"A well of springing water."

Gen. 26.

1867 377 Every reader of the scripture knows, and every child of God accepts, the great cardinal principle announced in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "without faith it is impossible to please God." And each one acquainted with the gospels will remember the words, "if ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed ye should say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, and it should obey you." Moreover, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." God is not only good in Himself, but supremely good in the exercise of His goodness to the objects of His grace; and this is the mainstay and guarantee to faith, in its deepest trials, or in its largest expectations.

It is with faith in the patriarchal age that we shall have more particularly to do in this chapter (Gen. xxvi.), and with Isaac as affording us an example of its earlier exercises, by which he obtained a "good report," and won a place in the chronicles of the illustrious dead, who still speak in Hebrews xi., "of whom the world was not worthy." This is God's epitaph on the tombstones of His departed.

In the walk with God, which His people are called to take, faith will not only be rejoiced to keep close to Him, but will surely be tested by the contrariety of things around us, springing either from the flesh in us, or the corruptions that are in the world, or else from Satan. Besides these, God will try the faith of His people on their way, that He may be honoured; and so we read, "Abraham was strong in faith, giving glory to God."

In the patriarchal days, a famine was the test oft-times which God providentially, in the way of His government of the world, allowed to come in between faith and Himself. "And there was a famine in the land beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham." What will Isaac do now? where will he turn in this dilemma? Will his faith in God use this famine as putting the all-sufficiency of God to the proof? or, will he, by taking thought for himself, allow God to prove to Isaac that the famine is too much for his faith? What a moment is this in our history as well as in Isaac's! "He went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines." The eye and heart of God are ever toward the child of faith, even when we are looking away from Him; so we read, "The Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: sojourn in the land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee."

What can be so encouraging to the felt weakness, which quails before a great difficulty, as this reassuring love of God? To know that the Lord takes such an interest in His people as to make everything that concerns us His own concern, if we will but give glory to Him, by leaving Him to show that He needs the famine to prove how superior He is to it! God is thus seen not only coming down into the little circle of Isaac's misgivings and fears to sustain him, but leading out the expectations of this resurrection heir of promise into the breadth and length of God's own purposes touching Isaac's seed, and the possession of all the countries round him, and in the sure covenant that "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." What was the famine in the presence of such a God, and in the face of almighty power and faithfulness, which would secure this wide-spread blessing, and through this very Isaac too? What joy to a believer when he can thus read his own present safety, even to the very hairs of his head, in the light of the coming glory of God, with which He has associated us as "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ!"

"And Isaac dwelt in Gerar" as a stranger, though in the land of promise; and Abimelech and the Philistines will be, in the future day of Canaan's glory, only what the famine really was to Isaac in Gerar — an opportunity for God to make a way for Himself, and, in doing this, to make a high-road for the faith that follows Him; for faith travelled in those days with God Almighty! No wonder "faith should be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" to the holy brethren of today, the partakers of the heavenly calling.

But to proceed with our chapter, the resurrection heir of promise, dwelling in the land upon this warrant from God, thinks it no liberty, and certainly asks no leave from the king of the Philistines, to sow in the land. "Then Isaac sowed and received in the same year an hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him." What grace on the part of God, and what joy springs up in the soul, whether then or now, under the consciousness of doing the things that please God, and receiving blessing in our individual path and work "an hundredfold," and in the same year. How like the God we know! True, the conditions of our service now as disciples are somewhat changed, but what of that? Discipleship will be content and glad to be as the Master and Lord; and should they be given out to us under the terms of following a rejected Christ in the world which has cast Him out, accompanied by "leaving father, or mother, wife, or houses, or lands," still the covenanted promise is, "he shall receive an hundredfold more now in this time, with persecutions, and in the world to come, life everlasting."

"And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great." No, we are not called to serve a "hard master, reaping where he has not sown, nor gathering where he has not strawed." The man waxed great, though here again the change in dispensation has made a corresponding difference in what true greatness consists. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and give his life a ransom for many." And Isaac "had possession of flocks and herds, and a great store of husbandry: and the Philistines envied him." The contrast must be always after this pattern between the man with whom God is and the men who, though they be in present occupation, are to be driven out, whether then or by and by, when the Lord — who is now "heir of all things" by resurrection title — comes into actual possession by righteous power. In the meanwhile we are content with the same holding as taught us in the first Corinthian epistle, "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." Was there ever such a conveyance as this and held on such security?

"And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us, for thou art much mightier than we. And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there." It is of great consequence when the Abimelechs can discover the difference which God has put between flesh and spirit, between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial, and make that the ground of their separation, or of our departure. "What agreement hath the temple of God with idols, or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" and again "thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together."

The children of God will do well to hold what Isaac held so firmly (viz., God takes care of His own promises and covenants with His people), for He "will not give his glory to another;" and they must take heed to dig their wells, and to uncover those which the craft or power of the enemy may have stopped. Of what use was the increase of flocks and herds (when God's blessing was reckoned by cattle) if the Abrahams and Isaacs did not acquit themselves on their part by digging the wells of water for them to drink? This is their responsibility. "And Isaac digged again the wells of water which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham, and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them." Faith reproduces itself; and how precious when faith got its title from God to do the strongest things like Isaac with his father's wells, and to reiterate his right by establishing their original names! Nor will be forgotten the faith of a later day, when it "uncovered the roof where Jesus was, and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay, and when Jesus saw their faith he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." What a lesson are we here taught by the Philistines at Gerar, or the Scribes at Capernaum; and what a stopping of the wells in either case, and what an unstopping! "Why doth this man speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?"

"And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water." How in keeping is Isaac with the double character in which he typically stood as the heir of all promise, and the heir in resurrection too (for Abraham received this son from the dead in a figure) as he finds this well of living water! And in truth we may say that it is only as we realise and take the place of union with Christ in resurrection-life and power, that there can be any good well-diggings on our parts, as having received the Holy Ghost, and maintaining our title in redemption to go through the length and breadth of the promised land. All other springs are dry.

At this point shall we not remind one another of Him who once rested upon the patriarchal well (of which Jacob drank, and his children, and his cattle), and, sitting thereon, superseded it, and took the place of it? What a well of living water He presented to the woman of Samaria, as He offered Himself to her faith, and said, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." "The woman then left her water-pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" Oh, to have been at this well with the Lord and to have settled everything between the conscience and God with Jesus as she did; to have come thirsty, and found the water which springeth up into everlasting life; to have come with her water-pot, but only to leave it, and be detained at the well by Christ Himself: what an exchange! — what gain!

"And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with the herdmen of Isaac, saying, The water is ours, and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him." Of all the controversies perhaps those are the hottest which break out between herdmen and herdmen, amongst the flock of God. The title by digging was indisputably Isaac's, for his servants found the well of springing water. But right by tenure of the country was still with Abimelech. From this arose the confusion and strife of that day, and from the selfsame thing are continued the strivings among the herdmen of the present time.

"And they digged another well, and strove for that also, and he called the name of it Sitnah or hatred," nor does the contention cease until the distinct separation of the heir of promise and resurrection-title takes place, from the herdmen of Gerar. Abraham the patriarch of faith, had adopted the same course in earlier days with Lot. "And Abraham said unto Lot, Let there be no strife I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren: is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left." Lot in Sodom, and Abraham in Canaan, measured their distances, and the respective histories of one and the other tell their own tale, and have a tongue for the opened ear of this day.

What instructive lessons are set us in these two wells of Esek and Sitnah, and how many of the Lord's people, shrinking from separation as from a viper, go on with the contentions and strifes, till the disputants, weary of all that stamped a character originally on their conflict, give in, and say when fainting, "What advantage shall the birthright be to me?" and sell it like Esau for a mess of pottage! The acceptance of this principle has produced, between the Church and the world, that monster system of iniquity pointed out in the Apocalypse, "Upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth!"

"And Isaac removed from thence and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land." It is in this well of Rehoboth that faith will always find its fingerpost, and secure resting-place. And how many thousands in this century alone have proved the blessedness of following the Lord fully and leaving the herdmen of Gerar, and their wrath, at the same moment!

Separation from evil, when in fellowship with the Spirit, is separation unto God in true holiness, and in the title of Christ the appointed heir in resurrection-life and glory. What is this but real strength in the power of the Holy Ghost? This is to the Church of God what in type we read in the Book of Numbers, "Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; say ye unto it: The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves." We must follow where God leads on His people, or be ruined by committing whoredom over again with the daughters of Moab, "when they called the people of Israel unto the sacrifices of their gods."

"And Isaac went up from thence [Rehoboth] unto Beersheba. And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake." How precious to the soul, when the brightest hopes of covenanted blessing are written out to the full upon the sure ground of the Lord's own faithfulness to His own promises and to Himself! What safety and peace do the heavenly people realize now, as we read in the progressive steps of a Father's love towards ourselves, "All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." "And Isaac builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac's servants digged a well." Near the heart of Jehovah for blessing, and under the shadow of the Almighty for security, were "the pillar and the cloud" of patriarchal days; and what a green spot for the altar, and the tent, and the springing well of bygone times! All that the pilgrim worshipper needs is found in the very place where Jehovah manifests Himself, and proclaims His name as the God of Abraham, or as the God of Israel; or as now, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How truly, we may say, is the break down in worship, in these failing and faulty days, to be accounted for by the independency which will erect its "altar" where it pleases, and pitch its "tent" towards the well-watered plains of Sodom, and call upon "the name of the Lord" anyhow and anywhere! How this departure from the true character of worship is deepened when the worshipper has lost the perception morally of the perfectness which the presence of the Lord with the heir of resurrection, under the fulness of covenanted blessing (like Isaac), brings into the picture; as also that the correspondence on our part, whether then or now, must needs be "the altar," "the tent," and the "living well," and then the outbreakings of heart and soul by "calling on the name of the Lord." "The Father seeketh such to worship him, as worship him in spirit and in truth." May the Lord lead His people back to Himself by giving them to unite these things together once more.

Little does Abimelech know of the value and meaning of these pledges and blessings between the Lord and His typical heir, of all the promises in resurrection-title; but the outward eye can see who the man is upon whom the favour of God rests. So "Abimelech went to Isaac from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you? And they said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee; and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee, that thou wilt do us no hurt." This part of the history is of great prophetic interest, inasmuch as the Gentiles are to be blessed through Israel, and will be so in the coming millennial times. "Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people;" or, as in Zechariah, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saving, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." The order of God for the earth is, "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the earth with fruit." And Abimelech, and his friend, and his captain, pay suit and do homage to the incoming heir of promise, and make a covenant that Isaac and the nation will do them no hurt in the season of their greatness and renown.

Of course, the Church — the body and bride of Christ, the mystery kept secret till Paul — is not in this picture; and it is of great importance not to confound the earthly people, and the Gentiles in their blessings below, with the heavenly people and their calling by a risen and ascended Christ to all spiritual blessings above; who in the meantime, while waiting for the Lord's coming, are put into the place of separation from all else. "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, circumcision nor uncircumcision, male nor female, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all" — a precious and peculiar portion of the Church.

And Abimelech said unto "Isaac, Thou art now the blessed of the Lord." The Gentiles shall come bending unto thee; "kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and queens thy nursing mothers," and great shall be the peace of my people. How blessed to turn the burdened heart away from all that now groans and languishes under the bondage of corruption, and the penalties righteously inflicted on man for sin, to that bright prophetic morning which shall arise without a cloud, and reveal the Lord Himself as the second Adam and the true Israel, the securer and unfolder of every promise to the nation and to the Gentiles; holding all things, as He then will, in the double title of redemption by His own blood and of maintaining it in the power of resurrection life and glory; the digging of wells superseded and gone to give place to rivers of pleasures. "Thy peace shall flow like a river, and righteousness be multiplied like the waves of the sea." "Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel! Who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee: and thou shalt tread upon their high places." "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"

J. E. Batten. (On the testimony of T. B. Baines.)