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God is With You

Date: Jun. 24, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 21:22-24

Key Verse: Genesis 21:22

At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, "God is with you in everything you do."

This week marked the beginning of summer and that means that, one week from today is July 1stand the year is nearly halfway over. Right now, we are actually six months removed from Christmas. We are six months away from Christmas trees, poinsettias, angels, snowflakes, Santa and the rest of it. In six months, there will be lights stung up and carols sung. We’ll all be in sweaters instead of sweating and boots instead of sandals. Sandcastles will give way to snowmen, and furnaces will burn instead of air conditioning whirling. It feels like an odd thing to think about right now. It is the end of June and here I am talking about Christmas. Well, this last Christmas, Mike gave a message called “Immanuel: God With Us”. Today, I want to revisit this idea of God being with us. In today’s passage, we see that Abimelek saw how God was with Abraham in everything and how Abimelek responded.

Our passage starts out, “At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, ‘God is with you in everything you do.’” (22) This passage takes place around the same time as the last one and, possibly, even before it chronologically, since there is no mention of Isaac in the passage. In our passage, we see Abimelek again. If you remember, back in chapter 20, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham moved south into the region of the Negev and stayed in Gerar. Abimelek was the king of Gerar who took Sarah to be his wife. Abraham, again, told Sarah to say that she was his sister and the deception almost cost Abraham his wife, yet again. God came to Abimelek and revealed the ruse to him, and then Abimelek gave Sarah back to Abraham. The relationship between Abraham and Abimelek was settled, but there was still some uneasiness between them. Because of Abraham’s deception, Abimelek was not sure if he could trust him. Abraham was formidable and could choose to attack Abimelek. Also, Abraham was a foreigner in Abimelek’s land. He had no rights as a native person and people could take advantage of that.

In light of all this, Abimelek came to Abraham to make a treaty between them. Abimelek brought Phicol, his top general, as a show of force to Abraham and as insurance in case the deal fell through. Abraham didn’t prove himself to be trustworthy, so who knows what the outcome would be? Abimelek greets Abraham with a truth that he witnessed with his own eyes, “God is with you in everything that you do.” There is a possibility that Abimelek heard of Abraham and his exploits prior to arriving in his kingdom and the account with Sarah only solidified the thought about God’s involvement in Abraham’s life. So how was God with Abraham in everything? God told Abraham to go to the land of Canaan. When Abraham went to Egypt, God protected Abraham and his family. When his nephew Lot was abducted by four powerful kings, Abraham rescued them with his servants and God’s help. When Abraham had no son, God promised a son would come from Sarah. When Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, the Lord saved Lot and would turn him into two nations. When his son Isaac was born, and Ishmael had to be sent away, God was with him and watched over Ishmael. When Abraham lied to Abimelek about Sarah, God protected his marriage and kept Sarah safe. God really was with Abraham in everything that he did.

Abraham had a powerful ally, and Abimelek wanted to make sure that Abraham and his ally would be Abimelek’s ally. So, Abimelek continued, “Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness I have shown to you.” (23) Because of Abraham’s previous deception, Abimelek wanted assurances that it would not happen again. He wanted to be shown the same kindness that Abimelek showed Abraham. Abimelek allowed Abraham to live anywhere in his land and gave him a great amount of wealth, despite Abraham’s deceit. Now it was Abraham’s turn to repay Abimelek’s kindness in kind.

Abraham agreed to Abimelek’s request, but it also had a benefit for Abraham. Since Abraham was a foreigner, he was not subject to the benefits of the native people. So, the people from there could mistreat him. Now, Abraham was wealthy and powerful, so the people probably wouldn’t do much to anger Abraham, but they could really annoy him. So, to test Abimelek’s honor and his kindness, Abraham brings up a dispute that he has with some of Abimelek’s servants. You see, Abraham had a well dug, but some of Abimelek’s servants seized it from him. Since Abraham was a foreigner, he could not do much about it because he didn’t want to start an international incident. This was an important matter because this area was pretty arid. It was on the edge of a desert and water in arid regions is precious. So, when Abraham dug the well, it was like finding gold. Abraham’s flocks and herds required a lot of grazing land and water and the well was a godsend until someone else took it over. It is similar to the reason that some people do dibs in the winter when you park on the street. When it snows, some people shovel out their cars and leave chairs and junk in the parking spot to claim it for when they return, because if they do not, someone will come in and claim it for their own. It is upsetting because the people who stole the spot treat it like they did all the hard work in clearing the spot out. Abraham couldn’t call dibs on the well that he dug, so it was taken.

