When we see the success of others we can at times be tempted to think: “I would be successful too if I had the lucky breaks they’ve experienced.” When will we learn that “breaks,” lucky or otherwise, are not the true source of life’s blessings? In our story today from Genesis, Isaac is said to have become quite a wealthy man. But the text is clear: he is no “self-made” man… it is the Lord that has blessed him. (v. 12).
It doesn’t take long for the people of the land to begin to envy him and Abimelech, king of the Philistines asks Isaac to leave the region. “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” (v. 16) He attributes all the blessings to Isaac, the man… who is using up all the resources of “their” land to become successful. If the Philistines can just get him to leave… they can seize the secret of Isaac’s success.
So Isaac moves along and digs up the old wells of his Father Abraham. (v. 18) It isn’t long before his workers hit “a well of flowing water.” (v. 19) Discovering water in such a barren region is like striking oil in West Texas. This is Jed Clampett finding his “black gold” and “Texas tea.”
But then the Philistine herdsmen begin to quarrel over the ownership of this gusher. So it gets named “Esek” meaning “Contention” and Isaac and company moved on to dig another well. Well, the new well is quarreled over, too! (v. 21) So they name it “Sitnah” meaning “strife” and again move on.
For all of Isaac’s hard work, there is nothing at this point to show for all his efforts! Every time he finds the life giving liquid… the Philistines seized it for themselves! Kind of reminds me of when I was a kid growing up in a military housing area in Germany. The kids in my building had built a tree fort in the backyard. One day a group of kids decided they liked our idea so much that they wanted to build their own tree fort… with the lumber from ours!
How do you handle when you are wronged? I am amazed at the peaceful demeanor of Isaac here. After being moved along 3 times he still doesn’t “contend” or “strive” over the wells. He moves on and digs another. This time the well is named “Rehoboth” meaning “wide places” because they are now far enough out that there are no neighbors who can lay claim to it.
And then, as before, Isaac begins to prosper. No matter how much the Philistines took from him or how much ugliness that threw at him… he persevered. In fact in verse 28, King Abimelech has to admit: “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you.”
Has someone claimed your well? Taken over your tree fort? Envy can make others do some despicable things. And sometimes, like Isaac in a country not his own, there is little you can do about it. It is out of your hands. In such moments, just remember… it is NOT out of the hands of God to bless you anyway! Sometimes the only thing one can do is to just move forward and dig another well. And when your enemies see that you are blessed despite all the setbacks… they too can receive a fresh vision of God.
Jim Petersen tells the story of a friend of his who found himself in the middle of a very difficult business deal. He was innocent of any wrongdoing but the circumstances were such that he could have very well been implicated. Before traveling to meet with the other parties in the deal to attempt to resolve misunderstandings, this young man met with Jim. They turned to Philippians 4:6-7 and read it together, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer… present your request to God. And the peace of God… will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” They both then agreed to pray according to this promise, and see what God would do.
On the plane the man was seated next to a business associate. This colleague was commiserating with his friend and said, “You must be nervous about all of this.” My friend said, “No, I’m really not.” To this associate’s astonishment, my friend pulled his Bible out of his briefcase and showed him the verse we were praying over. The companion couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t touched a Bible in years and did not know about the man’s new faith. But it was what he saw in the man himself that captured him. Now the two men study the Bible together. That is what it means to glorify God!” (Lifestyle Discipleship, pp. 142-143.)
Life isn’t always going to treat you kind… but it is how you respond to the unkindness that just might be your greatest witness to this envious world.