Genesis 25:11 to end of 27.
Chapter 25:11. Now the fifth of the seven representative men of Genesis is fully before us. Here, it is submitted, we have the divine teaching in the type of Isaac, as to a Christian’s standing and sonship. For, on account of the reason already assigned in chap. 21, Isaac here seems rather to represent the sons, than the Son. Only as an adult, and during his father’s life, is he the type of the Son. And first, at the very outset, and in a most marked and definite manner, the proper status and dwelling-place of Isaac are set before us. “With designed prominence is the statement in the text given, “Isaac dwelt by the well of the living and seeing One” (25:11). When just now we come to chap. 26, we shall have to revert to this important passage, as the clue to that entire chapter. But I take occasion hence at once to call attention to the place where a believer, as a risen son of God, is ultimately to be brought, and where by faith he should constantly abide, even now. I mean, of course, the presence of God, and under the very eye of God. There is no perfect, enduring rest anywhere else. Eph. 5:27; 1 John 3:2; Jude 24; and especially for now, 2 Cor. 3:18.
Next, according to the usual style16 of the Holy Ghost in the Word, ere aught more is said of the one blessed of God, the account is furnished us of Ishmael’s offspring, and of his death. He begat twelve princes, according to the promise made by God to Abraham in chap. 17:20. Since Hagar and Ishmael represent Israel after the flesh, there may possibly be a shadow here of the twelve tribes of Israel; “princes” and “thousands” being used interchangeably of that nation (Micah 5:2, with Matt. 2:6). Already reference has been made to three of his sons, Mishma, Dumab, and Massa, in chap. 21. I may add that three others of these sons are alluded to in Isa. 60, Kedar, Nebajoth, and Adbeel, “a cloud of God.” Then we are told that Ishmael died in the presence of all his brethren.
Now we can, without distraction, attend to the type of the sons risen in and with the Son. Here four points of instruction demand our consideration. First, the birth of the twins, Esau and Jacob, and the despising of the birthright by Esau; secondly, Isaac’s departure to and tarriance in Gerar; thirdly, his return to Canaan, and the prompt action of God towards him on that return of his; and fourthly, the blessing, despised on the part of Esau, sought for, though with tears yet in vain, when too late.
Now, inasmuch as the subject of the chapters which we are considering is in type sonship, it has pleased God first to place before us that sonship with Him ever rests on His own free choice, and that He is a sovereign God. This He had already affirmed in His attitude towards Ishmael and Isaac. But now in these other cases of Esau and Jacob, this affirmation is repeated more distinctly and peremptorily. For whilst in the case of the former two, Isaac was the child of promise, and not Ishmael; yet the force of this Scripture ruling might seem to be weakened by the fact that though their father was one, their mothers were two, and one a bondmaid but the other a free woman. But here, on the other hand, no scope for such an objection is possible. Their father is one and their mother is one; themselves are living, and ere they are born, or have done good or evil, the divine choice is announced to Rebecca. And then, in Rom. 9, the Scripture here is quoted and dogmatically applied to ourselves. Only, be it ever remembered that whilst the choice was of God, ere the children had come to the birth, yet the word as to the “hatred” of which we read in the next verse, in Romans, is a quotation, not from this passage in Genesis, but from Malachi. That is to say, we hear first of the “hatred” after the children have lived, and after the natural wickedness in the heart of the one, unchecked by divine grace as in the other, had developed itself into a sinful course of life. The same way of God obtains even now. If we be indeed His children, this is owing to His own predestination and election (see Eph. 1). On the other hand, we read of God’s hardening men’s hearts. But when—at what period of their life is He said to do this? After they have disdained to receive the truth in the love of it, that they might be saved (2 Thess. 2:10—12). So in Romans 9, of the vessels of mercy we read that He prepared them beforehand for glory. But of the vessels of wrath, they are only said to be fitted for destruction. It is not said that He fitted them. It is implied that sin did this, as a barrel of gunpowder is fitted to produce an explosion. In other words, the preparation of some for glory is spoken of in the active voice, God being the agent. But the fitting for destruction is in the Greek in the passive voice, and is not attributed, as is the other, to God. So Matt. 25:34 with 41. I might add, if more evidence on this important distinction were needed, that hatred itself is often spoken of in Scripture, when a less love only is meant. Compare verses 30 and 31 of Gen. 29; and again, Matt. 10:37, with Luke14:26.
