The Big Story And The Episodes

Comment on Genesis chapter 26.

Adapted from my submission to the course
The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future.

Isaac Blesses Jacob, Govert Flinck 1615 – 1660

At the very beginning of Genesis ch. 26 we are given a hint of a larger story arc interwoven into almost episodes of a family’s tale. A fair comparison might be a television drama series, where each episode has a self contained story which over the course of the series weaves a greater, overarching narrative. Also like modern television series, the episodes might have contributions from different writers and editors overseeing individual episodes and the series.

Our clue to the greater story is in the immediate comparison of Isaac’s time with the time of Abraham, specifically a famine that prompted them both to go to Abimelek, the king of the Philistines, to seek help. It is virtually a case of history (ch 20) repeating itself as not only did they both go to the king in Gerar (approximately half way between Beersheba and Gaza, they also both claimed their respective wives’ to be their sisters. Only a few verses later, yet within the same paragraph, we get the next pointer to the larger story where we find the promise God gave to Abraham confirmed to be given to Isaac’s descendants.

In verse 12 we see the start of Isaac’s enrichment, becoming a wealthy man with lands and servants and flocks and herds, to the extent that the local Philistine population began to feel somewhat threatened. However it seems to me this also had the potential at least, to become part of a larger story.

We already know how important water was in the region and we are informed that the Philistines filled in the wells that provided water to Isaac’s estates. It therefore becomes questionable if there might have been some kind of division in the local Philistine population. It is reasonable to assume that a significant number of Philistines might have been employed by Isaac’s family, and indications as to the size of the estate. In such circumstances, cutting off water the estate depended on might affect the families of the Philistine employees both directly through lack of water itself and indirectly but equally importantly by the loss of a local employer. Once the water is cut off, we see that Isaac with his family is forced to move not once but numerous times and that on each occasion, water access played a significant part in persuading him to relocate.

Returning to the likeness to television series, in ch (episode) 26 we find no mention of Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau, until the last few verses, although they feature prominently in the preceding and succeeding chapters (episodes). Here we see the greater story ark, when the Lord said that Rebekah was carrying two nations in her womb and their peoples would be separated. At the end of ch 25, still on the series analogy, the writer gives us a cliff-hanger as Esau sells hi birthright, which we pick up again at the end of Chapter (episode) 26.

Chapter 27 is almost soap opera style in it’s focus on family struggles with the story arc picking up again early in ch. 28 when Isaac blesses Jacob with a prayer that he will increase his numbers, becoming a community of, not just people but, peoples. A theme picked up again later in the same chapter.

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