26 1 Now a famine was in the land, aside from the former famine that occurred in the days of Abraham. Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, to Gerar. 2 YHWH appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Continue to settle in the land that I will tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land that I may be with you and bless you — to you and your seed I will give all of these lands. I will fulfill the oath I swore to Abraham, your father. 4 I will make your seed as many as the stars in the sky, and I will give your seed all these lands. All of the nations of the earth will be blessed through your seed 5 because Abraham listened to my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my instructions.”
6 So Isaac stayed in Gerar. 7 When the men who lived there asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “My wife”— thinking, The men who live there will kill me over Rebekah, for she is beautiful to look upon. 8 It was after Isaac had lived there for a long time that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out a window and saw Isaac laughing-and-loving with Rebekah, his wife.
9 So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “Look, she is your wife, so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?”
Isaac responded, “Because I thought I might be killed over her.”
10 Abimelech said, “What have you done to us? One of the people might have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us!” 11 Abimelech commanded all of the people, “Anyone who touches this man or his wife will be put to death. To death!”
12 Isaac sowed in that land and reaped that year a hundredfold, and YHWH blessed him. 13 The man grew ever greater and richer until he was exceedingly great. 14 He possessed flocks and herds and many slaves. The Philistines envied him. 15 All the wells his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham, his father, the Philistines closed up and filled with dirt. 16 Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you have become too numerous among us.”
17 So Isaac went from there, camped in the Wadi of Gerar, and settled there. 18 Isaac again dug the wells that were dug during the lifetime of Abraham, his father, which the Philistines had closed up after Abraham’s death. He called them the same names his father had given them. 19 Isaac’s servants dug in the wadi, and they found
therefresh water. 20 The shepherds of Gararargued with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water is ours.” So Isaac named the well Esek/Bickering because they argued with him. 21 They dug another well and argued about it, too, and he called it Sitnah/Animosity. 22 He moved on and dug another well; they did not argue over it. He named it Rehoboth/Space and said, “Look, the Lord has made space for us that we may bear fruit in the land.”
In the midst of the story of Esau and Jacob, we have a flashback to a previous time in Isaac’s life when he was an actor, not someone standing in the wings. Even so, he so closely follows Abraham that he remains a repeat figure caught between Abraham the Covenanter and Jacob the Wrestler. Isaac was passive at Moriah. We have only heard of his initiative with a plea, which is questionably his, to YHWH for a child for Rebekah. Now in a repeat famine, he moves toward Egypt but cannot escape the covenant made with Abraham about this land. Isaac carries the shell of Abraham’s seed along until it can spring forth from Jacob, as Israel.
As a result of being a pale image of Abraham, Isaac repeats some of Abraham’s life. Another famine arrives and Isaac revisits Abimelech. YHWH warns Isaac not to go to Egypt where Abram passed Sarai off as a sister. YHWH does not warn Isaac for his own sake but because of a promise made to Abraham. Isaac seems not to be taken into YHWH’s confidence and is a partial reason for the lack of Isaac’s references to YHWH as his “Lord.”
At Gerar, it is the men of that place who now ask after Rebekah (not Abimelech who had learned his lesson and paid the price of livestock and property). Isaac, still recognizing the comeliness of Rebekah in his first sight of her, fears the men will desire her and kill him. Like Abraham, Isaac fudges the truth and even goes further, for even though a relative, Rebekah is of a different generation. There is no divine intervention as with plagues for a Pharaoh or a dream for Abimelech. Here, Abimelech merely glances out a window to see Isaac fondling Rebekah. Abimelech figures out what was happening had happened to him once before.
Under Abimelech’s protection, Isaac flourishes to the point of the still anachronistic Philistines to apply economic pressure by stopping-up his wells—as a repeat of Abraham’s experience.
Isaac moves on and digs more wells that were also stopped-up. Finally, a well is left alone and Isaac names that well and place, Rehoboth/Open Space—fruitfulness is now on the horizon.