Genesis 26

Introduction
 
Isaac follows in his father’s footsteps.  In chapter 26, he heads for Egypt when famine hits, he tells the people of Gerar that his wife is really his sister, he becomes great and wealthy, he digs wells, and carefully resolves conflict with his neighbors, he builds an alter and offers sacrifice.  He is the first to “do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32). His works were a reflection of his father’s; his life was very much like Abraham’s after he settled in Canaan.  But above all, he receives the promise of the Lord that the covenant of Abraham will be renewed with him.  All those blessings will be his as well.  All those blessings will belong to his posterity as well.
 
In this respect, he becomes a type for every latter-day saint.  The promise was given to Abraham but the blessings of the promise are available to us as well, “I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake” (v. 24).  “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (v. 5).  Isaac benefited from the obedience of his father.  He qualified to be a recipient of the same great and magnificent blessings—so can we.
 
Genesis 26:1-3 there was a famine in the land
 
The land of Canaan where Isaac dwelt was inhospitable.  A famine threatened the survival of all three of the patriarchs (see Gen. 12:10; 41:54).  In that day, the closest point of relief was Egypt.  The only thing which kept Isaac from travelling to Egypt like his father was a direct revelation from the Lord, “Go not down into Egypt… Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee.”
 
Little had changed by the days of Lehi as Hugh Nibley explains:
 
“[The area] is among the most uninviting deserts on earth; though some observers think the area enjoyed a little more rainfall in antiquity than it does today, all are agreed that the change of climate has not been considerable since prehistoric times—it was at best almost as bad then as it is now.” (Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites, 56)
 
We should not be surprised then, that Isaac first established his residence by a well, “Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi” (Gen. 25:11).  Always in search of living water, the patriarchs were sojourners in a wilderness (both literally and figuratively), where conditions were harsh and water was scarce.  Uprooting the family in search of water was a dangerous proposition.  Everyone in the desert needs water and sometimes they are not in the mood to share.
 
Genesis 26:2 Go not down into Egypt
 
Notice that Isaac was not told why he should avoid Egypt; he was just told “Don’t go there.”  When the Lord gives us a warning, we had better heed it.  More willful souls always have to have a reason.  They ask, “Why shouldn’t I go to Egypt?” 
 
We should learn to be grateful for the Lord’s warnings and heed them strictly without always needing to know why.  Most of the time, we will find out later.
 
“[In 1976, I was headed back home to central England] Soon the train I was waiting for arrived. But as I stepped aboard, a distinct impression came over me. I stepped back, feeling strongly that I should not take the train but that I should return home via the bus. I had purchased a return train ticket, and I couldn’t really afford to pay for a bus ticket as well. My impression was so strong, however, that I could not ignore it…
 
“As soon as I had left the railway station, I felt a warmth that confirmed the correctness of my decision. After I arrived at the bus station, I had to wait more than an hour for a bus to take me home to Coventry. Had I taken the train, I would have already arrived—or so I thought. But on the bus, I didn’t get home until early evening.
 
“Turning on the television news, I was shocked by what I saw. The train I was scheduled to take had crashed just outside of Nuneaton! Many people had been injured, and there had been several fatalities.
 
“I always traveled in the front coach, just behind the train engine—an area that was severely damaged. I couldn’t help but think what would have happened to me had I not listened to the still, small voice… I am grateful for the warning, confirming voice of the Holy Ghost. I know that if we heed the voice of the Spirit, we cannot go wrong.” (“A Warning Voice,” Sandra Gates, Ensign, Feb. 2008)
 
Genesis 26:3 I will perform the oath which I sware
 
Oaths are associated with covenants.  The oath with which we are most familiar is the oath of the priesthood, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek” (Heb. 7:17, see also D&C 84).  An oath is a one-way promises from the Lord to us.  In this case, God had given Abraham a promise, with an oath associated with the Abrahamic covenant, that his seed would inherit the land.
 
Oaths are unilateral.  Also, they are more powerful than promises.  They are immutable and unchangeable.  They are guarantees that something will occur.  As mortals, we can’t guarantee anything and therefore the Lord advises us not to swear with an oath—because we risk breaking our oath, “Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool… Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make on hair white or black” (Matt. 5:34-36).  The Lord, however, doesn’t have to worry about his ability to perform his oaths.  They will come to pass.
 
