Here, I. God tried Isaac by his providence. Isaac had been trained up in a believing dependence upon the divine grant of the land of Canaan to him and his heirs; yet now there is a famine in the land, Gen. 26:1. What shall he think of the promise when the promised land will not find him bread? Isa. such a grant worth accepting, upon such terms, and after so long a time? Yes, Isaac will still cleave to the covenant; and the less valuable Canaan in itself seems to be the better he is taught to value it, 1. As a token of God’s everlasting kindness to him; and, 2. As a type of heaven’s everlasting blessedness. Note, The intrinsic worth of God’s promises cannot be lessened in a believer’s eye by any cross providences.
II. He directed him under this trial by his word. Isaac finds himself straitened by the scarcity of provisions. Somewhere he must go for supply; it should seem, he set out for Egypt, whither his father went in the like strait, but he takes Gerar in his way, full of thoughts, no doubt, which way he had best steer his course, till God graciously appeared to him, and determined him, abundantly to his satisfaction. 1. God bade him stay where he was, and not go down into Egypt: Sojourn in this land, Gen. 26:2, 3. There was a famine in Jacob’s days, and God bade him go down into Egypt (Gen. 46:3, 4), a famine in Isaac’s days, and God bade him not to go down, a famine in Abraham’s days, and God left him to his liberty, directing him neither way. This variety in the divine procedure (considering that Egypt was always a place of trial and exercise to God’s people) some ground upon the different characters of these three patriarchs. Abraham was a man of very high attainments, and intimate communion with God; and to him all places and conditions were alike. Isaac was a very good man, but not cut out for hardship; therefore he is forbidden to go to Egypt. Jacob was inured to difficulties, strong and patient; and therefore he must go down into Egypt, that the trial of his faith might be to praise, and honour, and glory. Thus God proportions his people’s trials to their strength. 2. He promised to be with him, and bless him, Gen. 26:3. As we may go any where with comfort when God’s blessing goes with us, so we may stay any where contentedly if that blessing rest upon us. 3. He renewed the covenant with him, which had so often been made with Abraham, repeating and ratifying the promises of the land of Canaan, a numerous issue, and the Messiah, Gen. 26:3, 4. Note, Those that must live by faith have need often to review, and repeat to themselves, the promises they are to live upon, especially when they are called to any instance of suffering or self-denial. 4. He recommended to him the good example of his father’s obedience, as that which had preserved the entail of the covenant in his family (Gen. 26:5): “Abraham obeyed my voice; do thou do so too, and the promise shall be sure to thee.” Abraham’s obedience is here celebrated, to his honour; for by it he obtained a good report both with God and men. A great variety of words is here used to express the divine will, to which Abraham was obedient (my voice, my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws), which may intimate that Abraham’s obedience was universal; he obeyed the original laws of nature, the revealed laws of divine worship, particularly that of circumcision, and all the extraordinary precepts God gave him, as that of quitting his country, and that (which some think is more especially referred to) of the offering up of his son, which Isaac himself had reason enough to remember. Note, Those only shall have the benefit and comfort of God’s covenant with their godly parents that tread in the steps of their obedience.
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