- Locate the passage
This passage chronicles a covenant between Abraham and Abimelech. The significance of this passage is Abraham finding a place in the land promised to him in safety. Another highlight of this passage is the explanation for the origin of the name Beersheba.
The passage is narrative. It records the conversation between Abraham and Abimelech and their mutual promise of kindness to each other.
- Determine the structure of the passage
21:22-24 – A treaty of truth
21:25-31 – An undisputed well
21:32-34 – A place to call on the name of the Lord
- Exegete the passage
When Abraham and Abimelech previously met, on the occasion when Abraham lied about his wife, Abimelech endorsed Abraham living “where it pleases you” (20:15). Thus, while the Lord gave Abraham authority to dwell in this land, his presence was recognized by the king of Gerar.
21:22 – Abimelech recognized the blessing of the Lord on Abraham.
- This may grow out of the previous encounter when God spoke to Abimelech, called Abraham a prophet, and answered Abraham’s prayer (for the infertility of the women in his house).
- Although some of Abraham’s resources came directly from Abimelech (20:16), the king sees the blessing of the Lord on “all that you do.”
- The significance of the presence of Phichol at the ceremony indicates Abimelech’s promise not to pursue military action against Abraham.
21:23 – Abimelech proposes a treaty “not to deal falsely”
- No doubt, the king remembered their previous encounter when Abraham dealt falsely with him.
- This is the term used in Ex. 20:16 in the command not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor.
- Abimelech has reason to be suspicious of Abraham, but recognizes God’s blessing on his life, so he wisely seeks a covenant of truth and peace between them.
- Abimelech’s proposal includes his offspring, but does not specifically include any offspring of Abraham. Perhaps he is unaware of the birth of Isaac.
- Abimelech professed to have shown “kindness” (Hb. “chesed”) to Abraham. This is one of the attributes of God to His people.
21:25-26 – Interrupting the covenant-making ceremony, Abraham airs a grievance that he has with Abimelech related to Abimelech’s servants taking possession of a well that Abraham previously dug.
- This event is not recorded in Scripture. However, see 26:17-33, where Isaac also has a dispute with Abimelech (likely not the same person) over wells and makes a treaty with him.
- Abimelech protests that he is unaware of the situation regarding the disputed well and suggests that Abraham bears some of the blame for not telling him of the situation.
21:27 – “They made a covenant”
- The term for making a treaty (used here and vs. 32) is “karat”
- “to cut”
21:28-30 – The giving and receiving of the lambs stipulates that Abraham dug the well in Beersheba and thus rightfully owns the well.
21:31 – “Beersheba”
- “be’er” means “well”
- Note the significance of the word “oath” (Hb. “shava”) in this pericope (23, 24, 31, 31). That word sounds very much like the Hebrew word for “seven” (“sheva”) used in 21:28, 29, and 30. Thus, Beersheba can mean, “well of oath,” or “well of seven.” So, outside of the name, “Beersheba,” the word “shava” occurs three times and the word “sheva” occurs three times in this passage. The name, “Beersheba” seems to play on them both. Plus, if you add the three times “shava” is used and the three times “sheva” is used with the use of “Beersheba” that makes a total of seven times the words are used.
21:33 – Abraham called on the name of the Lord
- The tree sealed the site of the oath. Abraham called on the name of the Lord.
- Spiritual markers remind us of the goodness of the Lord in our lives.
- “The everlasting God”
- This is the first use of “everlasting” (Hb. “olam”) as a name for the Lord
- This is the word used on the covenant with Abraham (13:15; 17: 7, 8, 13, 19). God promised that His covenant with Abraham would be an everlasting covenant; Abraham recognized God as “everlasting.”
21:34 – Living in the land of the Philistines
- This foreshadows future encounters between the Israelites and the Philistines. See also David living in the land of the Philistines (1 Sam. 27:7)
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
- Evidence that God is with you
- Do others see the hand of God on your life?
- Is God evident in all that you do?
- Covenants of Kindness
- Show us kindness – like we have been kind to you
- Even as God’s kindness draws us to him, our kindness with others should point them to Him.
- Calling on God’s Name in whatever land you live
- Despite the struggles in this new land, Abraham remembers his covenant with God (the God of Everlasting) and calls on His name
This passage raises three questions relevant for believers today:
- Do others see God in you?
- Do others see kindness in you?
- Do you call on the name of the Lord regardless of your circumstances?
Application: Seven lambs sealed the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech, but it was one spotless lamb named Jesus who forever sealed God’s covenant with His people.