So as has been said, this quarreling over wells that went on between the herdsmen of Gerar and Isaac’s herdsmen are a reminder of a quarrel that took place in the life of Abraham. In the thirteenth chapter of Genesis, we read that “Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents” (13:5). Lot could be said to be “riding the coattails of Abraham’s blessings. However, this created a problem, in that “the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another” (13:6). As a result, “there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen” (13:7a). Isaac’s solution, as we saw, was to continue his movements until there was no reason for quarreling; and if there was strife over wells and water, then it is likely that this was one of the sources of the strife between the servants of Abram and Lot as well.
Isaac’s solution was certainly predicated on that which had been taken up by his father. “Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no quarreling between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself now from me. If you go to the left, then I’ll go to the right, but if you go to the right, then I’ll go to the left’” (13:8-9). So the decision is made, lands are chosen, and “the relatives separated from each other” (13:11b); and as we have previously noted, Isaac marks his movement of separation by saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will prosper in the land” (26:22b).
From there, the Scriptural record has Isaac moving again, this time to Beer Sheba. While there, “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 multiply your descendants for the sake of My servant Abraham” (26:24). We note that Beer Sheba is also mentioned in connection with Abraham, as one of the places where he had settled. Just before we learn that little fact, we have a record of God speaking to Abraham and saying, “I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies. Because you have obeyed Me, all the nations of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another using the name of your descendants” (22:17-18). For sake of a chronological reminder, this word from the Lord comes in the wake of the near sacrifice of Isaac.
Returning to the separation of Abram and Lot, we have the Lord speaking to Abram and saying, “Look from the place where you stand to the north, south, east, and west. I will give all the land that you see to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone is able to count the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be counted. Get up and walk throughout the land, for I will give it to you” (13:14b-17). As for Abraham, so for Isaac, in that the words that he heard from the Lord, following his time of quarreling and separation (like that experienced by Abram), are a communication of the Lord’s covenant to him. Isaac, quite rightly, reacts to this second hearing of the divine covenant, and does so in a way that reflects the knowledge of the covenant God that has been passed on to him by his father. We read, that “Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord. He pitched his tent there, and his servants dug a well” (26:25). The one that was now the bearer of the covenant and the representative of God in the world, built an altar and pitched a tent. This is also the pattern that would be followed by Israel after exodus-ing Egypt.
The nation that bore the divine covenant to represent God in the world and to be a blessing, pitched a tent (the tabernacle). This tent would contain both an altar, as well as the ark that represented the covenant God. It could be said that this took place following a quarrel with the Egyptians. Though the relationship between the Egyptians and the Israelites started off well, with Joseph, Jacob and his brothers receiving honor and welcome in the land of Egypt, it deteriorated with the growth in the numbers and power (and presumably wealth) of the growing nation of Israel in Egypt, much like as happened with Abraham (in Egypt and the land of the Philistines) and Isaac (in the land of the Philistines). In that case, the quarreling did not result in the stopping of wells, but rather, took an entirely different form, in that the Egyptians “put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor… But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, and they made the Israelites serve rigorously” (Exodus 1:11a,12-13).
Eventually a separation would come. The separation that came, which resulted in the construction of a tent, as well as an altar (along with detailed instructions as to how to go about utilizing that altar in proper worship), followed the pattern of Isaac, which, not unexpectedly, followed the pattern of Abraham. Yes, when Abram and Lot went their separate ways, and when Abram was reminded of the covenant promise that had already been given to him (as Isaac would be reminded, and as Israel would be reminded), “Abram moved his tents and went to live by the oaks of Mamre in Hebron, and he built an altar to the Lord there” (13:18). It seems that wherever we find mention being made of covenant, it is connection with some type of exodus movement, and we find the covenant bearers connected to a tent. Truly, this God of exodus is a God of tents.