Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Been There, Read That." -- Genesis 26:7-11


Genesis 26:7-11: When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "my wife," thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful." It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, "Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, 'She is my sister'?" And Isaac said to him, "Because I said, 'I might die on account of her.' " Abimelech said, "What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us." So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, "He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

As one reads this passage, several thoughts and questions come to mind. The first will likely come to someone who has been with us in this search for gems in Scripture from Genesis 1:1 to this point. It is this: “Have I not read this story before, perhaps more than once?” We have read two similar accounts. The first was in Genesis 12 and it related the story of Abram and Sarai traveling to Egypt. They decided to lie about their relationship because Abram feared the local men would kill him in order to have his wife.

The second account of a similar story was provided in Genesis 20. It took place in exactly the very town Isaac and Rebekah currently find themselves. Abraham and Sarah (their new names given by God) again had decided to lie about their married relationship. The reasons for doing so are discussed in Volume 1 of this series. Suffice it to say there were ulterior motives at play.

The second thought that comes to mind is that Isaac, in this current passage, is using the same rationale for his lie as his father used in Genesis 12. If we are totally honest with ourselves, we must admit that while reading about such a plot-line once is easily believable, reading it a second time in Genesis 20 starts to raise some questions in our mind, and reading it here a third time in Genesis 26 (this time about Abraham’s son) may well cause us to rethink the credibility of the author. I will admit that was the case for me. What saved me from rendering these accounts as conveniently construed fiction was first my basic assumption that I am reading the Word of God and it is Truth. [You may wish to refer to the section entitled What is the Bible and Why Study It? at the beginning of Volume 1 for rationale on this position.] The second reason is the fact that each one of these accounts, while starting off the same (i.e., a lie in order to deceive for some kind of personal gain), the story unfolds very differently in each case. In Genesis 12, Pharaoh ends up taking Sarai and rewarding Abraham well for her. But then God starts to inflict Pharaoh with plagues of various kinds until he discovers his wrong-doing and returns Sarai to Abram, gives him more gifts, and has his men escort him away from the land. In Genesis 20, Abimelech takes Sarah and then has a dream that he is ‘a dead man’ because of what he has done, taking another man’s wife. He returns Sarah, along with gifts, makes a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham ends up praying to God to end the barrenness of Abimelech’s wives that started with the taking of Sarah.

In this current Genesis 26 account, the story takes on yet a different course of events. We are led to assume that Isaac initially was able to convince the men of Gerar that Rebekah was his sister and he was allowed to live in peace with her. But after some time (we do not know how long), the text says that Abimelech, the king, saw Isaac caressing Rebekah and we assume the caressing was of the nature engaged in by husband and wife, as compared to brother and sister. In fact, the Hebrew word employed is transliterated as tschaq which is translated for us by Strong’s as laughing, mocking, playing, jesting, toying with, and sporting with. Abimelech then calls for Isaac and tells him off for lying. He points out what may have happened if he or one of the men had taken Rebekah. The outcome is that Abimelech issues a charge that anyone who touches Isaac or Rebekah will be put to death.

What we have in these accounts is three very different series of events; all of them stemming from a similar lie. I have to believe therefore that the desire of men to take as their own any beautiful woman that comes to stay in their land was a common practice in the days of Abraham and Isaac.

The third thing I notice about this story, especially as I compare it with the earlier accounts in Genesis chapters 12 and 20, is this. Regardless of the lies being told, the key characters in each (Abram/Abraham in the first two, and Isaac in this one) seem to end up either rewarded, blessed, or protected as a result. How is that? Is God rewarding lying? I don’t think so. God carries out His plan for our lives in spite of our sins. The lesson to be learned is that God takes care of His own, and not that it is okay to lie or sin. It is a lesson of forgiveness and God’s protection once we are committed to Him. It speaks of our humanity and God’s grace. It shows me that a relationship with God, like life itself, is a journey where we vacillate back and forth between our dependence on Him and trying to do things our own way. Thus, in a way, all those of us who have such a relationship, are embarked on our own unique ‘pilgrim’s progress’.

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