By Joshua Spurlock
Since the days of Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel), the righteous have been persecuted by the wicked. For Am Yisrael (the people of Israel), this has been especially true.
The servants of the Lord Yeshua (Jesus) have suffered for their sincere faith from the beginning, and unbelieving Jews, too, have suffered for centuries because of their faith at the hands of the wicked.
So it was for Yitzkhak ben Avraham (Isaac the son of Abraham), and his perseverance and grace in the face of persecution is an example for us all in how to handle the antagonism of the wicked.
“And Isaac [Yitzkhak] sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The LORD blessed him, and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines [Pelishtim] envied him. (Now the Philistines had stopped and filled with earth all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham [Avraham] his father.) And Abimelech [Avimelekh] said to Isaac [Yitzkhak], ‘Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.’”
– Bereshit (Genesis) 26:12-16, ESV
The commentary in Artscroll’s “The Stone Edition: The Chumash” notes parallels between the persecution that Yitzkhak endured in Parashat Toldot at the hands of the Pelishtim and the persecution of the Jewish people throughout the ages. Both endure the mistreatment of envious pagans, even as the servants of Messiah Yeshua have and continue to be persecuted around the world.
Because of their envy, the Pelishtim expelled Yitzkhak from their land, and they didn’t stop there. When Yitzhak sought to move on and rebuild, his enemies persisted in causing trouble for him, going out of their way to undo his hard work.
“And Isaac [Yitzkhak] dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham [Avraham] his father, which the Philistines [Pelishtim] had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, ‘The water is ours.’ So he called the name of the well Esek [contention], because they contended with him.”
– Bereshit 26:18-20, ESV
Such brazenness is appalling, and tragically it foreshadowed the confiscation of Jewish property by anti-Semites throughout history in Europe and the Middle East. As it was for Yitzkhak, such blows require faith to endure.
Persevering Through Persecution
Living in a world without plumbing and water treatment plants, Yitzkhak depended on the water his wells provided to sustain his family and animals. With the basic needs of life being threatened, Yitzkhak’s very survival was at stake.
We should remember that this event comes in the aftermath of a famine—during which Yitzkhak chose not to go to Mitzrayim (Egypt) in obedience to HaShem (cf. Bereshit 26:1-3). After achieving success in the midst of difficulty, Yitzkhak was driven out. Then, after recovering and regaining financial ground, he again is pushed out. This would happen a third time (cf. Bereshit 26:21).
In spite of this, Yitzkhak never wavers in his faithfulness toward HaShem. Mitzrayim is not far from the land of the Pelishtim. Yitzhak could have forsaken HaShem, putting his trust in the wicked in order to avoid persecution. He did no such thing, however, and neither should we.
As the psalm says,
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God [Elohai] than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
– Tehillim (Psalms) 84:10, ESV
And as Kefa (Peter) says,
“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God [Elohim].”
– Kefa Alef (1 Peter) 2:20, ESV
One person who walked in Yitzkhak’s footsteps was Moshe (Moses). A lifetime of ease and sin was well within his grasp, and yet he chose to suffer for the people of HaShem, enduring the reproach of Mashiakh (the Messiah).
As the author of Ivrim says,
“By faith Moses [Moshe], when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s [Paro’s] daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God [Elohim] than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ [Mashiakh] greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt [Mitzrayim], for he was looking to the reward.”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 11:24-26, ESV
This is not to say that HaShem wants us to always choose a life of difficulty or to pursue suffering for its own sake. Instead, when confronted with the choice between acceptance by the world and obedience to our Creator, we should always choose HaShem.
Consider the words of Yeshua, our Lord:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehinnom]. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven [HaShamayim], but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven [HaShamayim].”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 10:28-33, ESV
While we must be willing to suffer for righteousness, just as Yitzkhak was, our responsibilities in the midst of persecution don’t end with perseverance. We must suffer the right way, like Yitzkhak, and like Mashiakh Yeshua, the seed of Avraham, whom Yitzkhak foreshadowed.
