Genesis 26

The Word Made Fresh

1Another famine befell the land like the earlier one in Abraham’s time. Isaac moved to the area of Gerar, the home of King Abimelech of the Philistines, 2because the LORD had appeared to Isaac and said, “Don’t go to Egypt. Remain in this land where I have told you to live. 3Stay here (near Gerar) for a while and I will be with you and reward you. I will give all these lands to your descendants just as I promised your father Abraham. 4Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and I will give them all these lands. All the people on earth will be blessed through your family 5because Abraham was obedient to me and obeyed me.”

6So Isaac remained in Gerar. 7When the men of Gerar asked about his wife he told them she was his sister because he was afraid that if he said she was his wife they might kill him for her, because she was very attractive.

8When Isaac had been there for quite some time, the Philistine king, Abimelech, looked out a window and saw Isaac fondling Rebekah. 9He summoned Isaac. “She is your wife!” he said, “Why did you say she is your sister.”

“Because,” Isaac said, “I was afraid I might die because of her.

10“What have you done? One of my people might have seduced your wife and you would have brought great blame on us.” So, Abimelech warned the people. “Whoever touches this man or his wife,” he said, “will be put to death.”

12Isaac planted seed in that land and at harvest time reaped a hundred times what he had planted. The LORD helped him, 13and he was enriched, prospering more and more until he became quite wealthy. 14He had flocks and herds, a large household of family and servants, and the Philistines were jealous of him. (15Now, they stopped up and buried the wells that the servants of his father Abraham had dug.) 16Abimelech told Isaac to leave. “You have become too strong for us. You have to move on.”

17Isaac moved on and settled in the valley of Gerar. 18He reopened the wells that were dug in his father Abraham’s days, the ones the Philistines had covered after Abraham died. Isaac renamed them the names his father had given them. 19Isaac’s servants discovered a new well in the valley, 20but the herdsmen from Gerar argued that it was their well, and Isaac named it Esek (“disagreement”) because they had quarreled. 21They dug another well, but they argued over that one, too, so he named it Sitnah (“enmity”). 22He moved on some distance from there and dug another one, and this time there was no argument, so he named it Rehoboth (“room”) because he said, “Now the LORD has given us room. We shall be successful in this land.”

23From that place he moved on to Beer-sheba, 24and that same night the LORD came to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Don’t be afraid. I am with you and will reward you and give you many descendants. I do this because I promised Abraham that I would do it.” 25Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD and camped there. His servants dug another well.

26Then Abimelech came, with his adviser Ahuzzath and his general Phicol. 27Isaac said, “Why are you here? You didn’t like me, and you ran me off!”

28They said, “It is clear to us now that the LORD has been with you, so let’s make an agreement; a treaty with each other. 29Agree to do no harm to us, just as we have never harmed you and always treated you well, and we sent you away in peace. You have become the LORD’s protected one.”

30So, Isaac prepared a meal and they ate and drank together. 31The next morning they arose early. They pledged the agreement with each other and Isaac sent them on their way. They left in peace. 32That very day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. “We’ve found water!” they said. 33Isaac named it Shibah (“promise”), and that is why the city is called Beer-sheba (“well of the promise”) to this very day.

34When Esau was 40 years old he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite. Then he married Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35They made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah.


1-5: A famine in the land sends Isaac over to Gerar where there is King Abimelech of the Philistines. Can it be the same Abimelech encountered by Abraham (20:2)? Many years have passed, but the story which follows is so close to the story of Abraham’s dealings with Abimelech we have to wonder if somehow they became confused.

Of course, the reason this story is told (again?) is that while in Gerar God repeats the covenant arrangement to Isaac that he had made with Abraham. The promise of land and lineage is a constant theme throughout most of Genesis.

6-11: Isaac passes his wife off as his sister, very much like Abraham with Sarah in chapter 20, where we are simply told that Abimelech took Sarah. This time, though, we are assured that nothing untoward happened with Rebekah, while the story with Abraham and Sarah leaves us wondering.

12-16: Isaac is very successful at farming and herding, until the Philistines are threatened by him and Abimelech asks him to leave.

17-22: Isaac camps a distance away from the city and reopens wells that the Philistines had filled in, wells that Abraham’s servants had opened. Abimelech’s herders claim the first two wells as their own, but do not dispute the third well which, again, is very similar to the Abraham story in 21:25.

23-25: He moves on to Beer-sheba, where God once again assures him of his protection. Isaac builds an altar there and has a well dug. He plans to stay awhile.

26-33: Abimelech and Phicol we’ve met before (21:22), but Ahuzzath is new. Abimelech makes a treaty with Isaac just as he had done with Abraham. Another clue that these Isaac stories have become confused with Abraham stories is the name of the place, Beer-sheba. Here it is explained as being based on the word “shibah,” and implies that it is a new place name, but at 21:31 it was called Beer-sheba because Abraham and Abimelech swore an oath together there.

34: Meanwhile, Esau marries a couple of Canaanite (Hittite) girls, giving Rebekah and Isaac no end of distress.


The stories of the patriarchs of Israel circulated orally, probably for many generations, before they became included in the ancient Torah of the Jews. Throughout this early history God is being faithful to a particular group of people, beginning with Noah in chapter 6. Other peoples are not totally abandoned, and we even see honorable behavior in them and God is dealing with them more and more kindly. Compare, for example, God’s reaction to the sexual perversions of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. We have noted before that God’s expectations of humankind seem to be developing over time, and God’s reaction to their sinfulness less severe.