26 Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. 2 And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
6 So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. 8 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. 9 So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.’” 10 Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” 
When we speak of God being near to us or distant from us, we can make the mistake of thinking spatially as if God was right next to us or as if he were millions of light years away. When we think like that, we’re forgetting that God is all-present. He is everywhere at once. God is never here or there. He carries “here” and “there” in his heart. Space is not infinite. Only God is infinite. God swallows up all space. Jeremiah sang, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” Like a bucket sunken in the ocean, God fills heaven and earth as surely as the ocean surrounds the bucket. God is not contained. He contains. God surrounds and fills the universe with the ocean of his presence.
King David sang another grand song of God’s all-presence in Psalm 139:
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 
Wherever David went, all of God was present, not just some aspect of him. God is present with his whole being everywhere all the time. Though God may act differently in different places for his specific purposes, he has no size or spatial dimension and is present with his whole being at any given point in space-time. While God is spatially present everywhere, he is particularly present with his people. He is WITH us and IN us (John 17:20, 21; 2 Corinthians 5:17). David sang in Psalm 16:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
All of God is always with us in every place and at all times to protect and bless us. In those moments of gospel sanity when we are able to grasp this truth, it is life altering. We consider these things because, like Abraham before him, Isaac received God’s promise of divine intimacy: I am your God and I will be with you. We also see that, like Abraham, Isaac had his moments of gospel insanity. This story is not chronological. It does not happen after Jacob and Esau are born but sometime before that. Moses places the story here to emphasize Isaac’s place in the blessed line of Abraham. It also fits with the theme of deception. In this chapter Isaac is the deceiver. In chapter 27, Jacob is the deceiver.
In chapter 26, God makes three parallel declarations of his presence at the beginning, middle, and end of this story. The first was a conditional future promise: “3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.” God’s second promise was made in the present tense (v. 24): “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” The final declaration came from Abimelech in verse 28: “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you.” The extent to which Isaac trusted God’s presence had everything to do with how he lived. The same is true for us.
PROMISE OF PRESENCE (1-5)
The story of the famished Esau in chapter 25 connects thematically to the famished land of Canaan in chapter 26. In an arid climate like Palestine’s an absence of rain could send families fleeing to Egypt where the Nile never ran dry. This is likely where Isaac was headed (like Abraham a generation before) as he rested his animals and entourage in Gerar. The Abimelech of chapter 20 may not be the same Abimelech of chapter 26 if we take the years and figures of Genesis seriously. The adult and married Abimelech of chapter 20 enters the Abraham story before Abraham reaches the age of 100. The Abimelech of chapter 26 comes much later, after Abraham’s death at the age of 175. “Abimelech” (meaning god is my father, or Molech is my father) is most likely a title, like “Pharaoh” is in Egypt (c.f. 1 Sam. 21:10-15). The same would hold true for his general, “Phicol.” At least 80 years have passed since Abraham’s famous “she’s my sister” lie to the previous Abimelech.
While in Gerar, Isaac receives a visit from God. 2 And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
Moses doesn’t tell us how Isaac felt being addressed directly by God as his father had been. Isaac has taken Abraham’s place as God’s prophet in the Promised Land. He is Abraham 2.0. Moses does tell us what Isaac did. He stayed among the Philistines as God commanded, even though doing so meant living on the edge of the famine. That required a tremendous amount of God-given trust into YHWH’s promises. From a human perspective, living in Gerar was courting starvation. But God promised Isaac would be especially blessed if he lived as a foreigner, totally dependent upon the good will of the Philistines and (ultimately) God’s presence.
This call to a dangerous, vulnerable sojourn in Gerar was driven home by a reference to the faithful obedience of Isaac’s father who obeyed (notice the “my” x 5) “my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (v. 5b). God is saying, “Isaac be like your great father at his best!” This challenge also promised a distinct benefit: “I will be with you and will bless you” (v. 3). God, who is always present, would especially be with him. Isaac obeyed God and hunkered down in Gerar.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (6-16)
Good for Isaac, right? Well, not exactly. “These verses also provide the first instance in the patriarchal narratives of the promise from God: I will be with you. This promise makes Isaac’s behavior even more unconscionable; the promise of divine companionship is not adequate to deter Isaac from engaging in duplicity. To have the assurance of God’s presence with one is fine, but when Isaac imagines his life to be in danger (v. 7), he resorts to an ethic of the end justifies the means.”
