Genesis 26 begins by informing us that there is a famine in the land (v. 1). Isaac is “without.” We are reminded by the writer of the famine that occurred earlier during Abraham’ life and are told that what is being experienced by Isaac is not that. A famine is never good news but it is especially distressing in ancient times where options are much more limited than today.
Famines in the land of blessing! How can this be? But it is and Isaac, like his father, is called to live in between the tension of promise and reality. Like Abraham he seems to be considering going to Egypt, but God tells him to stay where he is and trust that He will bless him (v. 2-3).
Even though these things take place more than three millenniums ago, Isaac’s situation is nonetheless highly relatable to us today. As children of promise, we know the tension of living “without.” At some time or another, we all experience it. It might be living without the quality of health we would like to have. Or maybe we are without in the area of relationships. Or it could have to do with a myriad of other things. But whatever it might be, we know what it’s like when despite our persistent prayers and constant efforts; we are still without in some way.
Isaac stays in the land and trusts God. He has his ups and downs (there’s that unflattering episode where he tries to pass his wife of as his sister), but he hangs in there and walks “faithfully” as Abraham did (48:15). God is faithful and blesses him in his crops (v. 12), his wells (v. 22), and renews the promises He made earlier (v. 3-4, 24).
This is our calling as well—to live in trust in between the tension of promise and famine. If we move forward from the time of Isaac’s time to Paul’s, we find the apostle in a similar situation though the particulars are much different. Paul is imprisoned in Rome. From there he writes a letter to the disciples at Philippi. One of his purposes of this letter is to thank them for the support (financial and otherwise) they have provided to Paul over the years (4:10, 14-18). They haven’t always been able to help, but they have done so whenever they could. A believer named Epaphroditus has brought Paul their latest gifts, ministered to him, and will presumably take Paul’s letter back to the church (2:25ff). Paul is grateful for all of their help and calls it “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (4:18).
But he also speaks of his time “without” in v. 11-13. And he says “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or without” (v. 12). What is that secret? It is his relationship with Christ (v. 13). He had “learned” to do without by looking within to the provision of Christ. He had learned that man does not live by bread alone but “on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This is exactly what our patriarch does in Gerar. He has stored up God’s promises in his heart and he is sustained by this in his time of without.
It worked in Isaac’s famine, it worked in Paul’s, and it will work in ours.