In order to obtain the inheritance God has promised for you, you must ‘abide’ or ‘dwell’ in that promise, you must keep digging, moving from unbelief to faith, from cursing to blessing, from hearing with condemnation to the hearing of faith, and become part of Abraham’s family and lineage through Christ.
A nasty famine had come. When this had happened to Abraham he high-tailed it down to Egypt. But Isaac, the son of promise, continued to dwell in Gerar, Philistine country. He knew his father’s stories, and he knew he had to abide in the promised land, despite its challenges. And now something, rather, somebody stopped him from running to Egypt. He had never seen the Lord before, not until now:
“And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father” (Gen. 26:2-3).
This encounter would be life changing for Isaac. He would not be running to Egypt for help like his father. He was to ‘sojourn’, famine or not, in the land of promise, and that promise of his father’s now was given to him. Isaac moved in.
Well, they needed water. Isaac started looking for new sources instead of just maintaining the status quo like the Philistines were doing. And in his memory he started to recollect just where his father’s wells were, and re-dug them, calling them by their old names. This must have stirred his heart. But here’s what happened: 1) He re-dug a well of springing water, but the Philistines claimed it, and Isaac renamed it “contention.” 2) He re-dug another well, but again, the Philistines strove for it, and got it too; Isaac renamed it “enmity.” 3) He re-dug yet another well, but this time they did not contend for it so Isaac in his relief named it “room.” He could really live here now.
Strategically, after this victory, Isaac moved back to the old farmstead of his Dad’s where there was a well named, Beer Sheva, the ‘well of the oath.’ It was so named because of the oath made between Abraham and Abimelech of the Philistines. And notice: the same covenant is made again, but this time with Isaac and Abimelech. And here God appears to him once more and announces the same promise:
“I am the God of Abraham thy father; fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for Abraham’s sake” (Gen. 26:24).
Notice that God repeats the promise: why? Because Isaac persevered, he didn’t quit, he endured, and God rewarded him by confirming the promise on oath, as he did when Abraham passed his test (cf. Gen. 22:16-18). But it was repeated also because God has no grandchildren. Abraham, the servant of the Lord was dead. And Isaac must also learn to lay hold of God for himself. He could not be passive in the face of Philistine resistance. He would have to re-take the landmarks of his father. He would have to do something to inherit the land. He would re-dig his father’s wells and establish the respect that comes from honoring his dad. But more than that, he would dig by faith because his eyes were on the promise, and he wanted that, having met the Lord himself.
The Philistines were fine with stopping up Abraham’s wells, and with Isaac re-digging the wells, just as long as they could steal them again. They were fine with the wells of ‘contention’ and ‘enmity’. But they weren’t okay with Isaac refusing to give up. That meant they would have to make a covenant with him. And as with Abraham, God put a prophetic word in Abimelech’s mouth for Isaac, ‘The Lord is with thee’ (Gen. 26:28; cf. Gen. 21:22).
To hear the words, ‘I am with thee’ from God really does something: it captures the greatest and foremost prize for any human to hear. We cannot overestimate the value of the dynamic presence of God. And then to also hear, ‘I will bless thee’ gets at the very center, the principal thing a person needs for faith. Here’s what ‘To bless’ means: it transfers from God grace that increases his wealth, his importance, his inheritance, renown, appreciation, honor, praise, respect, prosperity, children, his beast, his basket, his relationships, his communion with God and man, health, success in business, success in war, and in work.
These two components (the blessing and the Presence) in the promise of God caused Isaac to unstop the wells. It all adds up to a larger category called ‘abiding.’ God turned around a curse (stopping up the wells) by inspiring faith in Isaac, and Isaac re-dug them because he believed something about God. And now his overcoming faith in God’s promise describes a life of abiding in that promise.
The opposite of abiding is leaving, which is what the Philistines tried to make Isaac do by taking his water. Existentialist philosophy, like the work of the Philistines, demands us to look at our circumstances, our contingencies, our fears, and our existence, and be all wrapped up in it, so that, like Isaac we’d be tempted to define ourselves by the emptiness of how things are going, give up and move on. But God is no existentialist and calls us to the essence of the matter, which is in this account, his promise and our faith in his promise. We are more than what we possess and there’s this inner dynamic of faith that delivers us from the emptiness of mere existence.
So obtain the promise of God: persevere, live by faith, and move into abiding. What was working in Isaac was “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), the work of Christ to both give the blessing and then confirm Isaac in it.