Isaac mingled fear with trust, expedience with conviction. In doing so, he followed Abraham into the very same public sin he committed in the very same royal court. “7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister,’ for he feared to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance.” Isaac had been in Gerar for some time, indicating the danger to Rebecca was more imagined than real. He did not truly trust that God was with him. He certainly would have affirmed it theologically: “I believe in God the Father almighty; maker of heaven and earth and in his Promised Seed to come. I believe he is especially with me.” But in his heart, Isaac was trusting into his own plan to insure his own social distancing danger.
Isaac failed to embrace the sure knowledge that God was both spatially and especially present. God’s recognized presence crushes fear. Perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). We know what trouble would have come had Abimelech not seen Isaac and Rebecca “laughing” together. “Laughing” is a word-play on Isaac’s name, but here it takes on a physically romantic connotation that goes way beyond the bounds of sisterly affection. Even if this is not the same Abimelech who experienced God’s judgment over Sarah’s presence in his harem, the story of it would be well known in the royal court. Moses writes:
9 So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.’” 10 Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”
It is pathetic for Isaac to have to be caught out in a lie by a pagan king. But there is a sense in which God allows for a wonderful testimony to the Philistines. Paganism depends on works, on giving something to a demon god to get something in return. Blessing from the gods is earned by proper performance and payment. Isaac, however, is going to continue to be blessed by the One True God despite his failure to properly perform. Blessing comes to Isaac in spite of his very public guilt. And if his guilt wasn’t public, Abimelech makes it so with his proclamation in verse 11: “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Sometimes, we get the bad human theological idea that we need to appear very pious and sinless to “sell” the gospel to unbelievers. We need to tell them how good we have become now that we wear a cross and have a Jesus fish on our car bumper. Christ becomes a product we market for self-improvement and self-fulfillment. But Isaac ruins this marketing strategy among the pagan culture into which God has called him. He very publicly ruins his own reputation as one who fully trusts YHWH. And yet, YHWH still continues to bless this notorious sinner in front of a “do good to earn good” pagan city-state. As it had been for his sinful father among the Philistines, God’s grace could not be more openly displayed in Isaac’s sin.
OPEN BLESSING (17-22)
Following his anti-testimony, Isaac learns that God has remained loyal to his covenant despite Isaac’s disloyalty. Ironically, it is Isaac’s increasing prosperity, not his lying, that makes Abimelech send him away from Gerar. In a completely upside-down contradiction to paganism, God openly prospers the notorious sinner:
12 And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. 14 He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. 15 (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father.) 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”
On the edge of famine, Isaac reaped a huge harvest. A hundred-fold harvest is not unheard of in normal conditions, but it’s remarkable for a planting on the outskirts of a drought-stricken area. During the economic depression of a famine, Isaac become fabulously wealthy overnight. The Philistines grew envious and began to vandalize the wells Abraham had dug which Isaac had reopened and renamed with the names his father had given them. Giving the wells the names Abraham had given them was Isaac’s way of reclaiming title to the wells.
In a dry year, there’s only so much water in the aquifer and the pagan farmers naturally wanted it for themselves. Abimelech envisioned a range war on the horizon. He might not have understood grace, but he knew Isaac’s god was powerful and clearly still favored this duplicitous man who was willing to sell out his wife for his own safety. Isaac was going to wind up owning the city-state of Gerar if he stayed put. So, Abimelech sent him packing.
“His first stop is at the Wadi Gerar, a water course running between hills, and whose water amounts may vary from a swift-flowing and deep stream to a completely dry bed of river mud, depending on the amount of rainfall.” There, he unplugged Abraham’s old wells and dug additional wells. Perhaps Abraham’s wells were running dry. But the new wells Isaac’s servants dug hit flowing springs making them incredibly valuable. Predictably, the range war reignited. So, he called the first new well “Esek” (“contention”) and another new well “Sitnah” (“hostility”). So, Isaac again moved further out and dug another well that, this time, his enemies did not contest. He called it “Rehoboth” (“room”), “for now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land” (v. 22). The miraculous thing is that Isaac kept on finding not only water but living springs of water (a constant fresh-flowing supply) in a time of drought and famine.
