(Calvin, Genesis 2. part 4)

32 And it came to pass the same day, that Isaac's servants came, and 
told him concerning the well which they had digged, and said unto him, 
We have found water. 
33 And he called it Shebah: therefore the name of the city [is] 
Beersheba unto this day. 
34 And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter 
of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: 
35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah. 
  1. "And there was a famine." Moses relates that Isaac was tried by 
nearly the same kind of temptation as that through which his father 
Abraham had twice passed. I have before explained how severe and violent 
was this assault. The condition in which it was the will of God to place 
his servants, as strangers and pilgrims in the land which he had 
promised to give them, seemed sufficiently troublesome and hard; but it 
appears still more intolerable, that he scarcely suffered them to exist 
(if we may so speak) in this wandering, uncertain, and changeable kind 
of life, but almost consumed them with hunger. Who would not say that 
God had forgotten himself, when he did not even supply his own 
children,--whom he had received into his especial care and trust,-- 
however sparingly and scantily, with food? But God thus tried the holy 
fathers, that we might be taught, by their example, not to be effeminate 
and cowardly under temptations. Respecting the terms here used, we may 
observe, that though there were two seasons of dearth in the time of 
Abraham, Moses alludes only to the one, of which the remembrance was 
most recent. 
  2. "And the Lord appeared unto him." I do not doubt but a reason is 
here given why Isaac rather went to the country of Gerar than to Egypt, 
which perhaps would have been more convenient for him; but Moses teaches 
that he was withheld by a heavenly oracle, so that a free choice was not 
left him. It may here be asked, why does the Lord prohibit Isaac from 
going to Egypt, whither he had suffered his father to go? Although Moses 
does not give the reason, yet we may be allowed to conjecture that the 
journey would have been more dangerous to the son. The Lord could indeed 
have endued the son also with the power of his Spirit, as he had done 
his father Abraham, so that the abundance and delicacies of Egypt should 
not have corrupted him by their allurements; but since he governs his 
faithful people with such moderation, that he does not correct all their 
faults at once, and render them entirely pure, he assists their 
infirmities, and anticipates, with suitable remedies, those evils by 
which they might be ensnared. Because, therefore, he knew that there was 
more infirmity in Isaac than there had been in Abraham, he was unwilling 
to expose him to danger; for he is faithful, and will not suffer his own 
people to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear. (1 Cor. 10: 13.) 
Now, as we must be persuaded, that however arduous and burdensome may be 
the temptations which alight upon us, the Divine help will never fail to 
renew our strength; so, on the other hand, we must beware lest we rashly 
rush into dangers; but each should be admonished by his own infirmity to 
proceed cautiously and with fear. 
  "Dwell in the land." God commands him to settle in the promised land, 
yet with the understanding that he should dwell there as a stranger. The 
intimation was thus given, that the time had not yet arrived in which he 
should exercise dominion over it. God sustains indeed his mind with the 
hope of the promised inheritance, but requires this honour to be given 
to his word, that Isaac should remain inwardly at rest, in the midst of 
outward agitations; and truly we never lean upon a better support than 
when, disregarding the appearance of things present, we depend entirely 
upon the word of the Lord, and apprehend by faith that blessing which is 
not yet apparent. Moreover, he again inculcates the promise previously 
made, in order to render Isaac more prompt to obey; for so is the Lord 
wont to awaken his servants from their indolence, that they may fight 
valiantly for him, while he constantly affirms that their labour shall 
not he in vain; for although he requires from us a free and unreserved 
obedience, as a father does from his children, he yet so condescends to 
the weakness of our capacity, that he invites and encourages us by the 
prospect of reward. 
