Genesis 26:7-11 “Isaac’s Faith Falters”

Posted on March 27, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

Read Gen. 26:7-11

So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. 8 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with  Rebekah his wife. 9 So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.’” 10 Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”




Introduction: This morning we are going to finish up the first part of this chapter, vss. 1-6 by picking up where we left off last week in vs.4. Then we shall begin the next section, vss. 7-11 and see how far we get.

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Introduction to vss. 7-11: This passage continues the themes of the Lord’s blessings upon Isaac and the similarities between Isaac and Abraham his father. We will see that Isaac sins in a similar way to his father but, Rebekah the matriarch is protected so the line of the Savior is preserved. The main idea is that the Lord proves faithful to the covenant he made to Abraham and passed down to Isaac. Here there is an example for us to avoid and the doctrine of God’s Providence is proclaimed.

  1. I.                   God Protects the Matriarch, vss.7-11
    1. A.      Like Father Like Son, vs. 7
      1. 1.       This event is quite similar to two incidents in Abraham’s life at 12:10-20 and again in 20:1-18. Liberal scholars tried to say that these stories all represent only one true story of this nature, but the differences between all three stories are enough to verify that these are indeed three separate incidents. Furthermore, knowing the sinfulness of man and how children often repeat the sins and mistakes of their parents, it is very plausible that Isaac resorted to the same ruse as his father.
      2. 2.       One substantial difference in the Isaac account compared to Abraham’s is that Sarah was in fact Abraham’s half sister while Rebekah is but a cousin. Isaac’s lie, then, is a total lie.
      3. 3.       One problem in the story is that in both Abraham’s mind and Isaac’s, they have what turns out to be an overly pessimistic view of the morals of the people of Gerar. Application: while all lost people are in fact lost, some are quite virtuous and moral, polite and civil- even more so than many who claim Christ. Have you any personal examples of lost people behaving better than Christians? Since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan there have been some news stories of how orderly and polite the Japanese have been and the near total absence of looting. Contrast that with what went on in New Orleans after Katrina.
      4. 4.       Notice that Isaac’s ruse occurs after receiving the theophany from the LORD and the promise of land and offspring. Furthermore, Isaac knew the story of how his father’s servant had been led to Rebekah by God’s Providence. If the LORD got him his wife through miraculous means, surely He could protect her!
      5. 5.       Application: How many times have we likewise sinned by failing to trust God immediately after his grace and Providence have been made manifest in our lives in some wonderful fashion when some new temptation or trial comes along? Faith and obedience are literally a minute by minute test for us frail creatures of dust who run with feet of clay. As the hymn says, “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing).
      6. 6.       Ross writes, p.459, “It is surprising that fear motivated Isaac’s plan. One would think that the recent theophany with its instructions for obedience and its promise of blessing as well as the divine presence would have engendered courage in the patriarch, but ironically it did not. When faced with a possible life-threatening situation, Isaac fell back on the plan to deceive the men of Gerar about his wife. Although he did not lose his wife to a royal harem, the lie made her available to others.”
      7. 7.       Ross’s point is that it was Isaac, acting out of fear instead of faith, who endangered the covenant and the promise. Isaac placed Rebekah in danger because now she was considered to be a single woman, very attractive and eligible. Wenham writes, p.190, “Here the narrative focuses on Isaac’s fears.”
      8. 8.       Calvin writes, p.60-61, “…on this point he ought rather to have avoided than imitated his father’s fault…the negligence of Isaac is inexcusable…he is to be blamed, first, because, for the sake of preserving his life, he resorts to an evasion not far removed from a lie; and secondly, because, in absolving his wife from conjugal fidelity, he exposes her to prostitution: but he aggravates his fault, principally …in not taking warning from domestic examples, but voluntarily casting his wife into manifest danger.”
      9. 9.       Read from Luther, pp.24-28.
      10. 10.   Kidner, p.153, writes, “Typically human, Isaac mixes faith and fear, an incompatible combination which can give a special quality of meanness to the sins of the religious; and nowhere more so than here.”
      11. 11.   “she was attractive in appearance”- beauty has many advantages but also many burdens. Many beautiful young women have been victims of rape, incest, abuse of various kinds and have learned to use their beauty to get what they want, to manipulate men. Physical beauty plus godliness is what is required. As we raise our daughters and granddaughters we must be sure to not just work to make them beautiful, but first and foremost, godly. The inner beauty of holiness is lasting but physical beauty can be vain.
    2. B.      Vss.8- The Ruse Is Discovered
      1. 1.       “When he had been there a long time…” We don’t know how long Isaac and Rebekah had been there, but it seems to have been a long time to prove that his fear was misplaced for Rebekah was not harmed. We do not know all of the details, perhaps various suitors approached Isaac for Rebekah’s hand in marriage.
