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The wife and sister deception – again!

When the men of that place asked [Isaac] about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”  (Genesis 26:7, NIV)

Do you read the Bible each day?  What gems we discover as we do – even in apparently obscure corners.  Here’s one from a chapter I read today – Genesis 26.

Isaac was Abraham’s son.  We join the story after his father’s death, and there’s a famine in the land – just as Abraham himself had experienced.  Isaac moves to Philistine territory in the hope of finding food.  But he has a worry about his wife, Rebekah – she’s beautiful, and the lustful locals might want to kill him to have her.  So he puts her at great risk by pretending she isn’t his wife but his sister.

It’s pretty horrible, but it ends well. In a casual moment King Abimelek of the Philistines happens to catch Isaac caressing Rebekah in a way brothers don’t do with their sisters.  It all comes out: she is in fact his wife.  Abimelek orders that no-one should touch Rebekah, and Isaac and co flourish.

If you’d been reading through Genesis you might think: “Haven’t we heard this before?” Indeed: Isaac’s father Abraham had done exactly the same with his wife Sarah – twice!  it seems to have been a family habit.  And the episode with Isaac isn’t just an accidental repeat of an earlier legend, as if the author of Genesis had been careless with the photocopier – this really is a repeat event (26:1).

So what’s the message?  Why is this story included?  The key, as in all the narratives of the Bible, is to see that the real hero is God.

First of all, His great covenant blessing isn’t just confined to Abraham.  He had entered into a special relationship with Abraham, and made great promises to him.  This is what lay behind God’s extraordinarily gracious protection of Abraham – including deliverances like this.  But will it be the same for Isaac?  The answer this episode gives is YES.  Indeed, twice in the episode, God actually gives Isaac the same promise He’d given Abraham.

Isaac is a much lesser figure than Abraham – but has the same God, and the same privilege of a covenant relationship with Him.  You and I, if we are Christians, have the same God as they did!  And our mighty forebears.  Sometimes in reading Christian biography I can be tempted to think that God would not regard us spiritual weaklings with the favour He gave to the great ones of the past – but He does!

And secondly, this story shows that it is with spiritual weaklings that God does work.  This episode does not cover Isaac with glory, does it?  It is a terribly untrusting thing to do.  There is no excuse for it; Isaac is clearly being wobbly in his trust of God.  And yet God still looks after him.  Our great God, in Christ, specialises in working with wobbly people. Truly His grace is amazing!
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