  5. "Because that Abraham obeyed my voice." Moses does not mean that 
Abraham's obedience was the reason why the promise of God was confirmed 
and ratified to him; but from what has been said before, (chap. 22: 18,) 
where we have a similar expression, we learn, that what God freely 
bestows upon the faithful is sometimes, beyond their desert, ascribed to 
themselves; that they, knowing their intention to be approved by the 
Lord, may the more ardently addict and devote themselves entirely to his 
service: so he now commends the obedience of Abraham, in order that 
Isaac may be stimulated to an imitation of his example. And although 
laws, statutes, rites, precepts, and ceremonies, had not yet been 
written, Moses used these terms, that he might the more clearly show how 
sedulously Abraham regulated his life according to the will of God 
alone--how carefully he abstained from all the impurities of the 
heathen--and how exactly he pursued the straight course of holiness, 
without turning aside to the right hand or to the left: for the Lord 
often honours his own law with these titles for the sake of restraining 
our excesses; as if he should say that it wanted nothing to constitute 
it a perfect rule, but embraced everything pertaining to absolute 
holiness. The meaning therefore is, that Abraham, having formed his life 
in entire accordance with the will of God, walked in his pure service. 
  7. "And the men of the place asked him." Moses relates that Isaac was 
tempted in the same manner as his father Abraham, in having his wife 
taken from him; and without doubt he was so led by the example of his 
father, that he, being instructed by the similarity of the 
circumstances, might become associated with him in his faith. 
Nevertheless, on this point he ought rather to have avoided than 
imitated his father's fault; for no doubt he well remembered that the 
chastity of his mother had twice been put in great danger; and although 
she had been wonderfully rescued by the hand of God, yet both she and 
her husband paid the penalty of their distrust: therefore the negligence 
of Isaac is inexcusable, in that he now strikes against the same stone. 
He does not in express terms deny his wife; but he is to be blamed, 
first, because, for the sake of preserving his life, he resorts to an 
evasion not far removed from a lie; and secondly, because, in absolving 
his wife from conjugal fidelity, he exposes her to prostitution: but he 
aggravates his fault, principally (as I have said) in not taking warning 
from domestic examples, but voluntarily casting his wife into manifest 
danger. Whence it appears how great is the propensity of our nature to 
distrust, and how easy it is to be devoid of wisdom in affairs of 
perplexity. Since, therefore, we are surrounded on all sides with so 
many dangers, we must ask the Lord to confirm us by his Spirit, lest our 
minds should faint, and be dissolved in fear and trembling; otherwise we 
shall be frequently engaged in vain enterprises, of which we shall 
repent soon, and yet too late to remedy the evil. 
  8. "Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out at a window." Truly 
admirable is the kind forbearance of God, in not only condescending to 
pardon the twofold fault of his servant, but in stretching forth his 
hand, and in wonderfully averting, by the application of a speedy 
remedy, the evil which he would have brought upon himself. God did not 
suffer--what twice had occurred to Abraham--that his wife should be torn 
from his bosom; but stirred up a heathen king, mildly, and without 
occasioning him any trouble, to correct his folly. But although God sets 
before us such an example of his kindness, that the faithful, if at any 
time they may have fallen, may confidently hope to find him gentle and 
propitious; yet we must beware of self-security, when we observe, that 
the holy woman who was, at that time, the only mother of the Church on 
earth, was exempted from dishonour, by a special privilege. Meanwhile, 
we may conjecture, from the judgment of Abimelech, how holy and pure had 
been the conduct of Isaac, on whom not even a suspicion of evil could 
fall; and further, how much greater integrity flourished in that age 
than in our own. For why does he not condemn Isaac as one guilty of 
fornication, since it was probable that some crime was concealed, when 
he disingenuously obtruded the name of sister, and tacitly denied her to 
be his wife? And therefore I have no doubt that his religion, and the 
integrity of his life, availed to defend his character. By this example 
we are taught so to cultivate righteousness in our whole life, that men 
may not be able to suspect anything wicked or dishonourable respecting 
us; for there is nothing which will more completely vindicate us from 
every mark of infamy than a life passed in modesty and temperance. We 
must, however, add, what I have also before alluded to, that lusts were 
not, at that time, so commonly and so profusely indulged, as to cause an 
unfavourable suspicion to enter into the mind of the king concerning a 
sojourner of honest character. Wherefore, he easily persuades himself 
that Rebekah was a wife and not a harlot. The chastity of that age is 
further proved from this, that Abimelech takes the familiar sporting of 
Isaac with Rebekah as an evidence of their marriage. For Moses does not 
speak about marital intercourse, but about some too free movement, which 
was a proof of either dissolute exuberance or conjugal love. But now 
licentiousness has so broken through all bounds, that husbands are 
compelled to hear in silence of the dissolute conduct of their wives 
with strangers. 