      2. 2.       Kidner, p.153, “The force of a long time, is that Isaac’s fears proved groundless; yet he persists in them.” The problem is that once you start down the path of lying, it is rather difficult to stop. What was Isaac to do? Announce, “Hey guys, I  was just kidding, she is really my wife!” There is no graceful way out of this.
      3. 3.       Abimelech looked out of  a window – In Abraham’s two episodes the Pharaoh was alerted by a plague and Abimelech by a dream from God. This time Abimelech is allowed by Providence to see Isaac and Rebekah behaving like a married couple and deduces that they are in fact married.
      4. 4.       Laughing-caressing- the Hebrew is mesaheq related to saheq or Laughter, as in Isaac’s name, yishaq. The word is used in a negative way of Ishmael mocking Isaac in 21:9 and in 18:12-15 it is used to describe Sarah’s laughter of unbelief. It has a sexual connotation in 39:14,17 in the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife who was toying with Joseph.
      5. 5.       Ross writes, p.460, “The choice of the word is significant. On one level it simply reports that he was playing with his wife, but on another level there is an implication that his lapse of faith in deceiving the men of Gerar made a mockery of the great promise embodied in his name.”
    3. C.      Vss. 9-10 Abimelech Confronts Isaac
      1. 1.       Behold! She is your wife! – Mathews writes, p.406, “An impassioned exclamation initiates the charge, ‘behold!’ preceded by the emphatic adverb ‘indeed’.” Abimelech is clearly shocked and upset by this surprising discovery.
      2. 2.       Imagine the embarrassment that Isaac and Rebekah must have felt, the shame.
      3. 3.       “What is this you have done?” Similar language is used in 3:13 “then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?” And again in 4:10 to Cain “What have you done?” This is a clue by Moses that Isaac had sinned against the people Gerar and that Abimelech recognizes it as such. Wenham goes so far as to say, p.191, “Abimelek shows that he is a God-fearing man who eschews sin….Isaac’s behavior, Abimelek argues, far from bringing divine blessing on the nations (cf.26:4), has actually brought him and his people into a most dangerous situation.”
      4. 4.       “you would have brought guilt upon us”- here is a spiritual truth that is rarely taught or understood in today’s world but has enormous consequences if it is ignored and enormous blessings if it is practiced. Wenham writes, p.195, “…as Abimelek points out, the sin of Isaac could have led to divine punishment befalling the whole people.” One person’s sin can bring a guilt upon an entire city.
      5. 5.       This principle is clearly taught in Joshua 7 and the defeat of Israel at the Battle of Ai. Achan had stolen some things from Jericho after everything had been devoted to the LORD, and his guilt brought defeat to Israel in their next battle and people died. Waltke writes, p.369, “Abimelech understands the solidarity of a group. One person’s action affects the whole community. Achan’s sin brings God’s wrath upon all Israel (Josh.7:1). Likewise, Pharaoh’s and Abimelech’s offenses against Sarah bring God’s wrath upon their peoples (12:17; 20:7-9).”
      6. 6.       We see this principle in Romans 5 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
      7. 7.       15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
      8. 8.       18 Therefore, as one trespass  led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness  leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
      9. 9.       In a sense, Adam voted for sin back in the Garden, and ever since, people have suffered the effects of his vote. He sinned and everyone else is affected by his guilt. That’s the bad news.
      10. 10.   The good news is that Jesus did not sin, he perfectly kept the Law and pleased God in every way. When we trust in Jesus, his righteousness is credited to our account and when God looks at us, he sees the righteousness and the blood of his Son and considers us to be righteous.
      11. 11.   Application: how does this principle relate to some current political controversies in America? How does the shedding of innocent blood in abortion affect America? How does the immorality of same sex marriage affect America? How does the greed of our politicians, big business and the welfare system affect America?
    4. D.      Vs. 11 Abimelech Warns the People
      1. 1.       Instead of punishing Isaac, he warns his own people. Despite Isaac’s deception, Abimelech now places legal protection on Isaac and Rebekah, and with a severe penalty-death.

Conclusion: While Isaac faced the prospect of a famine with faith and courage, when confronted with a more personal threat, even if only imagined, his faith buckles and he relies instead on his own fear-based stratagem of deceiving people and endangering his wife. As Christians we are familiar with the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus during his trial. Any one of us is capable of denying Christ and giving in to fear instead of holding fast to the truth. We must realize that our lack of faith can affect others and harm the reputation of Christ and the Church.


Calvin, John. The Geneva Series of Commentaries. Genesis. Translated and edited by John King, 1847. Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, Scotland 1965 (originally published in Latin, 1554), (vol. 2 pp.60-66.)

Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Genesis: an Introduction and Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, ILL. 1967 (p.153.)

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol.5, Lectures on Genesis Chapters 26-30. Jaroslav Pelikan, editor; George V. Schick and Paul D. Pahl, translators. Concordia Publishing: Saint Louis, MO. 1968 (pp.24-60.)

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, vol.1B Genesis 11:27-50:26. 2005 (pp.405-407.)

Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 1996 (pp.459-461.)

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI 1991 (pp.369-372.)

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, TX 1994 (p.190-191.)


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