A severe famine now struck the land, as had happened before in Abraham’s time. So Isaac moved to Gerar, where Abimelech, king of the Philistines, lived. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you. Live here as a foreigner in this land, and I will be with you and bless you … So Isaac stayed in Gerar. When the men who lived there asked Isaac about his wife, Rebekah, he said, “She is my sister.” He was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “They will kill me to get her, because she is so beautiful.”—Genesis 26:2-7, NLT
Just like his father, Isaac identified himself as a nomad and a foreigner among the Philistines who occupied the western part of Canaan. He did not want to assimilate to the Philistines and their gods, but remained loyal to the God of his father, to the God of the Promise, to God His Provider. He maintained not only the faith of his father, but also his culture and language. Unfortunately, he also continued in the same sins as his father.
His cowardice and dishonesty before the Philistines motivated him to lie about his martial relationship with the beautiful Rebecca. He not only repeated the same reprehensible custom that he had learned from his father, but he tried to deceive the the same Philistine king his father had lied to. God protected him when Abimelek found out the truth before any of the Philistines grabbed Rebecca. Hiding their marriages may have seemed good to Abraham and Isaac, but they could have learned from the Philistines that, among them, such lies lacked manhood, integrity, and responsibility.
Expatriate life offers great opportunities to those who adopt it. It gives them the good fortune to learn a new language and culture; with those, they get a chance to see the world from a new point of view. Every culture has its truths and its falsehoods, and the intercultural life sheds light that exposes negative aspects of cultures old and new. It offers riches of renewal, and expatriates can mine gold from the new culture, appropriating new ideas that can correct their habitual mode of thinking and acting. When conversion to Christ forms part of their new life, they become new creatures. The old things have passed away; everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5;17).
Isaac did not succeed in purging falsehood from his lifestyle, and if it were not for the grace of God, he would have paid dire consequences. He serves as an example and a warning to us. Do lies exist in our original culture that contribute to injustice and poverty and misery in our old country that the new country does not suffer? On the other hand, could the truths of our tradition offer a healing balm in our adopted country?
There are some things only a multicultural person can perceive and model. Those who adopt such a role can be carriers of light and truth to the nations.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.