Saturday, 3 January 2009


The Bible's description of Isaac, the Jewish patriarch, is an interesting one. On the surface, it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and wouldn't make a very good drama. To put it bluntly, Isaac comes out looking like a bit of a patsy. His father offers him as a sacrifice; his servant finds him a wife; he gets kicked around by King Abimelech; and finally, when he is an old, blind man, his wife and son together dupe him into giving a blessing to the youngest son rather than the oldest. Poor old Isaac. He kind of stands in the way of the popular belief that God helps those who help themselves.

So who does God help, and how exactly does he help them?

Genesis 26 - Isaac's encounter with Abimelech:
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. 2The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My requirements, My commands, My decrees and My laws. 6So Isaac stayed in Gerar." ...

12Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. 13The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.15So all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.

16Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us."

17So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Phlistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.

19Isaac's servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac's herdsmen and said, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. 21Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. 22He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land."

23From there he went up to Beersheba. 24That night the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of My servant Abraham."

25Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.

26Meanwhile, Abimelech had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. 27Isaac asked them, "Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?"

28They answered, "We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, 'There ought to be a sworn agreement between us'--between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD."

30Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace.

32That day Isaac's servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, "We've found water!" 33He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.

How many times can you say, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land", before it starts ringing a little hollow? Sure, Isaac had a huge household and herds and flocks. But none of that was going to last long if he couldn't give them water. And while it must have been great to be wealthy, it can't have been terribly fun to have to lug all that wealth through the desert every time Abimelech's servants got cranky and wanted a fight.

If I had been Isaac, it wouldn't have taken me too long to give them the fight they were so obviously picking. I'd also be complaining to God. After all, he gave Isaac all this wealth, and then left him at the mercy of a few servants with a grudge for the one resource he needed to maintain his riches: water. From a PR standpoint, it wasn't a move likely to garner a whole lot of believers. Even Isaac went up to Beersheba to have a little talk with God about the whole thing. What did he get? No apologies, no big promises, no miracles - just a gentle reminder: Don't be afraid, Isaac. I haven't forgotten my promise to your father. You'll get your blessing.

So what was the blessing, if it wasn't protection from Abimelech's hoods, or water to maintain the herds - not to mention Isaac's own family?

Genesis 12:2-3 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.

The wealth, it turned out, wasn't Isaac's 'real' blessing at all. The blessing wasn't something he was going to get; it was something he was going to be.

So often, our disappointment with God causes us to take things into our own hands. We think we need to fight with those who cause us trouble, and wonder why God isn't striking them down. But look what happens to Isaac. He hasn't done a thing to protect himself. His father, Abraham was a great leader who, with his servants, fought off multiple marauding armies, but Isaac has gone running like a girl at the first hint of conflict.

Abimelech and his men come knocking. Isaac must have groaned and thought, "Not again! Why has God set me up to look like a fool?" Amazingly, Abimelech isn't there to fight. Instead, he's scared. He wants to make a peace treaty with Isaac - with Isaac, who has appeared incapable of hurting a flea; who has hit the trail every time Abimelech's servants raised a ruckus. Abimelech is afraid of him? There's not the faintest smell of greatness on Isaac, but Abimelech says that he and his people know God is with Isaac, and is blessing him.

What? They do?

And so God has done it again, revealing himself to others in his chosen one's weakness rather than his strength. We are always waiting for God to sweep in with miracles and wonders and signs that will prove to everyone we aren't gullible fools after all. When he refuses to fill our order for blessings, we are disappointed and figure he's not there after all. The problem is that we have failed to understand what is important. Our own comfort is of paramount importance to us, and we assume that God shares our values.

The High and Holy God of Eternity is not to be conjured. He refuses to be made a pet "genie", kept on hand to grant our wishes. He's no magic fountain, spilling out holy water with which we can heal all of our ailments. He's not a waiter, ready to fill our orders. He'll make the order - we can decide whether or not we want it. It might not come out looking like a blessing.

To those who love God, he will give what is good - but that might hurt us, embarrass us, make fools of us, as it did Isaac. But through Isaac, Abimelech and his people came to know God, the city of Beersheba was born and blessed with a water source, and of course, the Jewish nation was built. Ultimately, it was through this nation that the whole earth was set free by Jesus, the Christ. Isaac got his blessing, and he got to be the blessing.

How many blessings have I turned down, because I was looking for the wrong thing? How many times has my hope turned to distrust because I expected God to think like me, and value what I value?

1 comment:

joeyanne said...

This one went straight to my heart. It is what God is teaching me. I want to be a blessing, but I fight within myself, because I also want to be great, and beautiful, and wonderful. I forget that the values of this world that say I must be these things to be a blessing, are false. And so the question I must answer within my own soul: What do I really want?