Daily Distinctives, May 4, 2018 – I Swear

It is good to be back in the WORD after a crazy long day. I managed to get much accomplished today and so it was quite productive, but I long for this time where I get to really analyze the Scriptures and learn. “But that is what church is for, ” you say? Yes, I agree, we go to church to learn and to worship and to fellowship, but there is nothing that quite compares to digging in for yourself. I encourage anyone who reads this devotional to follow suit and really study the Scriptures for yourself. For me, personally, it where I truly get fed. I have been studying the Bible for over 25 years now and heard some fantastic teaching from truly gifted and godly teachers. I have learned so much from them over the years, but it does not hold a candle to my time alone with the LORD. There is no rush to get in and get out, I am not held to a one-hour time-frame. I can take my time really pouring through the Scripture and studying it. What I like to do is read the passage first and think about what is going on. Then I read several commentaries on the subject, finally, I talk to God about what I have studied and let the Holy Spirit work with as I write. But what I love the most about my time in the WORD is that I am spending time with the LORD each time I open my Bible. So that said, welcome back to chapter 21 of Genesis. I decided that I would break this down into three studies because of the content and the natural breaks in the settings or scenes if you will.

In the first part of chapter 21, we looked at the birth of Isaac. In the second study, we examined the plight of Ishmael and Hagar, and today we are going back to visit once again with Abraham and his encounter with Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of Abimelech’s army.

[Gen 21:22 NKJV] And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “God [is] with you in all that you do.

Sometime after the dismissal of Ishmael and Hagar from the fold, Abraham settled in the area that Abimelech had told he could have free reign in. Some commentators argue that the Abimelech we see here is not the Abimelech from previous studies, but that this was a title of sorts, kind of like Ceasar or Pharaoh were to the Roman and Egyptians. If this is the case, then the Abimelech, or king is not known by name. I don’t care much for interpretation because of what we see in the next verse, but as it pertains to this verse we see the king and the commander of his army approaching Abraham. Now, this might be viewed as an act of aggression. For what purpose did the king have to bring his commander? We see this today on the world stage, a posturing of sorts to show power. I think of the North Korean’s and what little media we get from within their borders. Usually, we see their army marching in formation followed by military vehicles with missiles on their backs. Perhaps this was the case with Abimelech. No doubt he traveled with armed men. It would not be prudent for a king to do otherwise considering the times and the area that they were in.

Notice that they affirm to Abraham that they have witnessed how God has been with Abraham in everything that he does. As believers today, we have the Holy Spirit living in us and so most certainly God is with us in all that we do as well. Now some use this as an argument for the prosperity movement. While Abraham was, indeed, a wealthy man and prospered, having God with you in all that you do does not guarantee that you will be healthy, wealthy and wise, save the latter, and even then it is dependent upon obedience and trust as to the amount of wisdom that you might have. If anything, walking with God will bring about trials and convictions but even these seem light in comparison to the greatest reward of walking with God which is knowing Him and receiving salvation.

Perhaps it was because God had allowed Abraham to prosper that the pair now approaches Abraham. The world seems to be attracted by those who wealthy and powerful. Abraham was established and was likely the leader of a formidable clan at this point. God had promised that his descendants would outnumber the stars, and so he was likely already laying the foundations for a people that would one day be too numerous to count. It could be that Abimelech took note of Abrahams rapid growth, and hearing stories of how virile Abraham was even in his old age, would have been all the more reason for the king to strike a deal with Abraham and forge a treaty or alliance. For those who might be reading this and who are not believers in the Everlasting God, take note. It might benefit you to associate yourself with believers if only for the overflow of mercy which God showers the believer with. I am reminded of the woman who made Jesus take note because of her tremendous faith, when she said, even the dogs get the scraps from the Master’s table (Matthew 15:27).

If it is, as some commentators suggest, that Abimelech was some random king then perhaps he approached Abraham to negotiate some kind of treaty and perhaps to tax Abraham through owing for allowing him to persist in the land unhindered.  Again, I tend to believe that this was a familiar king, the one that Abraham encountered in previous studies.

[Gen 21:23 NKJV] “Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.”

It would not have been uncommon for an oath to be made in this time any more than it is for a contract to be signed in our own. The one custom unique to this era is the swearing by the god or deity of the other party. I would note that Abimelech asks Abraham to swear to him by God. He could have said “swear to me by your God,” but it seems to me that they shared a common relationship with the One True God. If this is the same Abimelech that Abraham encountered earlier on, then he would have known who God was as it was God who visited him in a dream.

