SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 15 Genesis 26:1-32

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis 26:1-33 . Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25

This week is a little shorter as next week I think will be a bit longer. (Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9?)

Genesis 26:1-33

Isaac and Abimelek

26 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. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring[a] all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” 6 So Isaac stayed in Gerar.

7 When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

8 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?”

Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”

10 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”

11 So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

12 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. 13 The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14 He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. 15 So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.

16 Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”

17 So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. 18 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.

19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20 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. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. 22 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.”

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

25 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.

26 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

28 They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”

30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.

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

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One of the problems with the holidays is: you get reruns.

So here we are:
God repeats to Isaac his promise to Abraham;
Repeat of the “she is my sister” motif (though this time Abimilek catches on earlier than before);
Repeat of ordered protection of the patriarch;
Repeat of negotiations about a well.

There are, of course, a number of differences, but it’s hard to think of this as anything but Isaac being portrayed as Abraham II, heir to the promised land.

Beersheba is the 7th most populous city in Israel today, with a population of 205,000 plus. It is also the largest cities in the southern Negev desert reason, probably because it has so many wells. Findings unearthed at Tel Be’er Sheva, an archaeological site a few kilometers east of modern day Beersheba, suggest the region has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. The city has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries.

I respectfully disagree with Prof P that this is showing Isaac as Abraham Jr. From an archaeological point of view, OK, the environment (famine, drought, hostility) repeated itself and so did the stories. But from a literary point of view, it’s more complicated than that, and the differences are not minor but significant.

First, Isaac comes off as inferior to Abraham in every aspect. Where Abraham took initiative and pushed forward, Isaac is passive and laissez-faire – acted upon, rather than acting. That was his role in the Sacrifice story, as well (Ch 22) and his passivity will be critical to the next chapter.

Let’s consider these repetitions as outlined by Prof P:

(A) God repeats to Isaac His promise to Abraham

“The Adventures of Isaac” start with famine in the land; we’ve had several famines already, and will have others to come. Sarna says, “The sharp contrast between God’s promises for the future and the threatening reality of the present is a recurring theme in the patriarchal narratives.”

Remember that the curse on Adam was “by the sweat of your brow, shall you get bread to eat” – that farming shall be arduous toil. Famine occurs often in Genesis, reflecting the curse on Adam continuing to haunt the area.

Thus, given disparity between what God had promised and the reality, it’s very appropriate to repeat the promise to Isaac. This reinforces (for both Isaac and the reader) that the descendents of Abraham are part of that promise, and reminds Isaac that things may look bleak at the moment, but keep the faith.

(B) The third wife/sister story

Quick reminder and compare/contrast:
(1) The first, in Chapter 12, involves Abraham and Sarah against Pharaoh in Egypt. [Attributed to the J-author]
(2) The second, in Chapter 20, involves Abraham and Sarah against Abimelech, king of Gerar. [Usually attributed to E-author]
(3) The one currently under discussion involves Isaac and Rebekah against Abimelech, King of Gerar [Also attributed to the J-author.] ASIDE: This is more than 75 years later, so it’s presumably not the same Abimelech. It could be a royal title (literally “Father-King”) or a common royal name.

Isaac is not simply repeating Abraham’s foolish/unwise actions. This version has almost no dramatic tension, not just because it’s the third time around. Rebekah is not kidnapped, the king is not at fault, Isaac doesn’t anticipate danger until he has to react to it; and divine intervention is unnecessary since the king sees husband/wife loving behavior.

So, as I said above, Isaac doesn’t take initiative, but is mostly passive. The story happens around him, rather than because of him.

This episode must have happened before the birth of Esau and Jacob, since they’re not mentioned, and “she’s my sister” is a poor fabrication if her twin boys were crawling about. The biblical text often tells stories thematically, a sort of literary order, rather than chronologically (we moderns tend to prefer chronological order, we get that from the Greeks, I suppose.)