  10. "What is this thou hast done unto us?" The Lord does not chastise 
Isaac as he deserved, perhaps because he was not so fully endued with 
patience as his father was; and, therefore, lest the seizing of his wife 
should dishearten him, God mercifully prevents it. Yet, that the censure 
may produce the deeper shame, God constitutes a heathen his master and 
his reprover. We may add, that Abimelech chides his folly, not so much 
with the design of injuring him, as of upbraiding him. It ought, 
however, deeply to have wounded the mind of the holy man, when he 
perceived that his offense was obnoxious to the judgment even of the 
blind. Wherefore, let us remember that we must walk in the light which 
God has kindled for us, lest even unbelievers, who are wrapped in the 
darkness of ignorance, should reprove our stupor. And certainly when we 
neglect to obey the voice of God, we deserve to be sent to oxen and 
asses for instruction. Abimelech, truly, does not investigate nor 
prosecute the whole offense of Isaac, but only alludes to one part of 
it. Yet Isaac, when thus gently admonished by a single word, ought to 
have condemned himself, seeing that, instead of committing himself and 
his wife to God, who had promised to be the guardian of them both, he 
had resorted, through his own unbelief, to an illicit remedy. For faith 
has this property, that it confines us within divinely prescribed 
bounds, so that we attempt nothing except with God's authority or 
permission. Whence it follows that Isaac's faith wavered when he swerved 
from his duty as a husband. We gather, besides, from the words of 
Abimelech, that all nations have the sentiment impressed upon their 
minds, that the violation of holy wedlock is a crime worthy of divine 
vengeance, and have consequently a dread of the judgment of God. For 
although the minds of men are darkened with dense clouds, so that they 
are frequently deceived; yet God has caused some power of discrimination 
between right and wrong to remain, so that each should bear about with 
him his own condemnation, and that all should be without excuse. If, 
then, God cites even unbelievers to his tribunal, and does not suffer 
them to escape just condemnation, how horrible is that punishment which 
awaits us, if we endeavour to obliterate, by our own wickedness, that 
knowledge which God has engraven on our consciences? 
  11. "And Abimelech charged all his people." In denouncing capital 
punishment against any who should do injury to this stranger, we may 
suppose him to have issued this edict as a special privilege; for it is 
not customary thus rigidly to avenge every kind of injury. Whence, then, 
arose this disposition on the part of the king to prefer Isaac to all 
the native inhabitants of the country, and almost to treat him as an 
equal, except that some portion of the divine majesty shone forth in 
him, which secured to him this degree of reverence? God, also, to assist 
the infirmity of his servant, inclined the mind of the heathen king, in 
every way, to show him favour. And there is no doubt that his general 
modesty induced the king thus carefully to protect him; for he, 
perceiving him to be a timid man, who had been on the point of 
purchasing his own life by the ruin of his wife, was the more disposed 
to assist him in his dangers, in order that he might live in security 
under his own government. 