Abimelech asks Abraham to make a lasting, transferrable covenant with him that would extend to his children and his children’s, children. No doubt, Abimelech was aware of the covenant that God had made with Abraham, and so it would be only prudent for him to align himself with Abraham knowing that God was for him. Again, these kinds of alliances, especially with those who are kingdom minded make for lasting and secure relationships.

Notice here that Abimelech appeals to a previous and perhaps ongoing kindness which was afforded to Abraham. This is one of the reasons that I strongly feel that the Abimelech mentioned here is the same spoken of previously. You may recall from previous studies that Abimelech rebuked Abraham and Sarah both for lying to him, but proceeded to bless Abraham and allow him free reign in the land. Certainly, this reminder would have caused Abraham to be all the more agreeable to cutting a covenant with him.

[Gen 21:24 NKJV] And Abraham said, “I will swear.”

Now, you may have heard or have been taught that swearing oaths is forbidden, and I would agree to the extent that they should not be entered into lightly or in vain. You can’t just go around swearing to God for anything and everything, that kind of swearing is certainly to be condemned. But the reality is that oaths and vows are perfectly acceptable and even commended in the Scriptures. An oath or a vow should never be entered into lightly but should be used in matters of great importance. One example would be the vows that are made when one is married.

Still, there are some New Testament passages that seem to forbid the making of oaths and vows. The one that comes to mind at the present is from Matthew 5:37 which exhorts us to let “Let our yes be yes, and our no be no.” I have always felt that your word is your bond. If you tell someone you are going to do something then you ought to do it. I believe that Jesus used this illustration to stave off people who might enter into covenants where they did not attend to uphold their end of the arrangement. When you look at the customs of Jesus’ day according to some extrabiblical documentation, people would swear by heaven or the gold of the temple because there was not true accountability in these things. To swear by God, on the other hand, was the greatest of accountability.

 

[Gen 21:25 NKJV] Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized.

Now, I kind of laughed a little when I read this because I thought of the irony of it. When we last encountered Abimelech, it was he who was rebuking Abraham. Now the tables are turned and we find Abraham rebuking Abimelech. I almost wonder if Abraham did this in a light-hearted way and when he finished his rebuke he did one of those, “Ahhh…see what I did there,” things that I love so much.

Abraham had a real issue though. It would appear that some of Abimelech’s servants had taken a well that Abraham had dug. Now whether or not Abraham physically dug them himself or his servants did is of no real consequence. The important thing is that they were dug. When you consider the arid climate of the Middle East you understand the necessity for water wells. But it is also important to note that many commentators tie land ownership with wells. If that is the case, then it would seem that Abraham was not so much concerned about the well, as he was the stake of land he laid claim to. It is also important to consider that many commentators suggest that it was not just a single well but seven wells in all.

But what we have here is the dealings of a shrewd businessman. It is no wonder that Abraham became wealthy. He literally has Abimelech over a barrel. Abraham surely knows that he has amassed a formidable force, and the very fact that the king has approached him to make a covenant instead of the other way around likely made Abraham feel that he was holding all the cards. And so before accepting Abimelech’s offer he uses this as an opportunity to put the matter of the wells and the land to bed.

[Gen 21:26 NKJV] And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor had I heard [of it] until today.”

Now, it would appear that banter between the two was kind of tongue in cheek as Abimelech plays dumb concerning the matter. No doubt Abraham caught it and was reminded of his deceit with Abimelech earlier on. Had it not been for God’s intervention, Abimelech would have committed an egregious sin. Now whether or not Abimelech actually knew of the infraction committed by his servants or not could be debated, but I have no reason to believe that he was not a man of integrity. I certainly do not believe that Abraham was wary of him either based on the fact that Abraham agrees to covenant with Abimelech. We have to remember that Abraham was wise when it came to negotiations. It highly doubtful that he would enter into an agreement with someone that he could not trust.

[Gen 21:27 NKJV] So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant.

If you have been following along with me to this point you will remember from a previous study that when a covenant was “cut” the two parties would literally cut animals in half and walk through the pieces symbolizing the severity of the agreement. To fail to live up to your end of the agreement, you were essentially saying, with God as the witness, let the fate of these animals fall upon the guilty party.