PROMISE AND PRESENCE (23-25)
Isaac returned to Beersheba where Abraham had spent so much of his time in the land. Perhaps the drought and famine were over, or perhaps Isaac was moved by God’s continued faithfulness in providing for him. Perhaps, following his great public sin in Gerar, he had come to rest more in the fact that God was present unconditionally and would prosper him even in the very heart of a drought. “24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.’”
Isaac’s first experience upon returning to Beersheba is to receive a night vision from Yahweh. Isaac’s experience here parallels that of his son Jacob, who, upon returning from a stay at Paddan-aram, is confronted at night by God (32:22ff.). Both night visions come on the heels of highly questionable behavior by the patriarchs (Isaac with Abimelech, Jacob with Laban), but the content of both revelations is nothing but pure promise. Unlike either his father or his son, however, Isaac does not receive a new name. because God had named him before his birth.
Leaving no doubt that his faith has grown since experiencing so much of God’s favor following his notorious sin, Isaac builds an altar at Beersheba as Abraham had done a generation before. The point of this narrative is to establish Isaac as the new patriarchal prophet. He is Abraham 2.0. In Beersheba, he sinks his tent stakes and digs another well, hitting another spring of living water. By now, he knows God is present spatially and specially. Isaac has grown in gospel sanity. Later, Jesus will promise this same Spirit-enabled gospel sanity to whoever will trust into him:
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 
If you are trusting into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended Messiah Jesus, God’s presence is a reality for you. It is an absolute fact completely independent of how you feel. He is as present with you and in you whether you are downcast or perfectly content. St Author of Hebrews writes to the persecuted Church:
… he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 
PEACE AND PRESENCE (26-33)
God is loyal to and especially present with Isaac because of God’s covenant with Abraham. For the sake of his promises to Abraham, he blesses Isaac and works greater and greater faith in Isaac’s heart. Isaac is Abraham’s seed. But so are you if you are trusting into the Promised Seed! So says the apostle Paul in Galatians: “29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” 
Verses 26-33 form the climax of the chapter. “26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, ‘Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?’ 28 They said, ‘We see plainly that the Lord has been with you.’” The first instance of the divine promise of God’s presence was future: “I will be with you” (v. 3). Next it was present: “I am with you” (v. 24). And now it is past, as observed by Isaac’s pagan neighbors: “The LORD has been with you.” Abimelech’s review was, of course, a materialistic deduction. Based on Isaac’s agricultural bonanza, his repeated discovery of wells, and his increasing influence and power, Abimelech’s conclusion was absolutely right— God was with Isaac.
God’s presence can no longer be determined through health and wealth as it was in the time of the patriarchs. Now, God demonstrates his presence with his people through the actions and attitudes of his people regardless of circumstance. So says the elderly apostle John to his tiny congregation in Ephesus:
23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. 
It’s not rocket science. If we trust God, we will love God (because he first loved us). If we love God, we must and shall love one another. When we trust that God is with us, spatially and especially through his Holy Spirit, then we have the peace of God enabling us to be curiously expectant to see what the Lord Jesus will do next in our lives. We can rest entirely in him. So, Paul commands the congregation of Philippi:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
This story began with Isaac in conflict with a dry and unproductive land. It moved to Isaac in conflict with God’s promises. It progressed to Isaac in conflict with the Philistines. Now, as Isaac and Abimelech share a covenant feast together to seal their peace treaty (as Abraham had also done), Isaac is in harmony with the land. He is in harmony with God. He is at peace with his neighbors. How did this happen? God grew Isaac’s trust into God’s promises. May he grow ours. And, he absolutely will do so.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 26:1–11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Je 23:24.
 Hughes, 339. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 139:7–10.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 16:11.
 Hamilton, 2:192.
 Hughes, 341-342. Kindle Edition.
 Hamilton, 2:193.
 Hamilton, 2:201.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 26:24.
 Hamilton, 2:204.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 7:37–38.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 13:5–6.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:29.
 Hughes, 345. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:23–24.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 4:4–7.