1. Read v. 1 and think about the famine in the land. What is it like for one to go through a famine? The Scripture says that Isaac was a "blessed" person. Yet, why did God allow the famine to occur in his life (1Pe 1:7; Pro 17:3)?
2. Read vs. 2-6 and think about the relationship between the Lord's command (2) and the Lord's promises (3-5). On what condition will these promises come true for Isaac (3)? In what respect might it not have been easy for Isaac to obey the Lord? Yet, how do you think he obeyed the Lord? What can we learn here from Isaac?
3. Read vs. 7-11. How many times is the word "thought" repeated? What does this observation tell us about the cause of Isaac's failure? How can we overcome a problem like this (Rom 1:17; Heb 3:1; 12:2)?
4. Read vs. 12-13. The Lord promised to "bless" Isaac, yet Isaac "planted" crops "in that land". When did the Lord bless Isaac? How much did the Lord bless? What can we learn here about the way to secure the blessings God has in mind for his children (Psa 126:5; Gal 6:7; Pro 6:6,9; 13:4; 20:4)?
5. Read vs. 14-22. How significant is a well in the Middle East? Despite his enemies' continued disruptions, Isaac kept digging wells. What can we learn from Isaac?
6. Read vs. 23-25. How significant is it for a believer to build an "altar" [to the Lord] and call on the name of the Lord (Jn 4:24; Phi 4:6)?
7. Read vs. 26-32. What does the way in which Isaac served his "thorny" neighbor teach us about the way to handle blessings from God?
"Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him."
In this passage we can learn how to live a blessed life (and thus become a source of blessing to others) in two parts: "A famine in the land" (1-11) and "Isaac made a feast for them" (12-33).
I. "A famine in the land" (1-11)
(1) Faith training (1)
The first thing a person needs in order to live a blessed life is to learn how to deal with the challenges of life. Today, we know that Isaac was a blessed person (Gen 25:11). But this does not mean that Isaac was born that way. Rather the Bible tells us that he became a man of blessing, because the Lord God trained him to be a source of blessing. In other words, it is thanks to the Lord's divine training that he became a man of blessing.
How did the training come? Look at v. 1. "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." Let us stop for a moment and think about the famine in the land. What was it like for Isaac to go through a famine? No doubt it was not a pleasant experience, for "famine" is the opposite of "abundance." It refers to a life that is in "want" of everything you need for life. You need this and you need that, but you have no way of fulfilling what you need.
Most embarrassing of all, a famine is unbecoming of a so-called "blessed" man. Indeed the Scripture says that Isaac is a blessed man. The question then becomes, "Why then did God allow the famine to come upon his life?" The answer lies in the following two scriptures: 1 Peter 1:7 and Proverbs 17:3.
1 Peter 1:7 reads, "These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Here "these" refers to "all kinds of trials" (1Pe 1:5). The Apostle Peter called seemingly bad things like persecutions not merely "persecutions," but "trials" as well. Do you know what "trial" means? The word "trial" is a legal term. Maybe Shepherdess Sung-yon, who is a lawyer, can explain its meaning a little better. In a criminal case, before a judge convicts or releases a suspect, the judge puts him through a court proceeding known as a "trial." Sometimes a trial can last a week or two, but other times it can continue months and even years. Do you remember the O.J. Simpson trial? During the trial, the prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorneys argued fiercely in front of a judge and a jury, all the while following the rules and regulations designed to convict the guilty and release the innocent. But despite such a sophisticated system, it is quite possible that the innocent man is convicted and the guilty released. The worldly system is not perfect. But not so with the Lord God. Remember that the Lord God is in the business of perfection. All he does is perfect; nothing but perfect. Accordingly, the Lord God desires his children to be blessed completely and thoroughly. In such a desire, what the Lord God needs to secure is a perfect vessel who is worthy of all the blessings the Lord God has in mind. And by "vessel," we do not mean any physical vessel like a silver platter, nor a bank account. And we do not mean any animals either. No, we mean human beings created in God's image. Speaking of this glorious purpose and plan of God, the Apostle Peter says, "These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
While the Apostle Peter describes seemingly unpleasant things like famine as "trials," Proverbs 17:3 describes trials from a little different perspective but otherwise speaks of the same purpose and plan of God. Let's take a look at Proverbs 17:3. "The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart." By the expression "the Lord tests the heart" Solomon suggests that the reason terrible disasters like persecutions or famines hit you (a child of God) is in order to see whether or not your faith is genuine. But the use of such expressions as "crucible" and "furnace" in Proverbs 17:3 helps us to see the anatomy of the difficulties the Lord God oftentimes puts his children through. It gives an "inside" look at the hardships, challenges, and trials of our lives, i.e., the "crucible" and the "furnace"!
