From Generation to Generation (4)

Avoidance as a tactic is seen in the life of Isaac. In Genesis 26 God blesses the patriarch Isaac (vs.12-14) and this brings on the envy of the wicked, who stop up his wells and otherwise persecute him, eventually asking him to leave their area (vs.14-16). We don’t see Isaac raising up his fist, asserting his constitutional rights, or otherwise contesting the power given over by God to the Philistine. Unlike the Philistine of Samson’s day, these men were not invaders, and though bullies, they had as legitimate a claim to the turf as Isaac did (though they did not have Isaac’s eschatological guarantee). Isaac simply avoids them.

Later, in other quarrels with the powers that be, Isaac again avoids trouble (vs.18-22). He is rewarded when God does finally make room for him. Isaac avoids suicidal and revolutionary action, and God blesses him in it. In time, the pagans realize that God is with Isaac, and they come, desiring to have peace with him (w. 23-33). Had Isaac defied the powers, he would have lost everything; through humility, deference, and a foregoing of his “rights,” Isaac came to be a power in the community.[1]

Dealing with politically legitimised wrong-doing does require great wisdom on the part of Christians. The impatient person who is easily provoked by this, may very well do something they regret. Isaac understood that with respect to the Philistines, the deck was stacked against him. But he trusted that God’s promise to him would be fulfilled, and he would ultimately gain his inheritance in the land.

The Bible does not say that the Philistines were justified in their behaviour with Isaac, in stopping up his wells. But it does hint that his response was the wise and prudent one. There was no police force or army to call upon for protection; he had to work within the limited confines God’s providence provided him with. Proverbs 20:3 instructs us that “Keeping away from strife is an honour for a man, but any fool will quarrel,” while Proverbs 20:22 encourages us, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil.’ Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”

When Lot had been kidnapped, Abraham went and fought to free him, for kidnapping was a capital crime, punishable by death (Ex.21:16). But Isaac had no kidnapped relative. He was just frequently frustrated and aggravated by Philistines, with little recourse. But he learned to live with it.

Jacob, when he returned to his family and was notified of the approach of Esau (Gen.32-33), carefully avoided provocative behaviour. “We see Jacob acting in a shrewd and non-confronting manner. There was no rebellion in him. He sought to avoid trouble, and when trouble came, he acted in a shrewd and wise manner to turn it away.”[2]

What was it that motivated Isaac?

He had the promises of God, and he was acting in response with them, the very thing Christians should always be doing. God’s promises to him (see Genesis 26:2-5), correlate neatly with the Great Commission that Jesus gave to us, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Isaac knew where his future lay and what he was supposed to do. Rebekah had already borne him Jacob and Esau (Gen.25.19-26), so he embraced faithfulness and productivity. While he studiously avoided both conflict and compromise, God was blessing him. He “became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him” (Gen.26:13-14).

As one commentator wrote,

The more than God blesseth his, the more doth the wicked envy them.[3]

Should wealth be the Christian’s primary goal? No.

Obedience to God is our primary goal, and we can be confident that if we are obedient to God, He may add His blessing, as He did with Isaac. Paul explained to the Corinthians that “we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure” (I Cor.4:12).

Christians always ought to seek to be quiet achievers. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to 

excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your own hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly towards outsiders and not be in any need (I Thess.4:10-12).

This is precisely what Isaac did. Under this patriarch’s industrious leadership, his men are digging wells, some of which had originally been dug by Abraham, but enviously filled by the Philistines. Isaac’s servants cleaned them out again, and dug new ones, and when he moved on and dug another new well, the herdsmen of Gerar laid claim to it, saying “The water is ours!” (Gen.26:20).

Would this have been frustrating? Absolutely, but if Isaac was frustrated, he was undeterred by their action. He knew it would end sometime, and it did when he moved to Rehoboth, where there was no quarrel over water. Now, the persecuted patriarch commented,

At last the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land (Gen.26:22).

Now, the Philistine king Abimelech, with his adviser and army commander came to Isaac, saying,

We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm…you are now the blessed of the Lord’ (Gen.26:28-29).


So you thought you could obey Jesus Christ, and there wouldn’t be opposition? The opposition from the world, the flesh and the devil has been there since Genesis; it has never gone away because God permits it to be there, so that our faith is tried, tested and perfected.

Frustration and aggravation are facts of life that all believers encounter. God permits them, but our challenge is to be undeterred, as Isaac was undeterred. He had the promises of God, just as we have them today.

For all of us, God has a Rehoboth, which means “a broad place.” It is not just heaven, but something for us to receive by faith in this life. Like Isaac, will we patiently and faithfully wait to receive the faithful and everlasting promises of God, undeterred by opposition? Our faithful God will certainly bring them to us.




[1] James Jordan, in Gary North, (Ed.) “Tactics of Resistance,” 1983, p.56.

[2] Jordan, p.59.

[3] The Geneva Bible’s commentary on Ex.1:12.