1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
2 Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you.
3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.
4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed 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 dwelt in Gerar.
7 And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.”
8 Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac, showing endearment to Rebekah his wife.
9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Quite obviously she is your wife; so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’ ”
10 And Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.”
11 So Abimelech charged all his people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
A famine sent Abraham into Egypt where he denied Sarah, who was the vessel of the promises. A similar weapon [of Satan] is used to push Isaac into Gerar, where he also denies his wife! It is evident from the second verse that in spite of the lesson taught him by his father’s experience, he would have gone down into Egypt, had not the Lord appeared to him and prevented him, saying, “Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of.”But it would seem from verse 3 that he had not faith to dwell in that part of the land that God promised to tell him of, and accordingly God condescended to his fears saying in effect: very well, sojourn, if you will, in this land, that is, the land of the Philistine, only do not go down into Egypt, etc. Accordingly it is stated in verses 12-14 that Jehovah did bless him in that land in material wealth, but he suffered spiritually, was a moral injury to the Philistines, was continually contending with them, had anything but a life of peace and, finally, was asked by them to go away! — Williams, page 30.
So far as the record goes, this is the first time God had appeared to Isaac since he was on Mount Moriah with his father Abraham, probably fifty or more years earlier. The Lord had spoke to Rebekah just before her twins were born, but this is the first time He had spoken to Isaac.
The Lord had not forgotten His covenant concerning Isaac, however; and so he at this time repeated it to Isaac, in much the same words Isaac had heard Him speak to Abraham so long ago. … He again told Isaac he would give his descendants all the countries of the promised land, would give him an innumerable progeny, and bless all nations through him. However, God pointed out that he would do these things because of Abraham’s faithfulness and obedience, with no mention of Isaac’s — Morris, page 419.
Isaac stayed in Gerar, which was a part of Canaan but which had been controlled for some time by a colony of Philistines. At this time, the main body of the Philistines still lived on the island of Crete, not actually moving en masse to “Palestine” until centuries later. The king, or “Abimelech,” of this colony was hardly the same one encountered by Abraham nearly a century earlier.
Rebekah, though she must have been at least sixty years old by this time, was still a very beautiful and desirable woman, and quickly attracted much attention from the Philistine men. Isaac, like Abraham, began to be afraid that he might be murdered on his account. … Isaac’s tent was pitched not too far from the house of Abimelech himself, which was probably on the highest eminence in the community. Abimelech could see down into the women’s quarters of the tent from his window and, one day, perhaps not too much to his surprise, he saw Isaac making love to Rebekah.
When he confronted Isaac with this evidence, Isaac had to admit what he had done and why he had done it. Abimelech rebuked Isaac, and protested that he and his people had much higher standards of morality than Isaac had given them credit for. Adultery with his wife, which conceivably might have ensued, would have involved his whole nation in guilt before God. … Perhaps [the Philistines] had heard of the similar experience with Abraham long ago, when the nation almost died as that earlier Abimelech took Sarah into his harem. In some way, at any rate, God kept the men away from Rebekah. Then, surprisingly, Abimelech, instead of taking vengeance on Isaac for his deception, pronounced a potential capital penalty for any of his subjects who harmed either Isaac or Rebekah. — Morris, pages 420-421.
The point of these parallels [between Abraham and Isaac]—which center upon the patriarchs’ less-than-perfect faith and expressed sin—is unquestionably to highlight the unmeritoriousness of Isaac as the covenant recipient and thus the unconditionality of the covenant as well as the faithfulness and sovereignty of God in maintaining it. — Wechsler, page 226.
Of especial significance is God’s statement in verse five that “Abraham … kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Though God did command Abraham to do a few things, such as emigrating to Canaan (Genesis 12:1), adopting circumcision (Genesis 17:10), and sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22:2), such actions would hardly seem to square with this emphatic “piling up” of specifically legal terminology. Indeed, this is the first time in Scripture that any one of these four specific terms (whether plural or singular) are used, and after this they are applied almost exclusively to the Mosaic Law—especially when, as here, they are used together (cf. Deuteronomy 11:1).
A reasonable and biblically-theologically consistent explanation is that this specifically Mosaic legal terminology of God’s statement is intended to teach the reader that by his faith Abraham was credited with the righteousness of perfect law-keeping. It is precisely this point, in fact, that Paul the apostle makes in Romans 3:31, as a lead-in to his extended discussion of Abrahams’ righteousness—to wit: “Do we then nullify the [Mosaic] Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law [i.e., we affirm and fulfill its standard of righteousness].” — Wechsler, pages 226-227.