This observation helps us to understand why God allows seemingly terrible things like famines to visit us. That is, to a believer like Isaac, this famine came not because God was angry with Isaac or anything like that, but because God loves Isaac so much; God sent a famine so that through this famine Isaac would learn what it is to live by "absolute" faith in the "absolute goodness" of the Lord. So we have this to say, "To a believer, every trial (or disaster) is God's blessing in disguise."
Let me ask you a question. Do you have any problems today? If you do, what are the problems? If indeed you have problems (be they physical or spiritual), I have this to say, "You are very blessed." God loves you so much that he has allowed you to be subject to the problems you think you have. If you don't have any problems, then that's when you're in trouble. But don't worry. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). So sooner or later trouble will hit you. But if you are now undergoing troubles such as the lack of money, the loss of companionship, or even unresolved sin problems like lust, and if you are therefore deeply groaning with groans too heavy for words due to these chronic problems, lucky you, for Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted!"
The next question is, how then will the comfort come?
(2) Jesus Christ, the supreme object of our faith (2-6)
Look at vs. 2-5. "The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, 'Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay 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. I 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, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.'"This passage consists of two parts: the Lord's command (2-3a) and the Lord's promises (3b-5).
This passage then tells us that it is on the condition of Isaac's obedience to God's command that all the comforts will become a reality to him and his descendants. Simply stated, Isaac had to demonstrate his obedience to God's word; that was the condition. Practically speaking, however, it was not easy for Isaac to meet this condition because the alternative (going down to Egypt), which was visible and immediately available, seemed like the only realistic solution to the problem. Unlike the land of Canaan, Egypt had the Nile River, so the drought did not affect the area. But the land of Canaan was without any such resource. It did have a few rivers, but compared to the Nile, which is the longest river in the world, the rivers in the land of Canaan were like small brooks; and worse, the small rivers quickly dried up so that, even today, Israel largely depends on the seasonal rainfall in order to survive. Thus, because the land totally depended on rainfall, the famine, which apparently came with a long drought, was truly life-threatening. As further incentive, Isaac heard, in a previous time of famine, his father Abraham went down to Egypt and returned with a huge fortune! Finally, depending on how you look at it, God's promise to Isaac, especially the promise to bless him in the land, simply sounded empty. Unlike the seemingly reasonable idea of going down to Egypt, this promise seemed as if it were a mere chasing after the wind, a quixotic fantasy without any real substance.
But how did Isaac respond to the promise? Look at v. 6. "So Isaac stayed in Gerar." How could Isaac obey such a difficult command? Hebrews 11:9 answers the question, "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who wereheirs with him of the same promise."
From Isaac's example, we learn his faith and obedience, especially his absolute faith in the promises of God, for where there is absolute faith, obedience becomes a natural course of action (Romans 1:5).
Of all the promises described in vs. 3b-5, the promise concerning the offspring of Isaac most stands out. Look at v. 4 again. "I 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." Here the word "offspring" ultimately refers to the Savior to come, that is, Jesus Christ. He is the source of all comfort. He will bind the broken hearted. He will fill all the needs of all, so all who come under his wings would say, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want.”
(3) Fixing our thoughts on Jesus Christ always (7-11)
To believe in the Lord's promises once or twice is one thing, but to continuously believe in God's promises is quite another. Yet, that is precisely what is required of us: to live by faith in the Lord from first to finish. Nevertheless, Isaac failed to live by faith from first to last. He faltered here and there. How did he fail? What happened to him? And how did it happen?
