The Promise Continues
So for the entire fall we have been in the Book of Genesis, walking through the story of Abraham We started in Chapter 12 a few months ago, and then today we are going to wrap up the series here in Chapter 26.
And just to give you an idea of where we are overall: last fall we did Part 1: Genesis 1–11, and then next fall, God willing, we’re going to do Part 3: Genesis 27–50; which means that today we are concluding Part 2: Genesis 12–26.
One Straightforward Statement
And what we find in Chapter 26 is really one, clear, straightforward statement, and it’s that: The promises of God to Abraham are now extended to Isaac.
And so this chapter, which is about Isaac, is still very much also about Abraham.
And we can see this because, for starters, Abraham is mentioned by name seven times in this chapter — and remember, Abraham died at the beginning of Chapter 25, but he’s still mentioned seven times here because he’s still the most central character in the narrative (Gen 26:1, 3, 5, 15, 18, 24). And I think the clearest way we see is this is that Isaac is shown to be a lot like Abraham.
And that’s important for us to know by now in the story because of what we saw last week.
The Birthright Stakes
If you remember, last week we got into the drama between Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau. Pastor Joe preached to us from Chapter 25 about Jacob and Esau’s dispute over the birthright (and Pastor Joe also told our children to carry one another on their shoulders. Thank you, Pastor Joe!).
Well, the whole rub of Chapter 25, remember, is about which of Isaac’s sons are going to get the double portion of Isaac’s inheritance. That’s what Jacob has taken from Esau.
And well, one of the questions we need answered is what that inheritance actually is. What exactly did Jacob take from Esau? We have some clues in Chapter 25: Chapter 25, verse 5 tells us that “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.” Then verse 11 of Chapter 25 says, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son…” And so what’s hinted at here in Chapter 25 is made clear in Chapter 26.
In fact, scholars agree that Chapter 26 is not in chronological order. The events of Chapter 26 would have been, most likely, earlier in Isaac’s life, before the conflict between Jacob and Esau. Which means then, if this chapter is anachronistic it must be here because it serves a theological purpose. And that purpose, I think, is plain: It’s that the inheritance of Isaac — the inheritance that Jacob has just taken in Chapter 25 — is none other than God’s promised blessings to Abraham.
So what we find in Chapter 26 is why Jacob considered the birthright worth fighting for (or playing tricks for or whatever). It’s because God’s promises to Abraham have been extended to Isaac, and Jacob wants to get in on those promises! That’s what is going on here. In one way, Chapter 26 makes Jacob look not so bad from the chapter before, and it makes Esau look worse (Chapter 26 actually ends with this short, little comment about Esau taking a wife from the Hittites — which is not what his father Isaac did when he got married. And then we’re told in verse 35 that Esau “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”) And then in Chapter 27 we read about Jacob being blessed. And we’re going to pick back up with Chapter 27 next time — next year. For today we need to sunset this thing with Isaac in Chapter 26.
So there are three things we learn about Isaac here. These are the three points of the sermon, each under the banner that God’s promises to Abraham are now extended to Isaac. They are:
- Isaac is like Abraham
- Isaac obeys God
- Isaac is not enough
Father, your word is a feast for our starving souls. It’s like sugar to the children of faith, and it’s like a pot of gold to the poorest of beggars, which we are. By your Holy Spirit, by your power, please open our hearts to receive what you have for us this morning. In Jesus’s name, amen.
1. Isaac Is Like Abraham
And this point is really a more general one, and I’ve already mentioned once. But in the story overall, if you haven’t noticed, Isaac is not quite as prominent as his dad and son. Abraham and Jacob get way more air time in Genesis, and Isaac just sort of gets sandwiched between them.
Even when the pastors were dreaming up this Genesis series, after Chapters 1–11 we knew we wanted to focus on the patriarchs, and we thought maybe we should do a series on each Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but then we were like, Wait a minute. Isaac’s story is only a couple chapters, what do we do about that? And we were like “Ah, let’s just throw him in with Abraham.” And so that is what is happening now. It was a pragmatic call, but it also happens to be biblical.
The Genesis narrative basically just squeezes Isaac in with Abraham because Isaac is a lot like Abraham. It’s the classic “like father, like son.” “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” He’s a “chip off the old block.”
