Genesis 26:12-22 “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.’ So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them. Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herdsmen of Gerar quarrelled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, ‘The water is ours!’ So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him.
Then they dug another well, but they quarrelled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no-one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, ‘Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.’”
One of the clear words God gave to Isaac was; “Live in the land where I tell you to live” (v.2), and he obeyed the Lord. God promised, “Stay in this land for a while and I will be with you and will bless you” (v.3). Isaac did exactly what God said to him, he stayed there. He did not go down to Egypt as his father had, but, living in the Promised Land, God was with him and blessed him. Isaac “planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him” (v.12). God tells us what to do and in obeying we enjoy the blessing of the Lord. That is the Christian pattern. Love God with all your heart and mind, and know God’s blessing. Love your neighbour as yourself, and God blesses you. Fear God and keep his commandments, and God blesses you. Present your body a living sacrifice to God, and God blesses you. Be filled with the Holy Spirit, and God blesses you. Put on all the armour of God and God blesses you. It is in obedience we come into the blessing of God, while in defiance we forfeit his blessing. Isaac’s obedience was in effect digging up the treasures that God had already prepared for him at that time, in the land of Gerar.
After lying about his wife being his sister and being humbled by the rebuke of a pagan monarch Isaac now showed that his desire was to do the will of God. “If you obey me,” God says, “see what will happen to you.” So Isaac stayed in the land. He sowed and watered, and God gave the increase, and what an increase it was; “the same year he reaped a hundredfold because the Lord blessed him.” Isaac took ten sacks of grain and he gave them to his men. Up and down the fields they walked sowing the grain. When they had emptied one sack they went back for another and sowed that, on and on they sowed the plains of Gerar. At harvest time they needed a thousand sacks to contain all the grain they had reaped. The Lord did that with every sack of grain that Isaac sowed and watered, multiplied it a hundredfold. If it had been a twenty fold increase that would have thrilling. At such a time Isaac couldn’t have said that God hadn’t kept his word, but this was a hundred fold increase! What a blessing came down on Isaac, above and beyond all that he asked or even thought. He did the will of God; he stayed and worked. He planted crops. He did not hang about idly, doing nothing, waiting for the blessings to fall. He “planted crops;” he ploughed the fields and scattered the good seed on the land, and the same year he enjoyed a hundredfold increase “because the Lord blessed him” (v.12).
But it did not end there because we are told “The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants . . .” (vv.13&14). You see the triple repetition of the word ‘wealthy’ (though the NIV translates it ‘rich’ on the first occasion) – ‘the man became wealthy, and his wealth continued to increase until he became very wealthy.’ Isaac became a rich man, and the next thing that happened was that he became richer yet, and that kept happening until he was as rich as he could be, owning vast flocks and herds with hundreds of shepherds and cowboys working for him. The New King James Version translates verse 13 nicely in this way, “The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous.” The Lord could have given a more measured blessing to Isaac. Didn’t he treat all his great prophets modestly? Look at the lives of Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Consider any one of the twelve prophets whose prophecies close the Old Testament. Would there be one . . . just one . . . who was even moderately well off? Not one. God gave none of them material prosperity. There are slim pickings in the lives and books of the prophets for the marginal comments and footnotes of the so-called ‘Prosperity Bible’ which highlights passages like the one in our text – verses that speak of wealth and riches. How this verse would seem to endorse all that the hucksters of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ teach. Let us consider prosperity.
- GOD GIVES TRUE PROSPERITY.
This verse is ripped away from the history of redemption and the experience of this one man, the only one in the whole world through whom the Messiah will come. Then p
eople are told that this is God’s plan for the lives of every one of his servants, that the lives of those prophets and the lives of the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11 are not to be our role models, but prosperous Isaac living in Gerar is how God wants us all to be always, and that it can be so, if only we will make this prosperity our own by ‘visualizing’ it and claiming it from God. It is a heart-breaking heresy. It supports thieves and liars who use Jesus Christ to make themselves rich. Even the broad-minded John Piper says he feels a hatred towards the health, wealth and prosperity gospel. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now it has gone round the world; it fills Nigeria; it is all over Kenya; it has spread throughout the Christian church in China; it is the message of some of the biggest congregations in the world in Korea; it’s in the pulpits of some of the largest gatherings in London. It sells a bill of goods to the poorest of the poor in the third world. “Believe this message and your pigs won’t die and your wife will be able to have sons. You will have jewelry and fine clothes and a big car.” Those lies are coming out of the Christian church. They are spoken in the name of Jesus the truth! Not the message that we are to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow him but the message of ‘more money for you’ when you become a Christian. It is horrible to declare that Jesus is all satisfying because Christians drive Rolls Royces. Because Welshmen hearing that will respond, “Did Jesus give you that car? Then I’ll take Jesus too.” That is idolatry. That is elevating gifts above the Giver.