  12. "Then Isaac sowed." Here Moses proceeds to relate in what manner 
Isaac reaped the manifest fruit of the blessing promised to him by God; 
for he says, that when he had sowed, the increase was a hundredfold: 
which was an extraordinary fertility, even in that land. He also adds, 
that he was rich in cattle, and had a very great household. Moreover, he 
ascribes the praise of all these things to the blessing of God; as it is 
also declared in the psalm, that the Lord abundantly supplies what will 
satisfy his people while they sleep. (Ps. 127: 2.) It may, however, be 
asked, how could Isaac sow when God had commanded him to be a stranger 
all his life? Some suppose that he had bought a field, and so translate 
the word "kanah" a possession; but the context corrects their error: for 
we find soon afterwards, that the holy man was not delayed, by having 
land to sell, from removing his effects elsewhere: besides, since the 
purchasing of land was contrary to his peculiar vocation and to the 
command of God, Moses undoubtedly would not have passed over such a 
notable offence. To this may be added, that since express mention is 
immediately made of a tent, we may hence infer, that wherever he might 
come, he would have to dwell in the precarious condition of a stranger. 
We must, therefore, maintain, that he sowed in a hired field. For 
although he had not a foot of land in his own possession, yet, that he 
might discharge the duty of a good householder, it behaved him to 
prepare food for his family; and perhaps hunger quickened his care and 
industry, that he might with the greater diligence make provision for 
himself against the future. Nevertheless, it is right to keep in mind, 
what I have lately alluded to, that he received as a divine favour the 
abundance which he had acquired by his own labour. 
  14. "And the Philistines envied him." We are taught by this history 
that the blessings of God which pertain to the present earthly life are 
never pure and perfect, but are mixed with some troubles, lest quiet and 
indulgence should render us negligent. Wherefore, let us all learn not 
too ardently to desire great wealth. If the rich are harassed by any 
cause of disquietude, let them know that they are roused by the Lord, 
lest they should fall fast asleep in the midst of their pleasures; and 
let the poor enjoy this consolation, that their poverty is not without 
its advantages. For it is no light good to live free from envy, tumults, 
and strifes. Should any one raise the objection, that it can by no means 
be regarded as a favour, that God, in causing Isaac to abound in wealth, 
exposed him to envy, to contentions, and to many troubles; there is a 
ready answer, that not all the troubles with which God exercises his 
people, in any degree prevent the benefits which he bestows upon them 
from retaining the taste of his paternal love. Finally, he so attempers 
the favour which he manifests towards his children in this world, that 
he stirs them up, as with sharp goads, to the consideration of a 
celestial life. It was not, however, a slight trial, that the simple 
element of water, which is the common property of all animals, was 
denied to the holy patriarch; with how much greater patience ought we to 
bear our less grievous sufferings! If, however, at any time we are angry 
at being unworthily injured; let us remember that, at least, we are not 
so cruelly treated as holy Isaac was, when he had to contend for water. 
Besides, not only was he deprived of the element of water, but the wells 
which his father Abraham had dug for himself and his posterity were 
filled up. This, therefore, was the extreme of cruelty, not only to 
defraud a stranger of every service due to him, but even to take from 
him what had been obtained by the labour of his own father, and what he 
possessed without inconvenience to any one. 
  16. "And Abimelech said unto Isaac." It is uncertain whether the king 
of Gerar expelled Isaac of his own accord from his kingdom, or whether 
he commanded him to settle elsewhere, because he perceived him to be 
envied by the people. He possibly might, in this manner, advise him as a 
friend; although it is more probable that his mind had become alienated 
from Isaac; for at the close of the chapter Moses relates, that the holy 
man complains strongly of the king as well as of others. But since we 
can assert nothing with certainty respecting the real feelings of the 
lying, let it suffice to maintain, what is of more importance, that in 
consequence of the common wickedness of mankind, they who are the most 
eminent fall under the suspicion of the common people. Satiety, indeed, 
produces ferocity. Wherefore there is nothing to which the rich are more 
prone than proudly to boast, to carry themselves more insolently than 
they ought, and to stretch every nerve of their power to oppress others. 