Accordingly, when the boys Esau and Jacob reach maturity, an occasion offers itself for the display of the heart’s scorning of God, when uncontrolled by grace, in the sale by Esau of his birthright to Jacob. I do not assert positively that, at this early period, Jacob possessed the grace of God; still, attention is called in the narrative to the pilgrimage style of life of Jacob, as “dwelling in tents,” with which marked feature of his every-day life compare the emphatic comment on this practice of the patriarchs in Heb, 11. Also, instead of the clause, “Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents,” the Hebrew has it, “Jacob was a perfect man”—the same word as is afterwards used of Job. Nor let any of us forget that, of this very sin we ourselves are admonished to see that none of us are found guilty as Esau—”who for a meal sold his birthright.” This, in effect, we should be if we set anything in preference before our hearts to His favour, whether it be a trifle, or aught or all that the world has to offer. The time came when Esau rued his bargain, as we shall see. So will sinners in eternity; but he and they rue it too late.
Chapter 26. Secondly, chap. 26 tells of Isaac departing from the well of the living and seeing One in Canaan, and presently settling down in Gerar. But now, since some have denied the sin of Isaac in this matter, and because here certainly is represented in type the standing of a son of God, and his failure often to maintain that standing in. the divine presence, and his enjoyment of divine communion, to which in sovereign grace, and by the blood of Jesus, he is ever entitled, therefore it will be well here to call careful attention to the exact words used by the Spirit of God. The English translation of certain terms in this passage by no means comes up to the vividness and emphasis in the Hebrew. All will note the injunction, “Go not down to Egypt,” and ponder the preposition. “down,” which often has a moral force in it, e.g., in Luke 10:30. But, further, verses 2, 6, and 17 should be rendered thus “Shechinah in the land,” etc. (verse 2); “wander inthis land” (verse 3); “and Isaac settled in Gerar” (verse 6); and again, “Isaac settled there”(verse 17). The word for “settle” denotes properly to sit down at ease. So in Luke 21:35 we read that “that day shall come as a snare upon all them that are settled on the face of all the earth.” Thus this settling down of Isaac is spoken of by the Spirit as if it were wrong, and it is so spoken, of twice. Moreover, this settling down was in a border land, never a right thing for a saint to do (see Song of Sol. 4:8). In fact, Lebanon, spoken of in the Song, is in the Holy Land, though at its outskirts. But Gerar was not at all so situated. It is midway between Canaan and Egypt. And all of us will have noticed that never once did the Lord Jesus, when on earth, pass the limits of the Holy Land.
Further, Isaac was to “Shechinah in” Canaan. This suggestive word finds its interpretation, as we have seen, in chap. 25:11. His proper abode was by “the well of the living and seeing One.” In the antitype the matter is quite simple. We are called to abide in Christ, and to walk in the light of God. There only can we have fellowship with Him. All darkness, even the least, is abhorrent to His nature; there He cannot hold communion with us. He can come down into our darkness; He has done so. The Lord Jesus thus came into our place on the cross; but He did this to lift us up out of it, and to lift us into association with Himself perpetually and for ever. There by His blood we are ever entitled to remain. It is by His blood-shedding it hath pleased Him that He Himself should go in there; and this on purpose to show us where the blood entitles one so entering into God’s presence to be. Hence, whilst in Heb. 9:12 we read of Christ’s entering and continuance there on the ground of His blood-shedding, so in Heb. 10 we also read of our boldness to enter there on that same ground. And therefore the Lord Jesus Himself and the believer are before God on precisely the same ground. If that ground can be weakened for me, so likewise it can for Him. If on that footing He remains there, so may I too. There, in that holy of holies, the uncreated light of God shines on Him and on us also. That Shechinah, bright as it is, only displays the richness of the blood of Jesus, and so the security of my standing. Shame on me that I ever get away in experience, and so, as far as I can, disparage the blood of the Lamb. Let us daily dwell in the presence of the living, seeing God. So far from Isaac in type doing this, he not only got away from that well, but he settled down in Gerar.