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,
…For… an oath for confirmation is to [men] an end of all strife.
Wherein God… confirmed it by an oath…
in which it was impossible for God to lie [that] we might have a strong consolation… to lay hold upon the hope set before us. (Heb. 6:13-18)
 
Genesis 26:4  I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven
 
Russel M. Nelson
The covenant that the Lord first made to Abraham and reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob is of transcendent significance. It contained several promises:
 
  • Abraham’s posterity would be numerous, entitled to eternal increase and to bear the priesthood;
  • He would become a father of many nations;
  • Christ and kings would come through Abraham’s lineage;
  • Certain lands would be inherited;
  • All nations of the earth would be blessed by his seed;
  • That covenant would be everlasting—even through “a thousand generations.” (1 Chron. 15:16)
Some of these promises have been accomplished; others have yet to be. I quote from a prophecy given nearly 600 years B.C.: “Our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham.” (1 Ne. 15:18)
 
Precisely as promised, the Master appeared in these latter days to renew the Abrahamic covenant. To the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord declared: “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, … my servant Joseph. … This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham.” (D&C 132:30-31)
 
We are also children of the covenant. We have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our ancestors. We are of Israel. We have the right to receive the gospel, blessings of the priesthood, and eternal life. Nations of the earth will be blessed by our efforts and by the labors of our posterity. The literal seed of Abraham and those who are gathered into his family by adoption receive these promised blessings—predicated upon acceptance of the Lord and obedience to his commandments. (“Children of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1995, 33)
 
Genesis 26:7 the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister
 
Here we go again.  This is the third time in Genesis that a patriarch has been misleading about his relationship with his wife.  Abraham did it twice (Gen. 12:10-13; 20:2).  At least the first time, it was the Lord who commanded Abraham to do it.  Perhaps Isaac felt this gave him license to do the same thing.  The deceitfulness is hard to explain but it does underscore the problem that both Abraham and Isaac had—that to travel amidst a famine placed the women at risk.  They obviously felt that preserving the honor of their wives was of greatest import.
 
Genesis 26:8 Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife
 
What is the lesson of this incident?  Is it to pull down the shades? Sexual topics are often taboo in Mormon circles but a healthy sex life is one of the great blessings of fidelity in marriage.  Every couple married in the new and everlasting covenant should feel comfortable with each other sexually.  They should be just as fulfilled in this aspect of their lives as they are in every other.  That is what the marriage institution is for—to safeguard the expression of sexual intimacy.
 
“Sexual intimacy in marriage—it need not be a forbidden subject.  Many can’t even say the word sex without a flood of suspicion or negative connotations sweeping over them… Elder Parley P. Pratt addressed this notions, saying, ‘Some persons have supposed that our natural affections were the results of a fallen and corrupt nature, and that they are carnal, sensual, and devilish, and therefore ought to be resisted, subdued, or overcome as so many evils which prevent our perfection, or progress in the spiritual life… Our natural affections are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose…’
 
President Kimball promised, ‘Marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive.  This is within the reach of every couple, every person.’ Elder Pratt revealed the divine purposes and potential of sexual intimacy within marriage;
 
Our natural affections are planted in us by the Spirit of God, for a wise purpose; and they are the very main-springs of life and happiness—they are the cement of all virtuous and heavenly society—they are the essence of charity, or love… There is not a more pure and holy principle in existence than the affection which glows in the bosom of a virtuous man for his companion… The fact is, God made man, male and female; he planted in their bosoms those affections which are calculated to promote their happiness and union.
 
“God designed sexual relations to be a divine privilege and a glorious experience between husband and wife.  Fulfilling sexual relations can ignite and enliven a marriage in a way nothing else can.” (And They Were Not Ashamed, LM Brotherson, [Boise: Inspire Book, 2013], xviii-xxii)
 
Genesis 26:9 Lest I die for her
 
Back then, it must have been a well-known fact that a man might be murdered in order to free his widow to marry another. Abraham and Isaac are both concerned about their safety, but they are also concerned with the safety and honor of their wives.  The most important thing is that God was on their side—so that their lives and their wives were preserved.
 