No such suspicion, indeed, could fall upon Isaac; but he had to bear 
that envy which was the attendant on a common vice. Whence we infer, how 
much more useful and desirable it often is, for us to be placed in a 
moderate condition; which is, at least, more peaceful, and which is 
neither exposed to the storms of envy, nor obnoxious to unjust 
suspicions. Moreover, how rare and unwonted was the blessing of God in 
rendering Isaac prosperous, may be inferred from the fact, that his 
wealth had become formidable both to the king and to the people. A large 
inheritance truly had descended to him from his father; but Moses shows, 
that from his first entrance into the land, he had so greatly prospered 
in a very short time, that it seemed no longer possible for the 
inhabitants to endure him. 
  18. "And Isaac digged again the wells of water." First, we see that 
the holy man was so hated by his neighbours, as to be under the 
necessity of seeking a retreat for himself which was destitute of water; 
and no habitation is so troublesome and inconvenient for the ordinary 
purposes of life as that which suffers from scarcity of water. Besides, 
the abundance of his cattle and the multitude of his servants--who were 
like a little army--rendered a supply of water very necessary; whence we 
learn that he was brought into severe straits. But that this last 
necessity did not instigate him to seek revenge, is a proof of singular 
forbearance; for we know that lighter injuries will often rack the 
patience even of humane and moderate men. If any one should object to 
this view, that he was deficient in strength; I grant, indeed, that he 
was not able to undertake a regular war; but as his father Abraham had 
armed four hundred servants, he also certainly had a large troop of 
domestics, who could easily have repelled any force brought against him 
by his neighbours. But the hope which he had entertained when he settled 
in the valley of Gerar, was again suddenly cut off. He knew that his 
father Abraham had there used wells which were his own, and which he had 
himself discovered; and although they had been stopped up, yet they were 
well known to have sufficient springs of water to prevent the labour of 
digging them again from being misspent. Moreover, the fact that the 
wells had been obstructed ever since the departure of Abraham, shows how 
little respect the inhabitants had for their guest; for although their 
own country would have been benefited by these wells, they chose rather 
to deprive themselves of this advantage than to have Abraham for a 
neighbour; for, in order that such a convenience might not attract him 
to the place, they, by stopping up the wells, did, in a certain sense, 
intercept his way. It was a custom among the ancients, if they wished to 
involve any one in ruin, and to cut him off from the society of men, to 
interdict him from water, and from fire: thus the Philistine, for the 
purpose of removing Abraham from their vicinity, deprive him of the 
element of water. 
  "He called their names." He did not give new names to the wells, but 
restored those which had been assigned them by his father Abraham, that, 
by this memorial, the ancient possession of them might be renewed. But 
subsequent violence compelled him to change their names, that at least 
he might, by some monument, make manifest the injury which had been done 
by the Philistines, and reprove them on account of it: for whereas he 
calls one well strife, or contention, another hostility, he denies that 
the inhabitants possessed that by right, or by any honest title, which 
they had seized upon as enemies or robbers. Meanwhile, it is right to 
consider, that in the midst of these strifes he had a contest not less 
severe with thirst and deficiency of water, whereby the Philistines 
attempted to destroy him; such is the scope of the history. First, 
Moses, according to his manner, briefly runs through the summary of the 
affair: namely, that Isaac intended to apply again to his own purpose 
the wells which his father had previously found, and to acquire, in the 
way of recovery, the lost possession of them. He then prosecutes the 
subject more diffusely, stating that, when he attempted the work, he was 
unjustly defrauded of his labour; and whereas, in digging the third 
well, he gives thanks to God, and calls it Room, because, by the favour 
of God, a more copious supply is now afforded him, he furnishes an 
example of invincible patience. Therefore, however severely he may have 
been harassed, yet when, after he had been freed from these troubles, he 
so placidly returns thanks to God, and celebrates his goodness, he shows 
that in the midst of trials he has retained a composed and tranquil 
  23. "And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba." Next follows a more 
abundant consolation, and one affording effectual refreshment to the 
mind of the holy man. In the tranquil enjoyment of the well, he 
acknowledges the favour which God had showed him: but forasmuch as one 
word of God weighs more with the faithful than the accumulated mass of 
all good things, we cannot doubt that Isaac received this oracle more 
joyfully than if a thousand rivers of nectar had flowed unto him: and 
truly Moses designedly commemorates in lofty terms this act of favour, 
that the Lord encouraged him by his own word, (verse 24;) whence we may 
learn, in ascribing proper honour to each of the other gifts of God, 
still always to give the palm to that proof of his paternal love which 
he grants us in his word. Food, clothing, health, peace, and other 
advantages, afford us a taste of the Divine goodness; but when he 
addresses us familiarly, and expressly declares himself to be our 
Father, then indeed it is that he thoroughly refreshes us to satiety. 
