Bible Commentaries
Genesis 26

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) Isaac went . . . unto Gerar.—Following the stream of Semitic migration (Genesis 12:15), Isaac had originally purposed going to Egypt, but is commanded by God to abide in the land, and upon so doing he receives the assurance that he will be confirmed in the inheritance of the promises made to his father. Isaac was now dwelling at the well Lahai-Roi, and though the exact site of this place is unknown, yet it lay too far to the south for Isaac to have gone to Gerar on his direct way to Egypt.

Verses 1-35

THE TÔLDÔTH ISAAC (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29).


Abraham begat Isaac—The Tôldôth in its original form gave probably a complete genealogy of Isaac, tracing up his descent to Shem, and showing thereby that the right of primogeniture belonged to him; but the inspired historian uses only so much of this as is necessary for tracing the development of the Divine plan of human redemption.

The Syrian.—Really, the Aramean, or descendant of Aram. (See Genesis 10:22-23.) The name of the district also correctly is “Paddan-Ararn,” and so far from being identical with Aram-Naharaim, in Genesis 24:10, it is strictly the designation of the region immediately in the neighbourhood of Charran. The assertion of Gesenius that it meant “Mesopotamia, with the desert to the west of the Euphrates, in opposition to the mountainous district towards the Mediterranean,” is devoid of proof. (See Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier, 1, p. 304.) In Syriac, the language of Charran, padana means a plough (1 Samuel 13:20), or a yoke of oxen ( 1 Samuel 11:7); and this also suggests that it was the cultivated district close to the town. In Hosea 12:12 it is said that “Jacob fled to the field of Aram;” but this is a very general description of the country in which he found refuge, and affords no basis for the assertion that Padan-aram was the level region. Finally, the assertion that it is an ancient name used by the Jehovist is an assertion only. It is the name of a special district, and the knowledge of it was the result of Jacob’s long-continued stay there. Chwolsohn says that traces of the name still remain in Faddân and Tel Faddân, two places close to Charran, mentioned by Yacut, the Arabian geographer, who flourished in the thirteenth century.

Isaac intreated the Lord.—This barrenness lasted twenty years (Genesis 25:26), and must have greatly troubled Isaac; but it would also compel him to dwell much in thought upon the purpose for which he had been given to Abraham, and afterwards rescued from death upon the mount Jehovah-Jireh. And when offspring came, in answer to his earnest pleading of the promise, the delay would serve to impress upon both parents the religious significance of their existence as a separate race and family, and the necessity of training their children worthily. The derivation of the verb to intreat, from a noun signifying incense, is uncertain, but rendered probable by the natural connection of the idea of the ascending fragrance, and that of the prayer mounting heavenward (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4).

The children struggled together.—Two dissimilar nations sprang from Abraham, but from mothers totally unlike; so, too, from the peaceful Isaac two distinct races of men were to take their origin, but from the same mother, and the contest began while they were yet unborn. And Rebekah, apparently unaware that she was pregnant with twins, but harassed with the pain of strange jostlings and thrusts, grew despondent, and exclaimed—

If it be so, why am I thus?—Literally, If so, why am I this? Some explain this as meaning “Why do I still live?” but more probably she meant, If I have thus conceived, in answer to my husband’s prayers, why do I suffer in this strange manner? It thus prepares for what follows, namely, that Rebekah wished to have her condition explained to her, and therefore went to inquire of Jehovah.

She went to enquire of the Lord.—Not to Shem, nor Melchizedek, as many think, nor even to Abraham, who was still alive, but, as Theodoret suggests, to the family altar. Isaac had several homes, but probably the altar at Bethel, erected when Abraham first took possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7), and therefore especially holy, was the place signified; and if Abraham were there, he would doubtless join his prayers to those of Rebekah.

Verse 2

(2) The Lord appeared unto him.—Only once besides does Jehovah manifest himself to Isaac (Genesis 26:24), and sixty years had now passed since the revelations recorded in Genesis 22:0. Excepting to Abraham, it was only at rare and distant intervals that God spake to the patriarchs. The greater part of their lives was spent under the control of the same ordinary Providence as that which governs our actions now; but on special occasions God was pleased to confirm their faith in Him in a way not necessary now that we have had made known to us the whole counsel of God.

Verses 3-4

(3, 4) These countries.—On the archaic form of the pronoun these, see Note on Genesis 19:8. The countries are enumerated in Genesis 15:19-21. For the “oath,” see Genesis 22:16; and for the metaphor, “as the stars,” see Genesis 15:5.

Verse 7

(7) He said, She is my sister.—We have already seen that Abraham at Gerar showed no consciousness of having done wrong in denying his wife (Genesis 20:2); and we now find Isaac imitating his example with even less reason for his conduct. The circumstances are, however, different. It is the people who inquire about Isaac’s relation to Rebekah, and though she was “fair to look upon,” yet no annoyance followed upon his denial of her. The king after “a long time” detects their intimacy; but there are no presents, and no marks of respect to Rebekah, and no friendship. It is only after long quarrels, during which Isaac is obliged to withdraw to a long distance from Gerar, that finally peace is made between them.

