We are that.
By God’s grace we are a providentially protected people. For the God Who called us to be His people cares for us as His people. And His hand that takes away from us gives us better treasures than those which He snatches away from us. What is more, He takes away in order that He may give. And He gives in order that He may take away that which must for our own good be removed.
He gave us His Son that our guilt and the curse might be taken away. He gives us sickness and death in order that we may have everlasting life in the glory of His kingdom. He takes away from us our earthly lives in order that we may reach the heavenly. He takes away our pride in order that He may fill us with His praises. For His giving and then taking away, His taking away and then giving is not some duplicity on His part, is not the result of fickle, changeable whims and fancies on His part. The giving serves the taking away. The taking away serves the giving of that which is truly good. Job said this in essence when he stated, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” He is blessed in both because they always are part of one work. In fact, as Paul writes it, each deed of God, each act of dealing with His people works together for good to those that love Him. The giving does not clash with the taking away; and the taking away does not negate the giving. They work together to bring God’s people to the promised glory in the paradise of which the garden of Eden was only a picture and stepping stone which had to be taken away. God gave that paradise to Adam and Eve and took it away that all God’s people might be in that better paradise which abides forever and whose glories are infinitely greater.
All this is also reflected in the life of Isaac and is set before us in Genesis 26. And these things are written for our comfort as well as for our instruction. That we night have this comfort in this day and age God sent a famine in the land of Canaan in the days of Isaac. Eventhis fact has its meaning for us. We read in Genesis 26:1, “And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine in the days of Abraham.” Famines were by no means a rare thing in what later on became a “land flowing with milk and honey.” Canaan was not such a paradise; and the land of Canaan today is by no means a paradise with lush, green fields and farms capable of producing an abundance of food. It cannot today be called a land flowing with milk and honey. It became such and was prepared to be such for Israel’s sake. Under God’s blessing the desert can become a garden. Under His curse the most promising soil, according to man’s standards, will produce nothing. The rains must come at the right time and in the right amount. He must give it and measure it out to make any land a garden. He did that for Israel when His Church was in that nation, and when His people were in that land.
Egypt was a far more promising land in that day; and Isaac intended to go there for his food even as Abraham had done before him. But God appeared to him and forbad leaving the promised land. God provided for him right there in Canaan along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Here the Philistines dwelt, and here were green fields, cooler, moisture-laden air off the Sea, and fields to raise food for man and beast: We are not told why Isaac did not consider going there. It may have been fear of the Philistines who later on became one of the most formidable enemies of Israel. Recall Goliath and the fear that gripped Israel and Saul because of him. It may be the example his father set by going to Egypt. Fathers often forget that children see and learn from their inroads into Egypt. Abraham did it and got back safely into the promised land. Why should his son not try it as well?
Here in the land of the Philistines we find again that truth of God’s providential care over His people consisting in this that He uses the chaff to serve the wheat, the sinners to serve His saints, the world to serve the Church. And let us make no mistake about it, God provides the unbeliever and the world for the believer’s good and for the Church. He does not overrule the world of sinners but rules over the world of sinners. He does not find them and use them, but He raises them up and brings them into being at the right time and in the right place for the good of His people.
So often we look upon our enemies as nothing more than enemies; and that they even in their enmity and opposition to us are God’s tools and servants for the good of His Church we fail to see; and we miss comfort we could have. God provides the Philistines and God provides Abimelech for Isaac’s sake. And that means for our sakes today, for out of Isaac comes Christ, and out of Christ come all of our blessings. How hard it is for us to live the glorious truth that all things work together for our good. It is easy to say it and to teach it. It sounds good and is worth knowing. But does your soul really take hold of it when things are dark? Do you see the darkness as sent in God’s providence for your good? Do you see it as a wisely designed tool in the hands of a Master Workman to bring forth a thing of beauty and joy for you? Do you see enemies and pain and suffering as that which is provided by God in His grace for your everlasting joy in a land free from all suffering and characterized by the peace of victory over all the enemies?
