Picking Your Battles (Genesis 26)

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m just a tad competitive. And maybe, possibly, I’m a bit assertive. I know these confessions will shock some of my readers, but they’re true. It’s also true, as I revealed in my last post in this series, ‘The Significance of Names’, that I’m quite proud of ‘battle-worthy’ being the meaning of my surname. But recently God has been teaching me the importance of picking your battles.


Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in, sometimes you have to take a stand. The world would look very different now if a few brave men and women hadn’t stood up to Hitler in 1939-40. There are battles that are right and unavoidable: as Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, there is ‘a time for war’. But that very same verse also says that there’s ‘a time for peace’. You can’t be on the all-out offensive all the time. You have to let some things go. You have to pick your battles.


Turn with me to Genesis 26. We’re now firmly in the post-Abraham part of Genesis. The great patriarch has just died and the famous story of the birth of Esau & Jacob is just over the page. It’s time for Isaac to take centre-stage.


There’s a lot of stuff in this chapter that’s quite familiar: a husband pretending his wife is his sister, servants quarrelling over water, altars being built in out-of-the-way places. We even meet a Philistine king whose name is just a few letters different from the one Abraham tries to hoodwink in chapter 20. More importantly, God’s promise to Isaac is more or less identical to His earlier promises to Abraham in chapters 12, 15 & 17. Abraham might have died, but the promises of God live on. I and many others are beneficiaries of that promise today, 4,000 years later – that’s quite a thought isn’t it?


The fact of the matter in Genesis 26 though, was that for all God’s promises Isaac didn’t own the land. He was just passing through, relying on the tolerance of his host-king, Abimelek. This was a vulnerable position, and it might have caused Isaac one or two off-the-record anxieties. Another man might have tired of waiting for God and tried to take matters into his own hands. The fact that Abimelek reckoned that Isaac was ‘too powerful for us’ suggests that, if he’d had a mind to, Isaac could have kicked up a big stink, and maybe even fought for possession of the land. He might even have been successful…but for how long? And would his descendants, both physical and spiritual, have had the same long-lasting benefit? I doubt it.


The devil will often try and make us doubt God’s promises: ‘he’s forgotten about you, he didn’t really mean it, you screwed up so you forfeited it…’ He’ll happily cite adverse circumstances and delayed delivery as evidence. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that crap, but the truth is that sometimes God is just waiting for the right time. The Christian life involves a lot of perseverance.


Living for God we’ll also meet opposition and setbacks, just like Isaac did when Abimelek kicked him out. Verses 13-14 tell us that he prospered so much that he aroused the envy and fear of the Philistines, who promptly ejected him to much less favourable land farther away. Isaac could have refused and stayed to fight it out, but instead he trusted God to provide in spite of this seeming reverse. He picked his battles.


Likewise, instead of standing upon his rights he moved away from not one but two wells before he found an uncontested one. Might not sound like a big deal, but in a desert country with no piped water, possession of reliable wells was serious. But Isaac continued to trust God. And guess what? God continued to deliver, water and all. So much so that the same Abimelek comes, with his tail between his legs, to seek a treaty of friendship with Isaac at the end of the chapter.


This makes me think very much of Romans 8:28:


“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”


Isaac was just such a called person. So is anyone who trusts in Jesus. The world can put as many obstacles as it likes in the way, but when God promises to bless us He’ll do just that. He turns situations around in unforeseen and unlikely ways, and He brings good out of bad. That’s why it’s ok to pick your battles. Because you’re not the only one fighting.


Isaac’s no saint. He was deceitful and showed favouritism to one son above another, but we can still learn a lot from him. Hebrews 11 lists him as a model of faith, along with his father Abraham and his son Jacob. But this chapter also shows him as a model of meekness. And because of his faithfulness to God, his descendants inherited the land. Does that ring any bells? (Matthew 5:5).


So let’s trust God. Whatever unfavourable circumstances you’re facing, however much the world seems to be against you, God can completely transform the situation. His blessings are battering rams through the walls of adversity. So while we wait for Him, relying on Him and not ourselves, let’s pick our battles.

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