A Famine in the Land
Introduction: Today we will see God directing things which will lead to the movement of Isaac and his company. I believe this move will set up a chain of events that look forward to things that will happen in the end times. And when I say the “end times,” I mean things that are beginning to happen in the world right now.
Many of these early Genesis stories are given to show us what will happen in the future as God moves through and guides redemptive history. Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes assures us this is so –
That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past. 3:15
God tells us that if we pay attention to the past, we can see where we are heading in the future. Great stuff…
Text Verse: Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine. Psalm 33:18, 19
Whether in feast or famine, the Lord is there for His people. In the end, even death can’t separate us from His goodness. The sure promises of the Bible will all be realized in those who love Him and are called by Him and so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. The Promise of Abraham
The previous three sermons spoke of the death of Abraham, the conception and birth of Jacob and Esau, and the selling of the birthright by Esau. These things, according to Genesis 25:11 came about in the area of Beer-Lahai-Roi. This is where we start today.
1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham.
Once again, God is directing the course of human history and the story of Himself and what He is doing. And He is doing it by using nature. He directs a famine which will direct the moves of Isaac, just as one directed Abraham many years earlier in Genesis 12–
“Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.” (10)
This was about 100 years earlier and at the earliest stages of Abraham’s time in Canaan. What we should see here is that if the account notes that famine, then it is aware of what happened in the rest of Abraham’s life as well. And we will see the same things happening today that happened during the life of Abraham.
Because of this, we can note the similarities and the distinctions to understand why God has included the story for us. One distinction comes up immediately. In the famine at Abraham’s time, he moved to Egypt for relief. However, this famine moves Isaac from Beer Lahai Roi to Gerar as we see in the second half of verse 1 –
1 (con’t) And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
Abraham also moved to this area, and there are more similarities that we’ll note in the verses ahead. The main thing to keep asking ourselves is, “Why did God include this?” It’s not just a story, but a revelation of Himself and what He is doing in history.
On his journey south, Isaac went to the same land that Abraham lived in for many years. Abimelech is the king of the Philistines, but this probably isn’t the same Abimelech of Abraham’s time. The name might be like Pharaoh – a title for a leader.
Gerar means Lodging Place. It’s a place for a sojourner, and this is what Isaac is doing there now. Lodging and sojourning.
2 Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you.
Just as the Lord appeared to Abraham, He now appears to Isaac. Whether he showed up visibly in human form or through a vision or dream isn’t mentioned, but it is the Lord, Jehovah. In other words, He is coming as the Protector of the covenant and the Director of the plan of Salvation.
This direction then is given to specifically fulfill His plans for humanity in the future and/or show us what will occur in the execution of that plan. Every detail of history is being guided towards His end goal.
Because He tells Isaac to not go down to Egypt it’s telling us that’s probably what he was planning on doing, just as Abraham had in the past. There is hardship in Canaan, but food in Egypt. But this time the Lord’s plan doesn’t include a trip to the land of Pharaoh.
3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you;
The Lord tells Isaac to “dwell in this land.” This could be taken one of two ways. The first is that it means the Land of Canaan in general or the land of the Philistines where he is now. Either way, the result is the same. He says, “I will be with you and bless you.”
Despite the famine, Isaac will not only survive, but he will be blessed. Isaac has no need to fear the difficult times where rain is lacking because the water he needs will be provided throughout the drought. We’ll see this come about at the end of the sermon today and what lies ahead next week.
As the Geneva Bible says about this verse, “God’s providence always watches to direct the ways of his children.”
3 (con’t) for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.
The Lord made promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 when he was first told to move to Canaan, then again in Genesis 13 after he separated from his nephew Lot, then again in Genesis 15 when God made a covenant with him.
He does so again in Genesis 17 at the time of the rite of circumcision, and finally in Genesis 22 when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.