I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful. It is visiting a family in Grand Rapids where the husband’s first wife, pregnant with their fourth child, was hit by a drunken driver and killed, and where his second wife’s first husband had been shot dead by a disgruntled employee in his bakery, leaving five children fatherless, and these two, the widow and widower married bringing their eight children under one roof. Then the Lord blessed them with two of their own, and they all kept trusting God. They said through the deepest possible pain, “God is enough . . . God is enough . . . . God is good . . . He will take care of us . . . . He will satisfy us . . . He will get us through this . . . He is our treasure. Whom have I in heaven but him? On earth there is nothing that I desire beside him. My flesh and my heart fail; my dear husband or my darling wife are taken from me, but he is the strength of our hearts and our portion for ever.” That makes Jesus beautiful. That makes God great – God, not as the giver of BMWs or farms or herds of cattle or fine houses or health, but believers sustained by submission to God’s will and contentment, glorying in their infirmities, knowing the sufficiency of God’s grace. As John Piper often says, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied with him, even in the midst of loss. Iola and I ate and drank with that family in Grand Rapids; my wife and I sat with their ten children around the Sunday table eating chicken soup and rolls and he led us in family devotions and he spoke to us not about prosperity but about the grace of contentment, and he led us in prayer.
Let me adapt some teaching of John Piper about prosperity-preaching churches. He has seven warnings and I have altered the wording in all seven of the headings, but the powerful questions are all his. If financial prosperity is the message of Christianity then no thank you. Luring people to Christ by promises of riches is both deceitful and deadly. It’s deceitful because when Jesus himself called us, he said things like: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). And it’s deadly because the desire to be rich plunges “people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). So here is my plea to preachers of the gospel.
i] Do not preach a message that makes it harder for people to get into heaven. Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They respond in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27). Why would anyone preach a message that makes it harder for people to enter heaven?
ii] Do not preach a message that kindles despair and ruin in your hearers. Paul said, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” But then he warned against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warned against preachers who stir up the desire to be rich instead of helping people get rid of that covetousness. He warned, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Why would anyone want to preach a message that encourages people to pierce themselves with many pangs and plunge them into ruin and destruction? How many millions of people have become utterly disillusioned with Christianity because of the lies of the prosperity heresy?
iii] Do not preach a message that encourages vulnerability to moth and rust. Jesus warns against the effort to lay up treasures on earth. That is, he tells us to be givers, not keepers. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Yes, we all keep some things. But given the built-in tendency toward greed in all of us, why would we take the focus off Jesus and turn it upside down? Why draw people’s attention away from Jesus who is the same yesterday, today and for ever and set it upon things that moth and rust corrupt and thieves steal, stuff that is here today and gone tomorrow?
iv] Don’t preach a message that promises, “You work hard and you’ll amass wealth.” The end of hard work is not wealth for you; it is ability to give more to others who can’t work. Paul tells the Ephesians Christians
that they should not steal. The alternative was hard work with their own hands, and the main purpose of that was not merely possessions or having a big bank balance, the purpose was “to have in order to give.” “Let him labour, working with his hands, that he may have to give to him who is in need” (Ephesians 4:28). A justification for having a big house and swimming pool is not your claim that you can invite the congregation around to enjoy them on public holidays. You work hard and make more and keep less so that you can give more. There is no reason why a person who makes 100,000 pounds a year should live any differently from the way a person lives who makes 30,000 pounds. Why would a preacher want to encourage people to think that they should possess wealth in order to become lavish givers? Why not encourage them to keep their lives more simple and be an even more lavish giver? Wouldn’t that add to their generosity a strong testimony that Christ, and not possessions, is their treasure?
