May 31, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

                   

Lesson II.E.5: A Covenant Made with Abimelech. (Gen. 21:22-34)      

                                                            

 

Genesis 21:22-34 (KJV)

 

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest:

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

25 And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away.

26 And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.

27 And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.

28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

29 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?

30 And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.

31 Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.

32 Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

33 And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.

34 And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days.

 

Note: the Revised Standard Version is used throughout, except for the text.

 

 

Introduction

 

This lesson concerns the dispute between Abraham and the servants of Abimelech, the king of Gerar, over certain wells which the servants of Abraham had dug. Abraham and Abimelech succeeded in reaching agreement and swore to abide by it. The place was then named Beersheba, meaning “well of seven” or “well of the oath,” since the Hebrew word for oath is a derivative of the word meaning seven. This narrative reveals that the patriarch was blessed of God, and that some pagans recognized God’s blessings.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest:

 

As many as four years may have passed since the events of Genesis 20; and during that time, it was evident that God was blessing Abraham and Sarah. Whenever a believer is restored to fellowship with the Lord, God can bless once again. The purpose of discipline is restoration, and the purpose of restoration is ministry and blessing. Not only was Abraham’s wealth increasing, but Isaac had been born; and this “miracle son” must have been the leading topic of conversation among the neighbors.

Abraham did not permit one lapse of faith to cripple him; he got right with God and made a new beginning. James Strahan said, “Men are not to be judged by the presence or absence of faults, but by the direction of their lives.” God is willing to bless when we are the place of blessing (ps. 1:1-3{3])

Abimelech testified to Abraham that “God is with thee in all that thou doest;” it was because of this recognition that Abimelech wanted Abraham to make a covenant with him.

 

 

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

 

Abimelech was convinced that the promises God had made to Abraham would be fulfilled. Therefore, he desired to have the friendship of Abraham for himself and his posterity. It would appear that this desire may have been the result of Abimelech coming to faith in the true God. It is wise for us to make friends with those who are blessed by God; and it is fitting that we show kindness to those who have been kind to us. I am a Christian, but even if I was a lost sinner I would want to be the friend of believers, so that I might receive some of the overflow of their blessings.

 

 

There is a subtle rebuke found here in the words of Abimelech when he says, “swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me (v. 23).” He may have been thinking of Abraham’s previous deception when he claimed that Sarah was his sister. When Abimelech uncovered his deceit he rebuked Abraham: “Then Abim'elech called Abraham, and said to him, "What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done." And Abim'elech said to Abraham, "What were you thinking of, that you did this thing?" (Ge. 20:9-10). All Abimelech knew of this man was that (a) God blessed him (v. 22) and (b) he was deceptive (v. 23). This tragic contradiction called for a binding treaty.

 

 

Likewise, Israel was to keep her oaths and avoid falsehood. Today believers should speak the truth without using oaths (Matt. 5:37{7]; James 5:12{8]). Truthful and faithful dealings that preserve such peaceful relations enhance the work of God.

 

 

A covenant was made that allowed Abraham to settle in the land and live in peace, and Abimelech to share in the blessing.

 

 

While living in Hebron, Abraham had allied himself with some of the local leaders (Ge 14:13{4]); so there was no problem with entering into an agreement with Abimelech. It did not compromise Abraham’s testimony. God’s people cooperate with different people at different times for different purposes, and the discerning believer knows when any alliance is not in the will of God.

 

 

25 And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away.

 

A striking fact in Genesis is the frequency of the mention of wells. Our thoughts may go back to an earlier age–to a nomadic world in which access to wells was vital to one’s survival. It was not only necessary to dig wells, but after they were dug they had to be guarded to prevent your enemies from seizing it or filling it up (Ge. 26:18{5]). Some of Abimelech’s servants had seized Abraham’s well, so the treaty between the two men (Ge. 20:15{6]) had not done much good.

 

 

This verse stresses the personal dignity and strength of Abraham who speaks to Abimelech with authoritative forcefulness. But, which is always the case in the Bible, the greater stress is not upon the inherent qualities of a person but upon his significance as a servant of God.

 

 

26 And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.

 

Abraham did the right thing and confronted his neighbor with the facts, but Abraham declared that he knew nothing about it. Was he telling the truth? Only God knows, but Abraham made sure the problem would never surface again.

 

 

27 And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.

28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

29 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?

30 And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.

31 Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.

 

Wells of water are scarce and valuable in those countries. Abraham made sure that his title to the well was confirmed in order to prevent quarrels and disputes from arising in the future.

