Esek, Sitnah, Rehoboth, Shibah - Isaac's Journey
In today's reflection, we look through Isaac's journey with his family in Genesis 26:12-32. It doesn't start easy - Isaac went to start out where his father had left off, but he is faced immediately with opposition.
What does he do? Where does he go? What challenges do Isaac and his family encounter?
It is interesting that this narrative was included and presented in this order in the Bible, almost as a parallel to the journey of faith Israel will later have in the Exodus to the promised land. In some ways it may also parallel our journey with the Holy Spirit of God today. Let us see what had happened:
Genesis 26:12-32 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.
Success often comes with the first opposition: envy.
The Philistines must have wondered, why did this person get a larger yield in his harvest than us? Who is this new guy? What does Isaac know that we don't know?
Envy often leads to retaliatory behavior that makes the 'successful' person's life a bit more difficult. In Isaac's case, they proceeded to fill up the deep wells that Abraham had dug before with dirt. In those days, by covering up a good well, everyone loses. It's like saying "if I can't win, then neither should he/she!" Envy is a sin that leads to destructive consequences that bite us back. If we allow it to control our decisions, we beggar our neighbor, and in so doing beggar ourselves.
Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”
The hostile message was loud and clear: get away, your success has made others afraid and insecure about what you have. Change your address. It didn't sound fair, but Isaac moved on.
So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
Isaac proceeds to check back old wells in the new address that his father had dug up. It is such a wonderful note that somehow Isaac was made aware of the legacy the father had left behind, even though some of it did end up being wells that needed re-digging. Our life stories are filled with such wells, if only we would have some way to pass it to the next generation to benefit from.
Esek and Sitnah
Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek (dispute), because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah (opposition) He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth (room), saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”
This was quite sad for Isaac and his servants as they strike water in the desert, putting in all the hard work, many others start to come in and Esek (dispute) with him and give him a lot of Sitnah (opposition). The other shepherds just wanted the water for themselves, and it seemed unfair to Isaac and his men who had done all the hard work that they were being asked to relocate.
We often meet many such problems and freeloader personalities in our own work and ministry today, those who somehow have power to oppose and dispute rather than collaborate. Yet in some divine way, because Isaac continued to just open one well after another as the disputes came (perhaps an early form of 'turning the other cheek'), we can also observe that the new wells were not being grounded up to be made unusable like the first one. Instead, the newly re-opened wells continue to provide water to the ones in Esek and Sitnah.
And soon, Isaac reaches the next well, with no one quarrelling over it, which he had called Rehoboth (room). It feels good to be in this place where finally we are given a break from the wave after wave of opposition and issues coming our way.
This is the retreat portion where Isaac and his workers receive from their own well. By leaving the previous wells open for the others, slowly the community that had opposed and quarreled with Isaac had also slowly changed.
Isaac was not into quarrels and disputes, he kept himself busy doing one thing: digging wells in the desert. This rested state was the point where Isaac acknowledged the truth that God had now given them the room to stretch and flourish in the land.
How do we roll with resistance in our lives? Do we fight fire with fire? Do we increase the temperature of the room with our words as people bring conflicts into our lives? Or can we focus on what God is doing, trusting that all of this is part of His plan, that we will at one point after opposition and dispute reach our rested Rehoboth?
Isaac had room to grow but that is not where he stayed, he continued his journey to a place called Beersheba to meet the LORD:
From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.
This one is a new well that Isaac had dug - it wasn't just a well that his father Abraham had dug before, but this one came with a clear personal rededication by God for Isaac. As God appeared and blessed Isaac there, Isaac responded by building an altar (worship), pitching his tent (realigning his life) and digging a well (leaving a spiritual legacy).
We can learn from Isaac that we must not allow comfort to define God's destiny for us. Isaac wasn't stuck to live out only in his father's past, nor in the comfort of Rehoboth - he simply journeyed with God as God lead him, pitching his tent only when God had given Him this rededication of the covenant.
