Okay: so last week was Moses’ introduction to Book 9 of Genesis: the Story of Isaac and His Sons.
It began well, with Isaac living at peace in the land his father Abraham had left to him…and then the boys got involved, and plunged Abraham’s new land right back into the same old conflict between brothers that has dominated the history of mankind from the beginning.
And that was Moses setting up the central conflict of Book 9: this war between Jacob and Esau over who is going to inherit their father’s blessing.
But now Moses is going to backtrack a bit, and show us what Isaac’s life had been like before his sons came along. We are going to find out here what happened during those long years after Isaac married Rebekah, and before God answered their prayers for children.
So: the last time we saw Isaac, he had left Beersheba — where his father Abraham had dug a well, and planted a tree; where Isaac himself had been raised from boyhood — he had left Beersheba and moved southward and eastward to the oasis of Beer Lahai Roi, the Well of the God Who Sees Me. And that is where he spent the early years of his marriage with Rebekah.
But:  Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.
And if we were to get out a map and look at these locations, we would realize that Isaac is traveling in a southwestern direction. And we would realize that, if he does not stop in the land of Gerar, Isaac will end up in Egypt.
Now, is that significant?
Yes. During the previous famine in Abraham’s time, Abraham also left the land, traveled in a southwestern direction, and ended up in Egypt. And we all remember what happened to him — and, especially, to Sarah! — while he was there!
Isaac is following in his father’s footsteps. As we might say around here, “The durian never falls far from the tree.”
But God intercepts Isaac and says, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.  Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,  because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”
Now, all this sounds familiar, doesn’t it? These are the same covenant promises God made to Abraham — and now, Isaac has inherited them.
Though, if we look carefully at these promises, we notice that God’s promises to Isaac are actually greater than the promises he made to Abraham.
Because here, God says, “To you and your descendants I will give all these lands.” What lands? These lands of Gerar, the lands of Abimelek king of the Philistines. God had promised Abraham the land of Canaan; now God has just promised Isaac additional lands outside of Canaan.
 So Isaac stayed in Gerar.
But it is true that the durian never falls far from the tree, because  when the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”
This is exactly what his father Abraham did when he visited the land of Gerar one generation earlier!
So we are finding that Isaac is a person just like us. On one hand he believes God’s promise, and he stays in Gerar, trusting that God will feed him through this famine. On the other hand, he has forgotten God’s promise, and does not trust that God will protect him from being murdered.
 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelek king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah.
In other words: it was obvious that these were not brother and sister.
And before we all get excited and say, “Why was Isaac caressing his wife in public anyway?” I should remind you that ancient cities were very densely populated, houses were built very close together, and because they did not have air con yet, houses in that desert climate were built with many open windows and doorways to let the breeze through.
As a result, most ancient cultures were not as obsessed with personal privacy as we are today. So if you accidentally caught a glimpse of your neighbors having a good time together, you were expected to just close one eye and mind your own business.
Abimelek, however, cannot just mind his own business in this case, because Isaac’s behaviour is actually a threat to the kingdom.
 So Abimelek summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister‘?”
Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”
 Then Abimelek said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”
This Abimelek, just like the Abimelek that came before him, is worried about a curse from the gods falling upon his people. For many cultures in that area at that time, adultery was considered “The Great Sin”, a sin that destroyed families, polluted the land, and ultimately destroyed nations.
So here, once again, we have a foreign, pagan king giving one of God’s sons a lecture on ethics. These Philistine people are not as corrupt as Isaac thought they were: they are not adulterers, they would not kill a man and steal his wife, because they know that kind of behaviour is what ultimately destroys a culture.
— though, if we are paying attention here, we realize that Abimelek has just admitted that his men are not above a little casual rape. They would never steal a married woman from her husband!…but they might steal an unmarried woman from her brother.
So, in one category, these Philistines are more ethical than Isaac expected; but in another category, they are less ethical; and so, by lying, Isaac actually exposed Rebekah to more danger than necessary. She would have been in a safer position as Isaac’s wife than as Isaac’s sister.
 So Abimelek gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who harms this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Isaac really should have trusted God here.
And God goes on to rub that point in a little more:
 Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.  The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.