With this opportunity, Abraham brought up this incident with the well. It would test, Abimelek’s side of the treaty and prove if Abraham would be treated fairly. “But Abimelek said, ‘I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.’” (26) Abimelek had never heard of this incident before. It was the first time he had heard of it. The perpetrators were his servants, but this event was hidden from him. Now, we could think that Abimelek is lying to Abraham, but Abimelek really honored truthfulness and was appalled at Abraham’s deceit, so I don’t think that Abimelek was lying. Now, his servants might be lying to him, but I don’t think that he was lying to Abraham. I truly believe that this is the first time Abimelek heard of these accusations. If Abimelek knew of the offense, he would not have pursued the treaty on that day. He would have sought a resolution of the matter first before trying to make a treaty.

In response to Abimelek’s words, Abraham offers freely the appropriate sacrifice to seal the treaty. “So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty.” (27) At first glance, it looks like Abraham just gives Abimelek a gift, but it was actually for the treaty ceremony. It probably looked very similar to what is seen in Genesis 15, when God establishes a covenant with Abraham. The animals were killed and cut in half and both people making the treaty would walk between the severed halves. In chapter 15, only God and his firepot passed through the halves, signifying a one-sided covenant, but here both parties would have passed through, sealing the treaty between the two men. Again, we see how God is with Abraham. Even though it was Abimelek who sought the treaty, it was Abraham who offered the sheep and cattle from his flock and herd. Abraham gave from the wealth that God had given him. He was able to show his generosity because God was with Abraham.

But there was more to the treaty than the standard sacrifice. “Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock,” (28) Abraham took seven ewe lambs from his flock and set them aside. It was an unusual move because Abimelek required an explanation for Abraham’s actions, “and Abimelek asked Abraham, ‘What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?’ He replied, ‘Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.’” (29-30) Abraham offered the seven lambs as a witness that he dug the well. Seven ewe lambs was a lot. It wasn’t an insignificant amount. The ewe lambs represented the next generation of the flock and seven of them represented Abraham’s wealth that, again, God provided him. For many people seven ewe lambs would mean that the next generation of the flock would be in jeopardy. The owner wouldn’t have enough ewes to propagate the flock further, but Abraham was so wealthy that he could give seven lambs to Abimelek with little consequence on his flock. Again, God was with him. The seven lambs also showed how important the well was. It was a big amount because Abraham was serious that the well was his.

The treaty was sealed, and the region earned a new name, Beersheba, because of it. “So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.” (31) There are two possible meanings here. Beersheba could mean “well of the oath” or “well of the seven”. Both meaning have significance to his passage because of the well, the treaty and the seven lambs. Throughout the history of Israel in the region, Beersheba marks the southern edge of the boundary of Israel as noted in the term “from Dan to Beersheba”.

After the treaty was made Abimelek and Phicol returned to the land of the Philistines, which signified a couple of things. One is that Beersheba was not under Philistine control, because they returned to the land of the Philistines. The other is that it was Abimelek and Phicol that approached Abraham about the treaty. If Abraham approached Abimelek, then Abraham would have been the one who left the scene, but instead it is Abimelek who leaves and returns home. Abraham, on the other hand, plants a tamarisk tree and calls on the name of the Lord. A tamarisk tree is a plant that thrives in arid regions. Its leaves provide a shady spot in the harsh desert sun for people to refresh. Abraham called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God under this tree. It has become a place of worship for Abraham and recalls what he did early in his time in Canaan. This tree or one very much like it, is probably what Ishmael hid under in the last passage after being sent away from Abraham. It was where the Lord spoke to Hagar, just like Abraham calling on the name of the Lord.

At Beersheba, Abraham worshipped the Lord as the Eternal God or El Olam. This is a term that is only used once in the Bible, here, and it is a term that would have been familiar to the native inhabitants of the region. El Olam signifies God’s eternal qualities, specifically his faithfulness. Only the Lord is able to keep his promises eternally. We heard last week that God always keeps his promises and that there is only one big promise remaining, that is Jesus’ return to this earth. God was faithful to Abraham in everything that he did and in this passage, we see that Abraham surviving the trouble of a region as a foreigner and enjoys the prosperity that only God can give. Again, great is God’s faithfulness to Abraham.