Moses does not explain what had been the cause of Isaac's removal to 
Beer-sheba, the ancient dwelling-place of his fathers. It might be that 
the Philistines ceased not occasionally to annoy him; and thus the holy 
man, worn out with their implacable malice, removed to a greater 
distance. It is indeed probable, taking the circumstance of the time 
into account, that he was sorrowful and anxious; for as soon as he had 
arrived at that place, God appeared unto him on the very first night. 
Here, then, something very opportune is noticed. Moreover, as often as 
Moses before related that God had appeared unto Abraham, he, at the same 
time, showed that the holy man was either tormented with grievous cares, 
or was held in suspense under some apprehension, or was plunged in 
sadness, or, after many distresses, was nearly borne down by fatigue, so 
as to render it apparent that the hand of God was seasonably stretched 
out to him as his necessity required, lest he should sink under the 
evils which surrounded him. So now, as I explain it, he came to Isaac, 
for the purpose of restoring him, already wearied and broken down by 
various miseries. 

  24. "And the Lord appeared unto him." This vision (as I have elsewhere 
said) was to prepare him to listen more attentively to God, and to 
convince him that it was God with whom he had to deal; for a voice alone 
would have had less energy. Therefore God appears, in order to produce 
confidence in and reverence towards his word. In short, visions were a 
kind of symbols of the Divine presence, designed to remove all doubt 
from the minds of the holy fathers respecting him who was about to 
speak. Should it be objected, that such evidence was not sufficiently 
sure, since Satan often deceives men by similar manifestations, being, 
as it were, the ape of God;--we must keep in mind what has been said 
before, that a clear and unambiguous mark was engraven on the visions of 
God, by which the faithful might certainly distinguish them from those 
which were fallacious, so that their faith should not be kept in 
suspense: and certainly, since Satan can only delude us in the dark, God 
exempts his children from this danger, by illuminating their eyes with 
the brightness of his countenance. Yet God did not fully manifest his 
glory to the holy fathers, but assumed a form by means of which they 
might apprehend him according to the measure of their capacities; for, 
as the majesty of God is infinite, it cannot be comprehended by the 
human mind, and by its magnitude it absorbs the whole world. Besides, it 
follows of necessity that men, on account of their infirmity, must not 
only faint, but be altogether annihilated in the presence of God. 
Wherefore, Moses does not mean that God was seen in his true nature and 
greatness, but in such a manner as Isaac was able to bear the sight. But 
what we have said, namely, that the vision was a testimony of Deity, for 
the purpose of giving credibility to the oracle, will more fully appear 
from the context; for this appearance was not a mute spectre; but the 
word immediately followed, which confirmed, in the mind of Isaac, faith 
in gratuitous adoption and salvation. 
  "I am the God of Abraham." This preface is intended to renew the 
memory of all the promises before given, and to direct the mind of Isaac 
to the perpetual covenant which had been made with Abraham, and which 
was to be transmitted, as by tradition, to his posterity. The Lord 
therefore begins by declaring himself to be the God who had spoken at 
the first to Abraham, in order that Isaac might not sever the present 
from the former oracles: for as often as he repeated the testimony of 
his grace to the faithful, he sustained their faith with fresh supports. 
