His Story Repeats Itself (Genesis 26:1-33)

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A common observation is that “history repeats itself.” We are probably familiar with the quip, “The only thing that we learn from history is that we never learn from history.” And thus we continue to repeat the same blunders generation after generation. This is easily observed in the histories of empires, nations, business cycles, families and, sadly, even the church. Things just do not seem to change much from one generation to the next. We still seem to make the same mistakes, to commit the same familiar sins as those that have gone before. “Will we ever get it right?” might be the purist’s lament.

But alongside the observation that history repeats itself regarding our failures, we should also note that, when it comes to the faithfulness of God, thankfully, “His story” continues to repeat itself. In spite of the failures of God’s people, the Seed did come in space and time, and since then, even though New Testament history seems to repeat many of the failures of Old Testament history, the church marches on. We may fail, but God is always fruitfully faithful.

A wonderfully encouraging example of this truth is the account before us in Genesis 26. In this chapter we seem to experience déjà vu as a son follows in his father’s footsteps. It is a very familiar scene with the constant repetition of places, names, events, wells and, yes, familiar sins. And yet if we pay attention there is also the familiar presence of a faithful God.

But let us also notice that there is something else very familiar—at least to me. When I read this chapter I see a familiar portrait of myself as well as of the church throughout history.

In this study, we will take a bird’s eye view of these 33 verses and be encouraged that, though history often repeats itself, we can thank God that His story continues to repeat itself.

Familiar Sins

The chapter opens with the record of Isaac committing some sins that, for the faithful reader of Genesis, seem strangely familiar.

And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. And Isaac dwelt in Gerar: And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon. And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife. And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou, She is my sister? And Isaac said unto him, Because I said, Lest I die for her. And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us. And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.

(Genesis 26:1-11)

This scene is so familiar to similar events in Abraham’s life (Genesis 12, 20) that liberal scholars have suggested it is the same event. They claim that the name “Isaac” is simply switched for “Abraham” in this account. Of course, that is both preposterous (an affront to the doctrine of inspiration) and prejudiced, for there is no reason to dismiss the all-too-common reality of a son repeating the sins of his father. But let’s look carefully at this repetitive scene.

First, we read of a repeated famine, and a subsequent temptation to desert the will of God. Verse 1 tells us that, as there was great famine in Abraham’s day, so history repeated itself here, some 65-85 years later. The rain had obviously not fallen for a long time, and the crops and herds were affected accordingly. Isaac had probably been dwelling in Beer-laharoi (25:11) in the southern region of Canaan. As the effects of the famine began to be felt, he pulled up stakes and he and his family headed further south—dangerously south. In fact, it is clear that he was on his way to Egypt. He was about to leave the Promised Land for what appeared to be, literally, greener pastures. He arrived in Gerar, the region which forms the border between Canaan and Egypt, which was under the reign of Abimelech (perhaps the same as in Genesis 20-21, or his son). Let us try to recreate this scene.

Isaac was well aware that he was the promised seed through whom the Promised Seed would come. He believed the Word of “the God of his father” (see v. 24). I would assume that, at this point in his life, the epitaph of Hebrews 11:8-10 would have described him:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

(Hebrews 11:8-10)

And yet here we find him, on the verge of stumbling because of faithlessness. He was about to disobey the Word of the Lord; he was about to leave the land of blessing. He in fact was on his way to committing the sin of desertion; that is, apostasy.

I wonder what led to this. Perhaps it was because of the difficulties that he observed his family experiencing in the days of famine. Perhaps he saw scores of animals dying of thirst and starvation; the shrieks of carnivorous vultures were too much for him. Perhaps he was growing weary of unanswered prayer. “How can this be the will of God? I must make provision—I will go to Egypt.”