We’ve been talking about the Lord’s faithfulness. God is always faithful, especially to his own word. God was with Abraham in everything that he did. The Lord wasn’t with Abraham just when he was obedient. The Lord was with Abraham in everything that he did, including when Abraham messed up. There are some big examples of this, especially the two times Abraham lied to two kings about Sarah being his sister. In both cases, Sarah was taken as someone else’s wife. Because of his own bonehead decisions, Abraham lost his wife twice. In both cases, Abraham was not following God’s directions, and yet, the Lord was with Abraham and protected his marriage for him. In both cases, the kings were prevented by God from sleeping with Sarah and muddying Abraham’s marriage. I think that it is really wonderful how God was with Abraham in everything that he did. It really does show God’s faithfulness in everything. He is not contingent on our own faithfulness to him. It is entirely one-sided because of God grace to us.

Now, none of us has the type of relationship that Abraham has with God, but we do have Jesus. As I mentioned in the beginning and we heard around Christmastime, Jesus was born into this world as Immanuel, God with us. Jesus is God in the flesh. He is God that came down from heaven to have a relationship with us. Jesus came down, not to have us follow a set of rules, but to be with us in everything that we do. Jesus came down to forgive us of our sins and bring us to him. Jesus’ offer to us is not contingent on our actions but based on his grace to us through his faithfulness. If it were based on our own actions, we would have to be right with God before we could come to God, but “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son”. (Romans 5:10) Instead of sending us, his enemies, to death, he sent is own Son to death so that we could be reconciled to him. We could be redeemed by the very blood of Jesus. It was no effort of our own that earned us this, but purely the grace that comes from a faithful God. All there is for us to do is accept that grace.

When we were God’s enemies, he sent Jesus to bring us back to him. Just think of what God will do after you accept his grace to us. We would be like Abraham and God will be with us in everything that we do. Now, this isn’t a call for us to live a sinful life after accepting Jesus and expecting God to pick up all the pieces afterwards. That doesn’t show your love for God at all. Jesus came to give us a loving relationship with God. If we choose to actively forsake that relationship, we spit in Jesus’ face, but the unfathomable grace of God brings a sense of thankfulness that wants for us to always want to please God. Being saved by Jesus means that we want to please God in all that we do. Now, still being sinful means that we do stumble many times, but those stumbles are not premeditated and malicious toward God. Instead, the ways we stumble reveal our weaknesses. They reveal the fears that we have not given to God and the sins that we have not repented of.

But that is the truly wonderful thing about God’s grace and faithfulness to us. He protects us when we need protecting and lifts us up when we need lifting. When we aim to do God’s will, are efforts are blessed, just like Abraham. When we misstep and give into fear, God protects us, but we never lose our salvation. Jesus said of those who believe in him, “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) This verse shows God’s power that no one can take anything or anyone from God, but it also shows God’s faithfulness. There is nothing that you can do to lose your salvation. If you believe in Jesus and seek his will, he is God with you.

Sometimes, we think that God wants nothing to do with us. We may mess up so badly that we think that God must be done with us. He must never want to see us again. We think that God must be punishing us because of our stupid decisions, but God’s punishment only comes at the end times. When all creation is spent, punishment will come to those who are not right before God. Until then, however, whatever happens to us is not punishment because punishment means that God is no longer with us. When we slip away from God and fall because of our weaknesses, God does correct us, but not to punish us, but to bring us back to him to protect us from future harm. God is with us.

I am not a perfect man by any definition. I get distracted and focused on the wrong things. I get frustrated and irritated relatively easily. I don’t cultivate the best relationships and I can be a giant rage monster, but I am seeking Jesus. I may be weak, but I am not abandoned by God. I know he forgives me and is making me into a better man. He is drawing me closer and closer to him. The Lord is with me in everything that I do, and he is with you too. I am not special in this. God is patient through all of your weaknesses and he is bringing you back to him. God is faithful. Great is God’s faithfulness. As we sang earlier, “Faithful you have been and faithful you will be. You pledge yourself to me and it is why I sing.” So, let us pray and then sing.

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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