Day 020: What, Exactly, was Isaac Doing With Rebekah in Gen 26:8?

“When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭26:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I have questions about this whole episode of Isaac lying to Abimelech about Rebekah being his sister and not his wife. This is exactly the same thing Abraham did a generation before, even down to the name of the ruler (although, probably not the same Abimelech, see Gen 20). Why was history repeating itself? I would expect Abraham to have some kind of talk with Isaac about not repeating his father’s mistakes. But either the talk never happened, or Isaac didn’t listen.

But here’s the question I had from today’s reading: when Abimelech looked out his window and saw Isaac and Rebekah, what were they doing?

Using the “Bible Comparison” feature on the amazing BlueLetterBible app, you get lots of options for this word, from “sporting” to “caressing” to “fondling,” “dallying” (my personal favorite—very “Downton Abbey”-ish), to “showing endearment to”.

This is actually a great example of the tension Bible translators face: do you try to capture the most literal meaning of the word, or the most accurate sense of the passage?

In this case, the ESV opts for literal. The word in question is the Hebrew sahaq, which means “laughing.” But laughing with your sister wouldn’t necessarily lead Abimelech to conclude that she was actually your wife. So there must have been more going on, and I don’t think the ESV made the best choice here. To their credit, they do try to make it more understandable with a footnote: “Hebrew may suggest an intimate relationship.”

One more fun fact: Hebrew is playful with its very language itself here. The word sahaq has the same root as the name Isaac. So, literally, it reads “Isaac was isaac-ing Rebekah.” They both are related to laughter. Blue Letter Bible also has an Interlinear feature that allows you to to word studies in Greek and Hebrew. Look at the similarity between the two words below:

So if you take nothing else away from this post, at least take this: Blue Letter Bible is THE BEST study tool to have on your phone. And it’s free! And remember this truth of Bible study: the deeper you dig, the more treasure you find.

Author: James

I pastor Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, and be the best father/grandfather I can be. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

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