Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”
17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there.
What is the immediate consequence of Isaac’s “sister-wife” deceit? We find out here. Either God is blessing Isaac richly in spite of Isaac’s bad behavior… or God signed off on Isaac’s “she is my sister” test of the Philistines. I am open-minded as to either outcome but I think the evidence seems to point in the direction of the latter. None of the patriarchs are punished for this behavior when they do it and they are all blessed richly after.
As I said in the previous post, if you read these stories from the perspective that kidnapping a man’s sister is also an evil, then it is possible to interpret these events as a test of the local rulers, conducted by the patriarch with God’s blessing, rather than as cowardice or evil by the patriarch.
The current section of verses tells us about Isaac’s blessings.
(12) Isaac sowed in that land.—When Abraham planted a tamarisk-tree at Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:33) it showed that he regarded the place as a permanent residence, which it was worth his while to adorn, and to provide for its increasing pleasantness. Isaac and Jacob took a still further step in advance towards a settled life when they began to cultivate plots of ground. At first, however, Isaac did no more than the Bedaween do at present; for they often sow a piece of land, wait till the crop is ripe, and then resume their roving habits. Permanently to till the soil is with them a mark of inferiority (Genesis 25:16). But the tendency, both with Abraham and Isaac, had long been to remain in the region about Beer-sheba. Isaac had been driven thence by the famine, by which he had probably lost much of his cattle, and many even of his people. Apparently he was even so weakened thereby as to be no match for the Philistines of Gerar. His large harvest recouped him for his losses, and made him once more a prosperous man; and in due time Beer-sheba was again his home, and with settled habits agriculture was·sure to begin.
An hundredfold.—The Heb. is, a hundred measures, but the word is unknown elsewhere, and the LXX. and Syriac read, a hundred of barley, measures being understood, as in Ruth 3:15. Herodotus (Book i. 193) mentions two—and even three—hundredfold as possible in Babylonia; but our Lord seems to give one hundredfold as the extreme measure of productiveness in Palestine (Matthew 13:8). Such a return, like Isaac’s, would be rare and extraordinary.
hundredfold = מֵאָה mêʼâh, may-aw’; or מֵאיָה mêʼyâh; properly, a primitive numeral a hundred; also as a multiplicative and a fraction:—hundred((-fold), -th), sixscore.
The Lord = יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord.
blessed = בָּרַךְ bârak, baw-rak’; a primitive root; to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration), and (vice-versa) man (as a benefit); also (by euphemism) to curse (God or the king, as treason):—× abundantly, × altogether, × at all, blaspheme, bless, congratulate, curse, × greatly, × indeed, kneel (down), praise, salute, × still, thank.
From The Pulpit Commentaries, we can see the extent of that blessing:
And the man waxed great,—like his father before him (cf. Genesis 24:1, Genesis 24:35)—and went forward,—literally, went going, the verb followed by the infinitive expressing constant growth or progressive increase (cf. Genesis 8:3; Genesis 12:9; Judges 4:24)—and grew until he became very great—“as any other farmer would who reaped such harvests” (‘Land and Book’).
For he had (literally, there was to him) possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants:—γεώργια πολλά (LXX.), i.e. much husbandry, the abstract being put for the concrete, “implying all manner of work and service belonging to a family, and so servants and tillage of all sorts” (Ainsworth); but the reference rather seems to be to the number of his household, or domestic slaves, plurimum familiae (Vulgate)—and the Philistines envied him. The patriarch’s possessions (mikneh, from kanah, to acquire) excited jealous feeling (from root kana, to burn) in the breasts of his neighbors (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:4).
became rich / waxed great = גָּדַל gâdal, gaw-dal’; a primitive root; properly, to twist (compare H1434), i.e. to be (causatively make) large (in various senses, as in body, mind, estate or honor, also in pride):—advance, boast, bring up, exceed, excellent, be(-come, do, give, make, wax), great(-er, come to… estate, things), grow(up), increase, lift up, magnify(-ifical), be much set by, nourish (up), pass, promote, proudly (spoken), tower.