Humanly speaking, we can understand his rationale. But we dare not excuse it, for of course his problem was that of unbelief. And had he continued, it is quite likely that absolute failure—apostasy?—would have resulted. But thank God that history did not fully repeat itself, because His story did repeat itself. That is, God faithfully intervened and through His Word He put the brakes on Isaac’s slide. Verse 6 informs us that Isaac heeded the Word of God and “dwelt in Gerar.” He was still within the borders of the Promised Land. The history of Abraham’s failure would not completely repeat itself.

Please note that history could have been much different had Isaac kept going to Egypt. But also note what it was that kept him from apostasy: the gospel. God told Isaac His story, that through him “all the nations of the earth [would] be blessed” (v. 4). This was nothing other than the gospel, for Paul reveals in Galatians 3:8 that God “preached the gospel unto Abraham” when He said, “In thee shall all the nations be blessed” (cf. Genesis 12:3). It was the gospel that saved both Abraham and Isaac from a horrendous, faith-destroying act.

Let us realise that our history would be like that of Cain, Esau and Judas if it were not for God graciously intervening with His story. How often do we begin to lose our faith, only to once again be rescued by God’s gospel? Yes, history may repeat itself as we find ourselves beginning to lose faith in the midst of temptation, and yet at these times we are rescued as God once again delivers us from apostasy. A good illustration of this is found in John 18.

The Lord Jesus had just prayed for His disciples (see John 17). He had interceded that the Father would keep them. Immediately on the heels of this, the temple guard arrived to arrest Him. He asked them clearly, “Whom seek ye?” (v. 4). When they stated, “Jesus of Nazareth,” He identified Himself with a statement of deity, “I am he.” (Note their response to this claim in v. 6.) He asked them again and then said, “If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way” (v. 8). The explanation is then given for this verbal exchange: “That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none” (v. 9). That is, Jesus was actively rescuing the disciples from being in a situation which their faith could not handle. He was keeping them from a theoretical possibility of apostasy. The sovereign Saviour came to the rescue of those that belonged to Him. Yes, His story was once again repeating itself. Praise the Lord!

How often this temptation to apostasy has repeated itself in the history of the church! And, but for the grace of God, we would indeed fall and fail completely. But the Lord Jesus intercedes and intervenes for us—relentlessly! “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

He does so in numerous ways. Perhaps through a friend who lovingly admonishes us, a sermon, an SMS, a prayer meeting, or the illuminating and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. But ultimately we are kept from falling by the gospel. Because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus we will never fall: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

Isaac was strengthened by this “good news” and he stayed put in the right place. He sojourned in the land of promise. And so can you and I!

But before moving on, let us note the reason for God’s rescue of Isaac. It was because God is faithful. He is a covenant-keeping God. He had promised Abraham some things and He would keep this promise. Ultimately He had promised His Son a people, and this would indeed come to pass—even if the failures of the church kept repeating itself. God’s faithfulness means that we can expect His story to alter our history when necessary.

God’s purposes are unalterable. He will work all things—even our unbelief—together for His glory and the good of His people.

Once God had intervened and rescued Isaac from serious failure, we see history once again repeating itself. Verses 6-11 remind us of this same scene (on two occasions!) in Abraham’s life. Like his father, Isaac’s faith was coupled with fear—and this can be a lethal mixture.

Isaac’s fear (v. 9) tempted him to lie about his relationship with Rebekah. He told the men of Abimelech that this gorgeous woman was his sister. This was a bold-faced lie. At least in Abraham’s situation, his wife Sarah was a half-sister (20:12), but in Isaac’s case Rebekah was unequivocally, solely his wife. No play on words could alter this fact.

The exposure of this lie came about as one day Abimelech saw Isaac and Rebekah “sporting” or “laughing” in such a way that it was obvious that they were not brother and sister but husband and wife. As R. Kent Hughes notes, “Isaac was having fun with Rebekah in a most unsisterly way.” Abimelech then rebuked Isaac for his lie (vv. 9-10) and decreed the death penalty upon any who violated their marriage bond. (Note: Even pagans in the ancient world recognised the evil of adultery and the sacredness of marriage!) History had repeated itself as once again a believer stood ashamed before an unbeliever.