v] Don’t preach a message that promotes less faith in the promises of God, and more faith in money. Only God can give us contentment and peace. That is our gospel. The writer of the Hebrews says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). If the Bible tells us that being content with what we have honours the promise of God never to forsake us, why would we want to drop a hint or raise a covetous eyebrow at some desires we have for money, money, money . . . let alone teach other people to want to be rich? What a terrible message, taking people’s focus away from God and on pounds and pennies.
vi] Don’t preach a message that chokes to death the gospel message. That is what the prosperity gospel does. Jesus warns that the word of God, which is meant to give us life, can be strangled and made ineffective not by our misbehaviour or our silence but by money. Christ said that there are those who hear the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and they initially say, “What a wonderful message!” but soon it gets choked to death by what Jesus describes as thorns. What are these choking thorns that Jesus is talking about? Listen! “They are choked by the . . . riches . . . of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14). Why would anyone want to encourage people to pursue the very thing that Jesus warns will choke professing Christians to death?
vii] Don’t preach a message that takes the saltiness out of the salt, or puts the light under a basket. What is it about Christians that makes them the salt of the earth and the light of the world? It is not their money. The desire for wealth and the pursuit of wealth tastes and looks just like the world’s agenda. The prosperity message doesn’t offer the world anything different from what it already believes in. The great tragedy of prosperity-preaching is that a person doesn’t have to be spiritually awakened or spiritually-minded in order to embrace it; one needs only to be covetous and greedy. Getting a big house in the name of Jesus is not being the salt of the earth or the light of the world. In such activities as that, the world simply sees a reflection of its own carnal ambitions. And if it works, they’ll buy into it. What makes the world taste (the salt) and see (the light) of Christ in us is not spotting that we love money the same way as they love money. Rather, it will be the willingness and the ability of Christians to love others through suffering, all the while rejoicing because our reward is in heaven with Jesus. This is inexplicable on human terms. This is supernatural. But to attract people with promises of prosperity is simply natural. It is not the message of Jesus. It is not what he died to achieve.
I can say without any qualification at all that if you love God with all your heart then you will be blessed by God, and that generally that blessing is bound to mean increased wealth and better health and so longer, more fulfilled lives. Isn’t that the case? If you love God you will not abuse your bodies by obesity, and nicotine, and drugs, and sexually transmitted diseases, and excess alcohol and you will be healthier and live longer. If you love God you will live an honest life of integrity and hard work and employers will hire you and your talent and industry and reliability and you will be given more responsibility and higher wages and will become wealthier. There is no secret about that at all. If you love God you will be blessed with wisdom and that will help you to use your time well and your talents and gifts well, and your possessions well. So you will not fritter your money away on trinkets and jew-jaws. I am saying there is no secret to all of this. Christians have lived like this for four thousand years since the time of Isaac. Joseph’s love of God resulted in his being exalted to the highest office in Egypt. Daniel’s love of God resulted in his being exalted to the highest office in Babylon. But neither of them loved God for any other reason than God is lovable and it is a privilege to love him. They did not love him in order to become millionaires. If they did they were not loving him with all their hearts. They were loving another god more, namely, mammon.
Let us return to Isaac and his exceptional riches that came to him “because the Lord blessed him” (v.12). Now the Lord could have just kept him alive in this famine time and sent ravens with food in their beaks to feed him. He did that to Elijah. Or the Lord could have given him a modest blessing while still keeping his word that the Lord would stay right there with him, but God’s promise allowed him to give a vast amount to Isaac and so he did. God delights in giving more and more. He is fantastically generous beyond reckoning. Isaac is on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world. No one in Gerar or in Isaac’s household could ever say that Isaac’s God was niggardly and did less than he promised. He always gives more. ‘He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.’ Until, in the fulness of time, God gave as much as he could give . . . in Christ Jesus his eternal and only begotten Son. He spared not his Son from even the death of the cross. He loved us and gave him. His giving to Isaac at that time so prodigally was teaching him and us just how great a giver God is. Isaac was to think, “If God gives to a solitary sinner like me so richly in this tiny nation of Gerar, what will it be like when he gives the One through whom all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed?”
