Isaac was a man in the middle. Look for him in the Bible… you won’t find much, but what you find will be in the middle of two Patriarchs who get quite a bit of Biblical narrative. You’ll find him in the middle of several controversies / conflicts … especially in the middle of his life (middle-aged). He gives a great example of how to act (or react) when we are in the middle, too.
When we catch up with Isaac in Genesis 26, Isaac is now without father or mother – married with two boys. He’s lived nearly 90 of his 180 years – carrying the torch of promise from Abraham to Jacob. He doing what’s normal: raising kids, burying parents, making a living. Then comes the test: FAMINE (v1). Reminiscent of his father’s time of testing (Gen. 12:10). Interesting to note here the diverse ways God treats the 3 patriarchs during famine / testing:
– Abraham – had liberty to go to Egypt or to stay … his fear of men proved that his move was not the best one
– Isaac – was told not to go to Egypt … if he would stay in the promised land, he would be blessed, and he was
– Jacob – was told to go to Egypt … God would use the evil intention of Joseph’s brothers to save his people.
God reminded Isaac of His promise to Abraham and to his seed (v2-3). ‘Stay here… your dad did a great job following and obeying me – in every way… you can too.’ If we dare to walk by faith and not by sight, as these men did, we must often be reminded of the promises which we stand on as God’s guarantees of grace.
Isaac responded with a mixture of faith and fear (v6-11). As we often do, we set out to obey and yet we find it possible to trust God with the big stuff, but to really sweat the small stuff (or vice versa). Isaac and family did stay, just like God had said, yet just like his father (20:11), he feared men who didn’t fear God and what they might do to him. [God doesn’t need men to fear him to have control over them!] Note: His method of self-preservation is in stark contrast with the self-sacrifice commanded to husbands in Eph. 5:25. It was a good thing Isaac was confronted and confessed his ‘deception’ to make ready the blessing.
In God’s sovereignty and by His grace, Isaac received tremendous blessings of bounty (v12-14). Unbelievable results the same year (as the famine? / as the sowing?) in the fields of crops. Increased livestock. Business must have been good – he was hiring lots of employees! (Reminds me of the Psalm 1 guy: “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”) He grew in greatness in three ways: ‘waxed great’ (favor with others); ‘went forward’ (through accomplishments); ‘grew…very great’ (maturing inwardly). But the story didn’t stop here – because greatness and achievements are not the end — the chief end of man is glorify God. There is more glory that God will gain in the rest of Issac’s life & in this chapter!
The blessings of God are often followed by the envious stare of others nearby. Isaac was at the top of his game, by God’s grace, but unbeknown to him, he had a huge target on his back (v15-21). When God chooses to give you something that He hasn’t yet given to someone else, it’s amazing how jealous others get. ‘It’s not fair that you have that and don’t share it with me…’ The envy of the locals made it very difficult for Isaac (filling up wells with dirt). Eventually they asked him to leave to their town – but just like envy, they were not satisfied with his move. Who can withstand the bully of envy (Prov. 27:4)? Twice, Isaac dug wells and the jealous came for them – forcing him further. At this point, Isaac is feeling more cursed than blessed (he named the wells: Contention and Hatred). Some things are worth fighting for… but Isaac’s example teaches that possessions are not one of them.
When conflict comes near, breathing room becomes a cherished treasure. Finally, Isaac found a little space (v22-25) and named his next well “Room.” This is exactly what David praised God for in Ps. 18:19 as being ‘set in a large place.’ It was during this moment that God appeared unto Isaac and reminded him that ‘I am God, your God. Don’t worry about those wells and those people because I am here – with you. My hand is still on you – remember the promise!’ Isaac gave the appropriate response: altar worship.
Soon after, three leaders from the ‘town of envy’ came to visit Isaac seeking a peace agreement (v26-32). ‘We want to be on your side because God is on your side.’ Isaac welcomed them graciously with a friend’s feast, swallowed his pride, relinquished his rights of revenge and blessed them by agreeing to their requests. As soon as he gave his commitment to these men and dismissed them, God blessed Isaac with an abundance of water in his well.
Four lessons about living right – in the middle:
1. Remind yourself & others of God’s promises to stay strong in your faith (He needed to rehearse God’s promise to him).
2. Return to your Christian heritage (Isaac re-dug the wells of his father when pushed out by everyone else).
3. Renew your fellowship with the Lord through worship (He respond to God’s nearness by building an altar).
4. Resolve to be a peacemaker (Isaac’s blessings came through commitment to friendship).