Loving Neighbors

vs. not wanting neighbors.

Genesis 26:12-16 (ESV)

And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him, and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. (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.) And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”

The parenthetical comment about the wells feels off topic. Why does scripture drop that in here?

To explain the Philistines’ hostility. We already know that they’re a rough crowd, but trashing all of Abraham’s wells seems so senseless and self-defeating. Why would they do something that stupid?

To keep people like Isaac away. A place without wells is like a superhighway exit with no gas, food, or lodging – no one stops there. These folks don’t want neighbors.

And there’s good reason for that; grazing land is limited. A neighbor’s flocks and herds won’t just drink the water; they’ll eat the vegetation. This is an arid region, and the current irrigation technology is hauling water up out of a well by hand. There isn’t an abundance of food for the animals.

Except for Isaac’s. The LORD blesses him. His neighbors are so envious that Abimelech has to ask him to leave. Abimelech uses diplomatic words but he’s hinting that he can’t continue to guarantee Isaac’s safety.

This is striking, coming immediately after he announced special protected status for Isaac. Abimelech’s grip on power doesn’t seem to be all that solid.

Notice how the Philistines view blessings. They’re more interested in making sure no one else gets them than that they do get them. So they destroy wells and expel anyone who’s successful.

The word for this is “competition.” For them, life is all about comparing yourself to others. Being dirt poor is just fine as long as you’re richer than everyone else. How well off you are in absolute terms isn’t their yardstick.

This stands in stark contrast to the eyes of faith. Seeing others benefit is a cause for joy; it glorifies God. Our own benefit is great too, but only as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of hurting others. Those who know God love goodness and love their neighbors.

But this attitude doesn’t come instantly. Our old sinful nature is still resident. We often resent things we shouldn’t.

It’s a strange prayer request, but it’s good to ask the Lord for humility.

Ask Him for a more loving spirit toward everyone else.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:


Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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