Let us realise that, in the words of James Montgomery Boice, “if you disobey God, there will usually be an unbeliever watching from a window.” Faith had once again given way to fear. The course of the gospel had been threatened. God had been dishonoured. And yet, His story had also once again repeated itself. God had intervened through His providence. Abimelech just “happened” to look out one particular window, and what he saw resulted in the protection of the promise.

How often indeed, even when we fail because of faithless fear, the Lord graciously intervenes. We may fail, but by God’s providential intervention, He often minimises the damage. Is this not the function of church discipline? Do we not experience this when we are caught early in our sin? Thank God that He does not allow us to get away with our sin! Let us be grateful when even the Abimelechs of this world point out our folly!

A Fruitful Season

After the familiar scene of fearful failure Isaac sojourned in the land. And as he obediently did so, he experienced the blessing of God—abundantly so.

Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great: For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him. For all the wells which his father’s servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth. And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.

(Genesis 26:12-16)

We are told that Isaac reaped a hundredfold harvest. This is remarkable on two accounts. First, he was a herdsman, not a crop-grower, and yet he was successful at both. Second, a “hundredfold” harvest was an enormous windfall. Agriculturally speaking, it was the highest attainment possible. “What,” you may ask, “happened to the famine?” Quite clearly, God graciously intervened!

It is further noted that Isaac became a very wealthy man. He seemed to have the Midas touch and his Philistine neighbours noticed (v. 14). Yes, once again, history repeated itself. Isaac, like his father, obeyed his God and the Lord made him fruitful (see Genesis 13). Verse 15 indicates that all of this fruitfulness occurred even though the wells, dug previously by Abraham, had been sabotaged. And thus in the midst of envious intrigue, Isaac was increasingly fruitful, as was the case with Abraham in the face of the selfish envy of Lot. Abraham was mistreated and God blessed him for faithfulness. Isaac was mistreated and God blessed him for faithfulness. And, believer, when you are mistreated, God will bless you as you remain faithful. Thank God that when history repeats itself, His story of gracious blessing also repeats itself.

A Faithful Struggle

The story continues by informing us of the struggles that Lot faced in the land of his sojourn.

And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water. And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdmen, saying, The water is ours: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him. And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah. And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.

(Genesis 26:17-22)

Several points of fact should be highlighted if we will appreciate the significance of this passage.

First, we must understand the importance of water in an environment such as this one in Gerar. Wars were fought over the right to water holes in the Near East. Water was and is such a precious commodity in this region that much conflict can arise over its use. Thus, Isaac was being pushed to the limit as these wells were being sabotaged by the Philistines. They were seeking to drive him out of the land.

Second, these wells had been dug by Abraham and thus it can be assumed that when Abraham gave all he had to Isaac (25:5) these wells were included in the inheritance. It is for this reason, no doubt, that Isaac felt compelled to redig the wells. He planned on having his full inheritance.

A third observation is the names of the new wells that were dug. “Esek” means “contention,” and “Sitnah” means “hostility” or “enmity.” Isaac secured these wells, but not without a struggle. The name “Rehoboth” speaks of “spaciousness” or “room,” and indicates that Isaac was intending to stay put where he was. Is it not amazing that, in the midst of a severe famine, Isaac kept finding water? And it was because of these amazing providential blessing that the Philistines were contending with him.

Now these observations are significant, for they tell us two major things about Isaac.

First, he was a man of faith, who planned to sojourn in the land which God had promised to him. Though he would not see the complete fulfilment of this promise, he believed God enough to stake his claim to the land.

By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

(Hebrews 11:9-16)

Second, Isaac understood that a struggle was necessary in order to inherit the promise. And, once again, we see that history has repeated itself (see 21:22-34).

