************ Sermon on Genesis 26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 11, 2013
"The Gospel Promises to Isaac"
I Life, Land, Descendants
A Some of the goofiest and most unbiblical things are said about our future life at funerals.
First, there are those who talk about life in heaven as if it includes a body. "She is watching from heaven." "He is playing golf in heaven." Really? As a soul? Without a body? Without eyes and hands and feet? Ridiculous. This simply is not possible. Until Jesus comes again, my brothers and sisters, the body of every saint whose death we mourn is in the grave and not in heaven.
Second, there are those who talk about life in heaven as the goal of the Christian life. Life in heaven, my brothers and sisters, is an intermediate state, an incomplete state.
Third, there are also those who view the Gospel promises as being only spiritual. But they do include a physical component. Our final state is a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth.
B We see the physical component of salvation when we look at the promises that God gives to Isaac. God tells Isaac he must "live in the land where I tell you to live" (Gen 26:2). Implied in this is a promise of life. Also, God's promise is that "to you and your descendants I will give all these lands" (Gen 26:3; cf 26:4). Notice, God promises "lands" – the first inkling that Canaan is not the only piece of land the covenant community will possess. Here is a hint that someday the whole earth will be the possession of the Israel of God. And, Isaac is promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen 26:4).
At the start of our Scripture reading we see that God promises Isaac life, land, and descendants (Gen 26:2-4; cf Gen 26:24). It is fair and safe to call these three the physical promises of the Gospel to Isaac.
C Life, land, and descendants. These three also encapsulate the physical nature of our salvation.
First of all, the promise of the Gospel is life eternal. Everyone who believes in Jesus looks forward to eternal life in a resurrected, glorified, physical body (Den 12:2; Rom 6:5).
Second, the promise of the Gospel is land. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth (Mt 5:5). We know this is the new earth to which the new heaven descends after Judgment Day (Isa 65:17-25; Rev 21).
Third, the promise of the Gospel is descendants. The crowd of people on the new earth is an innumerable multitude of believers (Mt 13:31-32; Rev 7:9-12).
D I need to say something here about the chronology of Genesis. In our study of Genesis 1-24 we have seen that Moses arranges the material in the order that it has happened. In Genesis 25 & 26 Moses breaks the historical pattern in order to make a point. For example, we read of Abraham's death (Gen 25:7-8) before the birth of Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:19-26). But Abraham did not actually die until fifteen years after the birth of the twins (cf Gen 21:5; 25:7; 25:20; 25:26). The events are recorded out of sequence to emphasize that Isaac and Jacob are those in whom God moves His covenant plan forward.
In Genesis 26, Moses again arranges his material out of historical sequence. Moses – and Isaac – present Rebekah as a single woman without husband and children. Therefore, the events of Genesis 26 occur before the birth of the twins in Genesis 25. Moses, inspired by the Spirit, does not want to start the account of Isaac with Isaac's failings but with Isaac as the covenant heir.
Isaac is the covenant heir. It should not surprise us, then, that the Gospel promises to Isaac are almost word-for-word the same as the promises given to Abraham (cf Gen 12:1-3). This is a statement that Isaac has taken Abraham's place in terms of the covenant promises of life, land, and descendants.
Isaac is also Abraham's heir as far as the spiritual dimension of the covenant is concerned. As such, Isaac stands in an unbroken line from Adam to Seth to Noah to Shem to Abraham as one of the seed of the woman. Remember, it is through the seed of the woman that the Savior will come Who will crush Satan's head and bring the covenant promises to reality. So God says to Isaac, "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed" (Gen 26:4). Like Abraham, Isaac is one of the forebears of the Messiah (cf Gen 12:3).
II If You But Trust in God
A In Genesis 25 & 26 we see that Abraham and Isaac share more than the covenant and the covenant promises. They also share similar experiences. First, father and son both share the experience of a barren wife. Second, both share the experience of a barren land. Genesis 26 begins with these ominous words:
(Gen 26:1) Now there was a famine in the land--besides the earlier famine of Abraham's time--and Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar.
