Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 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, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
“Yeah, Isaac, we drove you out of our community… but we did it peacefully! No hard feelings?”
From Ellicott’s Commentary on Verse 26:
(26) Abimelech went to him.—The return of Isaac to Beer-sheba was a matter of serious importance also to Abimelech. The Philistines were themselves an alien race, and an alliance between Isaac and Ishmael, and others of the Semitic stock, might end in their expulsion from the country. Abraham had also been confederate with the Amorites (Genesis 14:13), and on friendly terms with the Hittites (Genesis 23:6), the two most powerful races of Canaan, and they might be ready to aid his son. When, then, Isaac thus retraced his steps, Abimelech, uncertain of Isaac’s purpose, deter mined to offer peace and friendship, and to propose the renewal of the old covenant which had existed between Abraham and the people of Gerar.
Ahuzzath.—This is one of several points peculiar to this narrative; but it is uncertain whether it be a proper name, or whether, with the Targum and Jerome, we are to understand by it a company, that is, an escort of friends. If it be a proper name, the rendering should be, Ahuzzath, his friend, that is, his confidant and privy counsellor.
Phichol.—See Note on Genesis 21:22.
This note actually makes a point regarding the perception of Isaac’s move all the way back to Beersheba. The Philistines had left Isaac alone at Rehoboth but they are aware that he might consider their actions hostile and insulting. When he chooses not to stay at Rehoboth, they become worried that he might be seeking out a military alliance with surrounding people against them.
As Ellicott notes, this is a risk the Philistines can likely not afford. They thus seek out Isaac and offer a renewal of the peace agreement they established with Abraham.
Ahuzzath = אֲחֻזַּת ʼĂchuzzath, akh-ooz-zath’; a variation of H272; possession; Achuzzath, a Philistine:—Ahuzzath.
In verse 27, Isaac greets them in the way that you might expect. “You chased me out and now you want to be my friend?” From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore—מַדּוּעַ, contr, from מָה יָדוּעַ, what is taught?—for what reason (cf. τί μαθών)—come ye to me, seeing (literally, and) ye hate me, and have sent me away from you? While animadverting to the personal hostility to which he had been subjected, Isaac says nothing about the wells of which he had been deprived: a second point of difference between this and the preceding narrative of Abraham’s covenant with the Philistine king.
From here, the two sides make a peace agreement. The Philistines tell Isaac that they can see now he is clearly blessed by the Lord, and they remind him that they have been a peaceful neighbor. Isaac decides that the insult shown to him is not so severe that he cannot renew a covenant with the Philistines.
Again from Ellicott:
(28, 29) Let there be now an oath.—The word literally signifies a curse. Each side uttered an imprecation, with the prayer that it might fall upon himself if he broke the terms of the covenant.
The Lord was with thee . . . blessed of the Lord.—This use of the word “Lord,” that is, Jehovah, is very remarkable. In Genesis 21:22-23 Abimelech uses the term Elohim, God, in accordance with the careful discrimination in the use of the names of the Deity often previously referred to. By the long residence, first of Abraham and then of Isaac, in their territory, the Philistines would indeed have become better acquainted with the religion of the patriarchs; but as Jehovah was not their special title for the Deity (Exodus 6:3), we must conclude, with Rosenmüller, that it was Moses who wrote Jehovah in the place of the word actually employed by Abimelech. We gather, however, that the king did not use any generic or heathen names of the Deity, but that whereby the patriarchs worshipped their covenant God, and his so doing was probably intended as an act of homage to Him.
From the note, Ellicott makes a big point of emphasis that Abimelech refers directly to Yahweh. Ellicott seems to agree with an earlier commentary by Rosenmueller that Moses wrote the tetragrammaton in place of whatever word it is that Abimelech actually uses here. The Pulpit Commentaries disagrees:
And they said, We saw certainly—literally, seeing we saw, i.e. we assuredly perceived, or, we have indeed discovered. Abimelech and his ministers first explain the motive which has impelled them to solicit a renewal of the old alliance—that the Lord was with thee:—the use of Jehovah instead of Elohim, as in Genesis 21:22, does not prove that this is a Jehovistic elaboration of the earlier legend. Neither is it necessary to suppose that the term Jehovah is a Mosaic translation of the epithet employed by Abimelech (Rosenmüller). The long-continued residence of Abraham in Gemr and Beersheba afforded ample opportunity for Abimelech becoming acquainted with the patriarch’s God. The introduction of Jehovah into the narrative may be noted as a third point of dissimilarity between this and the previous account—and we said, Let there he now an oath—i.e. a treaty secured by an oath or self-imprecation on the transgressor (cf. Genesis 24:41; Deuteronomy 29:11, Deuteronomy 29:13)—betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee,—a farther particularization of the parties to the covenant for the sake of emphasis—and let us make a covenant with thee. The phrase “to cut a covenant,” here used in a so-called Jehovistic portion of the history, occurs in Genesis 21:27, Genesis 21:32, which confessedly belongs to the fundamental document.
