Food in the Bible: Genesis 26:12-22

Genesis 26:12-2212 Isaac planted [crops] in that land. In that same year he harvested a hundred times as much as he had planted because the LORD had blessed him. 13 He continued to be successful, becoming very rich. 14 Because he owned so many flocks, herds, and servants, the Philistines became jealous of him. 15 So the Philistines filled in all the wells that his father’s servants had dug during his father Abraham’s lifetime. 16 Finally, Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us! You’ve become more powerful than we are.” 17 So Isaac moved away. He set up his tents in the Gerar Valley and lived there. 18 He dug out the wells that had been dug during his father Abraham’s lifetime. The Philistines had filled them in after Abraham’s death. He gave them the same names that his father had given them. 19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found a spring-fed well. 20 The herders from Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, claiming, “This water is ours!” So Isaac named the well Esek [Argument], because they had argued with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one too. So Isaac named it Sitnah [Accusation]. 22 He moved on from there and dug another well. They didn’t quarrel over this one. So he named it Rehoboth [Roomy] and said, “Now the LORD has made room for us, and we will prosper in this land.”

There are two streams of wisdom in the biblical tradition. The first tradition says that the righteous prosper and the wicked are punished. God is a God of justice and the world reflects this. Be good and you will succeed. Do evil and you’ll get what’s coming to you. The second stream comes from books like Ecclesiastes and Job. This tradition says, “Yeah, but… life is not like that.” Bad things happen to good people. Cheaters usually do win. The wicked tend to get rich and often get away with it.

Verse 12 obviously reflects the first tradition. Isaac is blessed because he follows YHWH. However, he also suffers because of this. The Philistines fill in all of his father’s wells and Abimelech expels him from the land. Isaac moves away and re-digs his father’s wells. Herders claim that the wells belong to them and Isaac was forced to move again. The scenario plays out again the same way. The third well is not challenged and Isaac is finally able to settle.

This brief episode weaves both traditions into a story that reflects both the justice and injustice experienced in the world. You have probably experienced both versions of reality. I recently had a driver whip around me to pass, only to see a police lights immediately turn on and pull him over. Sweet justice! How many times does that happen to us though? Usually we just grumble at bad drivers and jerks, hoping they get theirs eventually. So the truth is the Bible gets it right only because it includes both of these wisdom traditions.

Earlier in this chapter, I reflected on the importance of land and our continued dependence on land for our survival. Here the wrangling and fighting over land is played out. There are plenty of modern day examples of fighting over land, the Israel-Palestine conflict being the most obvious. The U.S. attempt to build a border fence in Texas met with a lot of resistance from city governments and landowners. You could probably name many more examples.

Most people’s experience of land involves suburban subdivisions with tiny lawns, apartment complexes and housing projects. The rest of the land in urban areas is covered by strip malls, high rise office buildings, streets, landscaping and sidewalks. The places in these landscapes that provide food are supermarkets, fast food joints, restaurants and convenience stores. We have no concept how much land it takes to supply the food found in these latter places. We are disconnected from the land and its importance and therefore have difficulty understanding fights over land.

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