You might say “here we go again.”
The story of Isaac and Abimelech in chapter 26 bears strong resemblance to the stories in Genesis 20 and 21. In fact, some Bible scholars say it is just one story told twice with different players. But the opening to Genesis 26 plainly differentiates this story from the one of Abraham.
In my mind, there is much more fault to be placed on Isaac in this story. Though God has told him to remain in Gerar, the land of the Philistines, he fears for his life. Would God have him stay where God would not protect him? On top of that, he lies about Rebekah to save his own skin, and persists in the lie for a long time (vs. 8) – long enough to know he was in no danger. Abimelech has had some experience with liars like Isaac and knows the divine consequences of violating another man’s wife. He is more than a little shaken Isaac has taken such a risk with other people’s lives.
And yet, though there is no indication God approves of Isaac’s actions, God blesses Isaac because he is God’s chosen and Abimelech sees it and respects Isaac.
There are side issues of morality here: First, lies have far reaching consequences and sometimes not for the liar, but for the deceived. Second, there is a difference between how a man touches his wife, and how he touches another woman. Some touching is reserved for the marriage relationship. Sexuality is not a benefit of “friendship.” Third, even these pagan people of Canaan, those who were so corrupt neither Abraham nor his son or grandson would marry one, know something about proper sexual decorum. And finally, we all want to live so that even those who do not know the Lord will want to live in peace with us.
The Israel that read the words of chapter 22 for the first time must have been horrified. How could the God they knew possibly ask anyone to sacrifice a child? He had specifically forbidden Israel to do such things and even though the first of everything belonged to God, the first child in a family was not sacrificed, but redeemed with the payment price of silver to God. How could God ask Abraham to do this?
But more than this, how could God ask this of Abraham? For at least twenty-five years (but probably longer) God had been promising Abraham a son. For at least twenty-five years Abraham and Sara had been trying to have children and now that he was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety, finally the promise was realized. It would have been an immense tragedy for the child to have been still-born. Greater still for the child to have simply died or be killed. Many parents have known such grief. But to ask such a sacrifice . . . it was just unthinkable.
“Thinking” however is precisely what God wanted – not only of Abraham, but also of Genesis’ readers. The way of God is not always understandable. And yet, it is the way of God. The Lord will later say: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways and thoughts higher than yours.” God says: “You must simply trust me.”
And trust Abraham did. He believed that though God asked him to sacrifice his son, that God could, and would, bring him back from the dead. He just had to trust God. And for this, Abraham became known as the “father of the faithful.”
When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to say it’s God’s will. But we should be careful. Just because something happens doesn’t mean it is God’s will – even if he allows it. There are enough things God actually says are his will that human minds find incredible without adding to them things about which God has not spoken.