The consequence of this heart-sin, we who know ourselves might easily infer. Once get away from God, and who can tell where we shall stop, unless grace keep and restore us? So Isaac in Gerar fails in the flesh in the very way that Abraham his father had failed before him—he tells a lie to secure his quiet; as if this were an equivalent to the furnace with the presence of God. We too, or any of us, may prosper as to this world, whilst our conscience is ill at ease, or was at the commencement of our departure from the truth, and from Scripture principles. Of course, all this wealth which he acquired whilst out of Canaan is attributed to God, for God is good to all. But if we have to choose between the presence of God as distinguished from earthly blessing, all of us, I trust, would prefer the former. And particularly in this dispensation of the Church, and of the heavenly call, it is a common thing to see men with very many earthly blessings, whilst yet they are in total ignorance of Himself who gives them. Such will thank God for a meal who never thanked Him for the gift of His Son. Yea, more, even Christians in a declining state may exhibit an ardour in their business transactions such as they but little eventually display in the things of God. The world is winding round their hearts; “grey hairs are here and there upon them, and they know it not.”
Then, as with Isaac as we see him here, such at these times exhibit themselves as very wilful. Providences may have a voice which yet they will not hear. The Abimelechs of the day may say to them, “Go from us,” and they still reply in act, as Isaac did, by continuing “settled” where they ought not to be (verse 17). Scarcely will the bit and the bridle avail, where, if they were in the right path, the guidance of God’s eye would be ample. So, again, we read here of contention taking place as to whose were certain wells that Isaac’s servants had dug. With some readiness he surrendered them one after another, after some show of contention; because, as we shall see directly, he is not at ease in conscience. It is impossible for a saint to pursue this world with the same alacrity and constancy that the unregenerate man exhibits. When off the divine ground of communion, he may strive in measure with a worldly man, but with the less inward ease as he is conscious of his false position. A bread-living is all that God allows his saints to seek for here. And this, with His own favour and smile, He will give them. But if they covet more of the former, more than proportionately they lose of the latter.
Hence, thirdly, we read in verse 23 that Isaac went up to Beersheba. This statement is in singular conjunction with the verse before, where, as if at perfect ease, he said, whilst yet in Gerar, “The Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” Then if so, wherefore this sudden change of purpose, involving the loss of all these wells? Because what he, talking piously, had said with his lips, as if to quiet his uneasy spirit, his next action contradicted. He knew he was where he ought not to be. His resolve to depart appears to have been taken just at the time that everything appeared to invite him to remain. Many Christians, in their Martha-like bustle, and in their Demas-like declension, could easily give passages from their past experience which would form an apt commentary on all this. The verses do not require any explanation; we all know, probably, the evil of departure from communion in the desire of “other things,” and our wretched state of soul, until we returned to our God.
And this interpretation of verse 23 is confirmed bys the Lord’s instant action in verse 24. On the very night of Isaac’s return to Canaan, the Lord appears to him. No longer does He hide Himself, and address Isaac providentially through Abimelech; but He Himself says, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed, for my servant Abraham’s sake.” This is a very different blessing indeed from what we had read in verse 12. And oh! the loving-kindness of God, not to delay this restoring word; no, not for one day, probably not for an hour! And this is our God, who forgives us, and restores our souls.
