Genesis 26: Isaac’s Adversarial Relationship with the Philistines; Esau’s Marriages

Fresh water from new well

Hebrew-English Text

I. Summary

A famine strikes and Isaac settles in Philistine Gerar, where he presents Rebekah as his sister, gains protection from the king, and becomes very wealthy. The Philistines grow jealous and send him on his way to Beer Sheba. Isaac makes an oath (sh-v-‘) of peace with the Philistine king Abimelech, hence the name Beer Sheba (the well of sh-v-‘). Esau marries two Hittite girls, causing distress to his parents Isaac and Rebekah.

II. Photo

Water is found in Beer Sheba: “That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug, and said to him, ‘We have found water!’”  (v. 32)

III. Select Verses

1-5: Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

7-10: When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “My wife,” thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.” When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah. So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, “So she is your wife! Why then did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought I might die because of her.” 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.”

12-14: Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him, and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy.  He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.

23-25: From there he went up to Beer-sheba. And that very night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there, called on the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

34-35: When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.

IV. Outline

1-6. Isaac travels to Gerar

    1a. Another famine hits the land

    1b. Isaac travels to Abimelech, king of the Philistines in Gerar

    2-5. Yahweh tells Isaac to stay in the land and recapitulates his covenant with Abraham

    6. Isaac remains in Gerar

7-11. Isaac presents Rebekah as his sister

    7. Isaac presents Rebekah as his sister to save his own life

    8. Abimelech catches Isaac (root: tz-h-q) playing romantically (root tz-h-q) with Rebekah

    9-10. Abimelech chastises Isaac for potentially bringing punishment upon the Philistines, who would have slept with Rebekah

    11. Abimelech warns the Philistines not to touch Isaac or Rebekah

12-22. Isaac in Philistia 

    12-13. Isaac becomes a wealthy farmer in Philistia

    14-15. The Philistines grew envious and stopped up the wells dug by Abraham’s servants

    16. Abimelech tells Isaac to leave

    17. Isaac settles in the valley of Gerar and re-dug the wells of his father, giving them names

    19-20. The Philistines claimed the “contention” well their own

    21. The Philistines claimed the “hostility” well their own

    22. Isaac dug another well named Rehoboth “widening,” which he kept, because Yahweh made room for him to flourish

23-33. Isaac in Beer Sheba

    23. Isaac travels to Beer Sheba

    24. Yahweh appears to Isaac in a dream, blessing him with numerous offspring

    25a. Isaac builds an altar and calls in the name of Yahweh

    25b. Isaac’s servants dig a well there

    26-31. Abimelech comes to Isaac, makes an oath (shevuah) of peace over a meal, and departs in peace

    32-33. Isaac’s servants found water in their well, Isaac named the well “oath” (shevuah), hence the name Beer Sheba 

34-35. Troubles with Esau

    34. Esau marries Judith and Basemath, daughters of Hittites, at the age of forty

    35. This causes problems for Isaac and Rebekah

V. Comment


  • Regarding Isaac calling his wife Rebekah his “sister,” see Abraham’s similar actions with Sarah/Sarai in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) and in Gerar with Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-18).
  • Regarding the naming of Beer Sheba (verses 26-33), see Genesis 21:25-31 where the name is a reference to the seven (sheva’) ewes Abraham gave to Abimelech as proof that Abraham dug the well.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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