Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Isaac's Joys and Sorrows - Genesis 26
The incidents of Isaac's life which are collected together in this chapter, from the time of his sojourn in the south country, resemble in many respects certain events in the life of Abraham; but the distinctive peculiarities are such as to form a true picture of the dealings of God, which were in perfect accordance with the character of the patriarch.
Renewal of the Promise. - A famine "in the land" (i.e., Canaan, to which he had therefore returned from Hagar's well; Gen 25:11), compelled Isaac to leave Canaan, as it had done Abraham before. Abraham went to Egypt, where his wife was exposed to danger, from which she could only be rescued by the direct interposition of God. Isaac also intended to go there, but on the way, viz., in Gerar, he received instruction through a divine manifestation that he was to remain there. As he was the seed to whom the land of Canaan was promised, he was directed not to leave it. To this end Jehovah assured him of the fulfilment of all the promises made to Abraham on oath, with express reference to His oath (Gen 22:16) to him and to his posterity, and on account of Abraham's obedience of faith. The only peculiarity in the words is the plural, "all these lands." This plural refers to all the lands or territories of the different Canaanitish tribes, mentioned in Gen 15:19-21, like the different divisions of the kingdom of Israel or Judah in Ch1 13:2; Ch2 11:23. האל; an antique form of האלּה occurring only in the Pentateuch. The piety of Abraham is described in words that indicate a perfect obedience to all the commands of God, and therefore frequently recur among the legal expressions of a later date. יהוה משׁמרת שׁמר "to take care of Jehovah's care," i.e., to observe Jehovah, His persons, and His will, Mishmereth, reverence, observance, care, is more closely defined by "commandments, statutes, laws," to denote constant obedience to all the revelations and instructions of God.
Protection of Rebekah at Gerar. - As Abraham had declared his wife to be his sister both in Egypt and at Gerar, so did Isaac also in the latter place. But the manner in which God protected Rebekah was very different from that in which Sarah was preserved in both instances. Before any one had touched Rebekah, the Philistine king discovered the untruthfulness of Isaac's statement, having seen Isaac "sporting with Rebekah," sc., in a manner to show that she was his wife; whereupon he reproved Isaac for what he had said, and forbade any of his people to touch Rebekah on pain of death. Whether this was the same Abimelech as the one mentioned in Gen 20 cannot be decided with certainty. The name proves nothing, for it was the standing official name of the kings of Gerar (cf. Sa1 21:11 and Ps 34), as Pharaoh was of the kings of Egypt. The identity is favoured by the pious conduct of Abimelech in both instances; and no difficulty is caused either by the circumstance that 80 years had elapsed between the two events (for Abraham had only been dead five years, and the age of 150 was no rarity then), or by the fact, that whereas the first Abimelech had Sarah taken into his harem, the second not only had no intention of doing this, but was anxious to protect her from his people, inasmuch as it would be all the easier to conceive of this in the case of the same king, on the ground of his advanced age.
Isaac's Increasing Wealth. - As Isaac had experienced the promised protection ("I will be with thee," Gen 26:3) in the safety of his wife, so did he received while in Gerar the promised blessing. He sowed and received in that year "a hundred measures," i.e., a hundred-fold return. This was an unusual blessing, as the yield even in very fertile regions is not generally greater than from twenty-five to fifty-fold (Niebuhr and Burckhardt), and it is only in the Ruhbe, that small and most fruitful plain of Syria, that wheat yields on an average eighty, and barley a hundred-fold. Agriculture is still practised by the Bedouins, as well as grazing (Robinson, Pal. i. 77, and Seetzen); so that Isaac's sowing was no proof that he had been stimulated by the promise of Jehovah to take up a settled abode in the promised land.
Being thus blessed of Jehovah, Isaac became increasingly (הלוך, vid., Gen 8:3) greater (i.e., stronger), until he was very powerful and his wealth very great; so that the Philistines envied him, and endeavoured to do him injury by stopping up and filling with rubbish all the wells that had been dug in his father's time; and even Abimelech requested him to depart, because he was afraid of his power. Isaac then encamped in the valley of Gerar, i.e., in the "undulating land of Gerar," through which the torrent (Jurf) from Gerar flows from the south-east (Ritter, Erdk. 14, pp. 1084-5).
