This sermon is based on Genesis 21:22-34. Click here to read the text.
At the time of Isaac’s weaning (v. 22, see Genesis 21:8ff), Abraham was living in the region of Canaan governed by King Abimelech of Gerar. Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, visited Abraham and called him to “swear by God” that he would deal honestly and loyally with Abimelech, as he had dealt kindly with Abraham. Abraham had previously deceived Abimelech (Genesis 20), so there is some history between them to support his concern. In addition to that episode between them, it may be that Abimelech was a bit nervous about the prosperity of Abraham and his people. He noted that God was with Abraham in all that he did. That is likely an indication that Abraham was materially blessed. He had previously commanded an army of 318 men (no small force in those days) in order to rescue Lot from Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14). Perhaps the number of fighting men under his authority was even more numerous by the time he had encamped near Gerar? Such a concern would explain the presence of Phicol alongside Abimelech for this talk. Abraham had also previously been put in a position to intercede before God on Abimelech’s behalf, resulting in fruitfulness for Abimelech and his people (Genesis 20:17-18). Perhaps Abimelech was interested in accessing more of that blessing? Regardless of Abimelech’s motive(s) in approaching Abraham, he was right to point out God’s presence with Abraham in all that he did. In that sense we could say that Abimelech was exercising faith in God that He would continue to prosper Abraham and his descendants into the future. With that in mind, Abimelech wanted to secure a covenant that would serve him and Abraham as well as their successors. Abraham agreed to swear such loyalty to Abimelech (v. 24).
Perhaps in the same conversation, or perhaps at a later time, Abraham raised a concern to Abimelech about a well he had dug that some of Abimelech’s people had seized. It is in the context of that concern that the covenant between Abimelech and Abraham was either ratified or renewed. We can learn several things from their interaction about how to deal well with others through our faith in Christ Jesus, who is eternally faithful to us.
First, Abraham dealt truthfully and boldly with Abimelech regarding the seized well. He might have been tempted to fear Abimelech as he had previously, but Abraham trusted that the LORD, who had been faithful to give him Isaac, would deal faithfully with him on this occasion as well. So, he reproved Abimelech for taking the well by force. The Bible calls us to be truthful, just, and bold in dealing with others regarding sin, especially our fellow believers (Leviticus 19:17-18; Proverbs 3:12; Matthew 18:15-17; Hebrews 12:5-6). It can be tempting to shrink back from this responsibility out of fear of rejection or retaliation but we do so in faith that the Lord uses us to hold one another accountable and to call one another to repentance in Christ. Some of Jesus’ earliest, and oft repeated, words in His ministry were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near/has come.”
Second, Abraham showed submissiveness to Abimelech. The land would one day belong to the people of Israel but that day had not yet come. At the time, by God’s sovereign will, Abimelech was the king of the region and as such Abraham honored him by showing him deference and honor. Submission to authorities God has put in place is not a popular matter in our cultural climate but it is a common theme in Scripture. Whether it be wives submitting to husbands (Ephesians 5:22-33), children submitting to parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), servants submitting to masters (Ephesians 6:5-9), disciples submitting to elders (Hebrews 13:17), or Christians submitting to secular authorities (Romans 13:1ff) such submission is a call to trust in the sovereign, infallible authority of God by our humble submission to the fallible authority of people in the here and now. Jesus showed His trust in the Father and His love for us by humbly taking on the nature of a servant and submitting Himself to the authorities who ultimately called for and carried out His death on the cross.
Third, Abraham dealt peaceably with Abimelech. He could have been tempted to respond to the seizure of his well with a rebellion, perhaps even with violence, seeking to seize for himself a portion of the land that God had promised would belong to his descendants one day. Such an effort would be akin to his attempt to fulfill the promise of a son by conceiving Ishmael with Hagar. Abraham showed a patient faith on this occasion, trusting God and acting peaceably toward Abimelech. Instead of cutting off relationship with the king of Gerar, Abraham sought to cut a covenant with him. Jesus has dealt peaceably with us by shedding His own blood that we might have peace with God. Therefore, we too can act peaceably towards others, even those who do us evil (Romans 12:14-21).
Fourth, Abraham dealt sacrificially with Abimelech. He gave Abimelech sheep and oxen to ratify the covenant between them. Then he provided seven ewe lambs as covenant sacrifices. This sevenfold sacrifice would have been expensive, not only in the moment but in the future as well, as he was giving up not only the seven sheep themselves but also their future wool, milk, and offspring. We are the recipients of a priceless grace, as the debt of our sin has been paid by Jesus Christ through His costly, sacrificial death on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). Having been loved so lavishly we are enabled to deal sacrificially with others, laying our lives down to the glory of God and giving our time, treasures, and talents to serve our neighbors to the glory of God.
After the covenant had been made, Abimelech and Phicol returned to Gerar. Abraham proceeded to plant a tree. It may have been a relatively small gesture, but it signified that Abraham the pilgrim had hope that by the Everlasting God (v. 33) he would one day become Abraham the inheritor of land, and not just any land but a “better land”, the “city with foundations… whose builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-16). He did not put his hope in what was seen, but in the One in Whom he believed. Jesus is risen and has ascended to the right hand of God. He has promised to return one day to judge the living and the dead. At His return He will bring to fruition the reality of the New Jerusalem where all things are made new (Revelation 21:1-5). Because we have the hope of inheriting a share in that eternal city of God through Christ we can “plant trees” (literally and figuratively) in the here and now, knowing that what we sow to the glory of God in the present will bear fruit in the Kingdom of God for eternity.
Discuss and Pray – Genesis 21:22-34
- How has Christ enabled you to deal truthfully with others?
- How has Christ empowered you to submit to authority figures?
- How has Christ equipped you to deal peaceably with others, even those who have done you harm?
- How has Christ enabled you to live sacrificially for God and others?
- What are some ways in which you have/do/intend to “plant trees” in the here and now that are a sign of your hope in the future blessing of the kingdom of God?