But this account is also a mirror of our own experience as believers. We too are sojourners in a land which is our inheritance, and yet we do not yet fully possess it. Yes, this land is our land by virtue of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed it. We believe that, one day, this world will be a land where righteousness will fully thrive as God is acceptably worshipped. But right now there is a huge struggle over this land, and conflict and hostility abound as we seek to disciple the nations. And yet, as sure as Isaac’s descendents would inherit the land (see Joshua 21:43), so will the church “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Isaac believed that God would make His people “fruitful in the land” (v. 22). God had promised and that was enough. And the Old Testament records again and again how God made sure that His story repeated itself in the history of Israel. And the story usually had the same plot: God’s people, when they struggled by faith, were aptly rewarded by the grace of God. The same story has repeated itself throughout church history.

Yes, the church is promised victory, but it is a conquest that requires a cost. We must be willing to fight the good fight of faith and to stake our claim in the land unashamedly and without apology. We must be willing to proclaim the truth boldly as we stand without compromise. As the church has done so throughout history, so His story, the familiar story of covenantal blessing, has come forth abundantly.

Perhaps we live in a day when we need to hear that message again. Yes, the opposition is vocal and the attacks are relentless. What shall we do? Shall we abandon the well of the Bible, since it has been clogged by liberalism and scepticism? Shall we abandon the well of the gospel because James Cameron has tried to keep it from bubbling forth by filling it with Palestinian bones? Shall we stop praying because “science” has poured the concrete of atheism into this well? Shall we stop preaching because the Philistines have filled those wells with marketing techniques, psychobabble and the latest sociological and entertainment craze? The answer is, no—a thousand times no! Rather, we must dig these wells again! The only way that we will secure the land which Christ has redeemed is through the soul-satisfying water of the Word, of prayer, of preaching and the like. Like Isaac, we must do the hard work of clearing away the rubbish that keeps us from accessing God’s blessings. Only when we do so will we have credibility in the land. By God’s power we must persevere.

For example, consider the well of prayer. This well has been cluttered for too long by the all-too-prevalent “I’m-okay-you’re-okay” attitude amongst believers. The net result is that we see little need for God and thus little need for prayer. Many things are stopping these wells, such as an unbiblical self-esteem, a self-sufficient materialism, a man-centred Christianity and a dwarfed theology. Though it will require much effort as we struggle against the opposition, we must reopen this well.

Consider preaching. This well has been rendered null and void by the onslaught of this world’s entertainment mentality. Preaching has been replaced by psychological how tos and politically correct sermonettes. Non-threatening, kindly discourse, has replaced the soul-searching, sin-identifying, repentance-expecting proclamation of the Word. Chatty dialogue is favoured over dogmatic monologue, with the result that the church is dying of thirst! We need to unstop these wells, whatever the cost. And cost there will be.

And what of the deep and soul-satisfying well of God-centred worship—will we reclaim this life-giving property of the church? Or will we continue to act like all is okay while the Philistines block this well with man-centred, clock-watching, detached, individualistic “Christianity”? This well is too often filled up with sentimental feel-good mysticism. We must engage in a real worship war to reopen this well; one which leads to real blessings. This is necessary if we will reclaim the land!

We need to be aware of the conflict, the struggle that we will encounter as we get serious about reopening the wells. It is a given that to be fruitful in our walk with Christ will require effort. We will find that the land in which we live is no friend of grace. Hence, we will find that there will be plenty of effort to thwart our thirst. Some of the conflict will come from family, some from friends, some from co-workers, and yes, even some from (professing) fellow “believers.” But let us also realise that when this occurs it is simply history repeating itself, and that then we can count on His story of enabling grace also repeating itself. Just as Paul learned that he could do all things through the strength of Christ, so can we.

Finally, this fruitful struggle is not an option. Believers have a mandate to claim the land and thus we must guard the wells that God has given to us throughout history. This conflict is essential if we will be fruitful for the glory of Christ and His church. And once again this has been seen repeatedly in church history.