Verse 8

(8) Abimelech.—Upon this title of the Philistine monarchs see Note on Genesis 21:22. As eighty years had elapsed since Abraham’s sojourn in Gerar, it is highly improbable that the same king was still reigning; but both king and people maintain on this occasion the good character previously deserved. The Philistines, however, at this period, were a feeble colony of strangers, and were kept in restraint by a sense of their weakness. They had received a vast accession of strength from abroad before they became formidable enemies of the Israelites at the end of the period of the Judges. (See Genesis 10:14.)

Verse 12

(12) Isaac sowed in that land.—When Abraham planted a tamarisk-tree at Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:33) it showed that he regarded the place as a permanent residence, which it was worth his while to adorn, and to provide for its increasing pleasantness. Isaac and Jacob took a still further step in advance towards a settled life when they began to cultivate plots of ground. At first, however, Isaac did no more than the Bedaween do at present; for they often sow a piece of land, wait till the crop is ripe, and then resume their roving habits. Permanently to till the soil is with them a mark of inferiority (Genesis 25:16). But the tendency, both with Abraham and Isaac, had long been to remain in the region about Beer-sheba. Isaac had been driven thence by the famine, by which he had probably lost much of his cattle, and many even of his people. Apparently he was even so weakened thereby as to be no match for the Philistines of Gerar. His large harvest recouped him for his losses, and made him once more a prosperous man; and in due time Beer-sheba was again his home, and with settled habits agriculture was·sure to begin.

An hundredfold.—The Heb. is, a hundred measures, but the word is unknown elsewhere, and the LXX. and Syriac read, a hundred of barley, measures being understood, as in Ruth 3:15. Herodotus (Book i. 193) mentions two—and even three—hundredfold as possible in Babylonia; but our Lord seems to give one hundredfold as the extreme measure of productiveness in Palestine (Matthew 13:8). Such a return, like Isaac’s, would be rare and extraordinary.

Verse 14

(14) Great store of servants.—Marg., husbandry. In Job 1:3 the word is rendered household in the text, and husbandry again in the margin. Literally it means making employment, and answers to our word business. But if in a man’s life there is much activity and plenty to do, there must be people to do it, and profits made whereby to maintain them. And thus the translation, “great store of servants,” gives the sense; but we see besides that Isaac kept them all actively employed,

Verse 15

(15) The wells.—In the East the digger of a well is regarded as a public benefactor; but the Philistines stopped those that Abraham had digged, probably because they regarded his possession of them, though confirmed by the covenant between him and Abimelech (Genesis 21:32), as an intrusion upon their rights as the people of the country, Envious, too, at the rapid increase of an alien’s wealth, they determined to drive Isaac away; and for this no expedient would be more effectual than the preventing him from procuring water for his cattle. Following upon this came an express command of the king to depart, which Isaac obeyed; for he had sought refuge there because of the famine, and had no right to continue at Gerar, if the people refused their hospitality.

Verse 17

(17) The valley of Gerar.—The word nahal, rendered “valley,” means a narrow defile through which a summer torrent flows. In the bed of these streams water can generally be found by digging, and Isaac hoped that he was far enough from the city for the enmity to cease. But he was mistaken, though he seems for a short period to have been left in peace.

Verses 18-22

(18-22) Isaac digged again the wells . . . —This activity of Isaac called forth anew the opposition of the Philistines, His first well was in the wady of Gerar, and was the more valuable because it was not the mere remains of the water of the torrent, but was fed by a spring, as we learn from its being called “a well of living water.” But though Isaac had a right to these wells by reason of the old covenant between his father and the king, yet when his claim was resisted he abandoned the well, but in token of displeasure called it Esek, contention. When compelled to resign his next well he called it by a harsher name—Sitnah, enmity; for their opposition was developing into bitter persecution. And now, wearied with the strife, he withdrew far away, and the Philistines, having gained their end, followed him no farther. In quiet, therefore, he again dug a well, and called it Rehoboth, wide open spaces. It has been identified with one in the wady Ruhaibeh now stopped up, but originally twelve feet in diameter and cased with hewn stone. It lies to the south of Beer-sheba, at a distance of 8⅓ leagues, and about forty miles; away from Gerar.

Verses 23-25

(23-25) He went up from thence to Beer-sheba.—This was a very serious act on Isaac’s part He leaves the solitudes where he had found a refuge from the enmity of the Philistines, and returns to a place scarcely five leagues distant from their city. Should the old rancour revive, it may now take the form of actual war. And next, he does not go back to the well Lahai-Roi, where he had so long resided, but to Beer-sheba, his father’s favourite home. It was a claim on his part to the rights and inheritance of Abraham, and the claim was admitted. The same night Jehovah appears to him, bids him put away his fears, and renews to him the promises which were his by the right of his birth.

