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Well Well Well!

Genesis 26:18-22 - Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

Genesis 26:32-33 - That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.

Read Genesis 26:17-35.

“Well, well, well” is admittedly an archaic phrase that was used to express surprise in situations that today would call for “Hey!” or “Wow!” We’re using this outdated expression here, of course, not to indicate surprise, but as a mental hook to help us remember the important lessons of Genesis 26.

In this chapter, we have the record of Isaac’s return to Beersheba from living among the Philistines. Along the way he dug a number of wells. Because water is an absolute necessity of life, and water sources in that area were scarce (both then and now), forces which were unfriendly to Isaac either took over his wells for themselves or filled them in so that Isaac would be discouraged and move on. Isaac did move on, but he continued to dig wells all along the way—well, well, well!

Background Notes

Isaac has been called “the ordinary son of an extraordinary father” (Abraham) and the ordinary father of an extraordinary son” (Jacob). However, in the second half of Genesis 26 we see that Isaac also exhibited some extraodinary virtues. Genesis 26 is the only chapter in Genesis which concentrates exclusively on Isaac. A number of chapters focus on Abraham, Isaac’s father, and a number of chapters focus on Jacob, Isaac’s son. Numerous commentaries have been written on the lives of Abraham and Jacob, but significantly fewer on Isaac. Isaac comes across the pages of Scripture as an ordinary believer, so most of us can identify with Isaac.

In the first half of Genesis 26 we read that, during a time of famine, Isaac went down to live in the southern coastal area of Canaan, an area which was occupied by the Philistines. It appears that he had not consulted the Lord before he moved. Although God would have preferred for Isaac to remain where he was and trust the Lord to provide for his well-being, after Isaac made his move, the Lord graciously appeared to him and gave him permission to stay temporarily in Philistine territory. At this time the Lord also reiterated the Abrahamic Covenat to Isaac, indicating that His unconditional promises to Abraham would be fulfilled to and through Isaac and his descendants. Ishmael and his descendants also received promises from God, but the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were never given to Ishmael. (See Genesis 21:8-21.)

God made very significant and specific promises to Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12). God promised spiritual and material blessings to him and his descendants. God promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would belong to his descendants, and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Certainly this would be through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was a descendant of Abraham.

Although Isaac must have known that God had promised material blessings to him through the Abrahamic Covenant, he apparently did not trust God to provide for him during the famine. Taking matters into his own hands, Isaac moved to the land of the Philistines. Then while he was living with the Philistines, Isaac lied about his wife, Rebekah. Like Abraham his father had done in similar circumstances in Egypt, Isaac told the Philistines that Rebekah was his sister. He placed his wife in danger to protect his own life! He clearly didn’t trust God to protect him, and once again took matters into his own hands. But God was faithful to His promises, and graciously rescued both Isaac and Rebekah from the potentially tragic consequences of this lie (vs 7-11). The Lord continues to keep the promises of His Word, despite the weak faith, mistakes, unwise decisions and lack of trust on the part of His people.

The Philistines didn’t want Isaac living in their area because, through the blessing of God, Isaac had become very prosperous. The Philistines were envious of his success and they feared Isaac because he was becoming powerful. By the way, the fact that the Philistines feared Isaac indicates that the Philistines were not as numerous or powerful as they were later, in the days of Kings Saul and David. This is exactly what achaeological evidence demonstrates, corroborating the historical accuracy of the Bible.

So in order to drive Isaac away, the Philistines continued to steal or fill in the wells that Isaac’s servants had dug. Rather than fight, Isaac backed off more and more, and finally he returned to Beersheba, where Abraham had lived. If you visit the archaeolgical tel of Beersheba today, you will see a very ancient and deep well. It may possibly be the same well mentioned in verse 33, Isaac called it Shebah, which means “oath,” and to this day the town is known as Beer Sheba, which means “well of the oath.”

The Lord appeared to Isaac on the very night he returned to Beersheba. This is a good indication that Beersheba is where God wanted Isaac to live. While the area of the Philistines was part of Canaan, and God had permitted Isaac to live there temporarily during the famine, God did not want Isaac living there permanently and flirting with the culture and practices of the pagan Philistines.

Even though Isaac had prospered materially while living in Philistine territory, it seems that the Lord did not appear to him again until he came home to Beersheba. Thus we see that there is a difference between the Lord’s material blessing and the Lord’s presence in the life of a believer. Scripture does not record that Isaac built any altars while he was living with the Philistines. The fact that he built an altar when he returned to Beersheba indicates that his heart was now right, and full fellowship with the Lord was restored. Thus, in the second half of our chapter, Isaac emerges in a better light. He showed maturity and a trust in God which should be emulated by believers today.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points

1. True meekness is not often seen in believers—but it can be!

Can you give a definition of meekness? Most of us equate meekness with weakness, but they are not the same at all! Meekness is enduring injury with patience and without resentment, even when you have the power and means to retaliate. A meek Christian turns all the problems, insults, injustices and troubles in life over to the Lord, and trusts in the Lord to take care of the situation with His protection, defense and provision. The meek believer understands and practices the principles of Romans 12:17-21.

Isaac exhibited the virtue of meekness. When the Philistines filled in his wells or claimed the water, Isaac did not fight or retaliate. He could have! The Philistines even admitted “You have become too powerful for us” (v16). But in the interest of peace, Isaac did not “fight for his rights.” Isaac could have appealed to the treaty that his father Abraham had made with the Philistines back in Genesis 21. But again, for the sake of peace, he endured the hostility of the Philistines with meekness.

