Genesis 26 and Early Church Writings [Polycarp to Philippians] 9-11

Genesis 26 – A severe famine strikes the land, so Isaac moves to Gerar, where Abimelech, king of the Philistines, lives. “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you. Live here as a foreigner in this land, and I will be with you and bless you. I hereby confirm that I will give all these lands to you and your descendants, just as I solemnly promised Abraham, your father” (26:2-3). So Isaac stays in Gerar.


But when “the men who lived there asked Isaac about his wife, Rebekah, he said, ‘She is my sister.’ He was afraid to say, ‘She is my wife.’ He thought, ‘They will kill me to get her, because she is so beautiful.’’” (26:7).


This seems to be yet another echo-story of the Abraham/Sarah story in Egypt.  Here it is Isaac and Rebekah. The NAB says this is the Yahwist version of the story the Elohist writer told in Chapter 20. It is a little difficult to see the importance these stories had in ancient times. Partly, it is to show that the hero is a man of guile – or in some cases a woman of guile (a lot like Odysseus). Guile was not a bad thing as long as it served a good purpose. But it also again tells us that our hero needs to learn that just because a king is outside the tradition and the culture, this does not mean he is a person to fear. Abimelech is a man of integrity and hospitality.


Abimelech issues a “public proclamation [that] anyone who touches [Isaac] or his wife will be put to death’ (26:11).


Isaac “harvested a hundred times more grain than he planted, for the Lord blessed him. He became a very rich man” (26:12-13). The Philistines become jealous of him and start being aggressive towards him. Abimelech finally tells Isaac and his family to leave the country. “Isaac moved away to the Gerar Valley, where he set up their tents and settled down. But now disputes over water arise and twice more Isaac is forced to move. Finally, Isaac moves to Beersheba where the Lord appears to him and renews the covenant he has made before (26:24). So “Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord” (26:25).


When Abimelech comes to see Isaac again, Isaac’s first thought is that Abimelech wants to push him away again, but instead Abimelech says, “’We can plainly see that the Lord is with you. So we want to enter into a sworn treaty with you. Let’s make a covenant. Swear that you will not harm us, just as we have never troubled you. We have always treated you well, and we sent you away from us in peace. And now look how the Lord has blessed you!’” (26:28-29). They celebrate the arranged peace, and “to this day the town that grew up there is called Beersheba (which means ‘well of the oath’)” (26:33).


At age 40, Esau takes two Hittite wives – Judith and Basemath. They “made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah” (26:35).



The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [c. mid-2nd century)


Chapter 9 - Polycarp appeals to his readers to hear and obey the call to holiness and follow the examples of Ignatius, Zosimus and Rufus, Paul and others so that their sacrifices not have been in vain. We do not know who these people were, except for Paul and Ignatius.


Chapter 10 – “Stand firm, then, in these ways, taking the Lord for your example. Be fixed and unshaken in your faith; care for each other with a brother’s love, and make common cause for the truth. Give way to one another in the Lord’s own spirit of courtesy, treating no one as an inferior. When it is in your power to do a kindness, never put it off to another time, for charity is death’s reprieve [citing Tobit]” (122).


He continues, encouraging everyone to “respect his neighbor’s rights, so that the heathen may have no occasion to find fault with our way of life . . . Woe betide anyone who does bring the Lord into disrepute, so impress upon everybody that they are to be as sober and sensible as you are yourselves” (122).


Chapter 11 – He speaks specifically of his sympathy for a presbyter named Valens. He didn’t understand the responsibilities of the office he had, and the note says he (and perhaps his wife) were involved in some financial dishonesty. “If a man has no control over himself in matters of this sort, how can he possibly preach it to anyone else” If he fails to rise above the love of money, he will find himself corrupted by the worship of his idol, and be classed with the heathen who know nothing of the Divine judgment” (123).


“I feel the deepest sorrow for that man and his wife; may the Lord grant them real repentance. You too, for your part, must not be over-severe with them, for people of that kind are not to be looked on as enemies; you have to restore them, like parts of your own person that are ailing and going wrong, so that the whole body can be maintained in health. Do this, and you will be promoting your own spiritual welfare at the same time” (123).

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