Out of all of these, the oath he’s referring to is the one that came after the binding of Isaac on Mount Moriah. At that time, and in the hearing of Isaac, we read this –
“Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’”
This is the oath being referred to and which will be repeated again and again in the pages of the Bible as God reminds us of the coming fulfillment of the promise. Never again will God swear by Himself in this manner and so He reminds His people of the vow that He made once for all time as we see in the next verse…
4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
Until I studied the Hebrew for this verse, I always believed in a double fulfillment of it – one in the people of Israel and one in the work of Jesus. The reason is that the promise seems to have been fulfilled prior to Nehemiah’s time –
“You also multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, And brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers To go in and possess.” Nehemiah 9:22
This seems to be the fulfillment of the promise, but in the Lord’s words to Isaac is an unusual plural term – “I will give your descendants all these lands.” The term for “lands” is ha’arazsot and it’s mostly used to speak in plural form of the surrounding nations or even the nations of the world and not just the nations in Canaan.
In fact, Ezekiel uses the term to speak of all the nations where the people of Israel were scattered in the exile in modern times. This includes pretty much every nation on earth because Jews can be found pretty much everywhere.
This verse then, I believe is speaking only of the blessings of Christ to all nations of the world and to the millennial kingdom and the Messianic rule of Christ from Jerusalem, when all nations of the earth will be under His authority.
This is the promise of the 2nd Psalm where the Lord speaks prophetically to Himself concerning the rule of the nations –
“I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”
5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”
This reminds us of the man of faith, Abraham. But it also reminds us that he was obedient and diligent in exercising his faith through the keeping of the things God had directed for him.
When his final act of faith was behind him on Mount Moriah, the great oath was given and it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that it was given in the presence of Isaac who was almost sacrificed.
Now these many years later the promise is repeated to Isaac as he stands as the bearer of the line which will lead to the Messiah. This must have been an abundantly thrilling thing for him to hear from the Lord. First daddy Abraham and now him…
There is something which might seem confusing in here. Isaac is told that Abraham obeyed the Lord’s voice – meaning His word, and kept His charge – meaning the things he was to observe. It also mentions His commandments, statutes, and laws.
But these weren’t given to Abraham in order for him to receive the blessings. Instead the blessings came by promise alone years earlier. The promises were one-sided and unconditional.
What Isaac is being told is that Abraham is being commended for doing these things after the promise. Just as God made the promise from His fountain of grace, the confirmation of it proceeds from the same bubbling spring and so Isaac should be even more ready and more willing to pursue the Lord’s will.
II. Nothing New Under the Sun
6 So Isaac dwelt in Gerar.
Here we have an immediate note of obedience concerning Isaac. The Lord told him to “dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you” and Isaac, listening to what the Lord had just said about Abraham’s faithfulness, determined to be just as obedient.
He was asked to dwell in the place of lodging, Gerar, and he did. This is also something God asks of each of us. He saves us, not to just take us home to heaven, but to remain in the world. While we are in our temporary lodging place as pilgrims we are to not go down to Egypt.
Egypt is a picture of chaos and bondage. It is the life of sin from which we are redeemed and we are not to return to. This then is a picture of the faithful and obedient Christian who dwells in the temporary world, free from the life of sin.
More specifically though, I think this is a picture of the people of Israel today. This will become clearer soon. He is in the land he was told to live in and he has been promised to be blessed. Despite the assurance, he does what Abraham had done twice over eighty years earlier –
7 And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.”
This is usually thought of, and should be considered, as an intentional lie. Unlike Abraham who merely withheld a part of the truth because Sarah was his sister, Isaac is deceivingly claiming the same about Rebekah. He does it for the same reason as Abraham did the first time, because Rebekah is a real beauty.
If this is in chronological order following Genesis 25, Jacob and Esau are at least 15 years old. This means they would be out doing their own thing with people in the camp or maybe even tending to flocks. If the boys were around, everyone would know that Isaac was lying. So either this isn’t chronological or they have grown up.