"There was a famine in the land ..." (Gen 12:10). What land? The Promised Land. A land of plenty. A land of rest and security. Twenty-four times the Promised Land is described as the land that flows with milk and honey (Ex 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; etc). Israel is traveling through the wilderness on the way to this land. Yet, this is now the second time they are told the Promised Land has a famine. I can hear the people asking, "Moses, what are you doing? Where are you bringing us?"
Do you remember what Abraham did when he was faced with famine? "And Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe" (Gen 12:10). He did this on his own without God's permission. He went to Egypt. Egypt. The old enemy of Israel. The country that enslaved and mistreated the children of God. The place they just escaped from. The place of Pharaoh and his army and his pagan priests.
What will Isaac do? Will he do the same thing as Abraham? Will he abandon the God of promise and the promises of God? Will he go down to the abundant prosperity of Egypt? What will Isaac do when faced with same temptation as Abraham?
An even more important question: What will the children of Israel do? As they face the trials of the wilderness experience, will they be tempted to go back to Egypt? As they face enemies, armies, giants, walled cities, kings, false prophets, pagan priests, hunger, and thirst will they be tempted to flee back to Egypt?
And, what about you and me? In the face of God's commands and God's promises, do we resolve to be faithful and obedient? Or, do we also flee to our Egypt – which is the world and the things of this earth – when we face trials and grief and temptations?
B The Lord appeared to Isaac and specifically said to him, "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live" (Gen 26:2). Don't go to Egypt. Stay where you are, in spite of the famine. Believe in me and my promises.
But then what happened? Immediately after the covenant was renewed, Isaac fudged the truth about his relationship with Rebekah. Like his father before him, he claimed his wife to be his sister (Gen 26:7; cf 12:13; 20:2).
We need to realize that Isaac was living as an alien in the land of Gerar. As such, Isaac was without legal rights or recourse. The possibility of violence against him from the inhabitants of the land was ever present, and he feared for his life. More precisely, Isaac was afraid that if beautiful Rebekah was recognized as his wife, his life would be in danger (Gen 26:7,9). He feared he would meet with a convenient accident – an accident that would free Rebekah for marriage to another.
The issue at stake here is the old, familiar one already faced by Abraham: Can God be trusted to keep His promises and protect Isaac? Will Isaac, by faith, believe God? Can the same thing be said about Isaac that was eventually said about Abraham: he believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (cf Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; James 2:23)? Does Isaac have the faith to believe God or does God need his help?
In this case, like his father before him, Isaac gave in to the temptation to speak the lie. Looking after his life was more important than obedience to God. Isaac forgot. Isaac forgot that the God he was reluctant to trust had saved him once before. Remember how God provided a lamb to take Isaac's place on the altar of Mount Moriah? If God was able to deliver Isaac's life from the upraised knife of Abraham, wouldn't He also be able to deliver Isaac from the dangers of pagan society? Had he learned nothing from that experience? Didn't he learn that nothing is too hard for God?
Let me ask, when did Isaac start to fear for his life? Isaac feared for his life when he stopped trusting God. Isaac feared for his life when he did not put obedience to God first. As long as Isaac was trusting God, he had nothing to fear from any man or woman, and he was free to come and go with boldness. When he started thinking only about himself, however, and about trying to protect himself, he became scared and troubled.
Don't judge Isaac too harshly, congregation. Don't we see the same thing when we examine our hearts? Don't we fudge the truth at times to protect our comfort or our pleasure or our reputation? Don't we fail to trust and obey God when it is convenient for us to act this way? Don't we take short-cuts as we walk through life? Aren't we guilty, like Isaac, of forgetting? Aren't we guilty of forgetting that the Lamb of God took our place on Calvary? Aren't we guilty of forgetting that the God Who did not spare His own Son for us is more than able to guard us and protect us and look after us?