Philistines = פְּלִשְׁתִּי Pᵉlishtîy, pel-ish-tee’; patrial from H6429; a Pelishtite or inhabitant of Pelesheth:—Philistine.
envied = קָנָא qânâʼ, kaw-naw’; a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) zealous, i.e. (in a bad sense) jealous or envious:—(be) envy(-ious), be (move to, provoke to) jealous(-y), × very, (be) zeal(-ous).
It is with the mention of envy here that the narrative of relationship with the Philistines takes a turn. We learn that the Philistines filled in the wells dug by Abraham’s servants during Abraham’s stay in Gerar decades ago.
(15) The wells.—In the East the digger of a well is regarded as a public benefactor; but the Philistines stopped those that Abraham had digged, probably because they regarded his possession of them, though confirmed by the covenant between him and Abimelech (Genesis 21:32), as an intrusion upon their rights as the people of the country, Envious, too, at the rapid increase of an alien’s wealth, they determined to drive Isaac away; and for this no expedient would be more effectual than the preventing him from procuring water for his cattle. Following upon this came an express command of the king to depart, which Isaac obeyed; for he had sought refuge there because of the famine, and had no right to continue at Gerar, if the people refused their hospitality.
It is not completely clear from the text when the wells are stopped up. However, the context implies – particularly in conjunction with the following verse – that the wells are stopped up in the present by Abimelech who desires to see Isaac leave.
As the note above states, this is a demonstration not only of a lack of hospitality but also of a breach of the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech decades earlier. However, as the note also points out, Isaac is in Gerar as a sojourner, during a famine, and he no longer needs to remain there.
From The Pulpit Commentaries, also on verse 15:
For all the wells which his father’s servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father (vide Genesis 21:30), the philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth. This act, commonly regarded as legitimate in ancient warfare, was practically to Isaac an act of expulsion, it being impossible for flocks and herds to exist without access to water supplies. It was probably, as the text indicates, the outcome of envy, rather than inspired by fear that Isaac in digging and possessing wells was tacitly claiming the ownership of the land.
The act of stopping up the wells is a legitimate act of ancient warfare. However, in this instance, the act seems to be not so hostile as that. Abimelech simply wants Isaac to leave. We see that stated more directly in the next verses.
Again from The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Abimelech said unto Isaac (almost leading to the suspicion that the Philistine monarch had instigated the outbreak of hostilities amongst his people), Go from us (a royal command rather than a friendly advice); for thou art much mightier than we. The same apprehension of the growing numbers and strength of Isaac’s descendants in Egypt took possession of the heart of Pharaoh, and led to their enslavement (vide Exodus 1:9).
As the note implies, there is a bit of foreshadowing of future events in this situation with Isaac. We also see in these events the beginning of a long-term hostility between the descendants of Abraham and the Philistines.
We do not reach open hostilities just yet though. Isaac leaves and camps in the valley of Gerar.
(17) The valley of Gerar.—The word nahal, rendered “valley,” means a narrow defile through which a summer torrent flows. In the bed of these streams water can generally be found by digging, and Isaac hoped that he was far enough from the city for the enmity to cease. But he was mistaken, though he seems for a short period to have been left in peace.
From The Pulpit Commenaries:
And Isaac—perhaps not without remonstrance, but without offering resistance, as became a saint (Matthew 5:5; Romans 12:17, Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9)—departed thence (i.e. from Gerar), and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar,—a valley or nahal meant a low, flat region watered by a mountain stream. The Wady Gerar has been identified with the Joorf–el–Gerar, the rush or rapid of Gerar, three hours south-east of Gaza—and dwelt there.
As the note in Ellicott states, Isaac leaves but he does not go far enough away to suit Abimelech. We will read more of that in the next section of verses:
BiblePlaces.com has some pictures of modern day Gerar HERE.
The blog, MotherlyWordstoLiveBy has a really great map for visualizing Isaac’s travels to this point and also the places that we will see him go in the coming chapters: