26:1-6 Isaac and his clan experienced the second recorded famine of the Bible (12:10). To avoid the effects of the famine, Isaac sought refuge in the region where his father had once lived (20:1). The Abimelech mentioned here may or may not be the same one with whom Abraham negotiated a treaty (21:27). The name may have been given to each succeeding king within a dynastic family. Isaac must have been tempted to leave the famine-ravaged land and go down to well-watered Egypt as his father had done (12:10), but the Lord warned him not to do this. To inherit the promises of offspring, land, and blessing that God had given Abraham, Isaac had to stay in the land as an alien. God cited Abraham’s thoroughgoing obedience to encourage Isaac to do the same.
26:7-11 Isaac would have had to negotiate with the Philistines to enjoy certain privileges among them. As a result he might have to provide a wife for someone’s harem. If the person asked for Rebekah (and she was, after all, the most important female in the clan and a beautiful woman), Isaac might be killed if he refused. Thus Isaac, like Abraham before him (12:13; 20:2), told outsiders that his wife was his sister. Isaac’s lie was uncovered when he was caught caressing (lit “laughing/playing with”) Rebekah. Abimelech, as the supreme authority in the region, sent for Isaac and demanded an explanation. Isaac patterned his defense after his father’s (20:11); he feared he might die on account of his wife.
26:12-22 Because the Lord blessed him, Isaac enjoyed amazing success as a farmer, achieving the highest level of agricultural productivity recorded in the Bible (cp. Mt 13:8). The Philistines viewed Isaac as a rich foreigner with a reputation for trickery, and they wanted him off their land. Isaac complied, moving to the nearby Gerar Valley, reopening old wells that had been filled with dirt and having his slaves dig three new ones to accommodate his increased herds and flocks without threatening the Philistines. However, as in the days of Abraham (Gn 21:25) the contentious Philistines claimed the rights to the first two wells, giving rise to the names Esek (Argument) and Sitnah (Hostility). When at last the Philistines did not quarrel over a well, Isaac rejoiced and named the well Rehoboth (Open Spaces).
26:23-25 Isaac’s clan moved about twenty-five miles southeast to Beer-sheba, where his father had once lived (21:31). There the Lord appeared to Isaac and reassured him at a time when the Philistines were making trouble. The Lord was with Isaac to bless him and multiply his offspring, in keeping with God’s promises to Abraham (15:5; 17:2; 22:17). Isaac was the third patriarch to build an altar (besides Noah, 8:20; and Abraham, 12:7-8; 13:18; 22:9).
26:26-29 As with Abraham (21:22-23), God’s blessing was clearly present on Isaac’s life. The Philistine leaders believed that to oppose Isaac was to invite disaster from God and reprisals from members of Isaac’s clan who felt they had been wronged. Thus they wanted to make a covenant with him.
26:30-33 Isaac’s preparation of a banquet signified his acceptance of the treaty, which became official the next day when the parties swore an oath of non-aggression. That same day Isaac’s slaves reported success in digging a fifth well, this one named Sheba (Hb shiva‘h; “Seven”), similar to the Hebrew word for “oath” (shevua‘) and confirming Abraham’s name for Beer-sheba (21:31).
26:34-35 Esau married at the same age his father had (25:20). His marriages to two pagan Hethites, Judith (“Praise”) and Basemath (“Balsam/Spice”), expressed more of his undisciplined nature (see note at 25:27-28). Esau’s wives made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah, most likely by being contentious about Jacob’s favored status.