The Lord had promised Abraham a seed and so he gave him Isaac, but ultimately he was to give to Abraham and to ourselves the incarnate God himself, by whom all the blessings would come. With him God freely gave us all things. Having him you have everything. You lose out on nothing all through your lives. Everything works together for your good – can you believe it? So God promised Abraham and his seed a land, but to Christ, the true seed of Abraham, he ga
ve a universe. God gave Christ a new heavens and a new earth and gave Christ authority over them all. Then he made us joint heirs with Christ. Whatever he has we have. We sit with him in the midst of the throne of God. We reign with him. All things are ours. Every bit of the new creation is ours. There is nowhere off-limits in that fair free land. That is why talk of Christians getting big cars and money and never getting sick is so degrading in comparison to what every true Christian in Christ enjoys now and will possess for eternity. This is what this blessing of God on Isaac is declaring to us, what a generous God we have and what superior riches to Isaac every one of us possesses.
- GOD ALWAYS TESTS OUR PROSPERITY.
The moral of the story was not “and Isaac lived happily ever after.” Yes, he had wealth but he also had new problems; “The Philistines envied him” (v.14). It wasn’t that Isaac had taken land or herds from them. He hadn’t become rich at their expense. The Lord didn’t make Isaac prosperous by stealing from the Philistines. Indeed, his prosperity had enriched the whole land of Gerar giving to the men of the land employment and the women cheap grain in abundance. They were good times for Gerar, but the Gerarites didn’t look at any of that. All they knew was that Isaac was rich and they couldn’t stand seeing an incomer so very prosperous. So too a congregation’s size, and wealth, and facilities, and staff can increase the hostility of the watching world.
The envy of the men of Gerar turned to hatred and they showed this by acts of utter meanness. There is no holy, blessed Christian who will not suffer some time from the spite of his watching, unbelieving family and colleagues. See what happened here; the men of the land filled up with earth the wells that Abraham’s servants had dug. That was an attack on life, on existence itself. The seed of the serpent took away the water of life from the seed of the woman. Here is the battle for dominion still going on. The enemy made sure Isaac couldn’t use a single well. These men were the seed of their father, the devil. He had been thrown out of heaven and couldn’t regain it, and so he thought of tempting Adam and Eve to lose heaven too, but his bitterness knew no bounds. He would tempt the last Adam, our Saviour. He wanted to deprive the Christ, God the Son, of his greatness and his work so that you and I wouldn’t profit at all from him. It was black envy. It was also treachery. Abimelech I had made a covenant with Abraham to deal loyally with him, but once Abraham was dead and gone they trashed his property. Abimelech II then told Isaac to get out and move on (v.16). Abimelech II had declared, “Don’t let anyone touch Isaac or Rebekah!” and I suppose he wasn’t literally breaking that command but, come on, what was all this? He was taking away their supply of water. Abimelech was doing a lot less than Isaac could have expected. On the other hand Jehovah God is so generous to Isaac even though Isaac had failed to trust him to protect him and his wife in Gerar. God was still full of grace. Abimelech’s restraint did not last long.
Who is Isaac going to trust? He had not trusted the morality of the men of Gerar when he had moved there some years earlier. He now discovers that they are willing to break their promises to Abraham. But the Lord was the one who’d protected him and Rebekah while he was in Gerar. In fact the Lord was keeping his promises to Abraham, even to the next generation, to Isaac. The Philistines were envious of Isaac’s riches and wanted to keep him poor and dependent, but the Lord was merciful to Isaac and made him rich, much more than we’d expect. Abimelech had announced some time earlier that Isaac had to be protected, and then how poorly he treats him. Who is Isaac going to trust? There is no competition is there? There is no choice. Isaac will trust in the Lord who blesses so richly. In times when the world is trying to kill him he will trust the God of life. He will find no hope in the world. All his hope in God is founded.
Consider Isaac’s response. What do Christians do when the authorities turn against them? There are many true and different responses. Sometimes they go into exile such as the holy family fleeing Herod and going to live for a time in Egypt. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Europe to America. Then there are times when they go underground; they meet in secret behind locked doors for fear. They do that in some Muslim countries and in dictatorships today. There is the underground church in China, and that also is a good and wise Christian response. Sometimes they stand tall, like the three men in Babylon refusing to bow to the golden statue, and they face up to being thrown into the furnace. That is another alternative, and which one will be yours in your trial? I don’t know. I don’t know all your options. But your heavenly Father does. He is the same father as Isaac had and Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego, and the Pilgrim Fathers and the Covenanters of Scotland. They will take different options as God directs; they might argue among themselves. They will do what they do to the glory of God. They will cast themselves on God. So what did Isaac in his prosperity do when the world showed him its hatred, when he was told “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us”? (v.16). He meekly moved away, but he asserted his faith in the promises of God in all he did. It is the meek who shall inherit the earth.
