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Sep 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 8, 2013 – Genesis Chapter 26

Finding Inner Peace

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt, stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” Genesis 26:1-2

INTRO: You would have to be a very creative writer to build a novel around Isaac

The storyteller doesn’t give us enough information to form interesting character
• he’s an average person sandwiched between an extraordinary father and extraordinary son
– as for Isaac, nothing he did stands out as unique or special
• he retraced father’s footsteps, relived father’s adventures, and even repeated one of his father’s mistakes
• when Isaac was blessed, it was for his father’s sake (vv. 5, 24)
– if we don’t find Isaac’s life interesting or exciting, it’s probably because it’s too much like our own

As soon as plot begins to take shape, we recognize it

We may even think, “Not again?!” — because already we have been through this twice with Abraham
– yet the storyteller is careful not to let us confuse this story with the others
• for example, Isaac was stopped from going to Egypt as his father had done

Gerar must not have been a large, built-up city
– after Genesis, it’s mentioned only one other time
• not enough of it survived to even know where it was located
– Isaac arrived there and took up farming
• his entourage would have looked really imposing
○ immediately, his was one of the largest and wealthiest families
• but if intimidating to the locals, he was also intimidated by them
○ so when they asked him about his wife, he said she was his sister

Both times Abraham did this, God intervened to protect his marriage with Sarah
– for Isaac, the resolve wasn’t so spectacular
• one afternoon Isaac was feeling frisky
• perhaps King Abimelech heard Rebekah giggling, looked out his window and saw Isaac “caressing” her
○ whatever Isaac was doing–tickling, teasing, fondling–, the Hebrew word is related to his name, “laughter”
• Abimelech: “She’s not your sister!”
– the outcome worked in Isaac’s favor – he no longer needed to fear the locals
• but for the remainder of chapter, the plot is driven by unpleasant encounters and events

Everything is good for Isaac, except his social life

In fact, the locals envied his agricultural success and wealth
– then one day, he received a message from the king
– not a request, but a command
• he could no longer live there – he had to move on

He moved, but still lived close enough to share grazing land
– his servants sank a well and discovered a spring
• but the locals claimed rights to it – this led to bitter arguments
– so his servants relocated, dug another well and the same thing happened again
– the third time, there were no disputes
• Isaac gave each well a name – labeled his experiences, like milestones in his journey

Just when it seemed like Isaac could kick back for awhile
– King Abimelech showed up with two of his officials
• it was not friendly visit and Isaac didn’t give them a friendly greeting
• if earlier he was afraid of them, they were now afraid of him

After they left, Isaac’s servants found another well
– so maybe now Isaac’s soul can rest – no more turmoil
• but before the chapter ends, he has one more vexation
– Esau, the older twin, married not one, but two of the local women
• Esau just didn’t get it – didn’t know why this was such a grief to his parents or he didn’t care
○ like in chapter 25, Esau appears in the story as little more than a footnote
– the Hebrew language had a way of describing deep emotional pain: “bitterness of spirit”
• something so upsetting that it turns one’s insides sour
• it’s hard to smile when you’re in this state — and you don’t feel like laughing

Can we get away from the pain, the upsets?

I’m discovering that many people in recovery used drugs or alcohol not for pleasure, but to relieve pain
– to escape a life that was overwhelmingly difficult, confusing, troubled, or unhappy
– recovery involves coming to terms with reality
• the world the way it is
• and the reality is, we can’t run from pain, grief, etc.

The challenge is not to run from unpleasant feelings
– or resign ourselves to suffering these feelings
– the challenge is to resolve them

Let’s take a closer look at Isaac’s first upsetting encounter – V. 7

This verse walks us backward through a process

  1. His action, what he did – “he said, ‘She is my sister’”
  2. His motivating emotion, what he felt – “for he was afraid”
  3. His underlying perception, what he thought – “the men of the place might kill me”

Therefore his distress was based on his perception
– it seemed to him, his life was in danger
– what was the reality of situation, the locals merely “asked about his wife”
• even more important was the reality of what God promised, “Do not fear, I am with you” (v. 24)

This is typical human behavior
– it’s a product of normal brain functions — defense mechanism or coping mechanism

An unpleasant feeling rises deep in the brain
• the feeling is communicated to rational part of brain
○ BUT nothing in brain requires solution to be rational, it simply has to “work” on some level
• when the brain addresses a feeling of distress or upset,
○ it doesn’t judge whether its solution is the best or worst or even if it’s effective
○ and the more vague the feeling – less effective the resolve
• we can trace a neural pathway of a feeling to thoughts about it and its response or resolve from brain cell to brain cell
○ like a game of “connect the dots”
○ this pathway the brain creates typically becomes its habit, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”
• in all sorts of ways, habits can be formed in the brain that we don’t recognize as harmful
○ like when we give up trying to resolve unpleasant feelings and perhaps we choose instead to mask them by inducing a more pleasurable thought or feeling
○ this is what gives rise to our addictions
And we all engage in some addictive behavior
– the brain naturally repeats actions that release neurochemicals that produce feelings of pleasure

Taking a first step toward a healthier emotional life

We don’t have time to walk all the way through the solution to managing our feelings
– but we can take an important first step

One critical goal is to get back to reality — dispel the illusions that twist our thinking
– this means we will not just feel our feelings, but we will bring awareness to what we are feeling
• this awareness will then help us determine if they’re based in reality
• like his father, Isaac was wrong about the locals (20:11)
○ this skewed his perception, which generated his fear
– the false self lives in a world of illusion

Let’s think of Isaac digging those wells as a metaphor
– a stable life is not possible unless it is sustained by reality
• to get to what is real, we have to get past the superficial images
• we have to dig deep below the surface of our feelings and perceptions

CONC: I’m only half serious when I say that verse 25 shows us Isaac’s “Venn Diagram”
– the three circles that represent his fundamental values and practices: an altar, a tent, and a well

We don’t just need an altar, a tent, and a well, but to build, to pitch, and to dig
– reality is not only what is visible
– not all of my favorite theologians and philosophers are theologians or philosophers

In Deeply Odd, Dean Koontz’ protagonist, Odd Thomas, received on “a warning about some threat that I intuited but could not consciously define.” Then, reflecting on intuition, he says, “Strange how the deepest part of us isn’t able to speak more clearly to the part of us that lives only here in the shallows of the world. The body is entirely physical, the mind partly so and partly not, being both the dense computer circuitry of brain tissue and the ghostly software running in it. But the deepest part of us, the soul, is not physical to any extent whatsoever. Yet the material body and the immaterial soul are inextricably linked this side of death and, so theologians tell us, on the Other Side, as well. On the Other Side, body and soul are supposed to function in perfect harmony. So I guess the problem on this side of death is that when we fell from grace back in the day, the body and soul became like two neighboring countries, still connected by highways and bridges and rivers, but each now speaking a different language from the other. To get through life successfully, body and soul must translate each other correctly more often than not.”

– body and soul function as one whenever we totally dedicate whatever we are doing to God
• building an altar can be in itself an act of worship
• pitching a tent can be prayer
• digging a well can be a spiritual exercise

Christianity is having Jesus for our anchor in reality
– he guarantees that those disciples who continue in his teach will know the truth

and the truth will make you free

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