Both sides agree to a covenant with each other.
covenant = בְּרִית bᵉrîyth, ber-eeth’; from H1262 (in the sense of cutting [like H1254]); a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh):—confederacy, (con-) feder(-ate), covenant, league.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And he made them a feast,—so Lot did to the angels (Genesis 19:3). There is no mention of any banquet in the case of Abraham’s covenant, which may be noted as another point of difference between the two transactions. A similar entertainment accompanied Jacob’s covenant with Laban (Genesis 31:54); while in the Mosaic system the sacrificial meal formed an integral part of the regularly-appointed sacrificial worship (Le Genesis 7:15, 31; Deuteronomy 12:7, Deuteronomy 12:17; vide Kurtz, ‘Sacrificial Worship,’ § 79)—and they did eat and drink.
And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another—literally, a man to his brother. On the derivation of the verb to swear from the word for seven, see Genesis 21:23—and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
Both sides celebrate the covenant with a feast. The Philistines depart for home the next morning. From the Philistine side of things, they have to feel quite good about this outcome. 1) They drove Isaac out of their territory, and 2) They did so while maintaining peaceful relations with him.
Keep in mind that they drove him out in part because they believed he was more powerful than they were. In that context, then, it seems reasonable to conclude that they should have been fearful of a military engagement with an insulted Isaac. It also seems reasonable to conclude that the comparably more powerful Isaac decided not to ramp up tensions with a less powerful adversary.
Shortly Abimelech and his company leave – literally the same day – Isaac’s servants find more water. From Ellicott:
(32) We have found water.—As there are two wells at Beer-sheba, it is uncertain whether this was Abraham’s well, re-opened by Isaac (see Genesis 26:25), or a new one.
And then from The Pulpit Commentaries:
And it came to pass the same day (i.e. the day of the treaty), that Isaac’s servants came, and told him concerning the well which they had digged,—the operation of sinking this well had probably commenced on the day of Abimelech’s arrival at Beersheba (vide Genesis 26:25). Almost immediately on the king’s departure the well-diggers returned to the patriarch’s encampment to report the success of their operations—and said unto him, We have found water. The LXX; mistaking לוֹ, to him, for לֹא, not, read, “We have not found water;” the incorrectness of which is sufficiently declared by what follows.
As Isac has been blessed by choosing peace with the Philistines, as he moved away from them, Isaac is again blessed after choosing peace with the Philistines.
And he called it Shebah (“Oath;” which he would certainly not have done had it not been a well): therefore the name of the city (which ultimately gathered round the well) is Beersheba—i.e. the well of the oath (vide Genesis 21:31). Isaac must have perfectly understood that the place had been so named by his father three quarters of a century previous; but either the name had been forgotten by others, or had not come into general use amongst the inhabitants, or, observing the coincidence between his finding a well just at the time of covenanting with Abimelech and the fact that his father’s treaty was also connected with a well, he wished to confirm and perpetuate the early name which had been assigned to the town. It is not certain that this was Abraham’s well which had been rediscovered; the probability is that it was another, since at Bir-es-Sheba two wells are still in existence (vide Genesis 21:31) unto this day—an expression used throughout Genesis to describe events separated from the age of Moses by several centuries (vide Genesis 19:37, Genesis 19:38; Genesis 22:14; Genesis 32:32).
This section is confusing as the notes point out. The implication is that the city is named Beersheba due to the name of the well for which Isaac only now supplies a name. However, only a few verses back (verse 23) we are told that Isaac travels to Beersheba.
In chapter 21, Hagar and Ishmael wander into the wilderness of Beersheba. Later in Chapter 21, during Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech, we read that he names a place Beersheba, also due to the creation of a covenant with the Philistines.
Therefore we see that Isaac and Abimelech’s covenant is an intentional callback to a covenant between Abraham and Abimelech. There are some key differences in the two episodes, though.
- When Isaac tells the Philistines that Rebekah is his sister, rather than his wife, Abimelech does not take her. On the contrary, Abimelech *does* take Sarah.
- In the episode with Abraham, Abimelech’s household is met with a curse after he takes Sarah. Here, the Philistines are not said to be cursed at all.
- Both Abraham and Isaac make their covenant with Abimelech at Beersheba.
- Ahuzzath is present for the negotiation with Isaac. During Abraham’s time, the Philistines mentioned are only Abimelech and Phicol.
- Unlike his father Abraham, Isaac does not mention the hostility with the water wells when discussing terms with Abimelech.
- Isaac’s negotiation includes a mention of Yahweh by the Philistines. Abraham’s does not.
- Abraham’s account does not mentions a feast between the two sides following the agreement. Isaac’s account does.
The story next returns our attention to Esau.