Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
Isaac’s troubles with the Philistines are not over. Not content that he move a modest distance away, the Philistines contend with him until he moves a greater distance away. We pick up the story at verse 18 with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(18-22) Isaac digged again the wells . . . —This activity of Isaac called forth anew the opposition of the Philistines, His first well was in the wady of Gerar, and was the more valuable because it was not the mere remains of the water of the torrent, but was fed by a spring, as we learn from its being called “a well of living water.” But though Isaac had a right to these wells by reason of the old covenant between his father and the king, yet when his claim was resisted he abandoned the well, but in token of displeasure called it Esek, contention. When compelled to resign his next well he called it by a harsher name—Sitnah, enmity; for their opposition was developing into bitter persecution. And now, wearied with the strife, he withdrew far away, and the Philistines, having gained their end, followed him no farther. In quiet, therefore, he again dug a well, and called it Rehoboth, wide open spaces. It has been identified with one in the wady Ruhaibeh now stopped up, but originally twelve feet in diameter and cased with hewn stone. It lies to the south of Beer-sheba, at a distance of 8⅓ leagues, and about forty miles; away from Gerar.
Esek = עֵשֶׂק ʻêseq, ay’sek; from H6229; strife:—Esek.
Sitnah = שִׂטְנָה siṭnâh, sit-naw’; from H7853; opposition (by letter):—accusation.
Rehoboth = רְחֹבוֹת Rᵉchôbôwth, rekh-o-both’; or רְחֹבֹת Rᵉchôbôth; plural of H7339; streets; Rechoboth, a place in Assyria and one in Palestine:—Rehoboth.
From The Pulpit Commentaries on verse 22:
And he removed from thence (yielding that too), and digged another well; and for that they strove not (perhaps as being beyond the boundaries of Gerar): and he called the name of it Reheboth;—i.e. “Wide spaces” (hence “streets,” Genesis 19:2); from רָחַב, to be or become broad; conjectured to have been situated in the Wady Ruhaibeh, about eight and a half hours to the south of Beersheba, where are still found a well named Bir-Rohebeh and ruins of a city of the same name—and he said, For now the Lord hath made room (literally, hath made a broad space) for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.
After all of this, Isaac returns to Beersheba. According to the comment above, he traveled about eight and a half hours on his return journey. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary points out though that this places him within a short distance of the Philistines again.
(23-25) He went up from thence to Beer-sheba.—This was a very serious act on Isaac’s part He leaves the solitudes where he had found a refuge from the enmity of the Philistines, and returns to a place scarcely five leagues distant from their city. Should the old rancour revive, it may now take the form of actual war. And next, he does not go back to the well Lahai-Roi, where he had so long resided, but to Beer-sheba, his father’s favourite home. It was a claim on his part to the rights and inheritance of Abraham, and the claim was admitted. The same night Jehovah appears to him, bids him put away his fears, and renews to him the promises which were his by the right of his birth.
My servant Abraham.—A title of high honour and significance, given to Moses repeatedly, to Joshua (Joshua 24:29), to Israel (Isaiah 41:8), and to the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13). It means God’s prime minister and vicegerent.
He builded an altar.—In returning to Beer-sheba, Isaac had apparently faced the dangers of his position, through confidence in the promises made to his father, with whom he identified himself by taking up his abode at his home. And no sooner are the promises confirmed to him than he restores the public worship of God in the very place where Abraham had established it (Genesis 21:33).
Digged a well.—The word is not that previously used in the chapter, but one that signifies the re-opening of the well which Abraham had dug, but which had become stopped by violence or neglect.
After Isaac returns to Beersheba, he is visited by The Lord. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And the Lord appeared unto him the same night (i.e. the night of his arrival at Beersheba), and said (in a dream or vision), I (the pronoun is emphatic) am the God (the Elohim) of Abraham thy father (the language is expressive not alone of the covenant relationship which subsisted between Jehovah and the patriarch while the latter lived, but also of the present continuance of that relationship, since Abraham, though dead, had not ceased to he): fear not (cf. Genesis 15:1, in which the same encouraging admonition is addressed to Abraham after his battle with the kings), for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed—a repetition of promises already given to himself (vide Genesis 26:3, Genesis 26:4)—for my servant Abraham’s sake—a reason declaring God’s gracious covenant, and not personal merit, to be the true source of blessing for Isaac.
We do not get obvious specifics about the nature of the visitation from God but it at least appears to be introductory. Whereas Abraham saw God regularly enough to know Him, Isaac here must be told by The Lord who He is. God reiterates a promise to Isaac that He previously made to Abraham.
“I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
Compare with Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 15:4-5, and Genesis 22:17.
More from The Pulpit Commentaries on Isaac’s response to encountering The Lord.
And he (i.e. Isaac, in grateful response to the Divine Promiser who had appeared to him) builded an altar there,—the first instance of altar building ascribed to Isaac; “those erected by his father no doubt still remaining in the other places where he sojourned” (Inglis) and called upon the name of the Lord,—i.e. publicly celebrated his worship in the midst of his household (vide on Genesis 12:7, Genesis 12:8)—and pitched his tent there (the place being now to him doubly hallowed by the appearance of the Lord to himself as well as to his father): and there Isaac’s servants digged a well—a necessary appendage to a flockmaster’s settlement.
As the note provides, this is the first altar ascribed to Isaac. He settles in this spot as well, pitching his tents there as well as digging a well there.
Taking a step back, what we see in this section is that Isaac has his first real direct conflict with the surrounding people – in this case the Philistines. Immediately after he returns to Beersheba, God visits with Isaac for the first time and reassures him.