It is in His grace that God does all this. For note that Isaac, walking in his father’s sins, also lies about his wife, and in that respect alone deserves no protection. He sought to protect himself; well let him take care of his own problems then! No, God does not deal that way with His people. He works in His providence in His grace. With them His works are more than mere providence. They are works of a gracious providence. In His providence He arranged that Abimelech would find Isaac sporting with his wife, and so would find out that he had lied about her being his sister. Abimelech did not just happen to see this. God arranged all the details in His providence and in His grace that brought Isaac and Rebekah where God had brought Abimelech so that he would see this husband-and-wife activity that exposed the lie of a brother-and-sister relationship. He uses also the sins of His people. These are not excluded from the “all things” of Romans 8that work together for good to those that love God.
Abimelech was angry and at once called Isaac to the palace for a rebuke. Take it out on Isaac he could not. Touch him and drive him out of the land back to the famine-plagued areas of Canaan around Hebron he cannot do. Not that he did not want to do that. Not that the thought of it did not enter his mind. Not either that Isaac did not exactly deserve all this and more, for as Abimelech points out, the wrath of God could have fallen on his whole kingdom, had some one taken Rebekah and committed adultery with her. The explanation we find in Psalm 105:12-l 6, “When they were but few men in number; yea very few, and strangers in it. When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, He reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”
But Isaac, we read, “Waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great.” Words are multiplied so that we do not overlook or minimize the fact that God took such good care of Isaac. He was protected but also prospered in material wealth. God provided protection but also great possessions for Isaac. And he went back to Hebron not simply as a man who survived that great famine and could now slowly and steadily build up his herds and enrich himself with goods, but he returned as a very wealthy man. In His providence and grace. God took away the bread of the region of land where Isaac had settled in order to give him much more in the land of the Philistines.
All this God did in covenant faithfulness. For when Isaac turned away from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, where the Philistines dwelt, and returned inland to the regions south of Hebron, where Abraham had dwelt,, God appeared to him and said, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not for I am, with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.” Abimelech, under that providential hand of God, had called Isaac to himself for the second time and told him to “Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.” He was living in Gerar. From thence, because the herdmen of Gerar strove with him about wells of water which God gave him, he, moved inland to Beer-sheba. And in great need of that assurance from God Isaac was. For Abimelech came there to visit him with the captain of his army and with a friend. Isaac asks him, “Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me and have sent me away from you?” It did not look good. And Isaac needed that assurance of God that God would be with him. He needed the assurance that the covenant promise given to his father, Abraham, was also God’s promise to him. With that assurance he can face Abimelech confident that the covenant faithfulness of God will be his to enjoy.
Undoubtedly this whole incident preceded that which is recorded in the latter part of chapter 25, namely, the birth of Jacob and Esau and the selling of the birthright by Esau for a mess of pottage. There is no mentioning of these children with Isaac and Rebekah in Gerar. In fact that lie of Isaac could hardly be a means of seeking safety with those two sons there. Abimelech would have seen the actions of these sons in relation to their parents long before Isaac’s sporting with Rebekah. Scripture does not purpose to be a book of records of vital statistics, even though it is accurate in all its historical detail. After all, there were twenty years between Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah and the birth of these sons. Isaac was forty when he took Rebekah to wife; and he was three score when Rebekah bear him these twin sons. This incident occurred during those twenty years.
And after another forty years it became evident that God’s covenant promise is particular and that the providentially, protected people is a special people among the seed of Abraham. We read that when he was forty years old Esau took to him wives that were a grief of mind unto Isaac and Rebekah. The one whom God hated before he was born or had done good or evil—according to Romans 9:11-13 —showed that he hated God. Yes, they had God’s covenant promise to cheer them as strangers in a strange land. But they had grief of heart also. And so it will be for God’s people here below when He exercises providential care over them. For God’s grace is very particular. Whom He sovereignly wills He hardens. And to whom, He wills sovereignly to show mercy He shows mercy. And though we cannot yet fit all the pieces together, He is fitting them together, and, we by faith insist that they work together for good to those that love Him. In His providence He makes no mistakes. In His grace He makes no mistakes. We make a mistake, and a serious one, when we question His ways and accuse Him of wrong.