Then we read of the altar and the tent, and each in their due order; whilst of the former we read not a word during Isaac’s being settled down in Gerar. Now, too, we hear of a well, enjoyed as had not been the others with the presence of God. And, finally, no longer does?” Abimelech urge his departure from himself, but on the contrary, now he seeks after Isaac. Thus all readily falls into place, when we begin rightly with communion with God, and obedience to His revealed will. One blot we may notice in Isaac at this time, even as there are spots in the sun and slips in every Christian. He did not command his household, at least, Esau, in the matter of his marriage, as he ought to have done. And thereby he procures grief for himself and for his wife. For sin or negligence ever brings sorrow.
Chapter 27. Fourthly, in this chapter 27, we are taught that those who despise the grace and love of God will bitterly rue their scorn when their loss is irretrievable. God is not mocked; what a man soweth, that will he reap. If he sows to the flesh he will reap corruption. So we see here. In chap. 25:33, we have the commencement of such sowing; here we behold the speedy, the initial reaping; for some men’s sins go beforehand to judgment. Even in this life they may feel some of the effects of their sin. At the same time there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared. Well therefore is it for him whose consequent sorrow leads to repentance of the sin that entailed it. True, Esau, though he wept, found no place for repentance and no forgiveness. But a little reflection will remove this difficulty. For what was the cause of his tears? Not the sin which he had committed in despising God’s mercy, but the loss of the blessing which he had incurred.17 Who does not eventually grieve at loss sustained? But is such grief, sorrow after a godly sort? No such thing. His was like that of Judas—remorse, not repentance (Matt, 27:3, Greek). And though in this scene Esau acted more uprightly than any other who figures in it, still he had sown the wind, and he was reaping the whirlwind.
Then after Esau’s vain efforts we can notice Isaac’s. He was determined, if possible, to secure the blessing for his favourite. This is seen in his haste to bless him, as if he were already on his dying bed, whereas he lived over forty years after this time.18 But all was without avail. God had purposed, and who could set aside that purpose? Rebecca’s pet was Jacob. But neither her design nor Jacob’s craft could hurry God. Truly Jacob got a blessing here at this time, but not the one—not such, an one as, when wholly cast on grace, we find in chap. 28:3, 4; as when the Lord appeared to him a homeless stranger for his guilt, and gave him that long string of promises and blessings, of which we find mention there in verses 13-15. All that Rebecca and he got through their not waiting patiently for God to interfere was that they were separated the one from the other, and never saw each other’s face again. From Heb. 11:20, where we read that “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau,” it would appear that he was led to pause in his endeavour to intercept the blessing for his favourite Esau, and heartily to ratify the bestowal of the greater blessing upon Jacob, which unintentionally, and against his own wish, he had pronounced upon him. Then the allusion in the passage in Hebrews will be of course to the moment when he discovered his mistake, and yet recognizing at length what was the will of God, instead of further attempts to oppose it, exclaimed, “Yea, and he shall be blessed.” Setting aside his own inclinations, and shrinking from the brink of the precipice of wilfulness, which in his blind infatuation for Esau he had approached, he, triumphing over himself, acquiesces in the will of God. What a mercy it is, if at any time we have been determined to proceed to almost any lengths in carrying out that on which we have set our hearts, though yet against His will, God arrests us in our folly.
Grace does thus check erring saints when sometimes they have appeared madly bent upon going further and further in a wrong course. “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” What would that Peter have done next and next, had it not been for that look of divine compassion?
It falls not within the design of these addresses to attempt an exposition of all that is contained in this chapter. My object the rather is to gather up the main lines of thought in each section, and to place each distinctly in view. These being well apprehended by any one, the various incidents and details of the narrative will be seen to more advantage as grouped all round the leading idea, and filling up perfectly the spaces in the inspired picture.
16 See further on, at chap. 36
17 Flevit quod perdidit, non quod vendidit.— Augustine.
18 This blessing of Isaac’s sons was in the year b c. 1760. But Isaac lived until the year b.c. 1716 (see Gen. xxvv:28). Even there the account of his death seems inserted anticipatively. For Isaac was only 150 years old when Joseph was born. But he lived 180 years.