My servant Abraham.—A title of high honour and significance, given to Moses repeatedly, to Joshua (Joshua 24:29), to Israel (Isaiah 41:8), and to the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13). It means God’s prime minister and vicegerent.

He builded an altar.—In returning to Beer-sheba, Isaac had apparently faced the dangers of his position, through confidence in the promises made to his father, with whom he identified himself by taking up his abode at his home. And no sooner are the promises confirmed to him than he restores the public worship of God in the very place where Abraham had established it (Genesis 21:33).

Digged a well.—The word is not that previously used in the chapter, but one that signifies the re-opening of the well which Abraham had dug, but which had become stopped by violence or neglect.

Verse 26

(26) Abimelech went to him.—The return of Isaac to Beer-sheba was a matter of serious importance also to Abimelech. The Philistines were themselves an alien race, and an alliance between Isaac and Ishmael, and others of the Semitic stock, might end in their expulsion from the country. Abraham had also been confederate with the Amorites (Genesis 14:13), and on friendly terms with the Hittites (Genesis 23:6), the two most powerful races of Canaan, and they might be ready to aid his son. When, then, Isaac thus retraced his steps, Abimelech, uncertain of Isaac’s purpose, deter mined to offer peace and friendship, and to propose the renewal of the old covenant which had existed between Abraham and the people of Gerar.

Ahuzzath.—This is one of several points peculiar to this narrative; but it is uncertain whether it be a proper name, or whether, with the Targum and Jerome, we are to understand by it a company, that is, an escort of friends. If it be a proper name, the rendering should be, Ahuzzath, his friend, that is, his confidant and privy counsellor.

Phichol.—See Note on Genesis 21:22.

Verse 27

(27) Wherefore come ye to me?—Isaac’s return had brought matters to a crisis, and the king must now decide whether there was to be peace or war.

Verses 28-29

(28, 29) Let there be now an oath.—The word literally signifies a curse. Each side uttered an imprecation, with the prayer that it might fall upon himself if he broke the terms of the covenant.

Let us make a covenant.—Heb., cut. (See Note on Genesis 15:10; Genesis 15:18; where also see the explanation of this use of the word curse.)

The Lord was with thee . . . blessed of the Lord.—This use of the word “Lord,” that is, Jehovah, is very remarkable. In Genesis 21:22-23 Abimelech uses the term Elohim, God, in accordance with the careful discrimination in the use of the names of the Deity often previously referred to. By the long residence, first of Abraham and then of Isaac, in their territory, the Philistines would indeed have become better acquainted with the religion of the patriarchs; but as Jehovah was not their special title for the Deity (Exodus 6:3), we must conclude, with Rosenmüller, that it was Moses who wrote Jehovah in the place of the word actually employed by Abimelech. We gather, however, that the king did not use any generic or heathen names of the Deity, but that whereby the patriarchs worshipped their covenant God, and his so doing was probably intended as an act of homage to Him.

Verse 32

(32) We have found water.—As there are two wells at Beer-sheba, it is uncertain whether this was Abraham’s well, re-opened by Isaac (see Genesis 26:25), or a new one.

Verse 33

(33) Therefore the name of the city is Beer-sheba unto this day.—There was no city at this time at Beer-sheba, but one is mentioned at the conquest of Canaan by Joshua (Joshua 15:28). This note, as is the case generally with those which speak of a thing existing “unto this day,” was added by Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue, after the return from Babylon (comp. Genesis 22:14); and its meaning is that, whereas Abraham’s name had been forgotten while the place lay desolate, this remarkable coincidence of the water being again found, just when the covenant had been confirmed by the customary sevenfold sacrifice, so impressed the minds of the people that the title of Beer-sheba never again passed into oblivion.

Verse 34


(34) Esau was forty years old.—He was there fore of exactly the same age as Isaac was when, sixty years before, he married Rebekah. But by thus inter marrying with idolaters Esau violated the great principle laid down by Abraham (Genesis 24:3), forfeited thereby his birthright, and, as such marriages were illegal, is even called a fornicator in Hebrews 12:16. As his conduct was regarded by his parents with “grief of mind”—Heb., bitterness of spirit: that is, with mingled anger and sorrow—Esau partially repented, and took as a third wife a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9). In the Tôldôth Esau (Genesis 36:2-3) the names are different, and a fourth wife, of the inhabitants of Seir, takes the place of Judith.

Judith.—The names are remarkable, as showing that the Hittites spoke a Semitic tongue. Judith is the feminine form of Judah, and means praised. Beeri can scarcely be the original name of her father, as it means well-finder, but was probably gained by his skill in discovering water. We find it, however, in the genealogy of Hosea (Hosea 1:1). Bashemath or Basmath, the fragrant, was the name also of a daughter of Solomon (1 Kings 4:15); and Elon, oak-grove, was the name of a judge (Judges 12:11).

As this conduct of Esau prepares the mind for his final rejection and loss of the birthright, the place of these two verses would rightly be at the beginning of Genesis 27:0. The Jews arrange them as a separate section.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 26". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.