Let us read vs. 7-11 responsively. This passage is quite embarrassing to read, especially for sisters. And it reminds us of the old saying, "Like father, like son." How come Isaac did such a shameful act? What happened to his guts as a man? Was this kind of weakness built into his genes or what? But this happened, not because of some problems with his genetic makeup, but because of something which is very much within our control and therefore preventable. What was it? Careful study of what Isaac said indicates that it all occurred in Isaac's "thought" world. In vs. 7-11, we see the word "thought" used twice. Genesis 26:7b says, "He thought, 'The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.'" Then Genesis 26:9b says, "Isaac answered him, 'Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.'" He looked at visible people; he did not look at the Lord who is invisible. The Bible says, "We live by faith, not by sight" (2Co 5:7). But he did not live by faith! Why? Because he was thinking the wrong thing. There is nothing wrong with thinking in and of itself. In fact, we are even called to "think," as it has been said, "Christians, think!" But what's wrong is thinking the wrong thing(s). This is a very important point for us to always keep in mind. And we are called to entertain "faithful" thoughts. In fact, the Bible is so narrow as to say, "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess" (Heb 3:1). No one is born a great man of faith. There are no such a breed of men. Everyone is born equal. What makes a difference is what you daily think in your mind. Are you thinking about Jesus Christ (the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace) and what he came to represent? Then you are a man of great faith! Or are you thinking about something or someone else? Or are you thinking about Jesus Christ and his words part-time and then about something else? Then you are not a full-time Christian. You are a part-time Christian. And we are called to be full-time Christians. How can we be full-time Christians? By thinking about the things of God Jesus came to show us! And this is the key to living as a man of blessing all the time, 24/7! There is no other way. All other teachings are false.
Although Isaac failed one time, the Lord God was graceful enough that, thanks to the training Abimelech received during the time of Abraham (Gen 20:7), upon learning that Rebekah was Isaac's wife, Abimelech issued an order that no one in the land should touch Isaac's wife either. Then Isaac's faith grew deeper than before.
II. "Isaac made a feast for them" (12-33)
(1) By faith, plant crops even when the environment looks dismal (12-13)!
Faith sees what is invisible. Even when nothing is in sight, when one has faith, suddenly things which are not visible to normal eyes become visible to a man wearing the eyeglasses known as "faith." This is exactly what happened to Isaac. When he lost faith, he saw only famine and the grim prospect of starving to death. But when faith arose in his heart, he suddenly saw the vision to turn such a wasteland into a golden harvest field. So what did he do?
Look at vs. 12-13. "Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy." Here we cannot ignore the order of events and its imports. What is the order of events? First, the Lord God planted in Isaac absolute faith in the Lord. This faith caused Isaac see the land of famine differently: thanks to his faith, the land was no longer a land of devastation but a land of golden harvest fields! Second, when faith arose in him, the desire to plant crops in "that" land took place. The expression "in that land and the same year" is crucial to understanding the way the Lord God blesses his children. That is, by planting in his children's heart absolute faith in him, the Lord grants his children the courage to take positive actions to turn an otherwise unfavorable environment into an absolutely favorable environment! "Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year..." The phrase "the same year" refers to the year when the famine was still raging across the land. And yet that same year, Isaac went out and sowed seeds! He planted crops in the land during a famine! His example reminds us of what Psalms 126:5 says, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy!"
The point for us to consider then is this: planting crops in good season does not require faith. But planting crops when everything is bleak and hopeless requires faith.
"Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy." From this we learn that we must train our eyes to see the environments with faith and then work hard on them with faith! There is a big difference between working hard without faith, and working hard with faith. Working hard without faith is like Simon Peter who tried to catch fish all night, only to still see his net empty the next day. When we have faith in the Lord, then we can work hard even when things look totally unpromising. As we plant crops by faith, the Lord blesses our faith. And he then helps us to reap a hundred times more than we would normally expect!
This principle is especially true in reaping spiritual crops. As we pray for college campuses, we expect God to send us tons of sheep. But things do not work this way. Even when the outlook of having sheep appears to be totally vain, we still must have faith in the Lord, and continue to go out to ask students to study the Bible. Then like a farmer, by faith we sow the seed of the gospel even in tears, and not with hard, bitter feelings, but fully expecting the Lord to bless what we are doing. Then as we prove that our faith is genuine, the Lord God will send sheep not just ten times but even a hundred times more than what we had originally expected!
(2) Continue to dig up the spring well of living water, and even share it with your enemies (14-22)
Another point we need to deeply learn in becoming a truly blessed man (and thereby a source of blessing for many others) is to continue to live by faith despite human disruptions. Say, "Learn to brave human disruptions." Famine represents a disruption coming from nature. But there is another type of disruption that a man of faith must overcome: the disruption coming from human beings, particularly your neighbor.