[Gen 21:28 NKJV] And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

With the covenant cut, Abraham pulls out seven more lambs. Now, I find this interesting because of the debates that I have read regarding the number of wells that are suggested by commentators numbering seven. And of course, there are the numerological implications of seven being a perfect number and all.

[Gen 21:29 NKJV] Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What [is the meaning of] these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?”

Now, they had already “cut” a deal and so there was no further need for additional sacrifices. I believe this is why Abimelech is scratching his head at this point wondering what Abraham is up to now.

[Gen 21:30 NKJV] And he said, “You will take [these] seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.”

Abraham. You have to give him credit for being one of the best salesmen of all times. The covenant had already been made, but this was kind of like an addendum if you will. Abraham wants it to be known that he was very serious about wells and more likely the land that the wells were on. I think that while Abimelech had given Abraham free reign of the land that this was Abrahams way of telling the king that he had settled on the place where he would put down roots. From that day forward there would be no mistaking whose land and whose wells they were.

[Gen 21:31 NKJV] Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there.

Now, this is where the whole number seven comes into play. The name “Beer” means well (I wonder if that is why they call bars “watering holes” since you get beer there), and “Sheba” is the number seven in the Hebrew language. Now some commentators say that this word “sheba” also means to make an oath or a vow, but I looked at several synonyms for the word oath or vow in my Stongs and did not see much support for this. Still, I can barely manage the English language and so I have no business meddling with the Hebrew interpretations. I would think though that would name the place after the purpose for which they made an oath and not be so redundant as to name the place “oath of the wells,” but instead call it “seven wells.” That seems to make more sense to me personally.  If you look throughout Scripture when a name is given to a place, the name often relates to a significant event that took place there, otherwise, there would be many places named “promise.” The only place that I would call “promise” would be the “promised land,” but that is a little way later in our study, LORD willing.

[Gen 21:32 NKJV] Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. So Abimelech rose with Phichol, the commander of his army, and they returned to the land of the Philistines.

Now, this is interesting because there were no Philistines yet. The Philistines would come later arguably from the land of Egypt. This is what you might call an anachronism, as it seems out of place all things considered. But I think for our purposes and to dwell within the intent of the author, this reference is more geographical than anthropological. All that to say, both parties parted.

[Gen 21:33 NKJV] Then [Abraham] planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.

Here again, we get into some interesting debates. The NKJV says Abraham planted a tamarisk tree where the oath was made. Many commentators suggest that he planted a grove of trees and continue, ad nauseam, arguing over things like the origins of tree worship, druids, fruit, shade and open-air temples. I tend to think that Abraham did something a little different here than he had in the past. Normally, he would have erected an altar of some kind. Here he plants a tree. Maybe he was taking the idea of putting down roots quite literally. I think it is a neat idea. To plant something in honor of God and then to call on the name of LORD would be neat.

I remember when I was younger, planting trees with my dad in our front yard. My dad planted a tree for each of us kids. The one he planted for me got struck by lightning…go figure. And so he planted a big palm tree for me after that. Now, years later, I can drive by their old house and I remember so much because of those trees that are still there in the front yard. I think that it is kind of a living memorial of sorts and so I can understand why Abraham would have planted a tree and for simpler reasons than what the brains argue about.

[Gen 21:34 NKJV] And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines many days.

Again, I think this is referring to the region that would one day be inhabited by the Philistines. It would seem that Abraham wandered freely but set up a base of operations at the very least there in Beersheba. But I have been known to read a chapter or two ahead only to discover that what I previously thought was incorrect. That is the beauty of studying though, I am on a constant journey of discovery and reproving myself as I grow in the WORD. Thanks for joining me today!

Prayer: LORD, it is well past my bedtime now, but I want to tell You how much I love You. The only takeaway I have right now is a desire to plant a tree in Your honor, but I am sure over the next couple of days as this study sinks in I will have a more profound lesson in mind. Still, I do want to plant a tree in Your honor, that would be so cool. I mean You are the one who would have to give it life and sustain it, I have never been accused of having a green thumb. So, LORD, I pray that You would give me good rest tonight and that if I have another tomorrow it would be spent honoring You. I will see You in the morning, unless You have need of me tonight, in which case I pray for wife and kids that You would care for them all the days of their lives. But LORD, should You give me another day, then I pray You would show me how to bless my family and to love on them as You have loved on me. To You be all glory and honor. It is in Your name that I pray. –Amen

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