Genesis 26:20-22 the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdmen, saying, the water is ours
 
The greatest single lesson from Isaac’s life comes from this story of conflict over water.  His servants and the men of Gerar are fighting.  Water rights were a life and death issue and so were the fights over them. Now Isaac has grown great with many servants.  He probably had the strength to take matters in his own hands and take the well by force.  He chose not to do that.
 
He could have tried to settle things through legal means (if they existed in that day).  He could have hired a lawyer, gone to the judge, and sued for every last drop of water that was rightfully his!  He chose not to do that.
 
Herein is a lesson for the Latter-Day Saints.  How did Isaac respond to conflict?  When he was wronged, how did he act? He simply walked away and sought for water elsewhere.   But he was in the right!  Shouldn’t he have held his ground and fought for what was his?  Like his father Abraham, he was smarter than that; he knew that the conflict was not worth the water.  Contention is never worth the fight.  It is not worth the hard feelings.  It is not worth driving away the Spirit.  It is not worth the hatred that Satan feeds us until our appetite for negativity becomes insatiable.
 
So Isaac turns the other cheek and moves on.  What happens at the next well?  The same thing happens.  The fight over water rights resumes at a second location.  Well, Isaac has already turned the other cheek and he only has two cheeks.  After being slapped, as it were, on the second cheek, he has every right to get nasty.  But he believes in Alma’s maxim, “that there should be no contention one with another.” Rather than fight, he chose to dig elsewhere yet again.
 
The third time Isaac succeeded in finding water of his own.  He may have avoided years of contention and decades of war with his neighbors because he had the wisdom to dig a couple more wells.  He avoided contention; he was a peacemaker; he trusted the Lord to make up the difference, “for now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” (v. 22)
 
Gene R. Cook
Unto him who smiteth thee on the cheek, offer also the other; or, in other words, it is better to offer the other, than to revile again. And him who taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.
 
"For it is better that thou suffer thine enemy to take these things, than to contend with him…” (JST Luke 6:29-30).
 
The Lord seems to be saying we should give another our cloak in order to avoid contention—that it is better to lose the coat than to contend over it. The Lord in that way showed his great dislike for contention.
 
When people become angry, they usually harden the hearts of others in stirring them up to anger. That is one of the great tools of the devil—to get us to contend one with another. The devil delights in that because it hardens our hearts toward what is good, toward other people, and toward the Lord himself. And when our hearts are hardened, it is increasingly difficult for the Spirit to get through to us to teach us and guide us. (Raising Up a Family to the Lord [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1993], 307)
 
Hugh W. Pinnock
There were two ranchers living side by side in southwestern Montana. They bickered and fought because each thought a rusty barbed wire fence that separated their ranches was not the true property line. Each felt the other was encroaching upon his land. The real estate records were unclear at the county courthouse.
 
They forbade their children to play with one another. The conflict became worse. Finally, after years of exchanging words and threats, one of the ranchers said to himself, “Enough of this.” He drove down the lane from his place onto the county road and then down the long driveway to his neighbor’s place.
 
“What do you want?” his adversary asked.
 
“Look, you take your hired men and your sons, and I’ll take mine; and we’ll put the fence wherever you’d like it. I’ve had enough of this. I want us to be friends.”
 
His raw-boned neighbor softened, and tears ran down both of their faces. The neighbor responded, “Hey, let’s drive to Virginia City and record that the present fence is where both of us want the property line to be.”
 
They did and the problem was solved. (“The Blessing of Being Unified,” Ensign, May 1987)
 
Marvin J. Ashton
Contention builds walls and puts up barriers. Love opens doors. (Ensign, May 1978, 8)
 
Genesis 26:18 Isaac digged again the wells of water
 
When Christ taught of living waters at Jacob’s well, he said, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”  (John 4:14)  This bold proclamation recalled centuries of tradition in an arid and unrelenting climate—that a good well was the very wellspring of life itself.  Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life; He was the metaphorical well of Jacob.  Like a well that never runs dry, his love, grace, and mercy quench the thirst of the parched soul. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob seemed to understand God as the wellspring of their lives better than their descendants.
 