And by this point in the episode, we are beginning to realize what Moses is doing: Moses is showing us that Isaac really is the new Abraham. Just like Abraham, he has traveled to a foreign country to escape a famine. Just like Abraham, he lied while he was in that foreign land. Just like Abraham, God had to step in and protect him from his own lack of faith. And just like Abraham, Isaac is going to return from that foreign land even wealthier than he was when he arrived.
The only real difference here is that Isaac is the first in his family to plant crops for harvest. Which is significant: just like his father Abraham, who planted a tree at Beersheba to symbolize his settlement in the land, Isaac plants crops in Gerar for the same reason.
And God blessed him, and gave him this incredible profit on his investment.
But that is not where the similarities between Abraham and Isaac end:
 He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him.
This is a lot like what happened to Abraham also: God’s extreme blessing actually results in jealousy and conflict.
 So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.  Then Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.”
So Isaac moves away from the centers of the kingdom and encamps in the Valley of Gerar — Wadi Gerar — where he settled.  Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
Remember, Abraham had also lived in the land of Gerar for many years, and his men must have dug many wells during that time. Isaac is simply reclaiming old territories where his father once lived.
But he is not just reclaiming old territories and old wells, he is also preparing new ones:  Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there.
Sounds good! This sounds like progress! — like Isaac is really doing a good job claiming this land that God has promised him.
But apparently some others don’t like what he is doing. They don’t think he has moved far enough away:
 The herders of Gerar quarreled with those of Isaac —
— just as, once upon a time, the men of Lot quarreled with those of Abraham —
and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him.
Esek sounds like the Hebrew word for “quarrel.”
So Isaac moves further away, and digs another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah.
Sitnah sounds like the Hebrew word for “accusation” — the same root word that “Satan” comes from.
So  he moved on from there and dug another well, and finally no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth — which means “Open Space” — saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”
And  from there he went up to Beersheba.
Back to where he started. Back to where he had been born, back to where he had grown up, a place that he has not seen for years.
And this smells a lot like failure, doesn’t it?
Just like Abraham, Isaac took these huge steps of faith: he went out and lived as a stranger in a strange land. And when Abraham dug a well in that strange land, the king of the land came by and made a covenant with him and gave him that well and the land that went with it: the well called Beersheba.
But when Isaac went and dug a well in that strange land, he got chased away, and chased away, and chased away again, all the way back to Beersheba where he started!
It looks as if Isaac has lost almost everything his father gained. Why? How? Has he done something wrong? God did promise him the land of Gerar, after all. Should Isaac have fought back? Should he have said, “No! This land is my inheritance from God, and I will not be moved”?
That is how we think, isn’t it, after a series of defeats and a devastating retreat? We wonder if maybe somehow we have fallen out of God’s will or something, we wonder what we should have done differently.
Apparently Isaac is wondering the same, because  that night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid!”
Isaac was afraid. He was afraid that, somehow, he had lost God’s blessing and protection. But God says,
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants…for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
And this is now the second time that God has said that he is blessing Isaac because of Abraham.
Back at the beginning, God said, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”
And this is the Gospel for Isaac: this is the Good News for Isaac. Because, basically, what this means is that Abraham earned the blessings that Isaac is now inheriting. Abraham locked in God’s covenant blessings for his son Isaac.
Which means that now it is impossible for Isaac to lose those blessings by accident. It is impossible for Isaac to screw something up so badly that God comes along and takes away his inheritance. That is just not going to happen! because of Abraham’s obedience.
And Isaac gets it. He gets the Gospel. So when he woke up in the morning,  Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants start to dig a well.
Remember, Isaac has not lived at Beersheba for many years. And apparently, after Abraham died, and after Isaac had moved away to Beer Lahai Roi, the local Philistine people broke the covenant their king had made with Abraham and filled in Abraham’s well.
So now Isaac’s men have to re-open it.
 Meanwhile, Abimelek had come to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his personal adviser and Phicol the commander of his forces.
And, just as in Abraham’s day, when a king shows up with his military general it is usually not good news.
So in verse 27 Isaac says, “Great! Now what? Is there no one else you can attack? Have you come all this way just to kick my butt again?”
