Covenant Father 13: The Well of the Oath - Genesis 21:22-34

As we switch from dealing with Abraham’s internal family struggles to his witness to the world around him, the contrast is pretty striking: Ishmael mocks and divides the family, but King Abimelech sees God at work in Abraham’s life and wants to make a covenant with him. Ishmael can’t see the big picture because of his jealousy, but Abimelech recognizes the key truth: God is with Abraham.

Because Abimelech recognizes this, he and his military man come to make a covenant of peace. What Abimelech wants is peace and honest dealings between him and Abraham, but before they make a covenant, Abimelech and Abraham have to settle the matter of the stolen well. As we just saw with Hagar and Ishmael, access to a well is a matter of life and death for shepherds and their flocks. Also, for nomadic shepherds, a well rather than a house would serve as to mark out a place of permanence. If you had a well, you belonged there in the land.

Abimelech makes it clear that he was not trying to seize Abraham’s property; he knew nothing about the well. And so Abraham honors him with sheep and oxen, setting apart seven ewe lambs to claim ownership of the well, a claim Abimelech recognizes by accepting the gift. The covenant oaths and the well have the effect of giving Abraham a rightful claim to sojourn in Abimelech’s land as essentially a landowner.

The same Hebrew word “sheba” does double duty for both “seven” and “oath”, and so they call that place “Beersheba”, the well of the Oath/the well of the seven, named for the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech. After making the covenant, Abraham begins to put down roots (literally) here in Beersheba. He plants a tree as a marker and holds worship services, and he also introduces us to a new name for God: El Olam, the everlasting God. Abraham is a temporary sojourner wandering back and forth, but the God He serves is like a long-lived tree, planted by the life-giving water. Abimelech asked Abraham to swear an oath to him, to his descendants, and to his posterity, and Abraham intends to keep that oath forever.

That’s the account of Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech – an ancient agreement that was made between a king and a sheik thousands of years ago. So what does God have for us in these verses?

First, Abimelech wants to make sure that Abraham’s presence as a sojourner will be good for the land. You may not realize this, but there are many people in America who are very concerned that Christians are going to take over and stone everyone who disagrees with them. That sounds crazy to you, but the important thing is that it doesn’t sound crazy to some of our neighbors. People hear language about “taking dominion” or that non-Christians “stand condemned” and they get worried. They can’t really believe that our entire battle plan consists of preaching, baptizing, feasting with Jesus, and living quiet and peaceable lives.

So here’s what we do: We participate in the life of our city – buying and selling, working, playing, digging wells and making and keeping covenants. We speak openly and clearly about our faith, and about our hopes for our city: no false dealing. And we seek to bless our neighbors and our city through acts of love and service – we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and defend the fatherless and the widow: we deal kindly with the land where we are sojourning.

Second, Jesus famously called us to let our yes be yes and our no, no. What Jesus reminded His hearers was that God sees right through the sneakiness of false dealing, so you’d better go ahead and tell the truth. Throughout the Bible, God’s people make vows and swear oaths by God or in God’s name, like Abraham does here, and they are not wrong to do so, as long as they speak the truth and keep their word.

But what you do need to realize in every agreement or contract you sign, every promise you make, you are acting in God’s name, because you have been baptized in His name. When you promise to provide goods and services, or make payments, or agree to terms and conditions, you are putting God’s reputation on the line. That’s what Abraham understood, and why the Well of the Oath became a place of worship. Abraham’s promise and Abraham’s God are tied together. Since God is with you in all that you do, this means that you are obligated to keep your oaths as long as God lasts. And since you serve the Everlasting God, as long as you sojourn in this world, let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

Posted on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by CJ Bowen