Yet he would have that very faith to remain based upon the first 
covenant by which he had adopted them to himself: and we must always 
keep this method in mind, in order that we may learn to gather together 
the promises of God, as they are combined in an inseparable bond. Let 
this also ever occur to us, as a first principle, that God thus kindly 
promises us his grace because he has freely adopted us. 
  "Fear not." Since these words are elsewhere expounded, I shall now be 
the more brief. In the first place, we must observe, that God thus 
addresses the faithful for the purpose of tranquillizing their minds; 
for, if his word be withdrawn, they necessarily become torpid through 
stupidity, or are tormented with disquietude. Whence it follows, that we 
can receive peace from no other source than from the mouth of the Lord, 
when he declares himself the author of our salvation; not that we are 
then free from all fear, but because the confidence of faith is 

sufficiently efficacious to assuage our perturbations. Afterwards the 
Lord gives proofs of his love, by its effect, when he promises that he 
will bless Isaac. 
  25. "And he builded an altar there." From other passages we are well 
aware that Moses here speaks of public worship; for inward invocation of 
God neither requires an altar; nor has any special choice of place; and 
it is certain that the saints, wherever they lived, worshipped. But 
because religion ought to maintain a testimony before men, Isaac, having 
erected and consecrated an altar, professes himself a worshipper of the 
true and only God, and by this method separates himself from the 
polluted rites of heathens. Ho also built the altar, not for himself 
alone, but for his whole family; that there, with all his household, he 
might offer sacrifices. Moreover, since the altar was built for the 
external exercises of faith, the expression, he called upon God, implies 
as much as if Moses had said that Isaac celebrated the name of God, and 
gave testimony of his own faith. The visible worship of God had also 
another use; namely, that men, according to their infirmity, may 
stimulate and exercise themselves in the fear of God. Besides, since we 
know that sacrifices were then commanded, we must observe that Isaac did 
not rashly trifle in worshipping God, but adhered to the rule of faith, 
that he might undertake nothing without the word of God. Whence also we 
infer how preposterous and erroneous a thing it is to imitate the 
fathers, unless the Lord join us with them by means of a similar 
command. Meanwhile, the words of Moses clearly signify, that whatever 
exercises of piety the faithful undertake are to be directed to this 
end, namely, that God may be worshipped and invoked. To this point, 
therefore, all rites and ceremonies ought to have reference. But 
although it was the custom of the holy fathers to build an altar in 
whatever place they pitched their tent, we yet gather, from the 
connexion of the words, that after God appeared to his servant Isaac, 
this altar was built by him in token of his gratitude. 
  "And there Isaac's servants digged a well." It is remarkable that 
whereas this place had already received its name from the well which had 
been dug in it, Isaac should there again have to seek water, especially 
since Abraham had purchased, for himself and his posterity, the right to 
the well from the king. Moreover, the digging itself was difficult and 
labourious; for Moses had a design in saying, that afterwards the 
servants came and said to him, "We have found water." I have, therefore, 
no doubt, that throughout the whole of that region a conspiracy had been 
entered into by the inhabitants, for the purpose of expelling the holy 
man, through want of water; so that this well of Sheba also had been 
fraudulently stopped up. The context also shows, that the first care of 
the holy patriarch concerned the worship of God, because Moses relates 
that an altar was erected, before he speaks of the well. Now it is of 
importance to observe with what great troubles these holy fathers 
continually had to contend; which they never would have been able to 
overcome or to endure, unless they had been far removed from our 
delicate course of living. For how severely should we feel the loss of 
water, seeing that we often rage against God if we have not abundance of 
wine? Therefore, by such examples, let the faithful learn to accustom 
themselves to patient endurance: and if at any time food and other 
necessaries of life fail them, let them turn their eyes to Isaac, who 
wandered, parched with thirst, in the inheritance which had been 
divinely promised him. 