Reopening and Discovery of Wells. - In this valley Isaac dug open the old wells which had existed from Abraham's time, and gave them the old names. His people also dug three new wells. But Abimelech's people raised a contest about two of these; and for this reason Isaac called them Esek and Sitnah, strife and opposition. The third there was no dispute about; and it received in consequence the name Rehoboth, "breadths," for Isaac said, "Yea now (כּי־עתּה, as in Gen 29:32, etc.) Jehovah has provided for us a broad space, that we may be fruitful (multiply) in the land." This well was probably not in the land of Gerar, as Isaac had removed thence, but in the Wady Ruhaibeh, the name of which is suggestive of Rehoboth, which stands at the point where the two roads from Gaza and Hebron meet, about 3 hours to the south of Elusa, 8 1/3 to the south of Beersheba, and where there are extensive ruins of the city of the same name upon the heights, also the remains of wells (Robinson, Pal. i. 289ff.; Strauss, Sinai and Golgotha); where too the name Sitnah seems to have been retained in the Wady Shutein, with ruins on the northern hills between Ruhaibeh and Khulasa (Elusa).
Isaac's Journey to Beersheba. - Here, where Abraham had spent a long time (Gen 21:33.), Jehovah appeared to him during the night and renewed the promises already given; upon which, Isaac built an altar and performed a solemn service. Here his servants also dug a well near to the tents.
Abimelech's Treaty with Isaac. - The conclusion of this alliance was substantially only a repetition of renewal of the alliance entered into with Abraham; but the renewal itself arose so completely out of the circumstances, that there is no ground whatever for denying that it occurred, or for the hypothesis that our account is merely another form of the earlier alliance; to say nothing of the fact, that besides the agreement in the leading event itself, the attendant circumstances are altogether peculiar, and correspond to the events which preceded. Abimelech not only brought his chief captain Phicol (supposed to be the same as in Gen 21:22, if Phicol is not also an official name), but his מרע "friend," i.e., his privy councillor, Ahuzzath. Isaac referred to the hostility they had shown; to which Abimelech replied, that they (he and his people) did not smite him (נגע), i.e., drive him away by force, but let him depart in peace, and expressed a wish that there might be an oath between them. אלה the oath, as an act of self-imprecation, was to form the basis of the covenant to be made. From this אלה came also to be used for a covenant sanctioned by an oath (Deu 29:11, Deu 29:13). תּעשׂה אם "that thou do not:" אם a particle of negation used in an oath (Gen 14:23, etc.). (On the verb with zere, see Ges. 75, Anm. 17; Ewald, 224.) - The same day Isaac's servants informed him of the well which they had dug; and Isaac gave it the name Shebah (שׁבעה, oath), in commemoration of the treaty made on oath. "Therefore the city was called Beersheba." This derivation of the name does not shut the other (Gen 21:31) out, but seems to confirm it. As the treaty made on oath between Abimelech and Isaac was only a renewal of his covenant concluded before with Abraham, so the name Beersheba was also renewed by the well Shebah. The reality of the occurrence is supported by the fact that the two wells are in existence still (vid., Gen 21:31).
Esau's Marriage. - To the various troubles which the Philistines prepared for Isaac, but which, through the blessing of God, only contributed to the increase of his wealth and importance, a domestic cross was added, which caused him great and lasting sorrow. Esau married two wives in the 40th year of his age, the 100th of Isaac's life (Gen 25:26); and that not from his own relations in Mesopotamia, but from among the Canaanites whom God had cast off. On their names, see Gen 34:2-3. They became "bitterness of spirit," the cause of deep trouble, to his parents, viz., on account of their Canaanitish character, which was so opposed to the vocation of the patriarchs; whilst Esau by these marriages furnished another proof, how thoroughly his heart was set upon earthly things.