When Abraham faced famine in Gen 12:10 (the first wife/sister story), he went to Egypt for food. Later, in Gen 42, Jacob will face famine and his family will go to Egypt for food. However, in this section, Isaac is specifically told not to go down to Egypt, but to stay in the land of Canaan. Rabbinic commentary says that Abraham and Jacob must go to Egypt to be tested, but Isaac was tested at Mount Moriah (the sacrifice story of Ch 22) so needn’t be tested in Egypt. Thus he does not leave the land that he was promised to belong to his descendents.

Backing this up is verse 3, when God says He is fulfilling the “oath” (Heb: shavuah) rather than the “covenant” with Abraham. So, when is there an oath? It’s at Gen 22:15, the sacrifice story. So we as readers have a literary reminder that Isaac was already tested, and needn’t go to Egypt.

Abimelech in verse 26 is called King of the Philistines. This is usually considered an anachronism, some say peculiar to the J-author. However, it’s not a reflection of later times, since the description of the Philistines in Judges and Kings doesn’t really match this section. It’s possible that the term here is a generic term for “sea-people”, and the Philistines of patriarchal times were not the same as those of the later era. The E version of the wife/sister story in Ch 20 mentions Gerar but not the Philistines.

We are told later (Exodus 13:17) that the shortest route between Canaan and Egypt goes through the land of the Philistines, and Gerar is a Philistine royal city that would have food. Isaac could reasonably expect that the treaty Abraham had established with the king of Gerar (Gen 21:22-24) might give him some ability to negotiate, so he travels there in search of food.

In verse 8, the king sees Isaac is “fondling” his wife Rebekah. The Hebrew M-Tz-Kh-K is a pun on the name Isaac Y-Tz-Kh-K, and a better translation is “delighting” or “reveling.” Recall Isaac’s name meant “laughter.” The verb will be used again in Exodus 32:6 at the incident of the golden calf.

© Protection of the Patriarch

In v 12ff, God’s promise of success starts to be realized, and Isaac farms and reaps plentifully, even in time of famine. This provokes envy, so he is kicked out of Gerar. He submits without protest (again, he’s passive in contrast to Abraham.)

(D) Negotiations over wells

Wells were critical for life in the desert area, were generally line with rocks to as protection against winter floods, and then cleaned out after the rainy season. The Philistines here are deliberately refilling the wells with dirt. That’s a pretty nasty thing to do, in an area where water/wells make the difference between life and death (recall Hagar finding water.) Isaac doesn’t challenge the Philistines, but restores the wells, and (v 19) uncovers an old well fed by a subterranean spring. That would be especially valuable.

Again, Isaac comes off as lacking initiative compared to Abraham. In a similar situation, Abraham (Gen 21:25) reproaches Abimelech because his wells were seized. Here, Isaac just shrugs his shoulders, moves over and digs another well. The outcome is NOT from Isaac’s negotiation, but the local townsfolk seeing that Isaac has been successful (thus is blessed) and not wanting divine wrath to whomp them.

As noted, I disagree with Prof P. These are not simply repetitions with differences. Repetitions, sure, but that just reflects the repetition of the agriculture (famine, drought, scarcity/value of water, hostility of neighbors.) The literary effect is that we see Isaac’s responses contrasted to Abraham’s. And Isaac is far from Abraham II, he’s weak and easily intimidated, he chooses the path of least resistance.

Learning about Isaac’s character sets us up for the next chapter, when his meekness will play a major role in the succession passing to Jacob rather than Esau.

I don’t think God expects Isaac to be Abraham 2.0; the fulfillment of The Promise is just as much contingent on Isaac’s own walk with God–though, where Isaac falters, it is “for the sake of Abraham” (and upon God’s own faithfulness) that the blessings keep coming anyway.

As for Isaac’s passivity, I think the Bible generally treats it as a net positive, a sign that he trusts God above all else. (There are, of course, times where his passivity brings grief to his house, but I don’t think the episode of the Phillistines is one of them.)

This will surprise no one, but I agree with Dex. Apparently what I meant by calling Isaac “Abraham II, heir to the promised land” wasn’t clear enough. I was alluding to the very passive nature (in this chapter only) of Isaac as relating, and that here he was more a placeholder for God’s covenant rather than the active man of righteousness Abraham was.

And that was a very good point about Isaac already having been tested at Mount Moriah.

New thread Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9