We have so many scary things facing us in life: cancer, heart-attack, bankruptcy, broken relationships, a sick child or grandchild, loss of job or income, natural disaster, disability, old age and the problems it brings. We have trials and temptations. The question that faces us is the same question that faced Isaac (and Abraham before him): do we fear and trust God and keep His commandments, or do we fear the things of this earth?
C What is the answer to Isaac's fear? The promises of the Gospel. What is the answer to our fears? The promises of the Gospel. We need to remind ourselves over and over again that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. We need to remind ourselves that our almighty and loving Father in heaven is able to provide and wants to provide whatever I need for body and soul.
Knowing and fearing this God gives you the power to be free of any other fears in this life, for if God is for us, who can be against us (cf Rom 8:31)?
III Aliens and Pilgrims
A As we look at the rest of the chapter we see that God was with Isaac as He had promised. In spite of Isaac's sin and failure, God was faithful. Thank God that God's faithfulness does not depend on our faithfulness. God's blessing rested upon Isaac, and he became rich. He reaped a hundredfold what he sowed and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy (Gen 26:12-13).
Just like his father before him, Isaac found that prosperity can be as big a test as poverty. Remember the conflict between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot because of all their animals (cf Gen 13:5-7)? We are told that Isaac had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him (Gen 26:12-13). The Philistines started to harass him, blocking up the wells he needed for his flocks and herds and eventually asking him to move away from their land (Gen 26:15-16). His life became one of conflict and constant wandering.
Instead of possessing the land, Isaac was evicted from it. Instead of being a blessing to the nations, the nations viewed him as a curse.
It is clear, as Abimelech said, that the Lord was with Isaac (Gen 26:28). It is also clear that Isaac tried to live a godly life as stated by Paul:
(Rom 12:17-18) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. (18) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.Instead of fighting for his wells and water, Isaac turned the other cheek.
So why was Isaac harassed by the Philistines? In Isaac we see the truth of Paul's statement that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2Tim 3:12). The world mocks and disdains and crucifies those who are different and holy.
B You might wonder why God was giving with one hand and taking away with the other? Isaac was once more being put to the test. He was discovering that he, like his father before him, was nothing more than an alien and a stranger on this earth. He was recognizing there is more to God's promises than this life and this earth and this body. He was recognizing that his hope was the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10).
My brothers and sisters, we need to learn the same lesson. This life, this body, this earth is but temporary. We are but aliens and pilgrims passing through to the city with foundations – which means a city that will endure, a city that is not temporary, a city in which we will always enjoy fellowship with God and with one another.
Late in the 1800s, an American tourist paid a visit to the renowned Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a cot.That's true for all of us. All Christians know that on this earth and in this body and in this life they are but pilgrims passing through on the way to eternal glory.
The tourist asked, "Rabbi, where is your furniture?" Hofetz Chaim replied, "Where is yours?"
The puzzled American asked, "Mine? But I'm only a visitor here. I'm only passing through." The rabbi replied, "So am I."
Isaac demonstrates the proper way for Christians to relate to the unbelievers around them: living in peace, by faith, in order to point them to the God Who is with us and over us.
But this is not how our passage ends. Not at all. Our passage ends with Esau. Esau demonstrates the wrong way of relating to those who aren't believers. What does Esau do? Esau marries them. See this in contrast to Isaac's marriage. Abraham took extraordinary care to make sure Isaac had a suitable bride. But Esau couldn't care less about that. He gave no thought to spiritual things. He gave no thought to living by faith as a stranger and alien in this world. Instead, Esau married himself to the world, acquiring not one but two pagan wives (Gen 26:34).
Like Isaac and unlike Esau, we are called to be salt and light. But this means we need to be different. We are to be in the world but not of the world. You should stand out as different in the workplace, in the neighborhood, at school. Isaac, for all his imperfections, was such a person. He showed himself to be a true son of Abraham. Jacob, at least by the time God was finished working with him, was also such a person. But Esau showed himself to be anything but.
Let me end by asking, are you like Isaac or are you like Esau?
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