Since Abraham laid the foundation of the nation that would restore the blessing of divine reign to the earth, what Abraham’s descendants must do is to follow in his footsteps. The Genesis narrator makes this point in the way he recounts Isaac’s life.
Isaac follows in the footprints of his father Abraham. He faces the same problems, such as the famine that drove Abraham to almost lose his wife in Egypt. But Isaac avoids that life-threatening confrontation with Pharaoh. Isaac is YHWH’s viceroy now, so he sees YHWH (26:2). He hears YHWH’s prophetic instruction (26:2). He receives the blessing that continues through the generations (26:3), the promise that his offspring will restore YHWH’s blessing to the nations (26:4).
That blessing will ultimately require the nations to submit to YHWH’s kingship as Abraham has done. Like Abraham, Isaac and his descendants must live as people who live as their sovereign instructs. And here is the ultimate goal:
Genesis 26:4–5 (ESV)
4 In your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
For the earth to be at peace, the nations must recognize YHWH’s sovereign authority, and obey his commands. That was Jesus’ vision for the nations too (Matthew 28:18-20).
Unfortunately, Isaac also followed in his father’s footsteps when it came to doing wrong. He too lied to the Philistine king about his wife being his sister (26:6-11). Presumably this is a later Abimelech. (The name means “my father was king” so it was potentially a common dynastic name or possibly even a throne name.) And yet YHWH fulfils his promise to bless Isaac anyway, so that the Abrahamic family grows to such an extent that the Philistines fear them (26:16).
Remember how Abraham built altars as monuments to YHWH’s authority over this land? Isaac does too. Throughout Genesis, we’ve interpreted “calling on the name of the Lord” as acknowledging YHWH’s sovereign authority. It is under YHWH’s authority that Isaac sets up home and sinks his roots (25:26).
So do the nations notice? Do they see the authority of King YHWH in Isaac? The Philistines do. As they did with Abraham, they desire a peace treaty with YHWH’s representatives:
Genesis 26:28 (ESV)
They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you.
This chapter sets the pattern for the Abrahamic family. The descendants of Abraham receive YHWH’s blessing and live under his sovereign authority. The goal is that the nations see the earth’s true sovereign, and enter into a covenant of peace with him. In that day, the blessing of YHWH will extend to the nations as they acknowledge him and yield to his reign. That’s the goal of the Biblical narrative.
What others are saying
John E. Hartley, Genesis, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 239:
These accounts picture Isaac as following in the footsteps of Abraham. Both face famine in the land (26:1–6 // 12:10); during the famine both go to live in a foreign setting and identify their wives as sisters for self-protection (26:7–11 // 12:10–20); both identify their wives as their sisters in Gerar, ruled by an Abimelech (26:7–11 // 20:1–18); both dig wells and face opposition from the Philistines (26:12–25 // 21:25–26, 28–30); both make a treaty with an Abimelech, king of Gerar (26:26–31 // 21:22–32); and both name a well Beersheba (26:32–33 // 21:31). At Beersheba Isaac builds an altar and calls on the name of Yahweh; building altars characterized Abraham’s journey through Canaan (e.g., 12:7–8). Casting Isaac’s experiences to be like Abraham’s elevates him in the tradition that is dominated by his father and his son Jacob.
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 196:
Thus this account of Isaac’s dealings with the Philistines portrays Isaac as very much walking in his father’s footsteps. He receives similar promises, faces similar tests, fails similarly, but eventually triumphs in like fashion. Indeed, in certain respects he is given more in the promises and achieves more. He is promised “all these lands,” and by the end of the story he is securely settled in Beersheba and has a treaty with the Philistines in which they acknowledge his superiority.
John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 74:
- We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee. … By this argument they prove that they desired a compact with Isaac, not insidiously, but in good faith, because they acknowledge the favour of God towards him. For it was necessary to purge themselves from this suspicion, seeing that they now presented themselves so courteously to one against whom they had before been unreasonably opposed.
This confession of theirs, however, contains very useful instruction. Profane men in calling one, whose affairs all succeed well and prosperously, the blessed of the Lord, bear testimony that God is the author of all good things, and that from him alone flows all prosperity. Exceedingly base, therefore, is our ingratitude, if, when God acts kindly towards us, we pass by his benefits with closed eyes. Again, profane men regard the friendship of one whom God favours, as desirable for themselves; considering that there is no better or holier commendation than the love of God.
Read Genesis 26.