Consider the wells of salvation that were opened at Pentecost. This brought much conflict from the “institutional church” of Judaism. Yet the conflict resulted in multitudes of conversions. Then again in the fourth century the biblical wells of the doctrine of the Trinity were reopened resulting in a revived church. The Reformation era in Holland, England, and Germany was a time of much conflict, as the wells of the sufficiency of Scripture were reopened. This reopened well led to the reopening of the well of justification by faith alone in Christ alone because of God’s grace alone; and yes, these reopened wells brought conflict. But then, in the midst of this conflict, this hostility, this enmity, God “made room” for His people as He graciously, once again, repeated His story of saving power. We should expect no less today. Let us, with renewed confidence, reopen the wells of the means of grace, of our devotional life, of our worship, and of our corporate church life. As we do so, we should expect God’s repeated historical blessings. May we be faithful and fruitful in this struggle to have our thirst quenched for the glory of God in our land.

A Fearless Sojourner

Faith and fear are not the best of combinations, for eventually one will strip the other of its power. This is fine if faith wins the day, but all-too-often fear seems to gain the dominant upper hand. In this passage, we read of Isaac overcoming fear by faith, by a faith that is visible to all as he erects an altar to Yahweh. And by doing so, he further staked his claim to the land which God covenantally reaffirmed to him. The timing of this reaffirmation was significant.

And he went up from thence to Beersheba. And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake. And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.

(Genesis 26:23-25)

As we have just seen, Isaac found himself in the midst of conflict due to his faithful commitment to reopen the wells. And conflict, even victorious conflict, can sometimes stir up fear in the heart of a believer.

Perhaps Isaac was beginning to doubt whether he could maintain the stamina to stand for what, by God’s promise, was rightfully his. Perhaps fear began to eat away at his faith. If so, then this was simply history repeating itself—the familiar history of God’s people.

As one reads through the Bible it soon becomes apparent that many of God’s people were tempted to grow weary as they covenantally stood for the truth. One thinks of Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Paul, and others. And yet, at those moments, His story also repeated itself as God graciously spoke and gave them new confidence. The “fear nots” emanating from God have repeatedly strengthened His people to stay put and to “fight the good fight of faith.” And as you and I face the struggle to serve God in the land, we too should take comfort that we have no need to fear, for God is with us of a truth.

Keep in mind that Isaac was still in the land at this point—in fact, we never read of Isaac being outside of Canaan. It is clear that he had been opposed at every turn along his sojourn. Abimelech’s people had been seeking to drive him out of the land all along the way. But, amazingly, everywhere Isaac was driven he was there seen to thrive!

He had apparently moved from Rehoboth and perhaps had done so because of further opposition from the people of Abimelech. But perhaps at Beersheba he began to grow weary. Perhaps he was tired of this piece of history repeating itself. Perhaps he grew discouraged. Ah, but then His story repeated itself—in fact, in the very place in which Abraham (earlier in history) had built an altar: at Beersheba (21:33-34). God here reaffirmed His covenant with Isaac. God reminded him that He is “the God of Abraham [his] father’ (the first such formula in Scripture) and that, just as Abraham had had no need to fear, neither did Isaac.

The message obviously sunk in, for the text tells us that Isaac worshipped God there (he built an altar) and then and there he pitched his tent. He was still a sojourner, but he was also at home.

We believers are indeed called to be strangers and aliens in this world because our citizenship is in heaven. And yet at the same time we need not be fearful of the “foreigners” surrounding us. We believers should never suffer from spiritual xenophobia. Our attitude must be, “This is my Father’s world,” and that we aim to sojourn in it until the city which has foundations fully comes!

Believer, do not be intimidated by those who mock your faith. Don’t be fearful that Satan, the world and the flesh will win the day. Don’t be afraid (and thus paralysed in your obedience) that you cannot overcome sin. We need not fear that false religions will conquer. Let us rather hear the Word of God, bow in worship for all to see, and dig our wells deep. “We shall not be moved!” must be our attitude. If this be our resolve, then we can expect the following episode to repeat itself in history for the glory of God.