Verse 19 tells us that “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there.” Most likely this was an artesian well. In giving up this valuable source of water without a fight, especially in an area where water was scarce, Isaac showed true meekness. It appears that he had learned that God was trustworthy, and he could safely entrust himself, his affairs and his well-being to God!

Our Lord was meek. 1 Peter 2:23 says that “when they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.” He could have threatened! He could have retaliated! With one word He could have destroyed those who caused His suffering. But He didn’t! “Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” For our sakes, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1Peter 2:24).”

We, too, can show true meekness—but it’s not easy! True meekness is not capitulation to the demands of others because they’re more powerful than we are. True meekness doesn’t mean we become “doormats” and allow anyone and everyone to step all over us. No, true meekness means choosing not to fight or retaliate in the interests of peace, or for the welfare of others. And we see from i Corinthians 6:7 that at times it may mean being wronged or cheated.

Over the years Billy Graham has shown true meekness. Many “shots” have been “fired” at him, even by fellow-believers, but rather than retaliate with negative public statements about those who tried to discredit him, in the interests of peace, Billy Graham has shown true meekness. We might say, “But I’m not Billy Graham, I’m just an ordinary believer!” So was Isaac, and in the strength of the Lord he showed true meekness.

Would you give up an important position or possession for peace? Would you choose not to retaliate against negative or unkind statements made about you for the express purpose of making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3)? Unity of believers was the prayer of our Lord just before He went to the cross. (See John 17.) Peace within the Body of Christ is a strong theme throughout the entire New Testament. In certain situations among brothers and sisters in the Body, strong and mature believers may have to exercise true meekness in order to preserve peace and unity in the body of Christ.

Remember Isaac. True meekness is not often seen in believers, but it can be!

2. True forgiveness is not always practiced by believers, but it should be!

When Abimelech came to make a treaty with Isaac, Isaac could easily have said “No!” After all, as Isaac rightly said to Abimelech in verse 27, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” And notice what Abimelech said to Isaac in verse 29, “...we did not molest you,but always treated you well and sent you away in peace.” That was a lie. The Philistines had broken the treaty that Abraham made. They had filled in the wells and claimed the water from the wells that Isaac had dug. They had forced Isaac to leave their land—and not by peaceful means.

And after all this abuse, Abimelech asked Isaac for a peace treaty! What did Isaac do? He practiced the teaching of Romans 12:18. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Isaac forgave Abimelech and the Philistines in the interest of peace. He made the treaty. And notice that Isaac didn’t ask Abimelech for a formal apology, or force Abimelech to give him remuneration for the stolen wells. He completely forgave him, and sent Abimelech away in peace. That’s true forgivenesss.

This essay is not suggesting that criminals and evil doers and law breakers not be brought to justice. No! Righteousness must be upheld. But when we choose to forgive, let’s face it, it’s usually on our terms. We expect an apology, and we may even look for some kind of repayment for wrongs committed against us. Is that true forgiveness? Is that the kind of forgiveness God has given to us? God has freely forgiven us—our salvation is a gift! He has paid the price for our wrongdoing! When we have been wronged, He asks us to forgive in the same way—freely and completely.

True forgiveness is not always practiced by believers, but it should be!

Practical Application

1. Remember, the Lord forgave those who crucified Him.

The fact that Isaac’s servants found a new source of water the very day that the peace treaty was signed seems to be God’s stamp of approval on Isaac’s act of forgiveness. Proverbs 16:7 tells us that, “when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to live at peace with him.” True forgiveness always meets with divine approval.

The bottom line in true forgiveness is not the character of the person we’re forgiving, but the character within us. The Holy Spirit within us is constantly at work developing Christ-like character in true believers—love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness. As these fruits of the Spirit are developed in our lives, we should increasingly be able to freely and truly forgive—as freely and completely as God has forgiven us.

“Get rid of all bitteress, rage and anger...along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven us” (Ephesians 4:31-32). True forgiveness means getting rid of leftover anger—no lingering bitterness, no malicious talk or retaliatory actions. This complete forgiveness is what God has given to us, and he asks us to forgive others in the same way—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Remember, the Lord forgave those who crucified Him.

2. Keep digging!

Throughout the Bible, water is often used as a picture of the Word of God. For example, Psalm 119:9 speaks of being “cleansed” by the Word of God, and Ephesians 5:26 speaks of “washing with water through the Word.” As water is necessary for physical life, so the Word of God is necessary for spiritual life—for spiritual birth and spiritual growth. Romans 10:17 says “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (spiritual birth), and Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (spiritual growth).

But the water of the Word by itself will not bring spiritual life—it must be heard, acted upon by faith, and “hidden in our hearts.” That’s what “digging spiritual wells” is all about. For spiritual cleansing, nourishment, refreshment and growth, we need to dig for the water of God’s Word.

Like the antagonistic Philistines, the world, the flesh and the devil will do everything possible to clog or block or plug our wells and rob us of the benefits of the water of the Word. The forces of the evil one will create all kinds of barriers and distractions to keep us from digging and drinking the spiritual water of the Word. Satan will attempt to “steal” the water from us by presenting distortions, false teaching and lies about the Word of God. He will try anything he can to prevent us from hearing and acting upon the pure water of the Word.

So what do we do? We move on and keep digging!
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