Many of us fall to the temptation to ask God to show up in our comfort zones, but more often than not God meets us in our brokenness and outside of our Rehoboth retreats. Those much needed pauses and rests are only a stop-over, but not the final destination. Beersheba is where God wanted Isaac to stay. Where is our Beersheba in our life today? Are we there yet? And there is a beautiful reason why God caused the journey to have so much drama along the way.
Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces. Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”
They answered, “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.”
The very people who sent them away found Isaac later in the right place, passing by Esek, Sitnah, and Rehoboth, bringing with them a humble request to reconcile the hostility that was originally shown to Isaac. What did they see in the journey that made them proclaim, "we saw clearly that the LORD was with you?"
When other people in our workplace, in our ministries, or in our families look at our life and see what is left of our disputes, our oppositions, and our rest, will they say the they saw that God is with you? Will they find that we had continued digging wells, that we didn't dwell in sin, that we were people of God's peace? Will they find us pursuing God and not our comforts? If they do, because of the God we follow, they will also seek to be reconciled.
If the church today can be reminded that the world is watching us and we can reconcile them to God if we only continue to seek the LORD and work patiently in following Him, not settling for anything less than His perfect peace.
How did Isaac respond to this request? He could have taken revenge and made them all pay for the work that he and his servants had done for the wells they had opened up. He could have made them pay tribute for the treaty. Instead, this is what Isaac did:
Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.
That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!” He called it Shibah (oath), and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba. (oath)
This is a beautiful story of Isaac's journey, where the water had just been found when Isaac with a pure heart treated the hostile neighbors to a undeserved feast, with no additional payments needed, he gave his peace and sent them on their way. Isaac was so focused on God's promise to Him that He saw it as a fulfillment of what God had promised Abraham: "through you all the nations shall be blessed."
This isn't a story of how to get rich or prosperous, but how to stick with God especially when the times get really tough. Don't forget God's calling for you and your life, because it will be tested in every step of the journey. God had designed for wells to be shut and old wells to be open, and new wells to be dug up. We must take courage to not allow the opposition and the disputes in our lives define our reality, but press on knowing God our Heavenly Father has a plan, and we can trust in His Promises to us.
If your life/ministry had these stages: Esek (dispute), Sitnah (opposition), Rehoboth (room), and Shibah (oath), which one are you in right now? How are you responding to it?
What is God's calling for you in your life? How can you remain focused on it through life's journey?
Imagine being Isaac and having to explain to your workers to move to the next location. What would you tell them to keep them motivated to go? Imagine now that the hostile neighbors are asking to reconcile, what message would you want your household to remember that day with?
Faithful God of the Eternal Covenant in Jesus, thank you for reminding us in Your Word that we need not treat people in the same way they treat us, but help us to know and understand the mission that You have called each of us to do in our lives today that we may continue to bring life-giving water from You to those around us with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Forgive us when we are so distracted by opposition and dispute or have idolized rest and comfort for Your Call. Bring us to the place where we can find true reconciliation as you sanctify us and through our lives sanctify and redeem Your creation around us. We ask of this, in Jesus' Name, we pray, Amen.
Hungry Chaplain Update:
I'm hopefully in my last night (Day 6) as a Covid+ person isolated in my studio apartment here at Oldham Hall. By God's grace it has been much of a rest in my room (Rehoboth). But this is not the end point, as I press on to look forward to where God will ask me to dig the next well. I'm very grateful for the messages and support especially from the OHANA community who have brought tarts, fruits, desserts, and even pizza to this hungry chaplain. Perhaps I should change the name to "full chaplain" at some point.
(Day 6 Rapid Antigen Test)
I just finished a season of back to back preaching and teaching and ministering and I know God schedules my sickness always after long ministry and before the next season. Thank You LORD for Your Sovereign wisdom and care, and for sending strong support for the Filipino ministry during my physical absence.
2022 has been the year I have been sick the most (in hospital and for COVID). Hoping the days ahead will need not have so much sick days. Looking forward to the days where we can gather as families to eat in bigger groups and walk with visible smiles in our faces as we journey on in life. God bless! Hope to see all of you again soon!