All this means is that Isaac follows in the pattern of Abraham, and it’s interesting how Chapter 26 shows us this. We are basically given a condensed version of Abraham’s whole life in one chapter on Isaac. We see here five big Sharpie ways that Isaac is like Abraham, and the first is in verses 1–6, which Larry read for us. But let me mention the others backwards, so we can land back at the beginning.
Five Repeats in Chapter 26
These are five ways in Chapter 26 that Isaac is like Abraham.
1. Isaac and Abraham both make a treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba. (It’s a different Abimelech — Abimelech was a title like Pharaoh — but both Isaac and Abraham deal with an “Abimelech” at Beersheba).
2. Isaac and Abraham both receive the assurance of God’s promise after initial faith and obedience. (If we glanced over to verse 24 we see that the Lord appeared to Isaac and repeated his promise to him, similar to what God did with Abraham in Chapter 15).
3. Isaac and Abraham both had land conflicts between their herdsmen and the herdsmen of others, and they both handled it peacefully. (Isaac’s herdsmen get into conflict with some of the Philistine locals in Gerar; Abraham’s herdsmen, remember, had conflict with the herdsmen of Lot — and in both cases both Abraham and Isaac concede as long as they’re still in the Promised Land).
4. Isaac and Abraham both lie to Abimelech that their wife is their sister. (Was it shrewdness or schmuckness? Either way, Isaac is like Abraham).
5. Isaac and Abraham receive the same call and promise of God.
And this is back to verses 1–6, and I think this is the most important. In just the first few verses we see that Abraham and Isaac are almost identical.
Do the Hard Thing
If you have a Bible open, look first at verse 1, “Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham.”
We’re told straight up here that Isaac suffered a famine just like Abraham did back in the day.(this is a reference to Genesis Chapter 12, verse 10). And back in the day when Abraham went through the famine we’re told that he went down to Egypt. Well, Isaac here goes down to Gerar, which was an area still in the land of Canaan, just west of Beersheba. And God comes to Isaac in verse 2 and God tells him expressly: “Do not go down to Egypt.”
Check that out in verse 2.
Remember Abraham went to Egypt because of the famine in Chapter 12, but here God tells Isaac “Do not go down to Egypt” (that’s his first command); and then he tells him, second command in verse 2, to “dwell in the land of which I shall tell you”; and then the third command at the beginning of verse 3, God says, “Sojourn in this land.”
Overall, God is telling Isaac to stay put in the land of Canaan. He’s telling him not to leave. God told Abraham back in Genesis 12:1 to leave his homeland for Canaan, and here in Chapter 26 God is telling Isaac to stay in Canaan, “in the land of which I shall tell you.”
And what is absolutely the same in both of these cases is that God is calling Abraham and Isaac to do the hard thing.
God called Abraham to leave everyone he has ever known to trust God’s word, and here God calls Isaac to stay in Canaan when all his circumstances suggest that he should get out of dodge — there was a famine in the land and the Philistines were terrible neighbors, and so it would have been a great time for Isaac to relocate, but God appeared to Isaac and spoke to him, just like he spoke to his father, and God told Isaac to stay.
Where God Calls Us
And one lesson we might learn from this is that oftentimes the call of God on our lives does not put us on the easiest of paths. A lot of times the call of God means doing the hard thing. And man, look, we wished it was easier, right? We don’t like it when things are hard, and sometimes it can feel like everything is hard. Have you ever felt that way?
There have been times when I’ve been frozen by the fact that every single thing in my life is hard. Even the things I enjoy I’m not good at. It all takes hard work. Job is hard. Marriage needs focus. Parenting is a grind. It’s all difficult and I’m tired, and you know what’s not difficult? Netflix. …
Why does God call us to do the hard stuff? Why didn’t Jesus just say in the Great Commission, “Go, therefore, and watch more Stranger Things”? Why did he say “make disciples”? […]
And you guys know Netflix is not bad thing in itself — “When I watch Stranger Things, I feel his pleasure.” But I’m asking here: why does God call us away from the confines of comfort out onto the path of difficultly? Why does he command us to do what’s hard? Why does he tell Abraham to go when everything else says stay? Why does he tell Isaac to stay when everything else says go? Why?
Here’s why: It’s because God wants us wherever we will have more of him.
