Isaac’s Mission to Reclaim the Land

April 4, 2024

To understand the significance of God’s words to Isaac, we must remind ourselves of the context in which they were spoken. Here are the two verses that immediately precede this passage:

Isaac had lived his entire life in the land promised by God to his father Abraham. Now there was a famine in the land. Many years earlier, before Isaac was born, there was a famine and Abraham had traveled to Egypt to seek food for survival.

Now, with famine once again hitting the land, Isaac set off in the same direction. 

The land of the Philistines lies along the southern Mediterranean coast of the land of Israel. Both in ancient times and still today, the road to Egypt leads through this territory. But unlike his father, Abraham, Isaac was stopped by God on the way to Egypt. Instead, as we read in the verses just quoted, God told Isaac to “dwell in the land that I will tell you.”

The very next words from God to Isaac are the opening words of the passage we are studying, “Reside in this land.” And as we just read, Isaac had just arrived in Philistine territory. To understand the significance of God’s statement, we must recall an earlier story from the book of Genesis.

In Genesis 21: 22-32 we read of a covenant made between Abraham and Avimelekh, king of the Philistines. The covenant was a treaty, an agreement to respect each other’s sovereignty over their respective lands, as we read in Avimelekh’s proposal and Abraham’s acceptance:

In other words, Avimelekh asked Abraham to respect the boundaries of his land, to recognize Philistine sovereignty there. It is important to note that the land occupied by the Philistines is entirely within the boundaries of the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. With this oath, Abraham was essentially agreeing to Philistine ownership over part of the promised land.

Now we can understand the significance of God’s words to Isaac here. On his way southward, Isaac had just arrived in Gerar, in Philistine territory.

From Isaac’s perspective, this land had already been ceded by Abraham to Avimelekh in the aforementioned treaty. But God never told Abraham to make that treaty. God had never sanctioned Abraham’s surrender of part of the promised land to the Philistines. Now, with Isaac in that very same territory, God told him to stop his journey to Egypt and “dwell in the land that I will tell you.” And which land did God then tell Isaac to dwell in? 

“Reside in this land and I will be with you, and I will bless you; for I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants, and I will keep the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.”

In other words, God told Isaac that regardless of any treaties that Abraham may have made, the land of Gerar belongs to Isaac and his descendants. Abraham had no authority to give up ownership of any part of the promised land. Isaac was commanded by God to remain in Gerar in order to assert ownership over it.

This is an important lesson for us in our times as well. There are political forces at work that continually try to claim that parts of the land of Israel do not really belong to the nation of Israel. Treaties are even made in attempts to give sovereignty to the enemies of the Jewish people. But here we see that God’s promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants is final and eternal. Even Abraham himself, in an honest effort to make peace, could not undo God’s covenant of land.

As we read further in our passage, a glaring question emerges from the passages below.

Why did God repeat Himself? After telling Isaac, in verse 3, “for I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants,” why did God then repeat this same promise in verse 4?

To answer this question, let’s first pay close attention to the subject of each of these verses. Verse 3 has God promising to “be with” Isaac, meaning that He will protect Isaac as he dwells in the land of the Philistines. Considering that what follows in chapter 26 is the story of Isaac’s contentious disputes with the Philistines, this promise makes sense. God was telling Isaac, “Don’t worry. You will live here in Gerar and no matter what happens, I’ve got your back.” God’s reasoning was that Isaac’s mission in Gerar was to reassert his ownership over “these lands,” for him and for future generations of his progeny. 

The message of verse 4 could not be more different. Here, God tells Isaac about the universal mission of the chosen people, “and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your descendants.” What is the relevance of this promise to Isaac’s present task of reasserting ownership over disputed territory? 

Isaac knew that he was about to enter into conflict with the Philistines. He knew that he would not be making any friends in the process. He was very aware that his father Abraham made a peace treaty with Avimelekh. Abraham was motivated by the desire for peace. While this an admirable goal, in the process of making peace Abraham had also given up his claim of ownership over lands that God had promised him. Isaac was probably hesitant to antagonize the Philistines. After all, what about the mission to teach the whole world about God? Isn’t it important for the children of Abraham to be on friendly terms with the nations around them if they have any hope of drawing these nations closer to faith in the one true God? Isaac may have been wondering if it was really worth it.

God responded to this concern. First God told Isaac that He must dwell in Gerar to reassert his ownership. Then God essentially told Isaac any fear that the universal mission to bring the blessing of God to all humanity will be harmed by this conflict with the Philistines, was baseless. In other words, God said that even though “I will give to you and your descendants all these lands,” lands that the Philistines currently claim as their own, nevertheless, the ultimate mission of Abraham to the world will be fulfilled, “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your descendants.” 

Notice that God did not tell Isaac that all the nations of the earth would be blessed “through you,” as He told Abraham.

Isaac would be in conflict with his neighbors. In the short term, this might mean that the Philistines would distance themselves from Isaac and his message of faith. This is the unfortunate result of conflict with the nations. But in the long term, God told him, the universal mission would be fulfilled through his descendants.

We live in a time when there are powerful political forces that continue to deny the claims of the nation of Israel to the entire land of Israel. Sometimes this puts Israel and the Jewish people into conflict with the nations of the world. These contentious relationships can appear to run counter to the ultimate Jewish mission to be what Isaiah called, “a light unto the nations.” But as God told Isaac, this concern is unfounded. Laying claim to the land of Israel will ultimately only serve to facilitate the mission of Israel. To bring blessing to all the families of the earth.

Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email

Recent Posts
The Land of the Law
Why are Eggs Eaten at the Passover Seder Meal?
One Shoulder

Related Articles

Subscribe

Sign up to receive daily inspiration to your email