 

 

In making the treaty (covenant) Abraham gave Abimelech both “sheep and cattle (oxen)” (v. 27; the reverse of 20:14{1]), including “seven ewe lambs (vs. 29-30). The “seven ewe lambs” were like receipts guaranteeing that Abraham owned the well. The name of the well (Beersheba means “well of the oath”) was another witness to the transaction. Both men swore to uphold the covenant, and the problem was solved. This secured Abraham’s right to live in the land peacefully, and legally forced Abimelech to recognize that “this well” at “Beersheba” belonged to Abraham (vs. 30-31). In this way the patriarch secured by treaty the right to the well, that is, God’s provision of blessing.

 

 

The entire transaction involved three elements; sacrifices (vs. 21-27), witnesses (vs. 28-30), and promises (vs. 31-32). You find these same elements in God’s covenant with us through our Lord Jesus Christ, as outlined in Hebrews 10:1-18. First, there is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (vs. 1-14); then the witness of the Spirit within the believer (v. 15); and finally, the promise of God’s Word (vs. 16-18). Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech only guaranteed possession of a well that provides water to sustain life. God’s covenant with his people guarantees that we have the living water that gives everlasting life to all who will trust the Savior!

 

 

32 Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

 

This time the two men went beyond merely giving their oath: They made a covenant that involved slaying animals (v. 27; 15:9-10{9]). As Abraham and Abimelech walked between the carcasses of the sacrifices, they were saying, in effect, “May God do to us and more if we fail to keep our covenant with each other.” This was a serious matter.

 

 

33 And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.

 

The grove (or an “oak” or “tamarisk” tree) was also a part of the covenant, a witness to the promises Abraham and Abimelech had made.

 

 

You could follow Abraham’s journey by looking for the wells he dug and the alters he built (12:7-8{10]; 13:4, 18{11]). He was not ashamed to build his alter in the presence of his neighbors and offer his worship to the Lord. A new name for God is introduced here El Olam, “the everlasting God.” Abraham already knew El Elyon (“God Most High”—14:19, 22{12]) and El Shaddai (“God Almighty,” the “All Sufficient One”—17:1{13]); but now he has a new name to use in his worship. It is important as we go through life that we learn more and more about God so we can worship Him better.

 

 

34 And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days.

 

The land in the vicinity of Beersheba (Beersheba was about 45 miles southwest of Jerusalem) must have been well-suited for grazing sheep and cattle because Abraham pitched his tent there and stayed “many days.” While there, he made it his constant practice to worshipped God openly. There he called upon the Lord as “the everlasting God,” probably in the grove he planted, which was his house of prayer. “Many days” may have been as long as ten to fifteen years because Isaac was a young man when he accompanied Abraham to Mount Moriah (Ge. 22). It must have been a peaceful time of great happiness as they watched their precious son grow up. Little did they know the great test that lay before them, but God was preparing them, and they would be ready.

 

 

To plant a tree in Beersheba takes for granted a constant supply of water, and indicated Abraham’s determination to stay in the region. God would bless with well water and Abraham would stay settled in the land. Dwelling under one’s tree was a sign of peaceful security (Zech. 3:10{2]).

 

 

This passage certainly anticipated Israel’s future coexistence in the land with other tribes who would respond to the message of peace and desire to share in the blessing.

 

 

Far older than Abraham was the belief among ancient peoples that awesome and grand objects of nature might be the dwelling places of the divine. Some mighty oak or other majestic tree could suggest the supernatural. That could be superstition; but it can also be the symbolic poetry of worship. Joyce Kilmer lent wings to imagination when she wrote of . . .

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

 

And Abraham may have been led to larger thoughts “of the LORD, the everlasting God,” within the grove he planted at Beersheba.

 

 

The Lord Jesus prayed in a garden on a mountain. Abraham kept up public worship in the hope that his neighbors might observe his prayers and sacrifices and then follow his example. The people of God should not only return the goodness shown to them, but wherever they go they should do all they can to propagate it. Wherever we go we must never neglect nor be ashamed to worship God.

 

 

The Philistines (v. 32) settled in Palestine en masse around 1200 b.c. However some sea traders settled on the coast of Palestine as early as Abraham, who lived 2166-1991 b.c.

 

 

scripture reference and special notes

 

{1] (Ge. 20:14) Then Abim'elech took sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves, and gave them to Abraham, and restored Sarah his wife to him.

 

{2] (Zech 3:10) In that day, says the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree."

 

{3] (Ps. 3:1-3) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

 

{4] (Ge. 14:13) Then one who had escaped came, and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner; these were allies of Abram.

 

{5] (Ge. 26:18) And Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the names which his father had given them.

 

{6] (Ge. 20:15) And Abim'elech said, "Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you."

 

{7] (Matt. 5:37) Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.

 

{8] (James 5:12) But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation.

 

{9] (Ge. 15:9-10) He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.

 

{10] (Ge. 12:7-8) Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

 

{11] (Ge. 13:4, 18) to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD. . . So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.

 

{12] (Ge. 14:19, 22) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, maker of heaven and earth,

 

{13] (Ge. 17:1) When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.

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