 They answered, “No! No, no, no, no, no. We would never do that! We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, ‘You know what? There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you, that is, not between us and us, that would make no sense…Let us make a treaty with you  that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully! (heh heh heh heh, you remember that right? That is how you remember it? That’s how we remember it!) And now you are blessed by the Lord!”
What a bizarre change of tune!
Back in verse 16 Abimelek said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” So even then he was already afraid of Isaac. But not afraid enough, because he then proceeded to chase Isaac out of land step by step.
But as we have seen, all the way along Isaac followed a policy of nonviolent resistance: he never fought back. Each time he just packed up his things and moved further away. Never once did Isaac give any sort of hint that he is somehow dangerous to Abimelek and his people!
But here Abimelek comes along, and now he is so afraid that of Isaac that he has given up his policy of pushing Isaac away: now he wants to make a treaty! Now he wants Isaac to promise that he will never attack Abimelek’s people!
Well, as they said just now: “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you…” Isaac arrived in their land during a famine, and then proceeded to plant crops and make a fortune. Now, they hated that! So they kept trying to sabotage his success: they kept destroying his sources of water, they kept putting pressure on him — but the more pressure they put on him, the more he continued to thrive!
And so now they have realized that Isaac must have a rather powerful God on his side, a god that is greater than their gods, and so they have decided that now they want to make friends — quickly! — before Isaac maybe develops a taste for revenge.
So here they are now, begging for peace. And Isaac graciousy gives it to them:
 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank.  Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they went away peacefully.
The covenant that Abimelek the First made with Abraham has now been renewed by Abimelek the Second.
And  that day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug. They said, “We’ve found water!”  He called it Shibah, and to this day the name of the town has been Beersheba.
Now: what does all this mean? What is Moses trying to tell his readers with this chapter?
Well, we have all noticed the many parallels here between Isaac’s life and Abraham’s life. And that is the point Moses is trying to make: he is showing us that Isaac truly followed in his father’s footsteps: Isaac’s life here, captured in a single chapter, is a summary of Abraham’s life.
And here at the end, Moses is showing us that God’s covenant with Abraham has truly and completely been passed on to Isaac:
40 or 50 years before this, after Judgement Day had cleansed the land of Sodom and Gomorrah’s corrupting influence, Abraham had descended from the symbolic Garden of the Lord in the mountains. He had planted a tree, called on the name of the Lord, extended the protection of God’s covenant to the surrounding nations, and then gave the name ”Beersheba” to the well he had dug. Abraham’s life’s work was establishing the new Garden of Eden in the land of Canaan.
Now Isaac, who grew up inside the land of Canaan, has expanded the new Garden even further into the southern wilderness, outside the land of Canaan: he planted crops, not just a tree. And, having completed his life’s work, Isaac has now returned out of the wilderness, built an altar, called on the name of the Lord, extended the protection of God’s covenant to the surrounding nations, and has re-given the name “Beersheba” to the well he has dug.
Isaac truly is the new Abraham. The covenant has been preserved for another generation. The Garden is growing, expanding, and so is the promise that through Isaac’s offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.
Okay: that is what Moses was trying to show his readers.
But what are his readers supposed to do with this information? Specifically, what were the ancient people of Israel supposed to do with this information, since they were Moses’ original audience?
Well, since this story of Isaac’s life is like the super-summarized story of Abraham’s life, we would expect to see a lot of the same themes repeated. And we do…but only some. Because, really, this story of Isaac’s life only summarizes the second half of Abraham’s life.
The first half of Abraham’s life was about God establishing his covenant, and cleansing the land of completely corrupted nations like Sodom and Gomorrah.
The second half of Abraham’s life was about replanting the Garden of Eden, and about learning how to live among nations that are not completely corrupted.
And so we find that this chapter about Isaac’s life is a return to this question: what does it look like for God’s people to live as a holy nation in the midst of unholy nations?
And so we find that this chapter about Isaac’s life contains some pretty basic concepts that have been covered before:
For instance, Moses is telling his people, when and if hard times come — like a famine or something — do not go to Egypt for help. Do not look for help from foreign nations. Instead: stay where you are and trust that the Lord will take care of you.
