Isaac and Abimelech
From a Grand Rapids reader comes the following question:
“Our Men’s Society in our study of Genesis became involved in the following question: ‘Did Isaac sin by making a covenant with Abimelech, who came to him seeking a truce in their feuding?’ ”
“Some in our meeting thought that he did sin, while others felt he simply did what we are all obligated to do. We should live peaceably with all men as long as we do not sacrifice our principles in doing so.
“Your thoughts on this matter would be appreciated.”
The reference in this question is to the history recorded in Genesis 26:26-33. The background of this peace treaty between Isaac and Abimelech is: 1) Isaac’s sojourn in Gerar, at the Lord’s instruction, at a time when there was famine in the land. 2) Isaac’s attempt to pass off Rebekah as his sister for fear that the men of Gerar would kill him, and the exposure of this lie. 3) Isaac’s being prospered by the Lord, the request of Abimelech that Isaac separate from them because “thou art much mightier than we,” and the controversy about the wells between the herdmen of Gerar and the herdmen of Isaac.
Now the question is whether there was any wrong-doing on Isaac’s part in this transaction. My questioner does not give me any reasons which may have been furnished in the Men’s Society discussion referred to. I can only guess that if someone thought this wrong on Isaac’s part, it would have to be on the ground that Isaac here put on an unequal yoke with an unbeliever. But with this I cannot agree. In the first place, it is not impossible that this was the same Abimelech with whom Abraham had dealings, Genesis 20. It is not possible to determine with certainty that this was or was not the same Abimelech. If, however, it was the same Abimelech, I would certainly see nothing wrong about this treaty: for I consider the Abimelech of Abraham’s time to have been a God-fearing man. In the second place, even apart from the preceding, I see no wrong in what Isaac did here. They established a kind of peace treaty. This was done, mind you, because Abimelech and the men of Gerar recognized the fact that Isaac was “the blessed of the Lord” and were evidently afraid because Isaac was becoming a great man in the land, being prospered of the Lord. Whether this treaty was motivated, on Isaac’s part, by the desire to “live peaceably with all men” is, I think, a matter of speculation.
However, I do not think this is the important question with regard to this passage. To me, the more important question in connection with this passage is this: what does this history reveal to us concerning Isaac as the heir of God’s covenant and concerning God’s maintenance of His covenant with Isaac? And then it would seem to me:
1) That Isaac was not a spiritually strong man, but rather a man who was rather peace-loving and ease-loving, but also a man who in a sense lagged behind the Lord. He was slow to recognize the fact that he was indeed the heir of the covenant, that the Lord was with him, and that among the inhabitants of the land he occupied a unique place.
2) This, it seems to me, is especially plain from the history of the wells. His servants dig one well; they have trouble with the men of Gerar about it; and Isaac calls it “Esek, Contention.” They move on and dig another, have trouble about that one also, and he calls it “Sitnah, Hatred.” Finally, when they dig a well about which there is no strife, Isaac says, “Ah, Rehoboth! For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” And even after that the Lord must appear to Isaac at Beersheba to encourage him.
3) The same, it seems to me, is true of Abimelech’s coming to him. The very fact that Abimelech came to him was an indication that Isaac was recognized by the men of Gerar as a great man. They have seen that the Lord was with Isaac. And evidently, after the herdmen of Gerar have made life miserable for Isaac and his men, they are afraid that Isaac might take vengeance on them. But this was at the same time a testimony to Isaac of the status which the Lord had bestowed upon him and of the fact that as the Lord had promised when he appeared, so He would indeed be with Isaac. Significantly, vss. 32 and 33, when his servants report that they have found water, Isaac names the well Shebah, “an oath,” evidently mindful of the fact that the Lord, according to His promise (vss. 23-25), was with him and causing the Philistines to recognize his greatness and to fear him.
Denying The Lord That Bought Them
From a reader in Jenison, Michigan I received the following question:
“I have a problem understanding II Peter 2:1 in the light of sovereign election. The text is: ‘But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.’
“It would seem that those who ‘even deny the Lord that bought them . . .’ cannot have been bought in the first place, since they are false teachers or hypocrites.
My questioner is basically correct when he views his problem in the light of sovereign election. More specifically, of course, the question comes down to this: does this passage teach a falling away of the saints, that is, a falling away of those whom Christ bought by His atoning death? But basically it is a question of sovereign election: for Christ died for those given unto Him by sovereign election. Hence, ultimately the question becomes: can God’s election be rendered ineffectual? And my questioner recognizes that the latter is impossible, in the light of Scripture. Hence, how must this passage be explained?
There are two possible explanations.
1) We may follow the rendering of the King James Version, and then, as my questioner suggests, the explanation lies in the fact that these false teachers are hypocrites. That is, they are outwardly and according to their profession members of the church. They are of those who profess with the mouth that the Lord bought them, that is, atoned for them. But in process of time they become manifest as false teachers, who then deny the very Lord Whom they once professed to be the Lord Who bought them. They never had been bought by the Lord: for as Canons V, 8 puts it, “the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ cannot be rendered ineffectual.” But they once professed to be Christians, to have been bought by the Lord; and later they deny by their heresies that very Lord. If we adopt this explanation, then the text says nothing as to the specific nature of their heresy, except that it is a denial of the Lord.
2) It is also possible to read the text as follows: “. . . even denying the-having-bought-them-Lord.” Or: ” . . . even denying that the Lord bought them.” In that case, the text purposes to specify the extent of the damnable heresies of these false teachers. They even deny that the Lord bought them, deny the atonement. Then these false teachers are pictured as teaching a salvation by works, rather than by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. Personally, I am inclined toward this interpretation for various reasons. But whatever explanation is adopted, it must certainly be emphasized that this passage does not teach a falling away of the saints, that is, of the elect.
Incidentally, as I was busy answering this question, the question and the answer sounded vaguely familiar. So I checked up, and discovered that I had answered this question almost four years ago, in Volume 46, p. 493. Fortunately, my answers agree.