“The wells of Abraham were not only proven wells: they would be easier to draw from than new wells would.  It is true that the Philistines had done their worst to spoil them by flinging in them earth and stones. Yet it would take less labor to clear these wells than to dig wells in hard, new ground. So it is in uncovering the waters from which faith has already drunk…
 
“The wells of the fathers are the wells which are rich in sentiment. When Isaac went back to where he had been with Abraham, old memories awoke.  The water he drank there slaked the thirst not only of his body but of his spirit.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 673)
 
Genesis 26:24-25 he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and… digged a well
 
A. Theodore Tuttle
Altar, tent, and well. Isaac did not become an Abraham or a Jacob. He did not reach the heights of Abraham, called the “father of the faithful.” Nor was he as impressive as his son Israel, father of the twelve tribes. Yet Isaac is loved and revered. He worshiped God, cared for his home, and pursued his work. He is remembered simply as a man of peace. The eloquent simplicity of his life and his unique ability to lend importance to the commonplace made him great.
 
Altar, tent, and well: his worship, his home, his work. These basic things of life signified his relationship to God, his family, and his fellowmen. Every person on earth is touched by these three.
 
Isaac worshiped at an altar of stone. He sought there answers to life’s questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?
 
These questions every man asks. These questions continue with us…
 
To know the word and works of God, Isaac knelt in his day at his altar. His tent, a home for himself and family, was sacred to him, as our homes are to us.
 
To Latter-day Saints, the home is a holy place, patterned after the celestial home whence we came. The priesthood-led home is the loftiest spiritual unit we know.
 
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a family church. In its missionary work we seek to bring families into the Church. We teach the principles and perform ordinances that unite the family for eternity. Indeed, we may say that a prime purpose of this church is to perfect and exalt the family…
 
Kneeling at his altar, mindful of his family in his tent, Isaac found most of his working hours consumed in watching over wells he had caused to be digged. His flocks were nourished by them. His simple dependence upon the water and the soil and the forage that grew is little different in our day, for man must work.
 
The revelations say that “every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide. …” ( D&C 75:28.)
 
In the beginning the Lord decreed, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. …” ( Gen. 3:19.)
 
Ever since the restoration in 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has encouraged thrift and fostered work as the ruling principle among its members…
 
How little things have changed since Isaac’s day—the things that really matter. There is the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same family roles to fill, the same need to work.
 
Altar, tent, and well: these things are essential. Placed in proper perspective by God’s revealed word, they provide at once our greatest challenge and achievement. (Conference Report, October 1972, 66-69)
 
Genesis 26:33 the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day
 
The scribes rewriting the book of Genesis probably lived around 900-1000 BC.  They were aware of the city of Beersheba and invited the reader to consider its historical importance as the place where Isaac found water and dug a well.  Whenever you see the phrase, “unto this day,” think of the author as a tour guide for the reader.  For the ancient Jews, Genesis was like a visitor’s map for a church history tour with the scribe-author-tour-guide telling what happened at each location.
 
“Beersheba is mentioned in the Book of Genesis in connection with Abraham the Patriarch and his pact with Abimelech. Isaac built an altar in Beersheba (Genesis 26:23–33). Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beersheba. (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). Beersheba was the territory of the tribe of Shimon and Judah (Joshua 15:28 and 19:2). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3). The prophet Amos mentions the city in regard to idolatry (Amos 5:5 and 8:14). Following the Babylonian conquest and subsequent enslavement of many Israelites, the town was abandoned. After the Israelite slaves returned from Babylon, they resettled the town.
 
“The site was probably chosen due to the abundance of water, as evidenced by the numerous wells in the area. According to the Bible, the wells were dug by Abraham and Isaac when they arrived there. The streets were laid out in a grid, with separate areas for administrative, commercial, military, and residential use. According to the Hebrew Bible, Beersheba was the southernmost city of the territories settled by Israelites, hence the expression "from Dan to Beersheba" to describe the whole kingdom.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beersheba)
 
Genesis 26:34-35 Judith… and Bashemath… were a grief of mind to Isaac and to Rebekah
 
Bruce R. McConkie
When “Esau was forty years old, … he took to wife Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite: Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.” (Gen. 26:34–35)
 
That is to say, Esau married out of the Church; Esau did not marry in the everlasting covenant revealed to Abraham; Esau chose to live after the manner of the world, rather than to keep the standards of righteousness which the Lord had given them. In the light of all this, the account says:
 
“And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” (Gen. 27:46)
 
In effect she is saying, “If Jacob marries out of the Church as Esau has done, what good is there left for me in life?” (“Our Sisters from the Beginning,” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 62)