Friday, August 28, 2009

“We see the Lord has been with you!” -- Genesis 26:26-33

Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, "Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?" They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.' " Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace. Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac's servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, "We have found water." So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

Even though Isaac has resettled in Beersheba, Abimelech apparently kept a close watch on his progress. Eventually, he makes a trip to Beersheba from Gerar to see Isaac, and he brings along two of his key people, an adviser named Ahuzzath and his army commander, Phicol. You may remember the proper noun Phicol from Genesis 21:22,32. As the chances of this being the same person from the days of Abraham is not likely, we can assume that Phicol is most probably, like Abimelech, a title given to all army commanders of the Philistines. The word used for advisor, merea, is translated as a companion or confidential friend, yet the actual word Ahuzzath is translated as ‘possession’. One could suppose that the king’s friends were indeed his possessions. To this point in scripture, the word used here for commander, sar, is translated as either commander or in the case of Genesis 12:15 as ‘official(s)’. In either case, it is one or more people assigned to be close to the king and to represent sources of strength, force, or protection, as required.

When they reach Isaac, he meets them head on with a most fitting question – “Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and had sent me away?” I am not sure if Abimelech’s entourage was prepared for that, but they certainly responded in a most interesting manner. In simple terms, these men were saying, “Isaac, we can see now that the Lord has been with you, and if that’s the case, we can’t afford to be at odds with you. If you ever decide to come after us, with God on your side, we don’t stand a chance. So let’s be allies. Let’s swear an oath and make a covenant between us that you won’t hurt us just as we didn’t hurt you when we sent you away. You are now blessed of God an we can’t deny that or fight it.”

What was Isaac’s biggest secret to his success? Simply this – he allowed God to deal with his enemies, choosing not to fight, but to always seeking peace, and if necessary, moving on. When one would expect Abimelech and the world to view such action as a weak defensive retreat, God saw to it that Isaac became the one to fear and the oppressors sought a treaty with him. Some of you may have experienced something similar in your own life. People that once fought you tooth and nail, and who you released from you life long ago, somehow come back to ask for your help and friendship – either because the chips were down for them or because they realized God was on your side.

At this very juncture in time, Isaac has a choice to make (as we all do when this happens to us). Does he extend a hand of agreement or does he send them back without it? The Bible says, “he made them a feast, and they ate and drank” and spent the night within his dwellings. Not only did he agree to the covenant but celebrated with them and accepted them into his household. That is a beautiful picture of what true reconciliation should look like – both between non-believers and us and between believers themselves. Oftentimes, when members of a local church are at odds with each other, they pay lip service to a treaty or they accept an apology, but are never really prepared to “celebrate” it and act accordingly as Isaac did here with Abimelech. With very rare exceptions (one example of which follows), it behooves us to go that extra step.

There are times, however, that one can accept the apologies of another party (and extend apologies in return) as to the hurt that has been caused, but may believe it is inappropriate to continue the relationship. One such example is two partners going into business together and one hurts the other or both hurt one another. Apologies are extended and accepted by both parties. One wants to continue working together; the other does not because it is now clear the approach of the parties to both business and relationships are indeed very different and incongruent. There would be no point in working together from then on. It is sufficient to make peace, bless each other, and go your separate ways.

The last part of this small portion of scripture is also of interest with respect to its timing. It says “the same day” that Abimelech and his party left Isaac’s household having made a peace covenant with him, Isaac’s people reported finding water from the well that they had dug earlier. Do the right thing and the blessing of God may well be instant – if not materially, certainly within your spirit. There is great joy and often tangible blessings as well in being a peacemaker.

Isaac then names that well Shibah, meaning ‘an oath’ and to this day the place is called Beersheba, meaning ‘the well of the oath’. Some may feel there is a conflict at this point with the content of Genesis 21:31 where Abraham names this location Beersheba as well many decades earlier. Remember that we are talking about a small town, later city, that was built around a well and in this case a well named because of an oath that had been made there. The fact remains that in Genesis 21:31, Abraham and a previous Abimelech had indeed made an oath at that very well. And yes, Abraham named the place Beersheba. The Philistines fill the well up and it dries. Decades later Isaac’s men re-dig the well while a later Abimelech and Isaac are making another covenant. The men then find water from this well (God allowed it to flow again) and Isaac also names the well Shibah and renames the town that has grown around it Beersheba. There is a great parallel here between the life of Abraham and the life of Isaac, his son. The latter is certainly very conscious of honoring the actions of his father by keeping the names Abraham had assigned years earlier.

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