And I hope to God you don’t think that’s cliche or just preacher talk. Because it’s absolutely true. God is most committed to giving us the very thing that will cause us most joy: and it’s himself, not our ease. And so he will call us into places where only he can meet us. He will call us into some places just because he will be there, and he will be enough.
God’s Promise to Isaac
Look what God says to Isaac after these three commands. He commends Isaac, don’t go down to Egypt; dwell wherever I tell you; sojourn in this land, and then verse 3, “and I will be with you and will bless you.”
Isaac, I know this is not going to be easy. I know this hardly makes sense to you. But I promise I’m going to be here. I’m with you and I’m for you and I’m enough. [Can you hear God saying that to you?]
In verse 3 God repeats to Isaac the promise he made to Abraham. It’s the same promise extended: Isaac will have God’s presence, God’s blessing, and the promised land for he and his offspring. It’s super clear. In verse 3, God says “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.” Isaac, your grandchildren will be as many as the stars in the sky, and right now you’re standing on your land and their land, and in your offspring all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Trust me.
And faith is important. It’s the second point.
2. Isaac Obeys God
Notice that in verse 5 we’re reminded about Abraham’s obedience. Look at that verse. God says, basically, his promises to Abraham are effective, “because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
What is God talking about here? It sounds like how God talks about the Law of Moses, but Abraham came way before Moses and way before the law. There are no formal commandments and laws yet. So what did Abraham obey and keep then?
That’s an important question, and the answer is simply God’s word. Abraham just did whatever God said.
Whatever God told Abraham to do, Abraham did it, and we see that most vividly back in Chapter 22 when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Remember just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son God intervened and stopped Abraham, and said, “…now I know that you fear God.” And then God again repeated his promise to Abraham, and God said in Chapter 22, verse 18, “because you have obeyed my voice.”
And this touches on a theme we see all throughout Scripture on the relationship between faith and obedience. When we read here in verse 5 about Abraham’s obedience, it means we’re reading about his faith — because obedience is faith put on display. It’s only because Abraham trusted God that Abraham did what God said.
And in the Bible, the person who makes this most clear is Jesus himself. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verse 15, Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is Christian Discipleship 101, but see sometimes it’s easy to forget. If you believe in Jesus, if you trust in him and your soul’s affections are captivated by him, and you embrace him as the Lord, Savior, and Supreme Treasure of your life, then you’re going to do what he says. Because our faith is expressed by obedience.
And this also takes us back to the nature of God’s promise to Abraham, which we talked about at the beginning in Chapter 12. Remember that God comes to Abraham out of his absolute grace. Abraham doesn’t do anything — can’t do anything — to earn God’s favor. God just calls him out and lavishes upon him these amazing promises. And there’s only one thing that Abraham must do: it’s trust God. He has to have faith. Which means, he doesn’t try to grab the steering wheel himself. He doesn’t take things into his own hands.
Faith is about magnifying the worth of its object. Faith means looking away from yourself to God — and I love the way the apostle Paul summarizes Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:5. He says, “And to the one who does not work [faith is not work!] — To the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
That is what Abraham did.
And that is where it is most necessary for Isaac to be like Abraham. If the promises of God to Abraham are going to be extended to Isaac, Isaac must have the faith of Abraham. Like Abraham, Isaac has to listen to God, that is, he has to trust God and do what God says.
And that’s exactly what he does.
Look at verse 6. It’s a short verse, but it’s important. Verse 6: “So Isaac settled in Gerar.”
He did it. Isaac did what God said. Isaac believed God like Abraham believed God.
But this brings us to the third and final point, and it’s that . . .
3. Isaac Is Not Enough
Let me explain what I mean.
When it comes to the Bible overall, and to the history of Israel, what we see here in Isaac being like Abraham is something that should have been repeated in every generation and in every branch of Isaac’s family tree. All of Isaac’s descendants should be like Isaac by being like Abraham.
In fact, there is more going on in verse 5 than it might seem. We just said before that the language in verse 5 sounds like God is talking about the Law of Moses. God uses law terminology to talk about Abraham’s obedience, and this is fascinating because he says this before there were any laws. And that’s intentional. One thing God is doing here is for the benefit of his people in future generations. He wants the people of Israel — who later are going to be under the Law of Moses — he wants them to look back at Abraham as the example to follow. He wants Israel to be like Abraham. Even when the people of Israel are under the law, Abraham, the man of faith, is the model they should follow. Abraham believed God and did what he said — and that is what God wants for his people. Trust me like Abraham did!