So we are told, “So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them” (vv.17&18). The year was 1959, the centenary year of the 1859 revival, and the setting was Westminster Chapel, in London, and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a series of 24 sermons on the theme of revival. The first sermon was on the words of Jesus, “This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting” (Mk.9:29). The second sermon was on this text, “So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them” (vv.17&18). The third sermon was on this text, “So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them” (vv.17&18). So was the fourth sermon, and the fifth sermon, and the sixth sermon, and the seventh sermon. He preached all those sermons on our text. Only the “Governor’ could do something like that!
What was Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in using this incident to speak of revival? It is this; I will quote the Doctor: “Isaac came to this valley of Gerar and decided that he would dwell there. Of course the moment he arrived he was confronted by an urgent and a very desperate need – and that was the need of water. I do want to emphasize that, because the need was of something that is absolutely essential for life, in addition to being essential to well-being. He was not merely confronted by the problem of seeking some be
auty spot where he might pitch his tent. Or erect some kind of dwelling place for himself. He was not looking for entertainment, or for luxuries, he was not looking for any kind of accessory to life. The whole point of the story is that he was looking for something that is absolutely essential, and without which life cannot be maintained at all. So the first thing that we must realise about the situation we are in today is its desperate character. It is urgent. In other words, the trouble with the church today is that she does not realise her primary need, and her urgent need, is the need for life itself. The problem confronting us is not a problem of methods, or of organization, or of making a slight adjustment here and there, or improving things a little bit, or keeping them up-to-date, or anything like that . . . the problem confronting us is the need for life itself, the need of that fundamental power and vigour in every activity of the Christian church. We really are in the position of this man Isaac” (D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Revival (pp. 21&22), Marshall Pickering, 1986).
The Philistines have said, “These are not your wells but ours and so we can fill them up with earth.” Isaac replies, “No, they are not yours they are mine. God gave them to my father Abraham.” Isaac’s faith was in the testimony of God and he showed this in giving the wells the very same names as Abraham had given them (v.18). To give a name to something is to assert authority over it and ownership. To give the same name is to say, “This is not my well because of the fact that I dug it. This is my well because Abraham dug it. You have no right to steal my inheritance.” So Isaac, after his wobble in Gerar, was showing his deeper faith in God, and the Lord correspondingly will bless him because of Abraham, and once again the blessing grows larger. Isaac not only gets back all that Abraham had lost, his servants find new wells too. “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there” (v.19). A well of fresh water was the best kind of well, others had brackish water suitable for animals to drink but not for men, but this well was fed by an underground spring. It is the kind of well Jesus spoke of when he promised to be to us “a well of water springing up to everlasting life.” So God was blessing Isaac even though the world was stirring up trouble against him. That is our true prosperity.
They dug two other wells and there was a dispute with the Philistines with both when they claimed that the water was theirs. Isaac was still not delivered from his enemies, but God fills his cup to overflowing and spread a table for him in the presence of his enemies. Isaac named the two wells; the first he called ‘Quarrel’ and the second he called ‘Opposition.’ Then he dug a third well, and this time they met no enmity. The Philistines were exhausted. They knew that it was impossible to prevail against the God of Isaac. So there was the third well and Isaac named it ‘Rehoboth’ a beloved name for many Strict and Particular Baptist meeting places in England and Wales. The name means ‘spaciousness’ or ‘room’; the Lord had given them his space. That’s the only space we want. Lady Diana wanted ‘space’, so she said in a famous interview, and looking back we can see that it was bad space she moved into, but there is good space that is the gift of God. He made room for them in the Land of Promise and so they flourished (v.22). God blessed and prospered them; there was opposition and persecution; they bore it meekly, and God gave them his ‘space’ and they flourished in the land. That is the pattern for us today.
July 4th 2010 GEOFF THOMAS