Another basic concept is: when you interact with foreign nations, do not lie to them. Deception does not help you extend God’s blessing to those nations. In fact, quite the opposite: if you insist on living dishonest lives among your neighbors, then you will actually lead them to despise God! — which will inevitably bring a curse upon them. So don’t do that. Tell the truth, and trust that the Lord will take care of you.
But we also find that this chapter about Isaac’s life contains some new concepts, some deeper concepts that have gone undeveloped until now.
For instance: in Abraham’s time, Abimelek was friendly. Sure, he got upset when Abraham lied to him — but still, he invited Abraham to stay, he gave Abraham land, and made a covenant with him.
But now, in Isaac’s time, Abimelek went from friendly to jealous. And so he drove Isaac out of the land. In this way, Abimelek the Second is more like the Pharaoh in Egypt who kicked Abraham out.
And how did Isaac respond? Did he fight back? Did he go to war to protect the land the Lord had promised to him?
No! Isaac was the living embodiment of what it looks like to trust that the Lord will take care of his people. He did not just roll over and do nothing, but did not resort to violence either. He simply moved on and tried again, and tried again, until finally the Lord provided an Open Space where his people could live in peace.
And what was the result of all this nonviolent resistance?
Abimelek got so scared that he came begging Isaac for mercy. Why? Because the Lord fought Isaac’s war for him. Isaac was not scary at all! But it was clear, from the way he was thriving in the land — despite the famine, despite the political pressure — it was clear that Isaac’s God was very very scary indeed.
So the ancient people of Israel were supposed to let this information guide them as they followed Joshua across the Jordan River to claim their inheritance. The various Canaanite nations in the land had become completely corrupted in the centuries after Abraham, and God had promised to bring judgement upon those nations and cleanse the land of them.
But once that cleansing was complete, that particular work of God’s judgement was supposed to come to an end. The people of Israel were supposed to settle into their inheritance and then continue the work Abraham and Isaac had begun, the work of protecting and expanding God’s new Garden of Eden.
However: they were not supposed to expand it through violence! The nation of Israel in the Old Testament was never called to invade their neighbors. If their land was invaded by hostile nations, then yes: the men of Israel were called to war, they were called to protect God’s land. But the nation of Israel was never called to project military or political power outside of their borders. Their policy was to be one of diplomacy and non-aggression. They were certainly never called to force the blessing of God’s worship upon anyone! — but simply to live and worship as Isaac did, patient in the knowledge that one day the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
And so, in addition to this practical advice about how to live among the nations, this story of Isaac’s life was ultimately meant to preach the Gospel to the people of Israel, to strengthen their faith, to remind them — yet again — that God always preserves his covenant family, God always protects and provides for his people even when times look bad. Even when it looked like they were defeated, even when it looked like they were in full retreat from the kingdoms of the world, the people of Israel could know that this is all part of the Lord’s plan to raise them up in the end to become a guiding light for the nations.
That was Moses’ hope; that was Israel’s hope.
And their hope did become real, briefly, during the course of Israel’s history: during the reign of King Solomon, the fame of his wisdom — the fame of God’s wisdom — spread to all the surrounding nations, and from all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
But this golden age did not last. It could not last. Because Solomon was not a perfect king: his faith in God was not a perfect faith. Like Isaac, he never went to war; but unlike Isaac he married outside the land, outside family of God: he did not trust the Lord to protect and provide for him. The gift of God’s wisdom led to great wealth; wealth led to jealousy from within and without; the kingdom fell apart soon after Solomon’s death, and it never fully recovered.
And this is why, 800 years later, when Jesus of Nazareth appeared on the scene claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of David, sent from God to restore the kingdom of Israel, everyone thought he was advertising a return to the golden age of King Solomon. Everyone expected him to raise an army and cleanse the land again, just like Joshua did the first time. Everyone expected him to set up a political Kingdom of God.
