"The Sins of the Father"
August 15, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Genesis 26:1-34
The Sins Of The Father
August 15, 2021
Does this feel a little like déjà vu? Didn’t we hear this text before?
Yes and no.
Yes, we have heard this similar pattern previously; but, no, this one is new because it involved Isaac. It is not new and improved; it is new and a little disappointing. The one player to not disappoint in this chapter is God.
We talked about Abraham’s famine back on April 18 when we were in Genesis Chapter 12. I point this out because we have been talking about Abraham since then. We have mentioned Isaac on occasion – more as a prop in the story than for anything he has done – and this is the only passage in which Isaac is the primary actor. Even next week – when we talk about Rebekah’s plot to have Jacob receive his blessing – Isaac will be more a prop than a player. So, this is it for Isaac.
With that in mind, we have to wonder why this chapter was included at all. In so many ways Isaac’s story is a lesser-than repeat of Abraham’s story. In fairness to Isaac, we need to be careful about judging too harshly. When we read this, we expect he should be or do something great or grand because he is the Isaac of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He’s in the Bible. That’s probably not fair – or – how the author intended it. I know that I would not want my life judged by later generations based on the standard of whether I “did anything great enough to deserve to be in the Bible” kind of success.
We should note that – outside the Bible – Isaac’s story would be considered a tremendous success by human standards: he figured out how to negotiate with his neighbors, his fields were wildly productive, he became rich to the point that all the community around him envied him. Even when they ousted him from their midst because he was doing too well and made him move, Isaac prospered to such an extent that the people who exiled him sought him out to make peace. In human terms, that’s fairly impressive.
However, Scripture is not written from a human perspective. It is written with an eye towards what God was doing. And, in that regard, Isaac seems more of a placeholder than a key element of the story. That is what makes the inclusion of this chapter so puzzling: why mention Isaac at all if this is the story you are going to tell?
Look at the progression of these verses:
- There was a famine like had been in Abraham’s time. The author was signaling that this episode was designed to be a comparison with Abraham’s time.
- Instead of abandoning the land as Abraham had done when he went to Egypt, Isaac followed the LORD’s instruction to NOT go down to Egypt; rather, Isaac would go where God led. That was good.
- God promised Isaac the same – and better – as he had promised to Abraham.
- “I will be with you.”
- “I will bless you.”
- “To you and your descendants (Isaac already had Esau and Jacob as sons, where Isaac himself had been only a promise), I will give all these lands.” Isaac’s offspring would be numerous and they would possess “all these lands.”
- The nations will gain blessing for themselves through Isaac’s offspring.
- All these blessings were because Abraham obeyed the LORD’s voice and kept the LORD’s covenant.
As was true for his entire being, Isaac did nothing to deserve, earn, or merit God’s blessing. He just enjoyed it.
- Even after having the promises and covenants reaffirmed, Isaac followed Abraham’s pattern by trying to pass off Rebekah as his sister and not his wife. This time, however, the king did not try to take Rebekah for himself; rather, it was a long time and then he saw Isaac showering physical affection on her. The king saw, questioned Isaac, and rebuked him; but then only issued an order that no one else should touch her. Contrast that with Abraham and Sarah, where the king of Egypt did take her for a dowry of livestock, incurred plagues because of it, and banished Abraham when he discovered that Abraham had lied to him.
By the way, it is never stated, and I have not seen anyone else comment on this, but looking ahead, Rebekah does not express any respect towards Isaac after this point. In the next episode, Rebekah had no hesitation deceiving Isaac.
- Isaac was blessed with material success. He became very wealthy. He became so wealthy that the locals got jealous. The king ordered him to leave because the locals were threatened and felt that Isaac was taking advantage of them.
