah, which is the regular word for "oath." Then all difficulty is removed. A slight difference, however, arises in connection with 21:31, where the meaning "well of seven" seems to prevail. But both points of view seem justified: there were originally "seven" wells; the place was the scene of an "oath." One account emphasizes the former; the other, the latter idea. For that matter, Isaac may well have remembered the name given to the place in Abraham’s time and may have welcomed the opportunity for establishing that name. The expression "unto this day" simply carries us up to the writer’s time and is, of course, very appropriate coming from the pen of Moses.
(f) Esau’s Hittite Wives (v. 34, 35)
34, 35. When Esau was forty years old he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri, the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon, the Hittite; and they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.
Esau’s incapacity for spiritual values is further illustrated by this step. He is not concerned about conserving the spiritual heritage of the family. Wives, two of them, unfortunately, of the Hittite stock which gave evidence of Canaanite contamination, were married (Hebrew: "he took to wife"). Yehûdhith is a 2.734form that is quite possible without attempting to derive it from Judah; it may come from the name of the town Jehûd (Josh. 19:45) which lay in the confines of the territory later inhabited by Dan.
35. "Grief of mind" (morath rûach —"bitterness of spirit") resulted from this marriage. The corrupt heathenish way of these wives will have been the source of this grief.
As to the location of the sites of Isaac’s wells, "Rehoboth" might well be er-Rheibe, some twenty miles southwest of Beersheba. Robinson claimed to have found a spot Wadi Shutain, or Schutnet, which might be "Sitnah." Beersheba will, no doubt, be Bires-seba in a wadi of the same name.
On v. Ge 26:1-11 compare the remarks on chapter 12 that refer to the similar event in the life of Abraham. For the remainder of the chapter we see the several episodes as excellent illustrations of certain Scriptures that furnish the dominant thought for each episode. So v. 12-17 illustrates beautifully the truth: "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich" (Prov. 10:22). The section v. 18-25 furnishes a clear case of what is involved in the word (Rom. 12:18) "as much as in you lieth, live peaceably with all men." We prefer to include under this head v. 24, 25 because they show the divine approval of the conduct of Isaac in this instance. Then v. 26-33 may fall under the light of the word: "When a man's ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7).
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