In an attempt to partially redeem Isaac, I’d like to show two other occasions in the Bible which demonstrate that what he says is actually acceptable as an idiom, even if it is deception on his part. The word for sister, ahot, is used a jillion times in the Bible. This particular form is ahoti – my sister.
Ahoti is used exactly 18 times. Six of these times, a full third of its use, isn’t speaking of a literal sister. The first time is in Proverbs when speaking of wisdom –
My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you. 2 Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye. 3 Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” And call understanding your nearest kin, Proverbs 7:1-4
The other five times ahoti is used in a non-literal sense is actually speaking of a spouse, exactly as Isaac is. And all five are in the Song of Solomon, a book which pictures Christ and the Church just as Isaac and Rebekah are also such a picture. Listen to the beautiful words from the Song of Songs –
You have ravished my heart, My sister, my spouse; You have ravished my heart With one look of your eyes, With one link of your necklace. 10 How fair is your love, My sister, my spouse! How much better than wine is your love, And the scent of your perfumes Than all spices! SS 4:9, 10
Therefore, the term ahoti can be, and is used, as a familiar idiom and therefore, although somewhat duplicitous, it is actually acceptable from a biblical standpoint when speaking of a spouse or someone else as close to a person as a literal sister.
I call my wife “mom” or “Beauty” almost all the time. She is a mom, but not my mom. For all we know, Isaac may have called Rebekah Ahoti and simply decided to call her that to others as well just as Solomon called his Shulamite wife.
8 Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac, showing endearment to Rebekah his wife.
This is a curious verse to consider because it says that Isaac had been in Gerar a long time before Abimelech noticed they were married.
Whatever a long time is – and the word can mean days or years, nobody took time to get to know them well enough to find out the truth and nobody seemed to notice them or their boys together as a family.
What’s also unusual is that the king himself is the one who figures it out. However many people are in the land, it’s the king who takes time to look out his window and see the two of them sporting together in a way that would only be between two married people and not as a brother and sister.
Abimelech means Father of the King. I don’t think he is a picture of God the Father as at Abraham’s time though. We’ll see why next week, but for now I’ll say that I believe Isaac – married, but not willing to acknowledge it – is a picture of the Jewish people living in the land prior to the re-establishment of Israel in 1948.
At that time, they were outside of the covenant graces of God, just as Isaac is living outside of the truth even though he’s in the land God told him to dwell in. This should become clearer in the verses ahead, but I believe it is picturing the Jewish presence in the land prior to 1948.
III. A Hedge of Protection
9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Quite obviously she is your wife; so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’”
The contrast is striking and ironic. What Isaac had kept hidden for a long time is now responded to immediately. Abimelech is beside himself and for good reason as we’ll see in another verse. He has no doubt that Rebekah is Isaac’s wife and he wants to know what the deal is.
Isaac responds honestly and to the point, just as Abraham did in exactly the same situation and in exactly the same place many long years earlier, that he might die on account of his wife. If he were to be killed for Rebekah, then she would be taken anyway.
His thought is probably that either way, she would be harmed if someone took her. If he were alive, he could fight to retrieve her, but if they killed him first, then she would be a goner without a defender. It does show a lack of faith in God’s promise though.
Now, think of those Jews in the world prior to the reestablishment of Israel. They were not united as a people or standing together as one, but were merely residents in a land and often hiding the truth of who they are and what they represent in the world, particularly in the lands where they were dispersed.
11 And Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.”
What’s important here is that the Lord intervened before anything could happen, just like he did with Abraham. If something did happen to either of them, then the Philistines would have been in violation of the treaty Abraham made with Abimelech about eighty years earlier and which is found in Genesis 21 –
Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.” Genesis 21:23
Abimelech asked for a treaty and the treaty was cut between the two of them. It was binding on them and it is still binding today in the land of Israel. He remembered the covenant and he was a man who had reverence for the word which they agreed upon.
If one of his people violated Isaac or Rebekah, they would have the same punishment come upon them. God is ever faithful to watch over the agreements of men which are made in His name. Remember this when you consider your wedding vows, oaths in court, or any other time you invoke His name.