To see what I mean, let us read vs. 14-22 responsively.Here, again we see that just as it was in the days of Abraham, so too was it in the days of Isaac: Abimelech operated as a rather thorny neighbor for Isaac. To paraphrase a popular saying, "The grass is greener on the other side, that is, on your neighbor's side." In other words, when you become successful, not everyone is in the mood to celebrate with and for you. There are thorny neighbors who are so jealous of you that they always try to "throw ashes into your dish," so to speak. This was precisely what Abimelech was doing to Isaac.
When this happens, what should we do? We must follow what Isaac did. To a difficult neighbor like Abimelech, Isaac could have filed one lawsuit after another. But he did not do that. Rather, he kept treating him nicely. And Isaac generously gave the wells he had dug up to Abimelech and his people. In those days, a well was as valuable as a small business like a 7-11 market or, better yet, like a Chevron gas station. Suppose you developed a nice business like a gas station on a nice corner. When your neighbor comes along and claims that it is his, what will you do? Would you give it up to him? But that's exactly what Isaac did. And let us also read vs. 25b-33.
How could he be so generous to an enemy like Abimelech? Was it because he was a man with no backbone? Was it because he did not know how to file a lawsuit? No. We know the answer. He had already experienced the secret of faith. He knew that the Lord is the source of all blessings. This faith in the Lord who is good all the time, this faith that believes that every good and perfect gift is from the Father, helped Isaac to be so overwhelmingly generous to a belligerent neighbor like Abimelech. Faith in the Lord who is absolutely generous even to all of his enemies is the key to becoming a man of true blessing, a man of such an outstanding inner character, who is as gentle and kind as the Lord!
Isaac's case reminds us of what Jesus teaches us through the Apostle Matthew in Matthew 5:39-48. At this moment we are not going to read this passage. But let us not forget Jesus' challenge: be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. In today's passage Isaac reached this level.
(3) Isaac built an altar there (23-25a)
Again, at first glance, Isaac looks like a born saint. But this is far from the truth. There is no such thing. A saint is a saint only because the Lord is with those who put their trust in him. By nature we are selfish. We do not want to give up what belongs to us. For example, it is not easy for a fellowship leader to send one faithful coworker to another fellowship. In our sinful nature we love to receive, but never to give. And after receiving, we never say "thank you" to our benefactor. Rather, we think that we are in a position to receive things because the Lord has blessed us! We never think about the kind of sacrifices others are making to make us rich!
Yet how then could Isaac live a life that gives even to his enemies again and again? We find the answer to this question in vs. 23-25. Look at vs. 23-25. "From there he went up to Beersheba. That 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.' Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well." The expression "he went up to Beersheba" indicates that Isaac visited that place to pray to the Lord, for it was the same place where once upon a time his father Abraham made a treaty with Abimelech by planting a tamarisk tree and called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God (Genesis 21:14,31-33). Like all of us, Isaac also had emotions. Bad feelings raged inside of him. But he did not let such bitter feelings overtake him. He did not let these ill emotions continue to poison his mind. Rather, in times of difficulties, he looked for a quiet place and spent quality time with the Lord in prayer. Then the Lord comforted him. The Lord revealed himself and renewed his promise to Isaac. Then Isaac overcame his fear and anxiety. He regained his peace of mind. So in great thanks, he built an altar to the Lord. And again, following in the footsteps of his father Abraham, Isaac called upon the name of the Lord. This then teaches us that in times of anguish and despair, we must come to the Lord in prayer. Indeed prayer is the source of true comfort. It is a source of deep joy even as we live in this troublesome world.
(4) Isaac made a feast for them (25b-33)
Now, let us step back for a moment and read vs. 25-33 to see what the Lord did for Isaac. Let us read this passage responsively. One thing we notice here is the change of Abimelech. Abimelech became a friend. An enemy turned into a friend. Why? Of course it was thanks to Isaac's good influence. But again we cannot ignore the order of events, that is, as Isaac's faith grew, so circumstances changed. Hence we have this to say: Abimelech served as a testing stone, the stone to test Isaac's faith. Figuratively speaking, Isaac had already passed Faith Training (FT) 101 by having the faith to overcome the famine, which existed on a natural level. And now he had also passed FT 201 because Abimelech, who exists on a human level, was turned into a friend. So here is a question for you. Do you have a neighbor who is hostile to you? Blessed are you. The Lord is using that person or persons to train your faith! Why does he train you? To prepare you for the perfect blessings the Lord God has in mind for you!