Isaac, of course, would be able to easily identify the pattern that was unfolding. As the bearer of the divine covenant, and as the one through whom God was promising to bless the peoples of the world, it would be unreasonable to suppose that Abraham did not routinely share the details of his life with his family and with all those with whom he came into contact. Isaac would be fully cognizant of the fact that what he was now experiencing was a mirror of that which had been experienced by his father. In that light, what son would not think along the lines of “if it worked for him, it will work for me”? So upon reaching Gerar, which was, coincidentally, the same place that his father had settled (as presumably directed by God as part of Abraham’s movements in the region), Isaac entered into the ploy of informing the people of Gerar that his wife was actually his sister.
Now for Abraham, this was not an untruth, as his wife was his half-sister. For Isaac, this was a total deception, as Rebekah was a cousin. This makes Isaac a bit of a liar, thereby putting him in tremendous Biblical company. This serves as yet another reminder of the purpose of this Word, which is not to simply tell us the story of various men and women, or the story of a particular people so as to elevate them; but rather, to present to us by way of these stories that are designed to give us a basic understanding of His nature, a faithful God that uses individuals and peoples so as to accomplish His purposes in and for this world.
Why would Isaac resort to such things? What would be Isaac’s motivation to present himself and his wife in this way? The Scriptures inform us that “He was afraid to say, ‘She is my wife,’ for he thought to himself, ‘The men of this place will kill me to get Rebekah because she is very beautiful.’” (26:7b) On the surface this sounds good. It is also the same thing we find Abraham communicating to his wife. When Abraham went to Egypt, he had instructed Sarah (Sarai) to “tell them you are my sister so that it may go well for me because of you and my life will be spared on account of you” (12:13). When Abram went to Gerar, he “said about his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’” (20:2a)
In Egypt, “Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he (Pharaoh) did treat Abram well on account of her” (12:15b-16a), with Abram receiving a substantial amount of livestock, presumably as a bridal price. In Gerar, “Abimelech…sent for Sarah and took her” (20:2b). In both instances, by saying that his wife was his sister, Abraham ended up having his wife taken from him. In both instances, there is never any indication that Abraham’s life was in danger simply because his wife was beautiful; and in any case, it seems to be the case that the insistence that his wife was his sister put Abraham in the position of not being able to justify denying a request for marriage, should such a request be made. In fact, what this looks like is a ploy to gain wealth through what is, for all practical purposes, prostitution, while relying on a sense of honor on the part of the men that took his wife, when it would eventually be revealed that she was his wife and not his sister. Again, in both of the cases of Abraham and Sarah, when the deceived men find out the truth, and when they would be more than justified in killing Abraham for his lies and his dishonorable treatment of them, they act honorably toward Abraham, thus negating the supposed fear of death that had been the foundational need for the deception. In fact, when it comes to the situation in Gerar, after finding out the truth, “Abimelech gave sheep, cattle, and male and female servants to Abraham,” he told him to “live wherever you please,” and he also gave him “a thousand pieces of silver” (20:14a,15b,16b).
Though Abraham does gain great wealth through these tactics, is therefore in an even greater position to exemplify divine blessing (as his increasing wealth will given him an even more lofty position from which to tell the story of his covenant God), and though he does have an even greater story of divine faithfulness to tell (depending on the perspective from which the story is told), one cannot help but think that his interactions make him something less than the shining light of God’s glory to these people with which he dealt. Beyond that, one also cannot help but think that the deceptions that were practiced against the pharaoh of Egypt (by Abraham) and the king of the Philistines (by Abraham and Isaac, as we shall see) must have influenced the later dealings between the Egyptians, the Philistines, and Israel. Indeed, when we encounter Joseph as the ruler of Egypt, we find that “The Egyptians are not able to eat with Hebrews, for the Egyptians think it is disgusting to do so” (43:32b). Might this situation that presents some type of underlying conflict between Egyptians and Hebrews have something to do with the deception perpetrated against Pharaoh by Abraham, and the fact that, as a result, “Pharaoh and his household” had been struck “with severe diseases” (12:17)?
So returning to Isaac again, we find that his purported reasoning, that of fear of being killed, rings somewhat hollow. It seems that he was relying on the Abrahamic pattern, almost hopeful that his wife’s beauty, along with his reporting that she was his sister, would lead to her being taken up as a wife just as his mother had been, which would thereby lead to greater wealth for himself. Why not? His father had been given the covenant, and had done these things and prospered. Why should the son, who had also been given the covenant, not also engage in such activities? It seemed to portend an extension of divine blessings.