Tag Archives: genesis 26

Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth: What Ever Happened to Isaac’s Wells?

The Landing of the Pilgrims by Henri Bacon (1877)In 1643, a group of British colonists from Plymouth journeyed west to find a new home. It had been a generation since the founding of Plymouth colony and the world was changing rapidly. The colonists had seen war and hardship, they saw their hard-fought religious idealism of the New World diluted by a rapidly growing Massachusetts Bay colony to the north, and back in England the country was in the early throws of a civil war. It was in this climate that this group of colonists were inspired by the story of Isaac and his wells. God had “made room” for them and, like Isaac and the subsequent Israelites, they could be “fruitful” (Genesis 26:22) in the land. Today, this town is known as Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Throughout history, the story of Isaac finding room has resonated by settlers of all stripes. In 1845, mixed Protestant missionaries founded a town of Rehoboth in pre-colonial Namibia. In 1873, a group of Methodists founded a resort town of Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. There are other towns with similar stories in New Mexico, Ohio, Alabama, and Maryland. It was also the name for a US Navy ship during World War I, historic buildings in New York and Maryland, and there’s even an asteroid. This is a story that has resonated down through the generations.

These stories had meaning which we carry to this day. But what ever happened to those wells? Read on for more.

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Abraham’s and Isaac’s Wells

500px-Well_of_Isaac_in_BeershebaIn the television show Survivor, fire means life. But in the Book of Genesis, water is the element that saves your life. Wells found in the wilderness save the lives of Hagar and Ishmael, wells are the community meeting place where both Isaac’s and Jacob’s wives were found, and wells mark a territorial claim to a plot of land. To have a well demonstrates that the land is capable of sustaining life; you can live there.

One of the lesser-known stories of the bible, one of the very few where Isaac is more than a passive actor, is the story of Abraham’s wells. This is a story of Isaac’s success against all odds, of a compromise with the Philistines, and setting one of the borders of the future land of Israel. It also happens to involve quite a lot of wells.

Let’s grab some shovels and dig in!

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One Abimelech or Two?

'King_Abimelech_Restores_Sarah_to_her_Husband,_Abraham',_Flemish_tapestry_by_Frans_Geubels,_DaytonTry to put yourself in King Abimelech’s shoes: He was eighty years young, having held sway over his kingdom for more than half a century through war and peace. He’s a Philistine, who the Egyptians called the “Sea People”, and a descendant of a tribe of seafarers and raiders that were not unlike the Vikings of their day. We might say that his olive complexion looks a bit Greek, but it’s hundreds of years before Homer composed his first stanza. At this time, the Philistines controlled a coastal area of Israel from what today would be Gaza to just south of Tel Aviv. Abimelech is ruling from a town called Gerar, though it’s not one of the principal Philistine cities. In the time since the Philistines had come to Canaan, the local customs had rubbed off on them: they still spoke a separate language, but were increasingly worshipping Canaanite gods.

One day, Abimelech’s kingdom was greeted by two wanderers, a brother and sister from Canaan who had fallen upon hard times. Something was familiar about them, but he couldn’t quite place it– they both had just the hint of a Mesopotamian accent. Where had he heard that accent before? But the young lady was attractive and even though Abimelech was too old for those kinds of thoughts, he didn’t see the harm in letting them stay in Gerar.

But Abimelech didn’t live to his eighth decade by taking chances: he kept a close watch on the couple. After all, they could have been spies or worse. Not that it was too much of a chore to keep tabs on the young lady, after all. But a few weeks later, as he watched from afar, he caught the supposed siblings in a lover’s embrace. Realization dawned: they weren’t siblings! He stormed out of his hiding place to confront the young man. “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” The king fumed. He paused for a second, his brow creased, “Wait a second… have we done this before?”

That narrative is a fabrication, a mix of details from historical and biblical sources. But Abimelech is undoubtedly one of the most unusual figures in Genesis: a polytheist who nonetheless talked with God and may have been rewarded by Him. But was the Abimelech who met Abraham the same man who met Isaac? The bible isn’t clear and there is some disagreement. Read on for a look at what the early Jews and Christians thought.

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Isaac in Abraham’s Shadow

Christians and Jews both refer to God as the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”– the big three patriarchs of Genesis. But while the bible goes to great lengths to teach us about Abraham and Jacob, Isaac is almost a mystery. So much of his story is told through other eyes: we know of his torment by Ishmael through Abraham’s and Sarah’s reaction to it, we know of Abraham’s anguish at being asked to sacrifice his only remaining son, and later in the story we will see his granting of the birthright to Jacob through his and Rebekah’s eyes. Isaac is rarely a doer in Genesis, only one that reacts to things being done.

Timeline of Key Figures in Genesis (after Abraham)
Timeline of Key Figures in Genesis (after Abraham)

Fortunately for us, the Genesis narrator is crafty: several of the events in Isaac’s story closely parallel events in his father’s life. This grants a certain narrative economy, but more importantly allows us to learn who Isaac is by underscoring how he is or is not like his father. What kind of man do you think Isaac is? Read on for my view.

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Ishmael’s Daughter(s) and the Riddle of Esau’s Wives

In my previous post on the twelve sons of Ishmael, I left out at least one of Ishmael’s most important children: his daughter, or perhaps, his daughters. Their story is tied to Esau, Jacob’s brother, and chronologically comes later in the biblical narrative, but in the interest of keeping the Ishmael family together, I want to discuss it now. And what the story lacks in narrative, it gains in confusion: Genesis is simply unclear about exactly how many wives Esau had, what their names were, and who their parents were. And, depending on how you read it, Ishmael could have been blessed by one daughter who married Esau, or two. And before you dismiss that out of hand, remember that Jacob himself married two daughters of Laban, so it is entirely reasonable for Esau to also marry sisters.

A complicated tale that involves wading through bible genealogies? Where do I sign up!? Read on for more.

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Matchmaking of the Patriarchs – Finding a Bride for Isaac

019.The_Meeting_of_Isaac_and_RebekahAfter coming down from Mount Sinai and the death of his mother, Sarah, Isaac was in a bit of a funk. He may not have been on speaking terms with his father and had gone off with his mother’s tent to live near Beer-lahai-roi, in the south of Israel. Abraham knew that the future of his line, of God’s promise, rested in the unsteady hands of his second son. But Abraham had a plan to set things right: he would find a bride for Isaac, someone that could take his mind away from his troubles. It was time for some matchmaking!

Although this is Isaac’s second story as an adult, this is really the story of Abraham’s final victory. This is the moment when he makes his inheritance secure and could go off and be happy on his own. In the process, we also get to meet one of the strong-willed wives of the patriarchs, Rebekah. What are you waiting for? Read on!

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Lech-Lecha – Wife? Sister? What’s the difference?

I’m abandoned all pretense now: I’m just going to go at my own pace, but still based on the Jewish liturgical cycle as far as break-points are concerned. There’s just too much to write about and I hate to skip things. (Like I did Babel, for example.)

As I wrote a bit about a few posts ago, Genesis in particular features what to a modern ear sounds like bizarre textual echos. You can see this in the duplications in Noah, in the creation story, and elsewhere. These echos could be visible stitching as multiple versions of the early bible were edited together, or they could have a specific deeper purpose, but in either case one of the most bizarre echos are in the several stories in Genesis where a patriarch disguises his wife as his sister.

Genesis 12:10 begins the first of these echos with Abram, and to make it even more exciting, it’s a DOUBLE echo!

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