- Isaac went elsewhere. When he settled in a new valley, he re-dug the wells that Abraham had dug and the Philistines had filled in. The new locals got into a dispute about a well – like the dispute Lot and Abraham’s herders had – and Isaac had his guys dig another well. They contended over that with the new locals; and finally, Isaac had his guys dig a third well which was not disputed. Then, Isaac moved to Beer-sheba, where the LORD appeared to him, exhorted him “do not be afraid, for I am with you,” and then blessed him “for Abraham’s sake.”
- Isaac was again successful. He was so successful that the King of the Philistines sought to end the animosity and to make covenant to preserve peace.
- The last note is that Isaac’s eldest, Esau, married a Hittite woman. Remember, Abraham had gone to great lengths to acquire a Hebrew woman for Isaac. Here, Isaac did not do anything in this respect regarding Esau – and that resulted in Esau picking a woman not of God’s chosen people, with the consequence that Esau’s bride and her family made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. We will talk more about that next week.
Let me start with Isaac’s repeating of Abraham’s folly. Why would Isaac repeat the failed strategy of trying to pass off his wife as his sister? And, perhaps more importantly, why would the narrator feel compelled to include this episode in the incredibly brief summary of the events of Isaac’s life? It could have been eliminated and we would have been none the wiser.
However, there it is.
With Abraham, we just flinched and I used it to explain how God uses imperfect people to accomplish his perfect plan. With Isaac? I scratch my head and pinch my nose. Really? Did you learn nothing?
Yet here’s the thing and here is why I think this chapter is included: under stress, most of us default back to what we have seen, experienced, or known. So many of us are playing out dramas that we inherited from generations before. When we do not have time to think or when we simply don’t think, or when we do not think things through, we do what we saw our parents do before us. Now, you may say to me, Isaac was not yet born either time when Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister (they tried this strategy twice – in Chapters 12 and 20); however, clearly Isaac knew the story. There is no way we have those stories if they were not passed down from one generation to the next. Isaac was afraid for his own well-being, so he did what his father had done – regardless of the fact that it had gone badly both times for Abraham.
Isaac did not think this through. The impression we get from how Genesis is written is that Isaac was not a particularly thoughtful person. Remember, teenage Isaac allowed his 115 year-old father tie him up because he was not aware enough to recognize that he was the sacrifice. Here, he went the other way. When he perceived a threat when the local men asked about Rebekah, he got scared for his own well-being. The memory crossed his mind, and he thought, “Yeah, this will work.” In the same convoluted thinking that Abraham had, Isaac was complimentary in his devaluing of Rebekah, “they might kill me because she is attractive in appearance.”
He was under stress because he forgot God’s declaration to bless and protect him. He forgot the promises God made. So, he lied.
Nothing came of the lie for quite a while. It took the King observing Isaac’s physical intimacy with Rebekah that the falsehood came to light. Then, the King became the proxy voice for God, “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.” In other words, instead of the “nations of the earth gaining a blessing for themselves through” Isaac’s offspring, they would have incurred guilt through violating Isaac’s wife. Isaac, what were you thinking?
Isaac did not think. He did not think through what was at stake. He had received God’s promises and – apparently – seemed to believe that life should run smoothly from that point on. God had promised to be with him, so all was going to be good. Yes, there was a famine, but God was showing him the way through. Isaac took God’s blessing for granted and was not prepared for a time when he would be under stress. Isaac forgot and did not prepare to trust God for when things were difficult. Let me say that again: Isaac did not prepare to trust God when things would get tough.
So, the question I have for you is this: are we preparing to trust God in the times we are under stress? What is the legacy we would like to leave next generations about how we respond to times of stress – real and perceived? What is the example we would like to set for how to respond in faith?
Make no mistake, we are in a time of stress. We are in a time of stress and more stress is foreseeable. We are just coming out of seventeen months of isolation and separation – and – are facing the very real prospect that we are going to be ordered back into it. We are dealing with a country and a culture that is disintegrating – and I use that word intentionally meaning that the fabrics that binds us together are being torn apart. We are dealing with an environment in which the church seems to be lost in trying to figure out how to speak: should we speak and what can we say? What do we do?
