Today Pastor Choi remembers Isaac—son of Abraham— as the man of maturity, peace, and altar. Isaac was wise and mature, because he practiced his strength under control despite the temptations to strike back against his enemies. The LORD blessed him for his peaceful approach to conflicts. Isaac also built an altar to God to worship the LORD only.
Following is a summary of the sermon:
Isaac: the man of maturity, peace, and altar
Genesis 26:12-33New American Standard Bible (NASB)
12 Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; 14 for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. 16 Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” 17 And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.
Quarrel over the Wells
18 Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah. 22 He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, “At last the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”
23 Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24 The Lord appeared to him the same night and said,
“I am the God of your father Abraham;
Do not fear, for I am with you.
I will bless you, and multiply your descendants,
For the sake of My servant Abraham.”
25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
Covenant with Abimelech
26 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you; so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.’” 30 Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace. 32 Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac’s servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
I love the book of Genesis in the Bible. I love it, not only because it is God’s Word, but also because it has plenty of real life stories of real people that I can relate to: Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and many more. In the past couple of months, I spoke about Adam and Eve’s temptations. I talked about Noah and his preparation for God’s judgment. I also spoke about Abraham twice already (lies and generosity).
The same Abraham got his son Isaac when he was 100 years old. Isaac was the miracle baby, the promise child, and the “laugh” child (the meaning of ‘Isaac’). Isaac’s birth taught Abraham and his wife a lesson: the lesson to believe that nothing is impossible with God. Because of his unwavering faith in God, Abraham was considered righteous before God. Today’s sermon is about that blessed child of Abraham—the next generation of faith in God.
How would I remember Isaac in the Bible? In today’s terms, he was an entrepreneur. Truly a successful business man was he! Did you know that he was engaged in three different types of business: shepherding, digging wells, and even farming? He was not a farmer, yet, one year he ventured into farming; he sowed seed in the land, and in the same year he reaped a hundredfold (v. 12). A hundredfold return in a year! That would be any farmer’s dream! Any investor’s (any hedge fund manager’s) dream! Whatever he did, he flourished.
That’s the business side. As far as his life as a person, three things stand out in today’s text. He was the man of maturity, the man of peace, and the man of altar.
- The man of maturity
Isaac, on the outside, was a mild mannered man, yet inside he was mature, prudent, and strong. I also believe that digging wells shaped him into a man of maturity. You may wonder: how in the world well-digging has anything to do with his wisdom and maturity. Let me explain. I have to begin with his father Abraham. Abraham passed away at the age of 175 (Genesis 25:7). Isaac became the head of his household when he was 75 years old. Throughout his life, he dug several wells (v. 18, 21, 22, 25, and 32).
Last week, I explained to you that digging a well in the land of Canaan—the wilderness—was not a small task. Many a time the wells had to be dug at least 100-foot deep. It involved many men and days to dig one. Isaac did it several times. Most of the time, he did so, not by choice, but rather he was forced to. Originally, he inherited the wells that his father had dug. However, as you read in today’s story, his neighbors were not kind. In fact, they were very hostile to him, because they were very envious of his success and his wealth. Compared to their well-being, Isaac the foreigner was filthy rich. So, you know what they did to him? They went to Isaac’s wells and filled them up with dirt. They went to another well that also belonged to Isaac and claimed it was theirs, although they never lifted a finger to dig it. Talking about persecution of Jews for no reasons—such anti-Semitism has been around thousands of years.
- The man of peace
What impressed me is this: whenever the locals disputed Isaac’s right to the wells, he didn’t contest. He just gave up and moved to a different place and dug a new well. Four times he did so in today’s story alone. You see, when things happen, we can tell what kind of people we are by looking at how we handle the situations. I like Isaac’s approach here: he didn’t fight back. Each time the locals harassed him and stopped up or confiscated his wells, he kept moving on and avoided confrontations.
Mind you that he was not a wimp at all. On the contrary, he surely had a power to fight back for his own rights and win, too. Did you know that Isaac had his own army ready to fight any battles? To begin with, he inherited a private army from his father. Remember this: Abraham defeated the armies of five kings with his own army of 318 men, all born and trained in his house (Genesis 14:14). On top of his father’s men, Isaac must have had hundreds more men who were capable of bearing the sword. Look at today’s text. He was very powerful in the eyes of enemies (Genesis 26:16) to the point where King Abimelech (the king in the region) came to him at his own will to cut a peace treaty with Isaac (Genesis 26:31). You see, Abimelech realized that Isaac was a powerhouse in the region that he wanted to keep peace with him.
Despite all his military strength as such, Isaac chose not to strike back when he was wronged repeatedly. He practiced strength under control. I think it was a smart move. I believe he was prudent. He was a man of peace. Had there been the Nobel Peace Prize back then, he would have won it. War seems a good choice at times, but pursuing peace brings forth the best result in the end. You want a proof? Isaac thrived more than ever. Look at verses 12 and 13: “12 …the Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy;” (Genesis 26:12-13).
- The man of altar
Here’s another thing that deserves our attention: Isaac built an altar to the LORD. I am talking about something very significant here. In fact, this is far more important than being mature and keeping peace with neighbors. Look at verse 23 where God appeared to Isaac. He assured him that He would bless and multiply his descendants as He promised to Abraham. Then, look at verse 25. In response, Isaac built an altar to God and called upon the name of the LORD (v. 25). God appears to God’s people and they build an altar to God. In fact, this is a pattern repeated over and over in the Bible: Noah was the first person in the Bible who built an altar to God after the Great Flood. Abraham followed suit (he built an altar at four different places), followed by Isaac, and followed by Jacob. And centuries later Moses built an altar twice to God. King Saul, King David, King Solomon did the same. So did the Prophets.
Think with me one more time about altar. What’s the purpose of altar? What’s the significance of altar? It’s not a nice piece of furniture in the sanctuary for decorations. Rather, altar is the place where we meet God. God initiates the meeting and people of God meet Him at the altar. He reveals Himself and invites us to a relationship—the covenant relationship—at the altar. We respond to God’s invitation with allegiance and gratitude at the altar. At the altar we offer sacrifices (typically burnt offerings), because they were pleasing to the LORD (Genesis 8:21). All these revelations of God and all our responses to Him take place at the altar.
Let me repeat what I said: altar is a place of covenant. Altar is the witness between the two parties in covenant: God and us (Acts 7:44). Altar is where God is present. It is a holy ground because God is there (Acts 7:34). Altar is where our heart is. God meets us there and proclaims Himself who He is to us. He is the Almighty and God WHO I AM. He also sets the terms of our relationship with Him: He is our King and Lord. He is our Provider and Protector. He is our Refuge. He is our Comforter. He is our Peace. He is our Shield. He is our Strength. He would be all of these for us as long as we stay loyal to Him. He would do all of these in exchange of one thing: Worship Him only, no other gods. With trust and confidence, we accept these terms. We pledge our allegiance to Him and express our gratitude through offerings. All of these take place at the altar.
In our hearts, everyone builds and has an altar. To whom is your altar dedicated? Too many people build altars to their idols and worship them (money, power, lust, desires, etc.). However, God’s people build an altar only to Him; to no one or to nothing else. Let us build an altar to God for daily worship and prayer. Let us build an altar where we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). Next week, I will talk more about altar: this time, family prayer altar. Don’t miss it.
Let’s bow our heads and pray.