Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dealing with the Envy of Others -- Genesis 26:15-17

Genesis 26:15-17: Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.

The opening of this small section of scripture seems to answer a question we had raised earlier with respect to how Isaac got the land he farmed in Gerar. Here we learn it was indeed the same land that his father Abraham had settled in when Abimelech let him choose whatever land he wanted. In fact, the Philistines had now plugged up the wells that his father’s servants had dug. This was envy acted out. The only way they could stop Isaac’s success was to cut off the source of water for his flocks, herds, and household.

This is an excellent picture of man in his true nature. When someone else is doing well, we try to knock him down rather than aspire to climb up to where he may be. It is easier to destroy the works of others than to work hard to achieve similar things ourselves. That was human nature in the days of Isaac and it has not changed at all, for most, right up to today. Man not only reacts this way to man, but if we watch carefully, we see human nature reacting this way towards God. We criticize His world, His achievement, and even His gift to mankind. We blame Him for all our woes. And many in the world today try to do whatever they can to “plug up God’s wells of living water”. They block prayers in the schools, they stop preachers from telling the truth about things God does not condone, and prohibit the teaching of anything that looks like or sounds like creationism, and so on. In fact, they pursue the ultimate act of saying they too can be gods and that God Himself is nothing special – nothing man cannot be.

Now here’s the next interesting thing that occurs in this story. Abimelech, the King, sides with his own people against Isaac and chooses to send him away. The reason? Well, the King says, “you are much mightier than us”. Perhaps this meant they could not defeat him because of how big his household was or they could not compete with him in day-to-day commerce. It is also possible that they may have seen God’s blessing on him and they started to fear for their own position. Perhaps God could bless him enough to make him able to take over the ruling of the Philistines and Abimelech would lose his influence, power, and means of wealth. One would think one would want people who had received the blessing of God around, for some of it might well rub off on them. But when evil and fear and jealousy or envy gets in the way, we cannot expect people to be thinking straight. Let us hope that we ourselves do not succumb to such feelings lest our thinking go astray.

Verse 17 tells us that Isaac departed from where he dwell and camped in the valley of Gerar. Two points worthy of mention. First, Isaac did not argue for his rights. You will remember that this same Abimelech that was sending him away was the same one who in verse 11 of this same chapter charged all the people that they were not to touch this man (Isaac) or his wife, for if they did they would be put to death. Isaac had the law of the King behind him. He could have used that in his defense but chose not to. Instead he put his rights aside and moved away from the area that he had cultivated and developed, likely close to where the King himself lived, and had to settle in another, perhaps less fruitful part of the country the Bible refers to as the “valley of Gerar” as compared to Gerar itself. Not only did he not stand up for his rights, but he was willing to give up his comfort also to avoid a fight or argument. What is the lesson for us?

Earlier this morning I spoke with a pastor who believes he was truly wronged by his staff, his church board, and his superintendent. The ramifications are significant on many counts -- ministry calling, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial. His legal advisors indicated he has sufficient evidence to pursue large damage claims. He does not want that, preferring instead to do everything in accordance with New Testament teaching. My dilemma as a counselor is how exactly to help him and his family heal, and to be reconciled with his church so that the work of the Lord may continue and be flourished there. We are both concerned about the possibility of this type of hurt, interference, and lack of support be repeated over and over again with other pastors in that particular denomination. In that instance, I believed that he had a responsibility to find a way by which he could lovingly and openly share his side of the story and then leave it totally up to God to work out all things for God’s own glory. In Isaac’s case there was likely no point in doing that perhaps. And that may also be the case most of the times when we are wronged. We must simply move on and trust God to replenish our loss a hundredfold. But I believe there are situations when we must have the courage, often at a great cost, to stand up meekly and without malice, state our position, and entrust the matter to God.

Second, one can, (whether one should or not I will not debate here) ask the question as to whether or not Isaac should have left. After all, in verse 2 of this chapter, God had very clearly stated, “stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” And between verses 2 and 17, there is no reference to God telling him to move on out. Only Abimelech told him to do that. I only point this out for as we study scripture together we learn from what has gone on ahead. Earlier in Genesis we were made aware of disobedience to God’s exact instructions and the consequences thereof. Simply put, Isaac obeyed Abimelech and not God at this juncture of our study. Our knowing of whether or not the consequences will be significant will have to wait for a point later in our study.

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