Patience In Spite of Persecution
By human standards, Yitzkhak had every right to be angry and bitter about his treatment by the Pelishtim. They had unjustly expelled him and stopped up his wells. Yet time and again, Yitzkhak moves on so as to avoid conflict (cf. Bereshit 26:17-22).
Finally, the leader of the Pelishtim invites Yitzkhak to make a covenant with him and his people for peace. Yitzhak wonders why Avimelekh would come to him after having shown him such hatred and driving him away. The response is surprising.
“They said, ‘We see plainly that the LORD has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.’”
– Bereshit 26:28-29, ESV
Not only have the Pelishtim persecuted Yitzhak persistently, but their leadership is brazen enough to pretend everything they have done was done in peace!
Yet what is Yitzkhak’s response? Does he lash out against them? Does he make outlandish demands to try and gouge his enemies that now wish to be his allies? Does he refuse them in spite and storm away?
Not at all—quite the opposite, in fact. He forgives them, he honours them, and he serves them.
“So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac [Yitzkhak] sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace.”
– Bereshit 26:30-31, ESV
This is truly remarkable. Yitzkhak shows these men tremendous grace, who heretofore have shown him so much malice. In so doing, Yitzkhak sets a clear example of how to endure persecution righteously.
Shaul (Paul) says it this way:
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God [Elohim], for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
– Romans 12:17-21, ESV
Yitzkhak did precisely this. When offered peace, even by those who hated him, he accepted it. When those who had persecuted him arrived at his home, he fed them. As we have opportunity, we should do likewise.
For many of us, however, the opportunities for showing grace in the midst of persecution won’t follow Yitzkhak’s. We may never have the chance to feed our enemies a meal or sign a peace treaty with them. The Lord Yeshua nevertheless teaches us several things we can do.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven [HaShamayim]. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles [Goyim] do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Mattityahu 5:43-48, ESV
That may sound difficult, but if we endure persecution the right way, Yeshua promises us an Eternal reward and blessing.
As he says,
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
– Mattityahu 5:11-12, ESV
Yitzkhak was persecuted, and he was rewarded for his patient endurance.
Reward Follows Patient Endurance
In the midst of his patient endurance in the face of persecution, Yitzkhak receives another promise by HaShem.
“And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham [Elohei Avraham] your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s [Avraham] sake.’”
– Bereshit 26:24, ESV
When Yitzhak graciously makes peace with his enemies Avimelekh and Phicol, he is blessed again:
“That same day Isaac’s [Yitzhak] servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, ‘We have found water.’”
– Beresheit 26:32, ESV
Yosef (Joseph) likewise endured suffering wrongfully for his rejection of sin, but received tremendous blessings in the end. When the wife of his master Potifar tried to seduce him to commit adultery, Yosef repeatedly refused—even fleeing from her in order not to sin. His short-term reward was that she slandered him and he was sent to prison (cf. Bereshit 39:7-20).
Like Yitzkhak, however, Yosef didn’t break under the pressure. Instead, he persevered in righteous and was found worthy to be elevated by HaShem to be the second-in-command of all Mitzrayim (cf. Bereshit 40:39-40).
Of course the reward for righteousness is not always received by the righteous in this life. The above accounts serve as reminders and testimonies of HaShem’s faithfulness. He won’t ignore patient persistence in righteous. The reward for this is great in the World to Come.
As Yaakov says,
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God [Elohim] has promised to those who love him.”
– Yaakov (James) 1:12, ESV
As HaShem says,
“And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God [El] and he will be my son.’”
– Revelation 21:6-7, ESV
So don’t give up in the midst of persecution and hardship. Persevere and love your enemies, and your reward will be great.
May you demonstrate the strength and love of Messiah Yeshua through the power of His Ruakh (Spirit) in the midst of every circumstance, and may the grace of our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh be with you.