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ISAAC AND ABIMELECH.
We saw Abraham in a great variety of situations, by means of which sometimes his excellencies and sometimes bis failings became the more conspicuous. Isaac has bitherto been but little tried, and therefore his character is but little known. In this chapter, however, we shall see him roused from his retirement, and brought into situations in which, if there be some things to lament, there will be many to admire.
Ver. 1-6. We now see him in afliction, by reason of a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. There seem to bave been more famines in the times of the patri. archs than usual ; which must not only be afflictive to them in
i common with their neighbours, but tend more than a little to try their faith. Every such season must prove a temptation to think lightly of the land of promise. Unbelief would say, It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants : it is not worth waiting for. But faith will conclude that he who hath promised to give it, is able to bless it. Thus Abrabam believed, and therefore took every thing patiently ; and thus it is with Isaac. He first went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, at Gerar. His father Abraham had found kind treatment there about a hundred years before, and there was a coveņant of peace between them. It seems, however, as if he had thought of going as far as Egypt ; but the Lord appeared to him at Gerar, and admonished him to put himself under his direction, and to go no where without it. Dwell, saith he, in the land that I shall tell thee of : sojourn in this land, and I will be with thée,
and I will bless thee. In times of trouble we are apt to cast, and forecast, what we shall do: but God mercifully checks our anxiety, and teaches us, by such dispensations, in all our ways to acknowledge him.
To satisfy Isaac that he should never want a guide, or a provider, the Lord renews to bim the promises which had been made to his father Abraham. Had he met with nothing to drive him from his retreat by the well of Labai-roi, he might have enjoyed more quiet; but he might not have been indulged with such great and precious promises. Times of affliction, though disagreeable to the flesh, have often proved our best times.
Two things are observable in this solemn renewal of the covenant with Isaac. (1.) The good things promised. I will be with thee, and will bless thee : For unto thee and unto thy seed I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father. And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries : and in thy sced shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." The sum of these blessings is, the land of Canaan, a numerous progeny, and what is the greatest of all, the Messiah, in whom the nations should be blessed. On these precious promises Isaac is to live. God provided him with bread in the day of famine ; but he lived not on bread only, but on the words which proceeded from the mouth of God. It was in reference to such words as these that Moses said unto Hobab, We are journeying to the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you : come thou with us, and we will do thee good ; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. (2.) Their being given for Abraham's sake : Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. We are expressly informed in what manner this patriarch was accepted of God, namely, as belieping on him who justifieth the ungodly: and this accounts for the acceptance of his works. The most spiritual sacrifices, being offered by a sinful creature, can no otherwise be acceptable to God than by Jesus Christ; for, as President Edwards justly remarks, “It does not consist with the honour of the majesty of the King of heaven and earth, to accept of any thing from a condemned malefactor, condemned by the justice of his own holy law, till that condemnation
be removed." But a sinner being accepted as believing in Jesus, his works also are accepted for his sake, and become rewardable. It was in this way, and not of works, that Abraham's obedience was honoured with so great a reward. The blessings here promised are called the mercy to Abraham. Hence we perceive the fallacy of an objection to the New Testament doctrine of our being forgiven and blessed in Christ's name, and for his sake ; that this is no more than was true of Israel, who were blessed and often forgiven for the sake of Abraham. “Instead of this fact making against the doctrine in question," says a late judicious writer, " it makes for it ; for it is clear from hence that it is not accounted an improper, or unsuitable thing in the divine administration, to confer favours on individuals, and even nations, out of respect to the piety of another to whom they stood related. But if this principle be admitted, the salvation of sinners out of respect to the obedience and sufferings of Christ, cannot be objected to as unreasonable. To this may be added, that every degree of divine respect to the obedience of the patriarchs was in fact no other than respect to the obedience of Christ, in whom they believed, and through whom their obedience, like ours, became acceptable. The light of the moon, wbich is derived from its looking as it were on the face of the sun, is no other than the light of the sun itself reAected. But if it be becoming the wisdom of God to reward the righteousness of his servants, and that many ages after their decease, so highly, (which was only borrowed lustre,) much more may he reward the righteousness of his Son, from whence it originated, in the salvation of those that believe in him."
The renewal of these great and precious promises to Isaac in a time of famine, would preserve him from the fear of perishing, and be more than a balance to present inconveniences. It is not unusual for our Heavenly Father to make up the loss of sensible enjoy. ments by increasing those of faith. We need not mind where we sojourn, nor what we endure, if the Lord be with us and help us. When Joseph was sold into a strange land, and unjustly cast into
* Mic. vii. 20. + Williams's Letters to Belsham, pp. 156-158.
prison, it was reckoned a sufficieot antidote to add, But the Lord was with Joseph.
Ver. 6–11. After so extraordinary a manifestation of the Lord's goodness to Isaac, we might have supposed he would have dwelt securely and happily in Gerar: but great mercies are often followed with great temptations. The abundance of revelations given to Paul were succeeded by a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet bim. It is said of our Lord himself, after the heavens were opened, and the most singular testimony bad been borne to him at Jordan, Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. Heavenly enjoyments are given to us in this world, not merely to comfort us under present troubles, but to arm us against future dangers; and happy is it for us if they be so improved.
Isaac had generally lived in solitude ; but now he is called into company, and coinpany becomes a snare. The men of the place asked him of his wife. These questions excited his apprehensions, and put him upon measures for self-preservation that involved him in sin. Observe, (1.) He did not sin by thrusting himself into the way of temptation ; for he was necessitated, and directed of God to go to Gerar. Even the calls of necessity ang daty may, if we be not on our watch, prove ensnaring; and if so, wbat must those situations be in which we have no call to be found ? (2.) The temptation of Isaac is the same as that which had overcome bis father, and that in two instances. This rendered his conduct the greater sin. The falls of them that have gone before us are so many rocks on which others have split; and the recording of them is like placing buoys over them, for the security of future mariners. (3.) It was a temptation that arose from the beauty of Rebekah. There is a vanity which attaches to all earthly good Beauty bas often been a spare, both to those who possess it and to others. In this case, as in that of Abraham, it put Isaac upon unjustifiable measures for the preservation of his own life ; measures that might have exposed his companion to that wbich would have been worse than death. Man soon falls into mischief when he sets up to be his own guide.