Let me tell you what I would like to NOT do: I would like to NOT repeat what I remember from when I was a kid. I would like us to NOT repeat this error even though our world would encourage us to do just that. I grew up with Marlo Thomas’ “Free To Be You And Me” used by adults over and over again to abdicate responsibility to train up children in spiritual righteousness. The ethos I recall hearing from many of my friends’ parents was, “We are not going to impose our religious beliefs on our children because we want them to discover and pick their faith by themselves.” “Faith is something we don’t talk about because it is personal and private.” “If you have a question about faith, you go to a minister because we do not want to give you the wrong answer.” Marlo Thomas was encouraging children to have hope for what their future would hold; and the adults were acting afraid of that very future. By their very actions, behaviors, and choices, they sent the message that choosing a God (or no god) was something each person could do by themselves, based upon their own preferences, according to their own evaluation.
The error Abraham made was forgetting God and the promises of God when things got stressful. The error Isaac repeated was forgetting God and God’s promises when things got stressful. The error our culture has made and is repeating is forgetting God and the promises of God when things have become stressful.
If that is what we should NOT do, what can we do? What should we do?
We can choose to whom we listen: are we listening to God or are we listening to the world? If we want to listen to God, you need to know that means we cannot take God’s promises for granted. It is not just head knowledge – it takes head knowledge, to be sure; but it is not just head knowledge. It takes faith to live into the promises of God. God does not remove us from the world, God guides us through the world. It takes trust to hold onto the promises of God. It takes intention to be prepared to hold onto God’s promises in and through the times of stress we experience and will experience.
We need to live here and now in the awareness that God’s promises matter here and now. The choices we make, the priorities we hold, the stewardship of our time, our talents, our resources; these things all are done in the awareness that God is God and we are called to live into that relationship.
What does that mean? It means that we take time to remember how God has blessed us. It means we take time now to consider how God is blessing us. It means we take time now to commit to choosing God in the future when things are tough.
Let me point to our baptism today. Baptism is a sign and a seal of God’s promises here and now. Baptism is a tangible remembering of what God has done. It is an act of obedience in the moment, living according to Christ’s command to “Go, baptize, and teach them to obey all that I have commanded.” And, how does that verse end? “Remember, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Baptism is an expression of hope; the joy of being adopted into God’s family. Baptism is the beginning of living our eternal identity as a brother in Christ, a co-heir of the kingdom of heaven.
This is the legacy we would like for next generations to see: in the midst of times of great difficulty, we remembered the promises of God. We were messengers of the promise of God. We were servants trusting in the promises of God.
There is one other reason I think the events of this chapter were included: at the same time Isaac was not remembering, God was remembering. God was faithful to Isaac throughout all of Isaac’s life. God was faithful – not just to Isaac – but to all the generations because God was working through Isaac for the larger purpose He had decreed. God was faithful because he remembered his covenant promises with Abraham.
Isaac was blessed because God was faithful and God chose to bless him.
Here, we see the beauty of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church:
1 Cor. 1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Friends, our proclamation and our witness is not in our faithfulness. If it were, we would be rightly accused of hypocrisy. I know I would: I know the areas in my life where I have gotten afraid and forgotten God and God’s promises like Isaac did. No, our proclamation and our witness is in God’s faithfulness – and he is full-to-overflowing faithful. He was faithful. He is faithful. He will be faithful.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: open your eyes and look. Open your eyes and see how God has been faithful. Open your eyes and see how God is faithful. Open your eyes so that you can trust that God will be faithful.
That’s how we break the cycle of the sins of the father and leave a legacy for generations to come.
Closing Hymn: Open My Eyes
- What are the promises of God that we can hold onto?
- What are the challenges that trip us up and cause us to forget God’s goodness, faithfulness, and blessing?
- What steps can we take now to prepare, train, and equip for the challenges we will face?