Now, just a couple of weeks ago we talked about how Jesus transformed the political nation of Israel into the spiritual nation of Israel: how God’s Israelite people in the Old Testament became God’s international people in the New Testament. It was Jesus who finally fulfilled Israel’s hope of seeing the mountain of the Lord’s temple established as the highest of the mountains, and to this day all nations continue to stream into Christ’s Church. It was Jesus who finally fulfilled God’s ancient covenant with Isaac, that we read here today in Genesis, Chapter 26: Jesus is the offspring of Isaac, through whom all nations on earth are being blessed even now. Isaac’s descendants are as numerous as the stars in the sky because of Jesus! — because of us: we are Isaac’s spiritual descendants. And all these lands that were promised to Isaac here — including Canaan and Gerar — still belong to Isaac’s descendants even today…because Christians still live in all these lands. Christians have not inherited Palestine politically, but we have inherited Palestine spiritually, just as we have inherited every nation on earth. Wherever there is a Church — wherever there is a worshiping community of Christians — there is God’s nation, there is God’s land, there is God’s inheritance.
So: here we are, God’s new international people, reading this story of Isaac’s life. And at this point we are wondering what we are supposed to do with this information.
Well, interestingly enough, the story of Isaac’s life is even more relevant to us today than it was to the ancient people of Israel! — because we live literally mixed in with the surrounding nations in a way never envisioned by the ancient people of Israel.
As Christ’s Church, we do not have national, political boundaries to defend or expand. Our work of protecting and expanding Christ’s Church is not a political work, it is a spiritual one. It happens when God’s Word is preached: scattered among the nations like seed planted in the wilderness, where it yields a harvest of transformed people a hundredfold greater than the seed that went in. And then, as those transformed people gather together in worshiping communities, living their transformed lives in their transformed communities — then Christ’s Church is blessed and it grows.
And when Christ’s Church grows it arouses jealousy in the surrounding societies.
And that is when resistance begins, just as it did in Isaac’s life.
And so one thing Isaac’s life shows us is that resistance from outside — and the need for the Church to sometimes retreat — is not a mark of failure, it is a mark of our Lord’s blessing!
Now, by way of warning, we can also put that the other way around: one thing Isaac’s life shows us is that, if Christians in a society never meet with resistance from outside…then this could mean that we are not as blessed as we might think we are: the world is looking at us and saying, “Meh…I’m not impressed by them or their God!”
We can also ponder this: if Christians in a society do meet with resistance from outside — and then answer that resistance with verbal or physical or spiritual violence…then this could mean that we have actually misplaced our faith in our Lord, and are starting to believe that it is our job to fight for our rights, and extend Christ’s Church through the projection of power outside the spiritual boundaries of our community…
So resistance from surrounding societies is actually a sign of blessing and success, not failure.
But if that is the case, then — practically speaking — what are we supposed to do when resistance comes? If we are not supposed to fight back, are we supposed to just do nothing?
No. We follow Isaac’s example of nonviolent resistance: if a nation fills our wells in with dirt, shutting down our churches, we simply move away a little bit and dig another well, we plant another church. And if the government shuts that one down, we move away a little bit and…we dig again. And we keep stubbornly doing this until our Lord takes us home, or until he provides us with an open space where we can flourish in the land.
Now, that process is costly. It can be discouraging.
So, now we want to know: how can we make sure our faith survives in the midst of long-term resistance?
This is how: we fix our eyes on the Gospel, the same Good News that Moses preached to the people of Israel, the same Good News the Lord preached to Isaac: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants.” God always preserves his covenant family, God always protects and provides for his people even when times look bad. Even when it looks like Christ’s Church is being defeated and driven out, we can know that this is all part of the Lord’s plan, this is all part of the process of establishing the mountain of the Lord’s temple as the highest of the mountains.
Another way of saying this is to say that resistance does not last forever. As God’s people continue in quiet stubborn faith to move, and dig new wells, and plant new crops, and move, and dig new wells, and plant new crops — eventually the governments of this world give up. Jealousy results in fear. Fear results in resistance. Resistance results in new wells, new crops, new churches! And new churches result in the surrender of the surrounding societies, because they can see clearly that the Lord is with us!
Now, you’re sitting there thinking, “Really? Is that true?”
Yes. In fact, it has happened many times in history. I will give you one example:
When Jesus’ new, spiritual Israel exploded on the scene 2000 years ago, it expanded rapidly, drawing in people from all nations, becoming an Inter-national Church.