This verse is the point which we see in modern history where the ancient treaty is brought to mind once again. It is the re-establishment of Israel and the confirmation of who Israel is and their connection with the bride – the people of God.
This is no stretch at all and I am convinced this is what is being prefigured. You will too by the time we’ve finished chapter 26.
11 So Abimelech charged all his people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
The order is given by Abimelech to his kingdom. It is an order for protection of Isaac. God has ensured safety to Isaac and his family and has placed a hedge of protection around them.
As of the reestablishment of Israel, God has likewise once again placed a hedge around them. Nothing could be clearer in the world today. In 1948, in 1967, and in 1973 they won wars with impossible odds against them and they are being readied for the great end-times scenario which lies ahead of us.
From the next three verses, we’ll begin to get a look at Israel in today’s world and begin to make the connections which will set up the world of those end times. As I quoted earlier, “That which is has already been, And what is to be has already been; And God requires an account of what is past.”
12 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him.
Now….now that Isaac is living properly and acknowledging his wife openly and faithfully we read this verse “Then Isaac sowed in that land.”
God has again favored Israel. From the time that they were reestablished, they have been blessed as no other people on earth. Their cows produce more milk than our cows. Their harvests are immense. The land is producing a hundredfold, and the Lord has blessed them. The pattern of what was in Isaac now is in Israel.
Listen to what Isaiah says about Israel once they were brought back into the covenant graces of today – “You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the Lord delights in you, And your land shall be married.” (62:4) (my delight is in her///married)
Isaac has acknowledged Rebekah and God has once again delighted in Israel. The parallels are right there to be seen. Now that this has taken place he reaps an inordinate amount during a time of famine. Israel also is reaping from land which was totally barren for 2000 years. The soil is rich and the harvest is bountiful.
But hidden within this verse is a concept which is so deep we can’t cover it even minutely – I can only give a hint of what the Bible reveals. The term for “reaped a hundredfold” is meah shearim. The word is the same root and basic spelling as barley – seorim.
Barley is known as the crop of hairy ears because of its hairy appearance. The root of this word is se-ar or hair. Hair in the Bible indicates an awareness of things. The goat for example is used in Leviticus for the sin offering and it is known as sa-ir. We have an awareness of sin in the hairy goat sin offering.
In Numbers there is a type of person known as a Nazirite. This is someone who made a vow or was consecrated to the Lord. During the time of that vow, they were never to cut their hair. Samson was a Nazirite from birth as were Samuel and John the Baptist. Paul took a Nazirite vow in Acts.
The hair on their head was a reminder of their state, just as the hairy goat is a reminder of sin. The barley harvest that Isaac is reaping (meah shearim) is a reminder of God’s covenant to him and the abundant blessing he received was because of his time of living faithfully within that covenant.
Now are you seeing modern Israel in this? Despite their unfaithfulness, they have been returned to the land. They are now living in the land as was promised by God throughout the Old Testament. It is the time of hair – the time of awareness, the time of the barley harvest, and the mighty reaping of the grain.
Like I said, this study is so deep, we could on for hours, but be assured that what is being spoken of in Isaac is realized in the reestablishment of Israel. And to see the truth of this we move on –
13 The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous;
V’yigdal haish v’yelech haloch v’gadel ad ki gadal meod. “And the man was Great; and he went, going on, and was Great, until that he was exceeding Great.” Simple repetition which becomes forceful and magnificent! It is an amazing thing to read.
This is Israel today – the blessings and the prospering even until they have become very prosperous. Isaiah said these words over 2700 years ago –
Those who come He shall cause to take root in Jacob; Israel shall blossom and bud, And fill the face of the world with fruit. 27:6
This was written at a time when it wasn’t even possible and yet it has come true in our lifetime. Fruit from Israel is found around the world, and not just literal fruit, but the fruit of their labors in every way possible. They have flooded the world with the blessings of technology, medicine, food, and prosperity.