Isaac does this, but of course, Isaac is not enough. The same faith is carried on by Jacob, we’re going to see. All the patriarchs have this faith. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God in whom they trust and believe. But then from Jacob there are the 12 tribes of Israel, and from there you have Egypt and the exodus and right away we start wondering: Where’s the faith like Abraham’s? Where’d it go?
And that becomes the whole story of Israel … with the law, and then the cycle of sin, judgment, and rescue, and then sin again, and then there are the kings of Israel, and then there’s the divided kingdom, and then the idolatry and the exile and the prophets — and one thing clear about Israel is that the people of Israel are not like Abraham. (There was small number of people called the remnant who did trust God along the way.) But overall, Israel fails to have the faith of Abraham. Israel fails to trust God.
And so what does God do?
[And I want to just jump in here and say that what I’m about to tell you is the greatest news in the whole universe.]
The relationship between God and his people was broken because his people did not trust him. God’s people (and really humans in general) in their sin refuse to believe in God. Israel refused to trust God, which means that God’s people failed to be his people. And so, God, by his grace, becomes “his people” for them.
When Jesus came to this world, Jesus became a man born in the lineage of Abraham. Jesus lived his life in the place of Israel, and by that, Jesus lived in the place of all humans. The relationship between God and man was broken because of man’s refusal to trust God, and so God comes to reconcile the relationship from both sides — from the side of God and the side of man.
And this is where any idea of man meeting God in the middle does not work. You know sometimes when it comes to how God works in the world, people will talk about how God does something and then we do something (and that is happening sometimes), but that is not happening here.
The Incarnation — when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ — that is the ultimate event in this world — not where God does his part and you do yours — but it’s when God does it all. He’s got the whole thing!
That’s what Christmas is about. Christmas is not about a 50/50 split where God does half and you do half. And it’s also not a 70/30 split. It’s also not a 90/10 split. It’s not even a 99/1 split. Christmas means God has come to you the whole way. Christmas is about the sovereign, free, mighty love of God that reaches to the uttermost for you.
Hear this: When Jesus humbled himself and entered into our lostness, he didn’t come here to work with us, he came here as us to do for us what we could not do ourselves. Jesus knows what it is like to be you, and he came to save you.
The Bible in Psalm 103:14 says that God the Father “knows our frame” and “remembers that we are dust” — and in a way that we can’t wrap our heads around, Jesus put on that dust. Jesus stepped into that frame. And he didn’t just do it to leave us an example — he’s not just another Abraham — but Jesus came to effect in us what God requires.
The faith of Abraham that we are all called to have in God is now a faith in Jesus that Jesus himself gives to us by his Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament this is called the New Covenant. It’s God’s promise to put his Spirit in us and write his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:38–41). And in the New Testament this is what happens in what’s called the new birth. It’s when the Spirit comes, with the gospel, and opens our eyes to embrace Jesus. It means that faith is a gift from God. Faith is a Christmas miracle, and it happens when the gospel is preached, when Jesus is lifted high.
And so this morning I want you to see him lifted high. I want you do behold him. I want you to adore him.
Do you know how he loves you? Do you know what he has done for you?
Jesus came here for you. He came all the way here for you. He lived life here in this world, in your place, and he always trusted the Father. He never wavered. He never sinned. Jesus was perfect for you.
And yet being perfect, Jesus was punished for you. Jesus was crucified on the cross like a sinner — but not for his own sin (he didn’t have any), it was for your sin and for my sin. Jesus took the wrath of God that we deserved — he suffered and died and was buried. And then, on the third day, he was raised from the dead.
Jesus defeated sin and death, and he ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father right now and he will come again with glory. And he is coming again for you.
See him. Behold him. Adore him!
Lord Jesus, command your praise in our hearts right now. You who are raised from the dead; you who reign over all; you who are unstoppable in your power, command our hearts to sing your praise. By your Spirit, work in us. By your Spirit, open our eyes to see you and to adore you. Come, Lord Jesus, we want you here. Amen.
The Jesus who came for us and is coming for us has given us this Table, and all who adore him are invited to eat and drink together.