This resulted in jealousy from the Roman Empire. Jealousy resulted in fear, fear resulted in resistance. The Emperor Nero executed tens of thousands of Christians. The Church continued to expand. The Emperor Domition killed even more. The Church continued to expand. Until, 300 years after Jesus’ birth, 60% of the citizens of the Empire called themselves Christians.
And at that point the Roman Empire finally formally surrendered to Christ. The Emperor Constantine said, “Fine! We can see clearly that the Lord is with you, so now let us make a treaty with you, that you will do us no harm…!”
And how did the Christians accomplish this amazing feat? Did they do it by threatening the Empire with their numbers, by insulting their opponents in social media, by insisting on their rights and fighting back in the courts?
No. They dug wells. They planted churches. Husbands loved and honored their wives instead of cheating on them. Women treated their own bodies with respect. Children grew up hearing that they were baptized and adopted, loved by God no matter what. They fed the poor. They cared for the sick. They embraced refugees and slaves and called them “Family”. They lived their transformed lives in their transformed communities, and they conquered the Empire.
And, friends, this is only one example from history. There are many more. Every time we look around the globe and see a society that lives in relative peace with the Christians in their midst, what we are seeing is the fruit of stubborn, faithful, nonviolent resistance on the part of churches in that land. What we are seeing is the work of God, who brought those governments to their knees. And — most importantly — we have to remember that what we are seeing most likely took many hundreds of years to accomplish.
And I am saying this because I know that in the East, many see the West as the Christian West, and many Asian Christians want to move to the West because they view it as a place where they will be able to thrive without being threatened. In some ways, Christians in the West have so many flocks and herds and servants that we envy them.
First of all, the West is not the Christian West. America, Canada, Australia is not a Christian nation! because Christianity does not have a political body but a spiritual one. So please, Christians, do not move the West thinking it is some kind of promised land.
Now, it is true that centuries ago the governments of the West surrendered to Christ’s Church: they feared Christ’s people, so they made a treaty with Christ, so that he would do them no harm. And so Western governments did allow Christians to thrive for a long time.
That time is coming to an end. Western societies are now actively violating the treaties they made with Christ’s people, they are breaking the covenants, they are busy filling in Christ’s wells with dirt. Christianity in the West is entering into what is likely to be centuries of resistance, similar to what happened in the early Roman Empire. So please, Christians, do not move to the West thinking that this is your chance to tap into the wealth and freedom Christianity has enjoyed there for the last few generations.
Instead, friends: stay here! The Church in the West is reaching the end of a cycle that began hundreds of years ago. But we, in the Asian Church, we are just beginning! And because we are just beginning, we have advantages that our western brothers and sisters do not have!
For instance: Christians in the West have enjoyed political power for so long that now they really struggle to separate their faith from their politics. They really struggle to imagine what it will be like to live without political protection. But we know very well that the governments of our world are not on our side!
Christians in the West have enjoyed cultural power for so long that now they are shocked by the changes happening around them, they don’t understand it because they have thought of western culture as “Christian culture” for so long. But we are not shocked when modern culture mocks us, because that is the way Buddhist culture, Hindu culture, Muslim culture has always treated us.
Our brothers and sisters in the West have many things to unlearn. But we are starting fresh! We stand here at the beginning of a great work of God, a work that none of us will probably live to see completed!
So when resistance comes to us, here in Malaysia, do not move away to someone else’s well, someone else’s Open Space, someone else’s Rehoboth — which is getting filled in with dirt anyway.
Instead, let us just take one small step to the right and dig our own wells in our own soil, and let us keep moving and digging until our Lord provides us with an Open Space of our own!
And he will! That is the promise we see here in Isaac’s life: the Lord will provide his people with an Open Space where we can flourish in the land.
Now, am I saying that our hope lies in a Christian Malaysia? No. In one hundred years America may be ruled by an Islamic government, while 60% of Malaysia has turned to Christ. We don’t know God’s specific plans for these nations.
But we do know his specific plan for us, his people. This is our hope: that one day every government of the world, every nation, will come and surrender to Christ and beg him to make a treaty with them. One day our Rehoboth, our Open Space, will be the entire earth.
So let’s keep digging wells and planting crops.