A Fearful Society

Verses 26-33 form a fittingly beautiful conclusion to this whole historical episode. And once again history repeats itself. As it does so, we believers can take encouragement that His story will once again repeat itself.

Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you? And they said, We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee; That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the LORD. And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink. And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace. And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, We have found water. And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.

(Genesis 26:26-33)

It would appear from vv. 32-33 that these events were clearly connected chronologically with vv. 23-25, for the reaffirming of the name “Beersheba” would seem to point to this. Nevertheless, here is the storyline.

Isaac had been busy obeying God and subsequently he was fruitful along the way. As Abimelech watched all of this, he was obviously becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Isaac’s success. The wealthier Isaac became, and the larger his household grew, the more threatened Abimelech and his cabinet felt. Thus, he did the politically expedient thing: he proposed a treaty between these peoples.

It is interesting to note that he shaded the truth—that is, he lied—as he reminded Isaac that he and his fellow Philistines had always treated Isaac and his people with kindness and respect. That was nonsense, and Isaac knew it (v. 23). Regardless, Abimelech proposed a treaty whereby he secured a promise from Isaac that neither he nor his people would bring harm to the “peace-loving” Philistines. Isaac consented and sealed the oath with a feast and with his word. Abimelech went back to Gerar and Isaac remained at Beersheba.

At about that time, wells were dug, water was discovered and Isaac reaffirmed the name previously given by his father Abraham. If you read 21:22-34 you will see that this passage is a clear example of history repeating itself. A pagan people came to fear the influential presence of God’s people. This household of faithful and fearless saints produced a fearful surrounding society. May this history once again repeat itself!

Is it not amazing that Isaac’s relationship with God eventually brought fear to his surrounding society? As God’s presence was observed in Isaac’s life, the surrounding community was forced to admit that God was on the side of these sojourners.

Sadly, all too frequently it is the case that the church feels threatened or intimidated by the world. And yet there is a very real sense in which the world should feel intimidated or threatened by the church. Obviously I do not mean that we should be a physical threat, but the church should have such a relationship with God that the fear of God results in our community. The church should indeed have such a sense of the favoured presence of God that this kind of fear wells up in the outside world. And yes, this has happened before in history. It happened with Abraham, it happened with Isaac, it happened with Jacob and Laban, it happened in Jericho, it happened under Solomon, it happened in Daniel’s life, and it happened in the early New Testament church. Acts 5 records that the presence of God in the church of Jerusalem was so powerful that outsiders feared to join them.

And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.

(Acts 5:11-13)

The result of this was that the Lord built a bigger church (v. 14)! This church then continued to so live that they turned their world upside down. And so can we. We should expect that our churches, that the church everywhere, will have a reverent effect upon our society. I am not suggesting that all of our neighbours will be saved; I am saying that our presence should make it abundantly evident that God is real. Our presence, in other words, should be as salt and as light.

And thank God that this has been His repeated story throughout history. Consider the Great Awakening in England under the Wesleys and Whitefield; the Great Awakening in America under Jonathan Edwards; the Welsh Revival in 1904; as well as the revivals in Australia, Ireland and even in South Africa.

The fact of the matter is that we should pray and preach with hope for this repeat of history. May God grant us the grace to have this kind of impact upon a watching world.

As we bring this study to a close, let me encourage you that history repeats itself in the life of the church because God never changes. He is merciful and longsuffering. He is holy and loving. He is faithful to His Word, and thus we can expect that He will respond to His people in power and with grace!

Have you sinned? Have you failed the Lord? Well, this sad history does repeat itself, but so does His story of acceptance in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent today, experience His story, the gospel story, and look forward to a repeated history of forgiveness, renewal and blessing; all undeserved and unending! Thanks God that His story continues to repeat itself!