And as always, always in the world we live in, along with blessing and prosperity comes something else… something dark, and cold, wicked, and sinister. It is something that inevitably ruins everything it touches…
14 for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him.
Isaac inherited all that Abraham had and now he has even more. He has grown to the point that he is the greatest man in the land. Israel has inherited the land of promise once again and has brought all of the wealth it obtained from the world into the Land of Israel. Once again they are now the greatest people in all the land.
“So the Philistines envied him.” If you can’t see the repetition in this verse in today’s world, you’re either blind or you may be an anti-Semite. The Palestinians, the Jew haters of the same land and bearing the same name as 4000 years ago, are green with envy.
They are shiftless, wicked, and lustful stallions wanting to steal the blessings of God from the people of God. And as I say time and again, Israel is but a microcosm of the world we live in. The Geneva Bible says this about this final verse of today – “The malicious always envy the graces of God in others.”
There will always be unions to extort from owners. There will always be obamas to steal from those who produce. There will always be liberals who steal from conservatives. And all the while, they fritter away what they have so that in the end, there is nothing left but more envy and more theft.
What has been will be again and that which has been done will be done again, and there is truly nothing new under the sun. Next week we will continue the journey of Chapter 26 and we will head into the future and see events which are happening right now which will be realized in just short days ahead.
Stand back and see God’s amazing plans unfold, even in our lifetime.
I haven’t spoken much about Jesus today, so please let me take a moment to explain this faithful Lord who is taking care of His unfaithful people – both in Israel and the Church…
Closing Verse: 5 For I,’ says the Lord, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’” 6 “Up, up! Flee from the land of the north,” says the Lord; “for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven,” says the Lord. Zechariah 2:5, 6
Next Week – Genesis 26:15-35 (That Which Has Been)
The Blessings of Abraham
There was a famine in the land
Besides the first famine in the days of Abraham
And Issac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines in Gerar
Then the Lord said to him “Don’t move; stay where you are.”
Do not go down to Egypt as you intended to
Rather, live in the land of which I shall tell you
Dwell in this land and I shall be with you and bless you also
For to you and your descendants all these lands I give
I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham, you know
I will make your descendants multiply in the land which you live
They will be as the stars of heaven, a number that can’t be guessed
And I will give to your descendants these lands so large
And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed
Because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge
And he kept my commandments, statutes, and laws
He was upright before me, walking without any flaws
So Isaac dwelt in Gerar and the men asked about his wife
And he said, “She is my sister” because he feared for his life
Lest they kill me for Rebekah who is beautiful to behold
She is a pearl and a treasure more precious than fine gold
Now it came to pass after a long time
That Abimelech the Philistine king looked through a window
And saw Isaac sporting with Rebekah the lady so sublime
And realized that what Isaac had said really wasn’t so
Then Abimelech called Isaac and said
Quite obviously she is your wife
So how could you say “She is my sister” instead
Isaac responded, “I feared for my life”
And Abimelech said, “What is this you have done?
One of the people might soon have lain with your wife
And you would have brought guilt where there was none
And then it would have been the end of that person’s life”
So Abimelech charged all his people and said
He who touches this man or his wife
There will be no mercy for that person instead
It will be death for him, the ending of his life
Then Isaac sowed in that land
And his crop was magnificently grand
He reaped in the same year a hundredfold
And the Lord blessed him just as he was told
The man began to prosper, and continued prospering
Until he became very prosperous, much increase he did bring
For he had possessions of flocks and of herds also
A great number of servants he had as well
So the Philistines envied him just as you know
And their jealousy is a sad, sad story to tell
All of these things are written in the book
To show us of things to come surely and without a doubt
So open your Bible daily and be sure to take a look
God’s plan is revealed to those who seek Him out
Thank You Lord for this wonderful word
And for Your faithfulness to your people
Praises belong to You, our great and precious Lord
Let Your praises ring under every church steeple
Hallelujah and Amen…