  26. "Then Abimelech went to him." We have had an exactly similar 
narrative in the twenty-first chapter and the twenty-second verse. The 
Lord, therefore, followed Isaac with the same favour which he had before 
shown to his father Abraham. For it was no common blessing, that 
Abimelech should voluntarily seek his friendship. Besides, he would be 
relieved from no little care and anxiety, when his neighbours, who had 
harassed him in so many ways, being now themselves afraid of him, desire 
to secure his friendship. Therefore the Lord both confers signal honour 
upon his servant, and provides at the same time for his tranquility. 
There is not the least doubt that the king was led to this measure, by a 
secret divine impulse. For, if he was afraid, why did he not resort to 
some other remedy? Why did he humble himself to supplicate a private 
man? Why, at least, did he not rather send for him, or command him with 
authority to do what he wished? But God had so forcibly impressed his 
mind, that he, forgetting his regal pride, sought for peace and alliance 
with a man who was neither covetous, nor warlike, nor furnished with a 
great army. Thus we may learn, that the minds of men are in the hand of 
God, so that he not only can incline those to gentleness who before were 
swelling with fury, but can humble them by terror, as often as he 
  27. "And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me?" Isaac not 
only expostulates concerning injuries received, but protests that in 
future he can have no confidence in them, since he had found in them a 
disposition so hostile to himself. This passage teaches us, that it is 
lawful for the faithful to complain of their enemies, in order, if 
possible, to recall them from their purpose of doing injury, and to 
restrain their force, frauds, and acts of injustice. For liberty is not 
inconsistent with patience: nor does God require of his own people, that 
they should silently digest every injury which may be inflicted upon 
them, but only that they should restrain their minds and hands from 
revenge. Now, if their minds are pure and well regulated, their tongues 
will not be virulent in reproaching the faults of others; but their sole 
purpose will be to restrain the wicked by a sense of shame from 
iniquity. For where there is no hope of profiting by complaints, it is 
better to cherish peace by silence; unless, perhaps, for the purpose of 
rendering those who delight themselves in wickedness inexcusable. We 
must, indeed, always beware, lest, from a desire of vengeance, our 
tongues break out in reproaches; and, as Solomon says, "hatred stirreth 
up strifes." (Prov. 10: 12.) 
  28. "We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee." By this argument 
they prove that they desired a compact with Isaac, not insidiously, but 
in good faith, because they acknowledge the favour of God towards him. 
For it was necessary to purge themselves from this suspicion, seeing 
that they now presented themselves so courteously to one against whom 
they had before been unreasonably opposed. This confession of theirs, 
however, contains very useful instruction. Profane men in calling one, 
whose affairs all succeed well and prosperously, the blessed of the 
Lord, bear testimony that God is the author of all good things, and that 
from him alone flows all prosperity. Exceedingly base, therefore, is our 
ingratitude, if, when God acts kindly towards us, we pass by his 
benefits with closed eyes. Again, profane men regard the friendship of 
one whom God favours, as desirable for themselves; considering that 
there is no better or holier commendation than the love of God. 
Perversely blind, therefore, are they, who not only neglect those whom 
God declares to be dear unto him, but also iniquitously vex them. The 
Lord proclaims himself ready to execute vengeance on any one who may 
injure those whom he takes under his protection; but the greater part, 
unmoved by this most terrible denunciation, still wickedly afflict the 
good and the simple. We here, however, see that the sense of nature 
dictated to unbelievers, what we scarcely credit when spoken by the 
mouth of God himself. Still it is surprising that they should be afraid 
of an inoffensive man; and should require from him an oath that he would 
do them no injury. They ought to have concluded, from the favour which 
God had showed him, that he was a just man, and therefore there could be 
no danger from him; yet because they form their estimate of him from 
their own disposition and conduct, they also distrust his probity. Such 
perturbation commonly agitates unbelievers, so that they are 

(continued in part 5...)

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