This passage contains the only stories in the Torah in which Isaac is not identified with his father or his sons, yet it is remarkably reminiscent of Abraham’s adventures.
Moved by famine, Isaac decides to leave his home in search of fertile land. After God tells him not to leave the land which He has promised to Abraham’s offspring, Isaac settles in Gerar, land of the Philistines, instead. Like his father before him, he passes his wife off as his sister, for fear that the locals might kill him and take her. As time goes by, however, nobody interferes with Rebecca, and one day Abimelech, king of Gerar, notices that the pair behaves more like a married couple than siblings. He confronts Isaac, who explains his fears. Abimelech accuses Isaac of courting catastrophe, and issues a decree that no one may touch Rebecca.
Isaac grows wealthy in the land of Abimelech, and his people become jealous. They block the wells Abraham had dug, and Abimelech himself urges Isaac to leave. Isaac moves on, redigging the wells his father dug before, and calls them each by the names his father gave them. With each new well Isaac’s men discover, the Philistines dispute their claim, until finally Isaac digs a well and is left alone. This well he calls Rehoboth, as God has at last granted him ample space to grow. From there, Isaac returns to Beersheba, where he builds an altar and his servants dig a well.
Abimelech comes to see Isaac, who is surprised by the king’s appearance after he asked Isaac to leave his land. Abimelech seeks a treaty with Isaac, like with Abraham before him (see Genesis 21:22-23), and Isaac agrees.
The chapter closes with the marriage of Esau to Judith and Basemath, two Hittite women whom his parents despised.
When God tells Isaac not to leave the land, He blesses Isaac as he blessed Abraham: that his offspring shall be like the stars in the sky. The Israel Bible cites the poetry of partisan fighter Hannah Senesh to explain the connection. “There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct,” Senesh wrote. “There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for mankind.” How fitting a comparison to the Jews, whose role in the world is to serve as a “light unto the nations”!
Virtual Classroom Discussion
What do you think is the significance of Isaac retracing his father’s footsteps? What can we learn from the subtle differences in their experiences?