************ Sermon on Genesis 21:22-34 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 21, 2013
"God is with You in Everything You Do"
A surprising number of commentaries go straight from the leaving of Hagar and Ishmael to the testing of Abraham in Genesis 22. I checked out some online sermon series on Genesis and they do the same thing. I looked over a sermon series I did on the stories of Abraham and I did the same thing. Suggesting what? Suggesting that the contents of our Bible reading are but a minor and incidental story.
But we know this cannot be the case. We know because we confess everything in the Bible is important. "All Scripture [not just some but all Scripture] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). We also know because Abraham's behavior indicates God has done something great and wonderful and important for him.
I Abraham Plants a Tree and Worships
A Abraham did three things after his treaty with Abimelech was concluded. First, Abraham "planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba" (Gen 21:33). Last April, on National Arbor Day, my Rotary Club planted trees throughout the city. The point of the day is to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. Is that what Abraham was doing? Was Abraham the first tree-hugger? That's not what Scripture tells us.
Have you ever noticed Abraham's attraction to trees in the Genesis account?
(Gen 12:6) Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.
(Gen 13:18) So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD. (Cf Gen 14:13)
(Gen 18:1) The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. (Cf Gen 18:4,8)
(Gen 21:33) Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God.
Scripture makes a point of describing the trees in Abraham's life as "great" (Gen 12:6; 13:18; 18:1). What makes these trees so great? Are they big and awesome like the Sequoias?
Five or six times a year I drop in on the Sequoias. Every time I am in awe, especially of the General Sherman tree, billed as the largest living thing on earth. Listen to the statistics:Is Abraham attracted to the trees in his life because of their size, their height, their weight, their age? That's not what Scripture tells us.
height - 275 feet;
circumference at the ground - 103 feet;
age - 2,000 years;
weight - 1,385 tons;
volume of its trunk - 52,500 cubic feet;
height of the first large branch - 130 feet;
diameter of its largest branch - 6.8 feet.
B So, what is so special or so great about the trees in Abraham's life? These trees are special because of what happens under them. Here we come to the second thing Abraham did after his treaty with Abimelech was concluded: there Abraham "called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God" (Gen 21:33).
Abraham did this at each one of the great trees. At the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem, Abraham built an altar to the Lord (Gen 12:7). Near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, Abraham also built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:18). And, in today's reading he planted a tamarisk tree and there he called upon the name of the Lord (Gen 21:33).
We worship God in this wonderful building. This is our sanctuary, our place of meeting with God. Abraham's sanctuary was under the trees. There he met with God and worshiped God and built altars and offered prayers.
Notice Abraham's new name for the God he worshiped: "Eternal God" (Gen 21:33). Abraham already knew and worshiped God as "YHWH" (Gen 12:7,8) – the creating God and source of life. He knew and worshiped God as "El Elyon" (Gen 14:19,22) – that is, God Most High. He knew and worshiped God as "El Shaddai" (Gen 17:1) – the Almighty, the All-Sufficient One. Hagar pronounced God to be "the One Who sees me" (Gen 16:13). But now Abraham has a new name to use in his worship of God: "Eternal God." It is important as we go through life that we learn more and more about God so we can worship Him better.
"God eternal." The everlasting God. Think about everything else mentioned in our Scripture reading. All of them are temporary. Wells will disappear. Trees will be cut down. Ewe lambs will grow up and die. Altars will crumble. Treaties will lapse. Kings will perish. Only the everlasting God will remain. He is eternal. His covenant with Abraham is everlasting. As Abraham faced the coming years, he knew that God, unlike everything else in his life, would not change. As Moses puts it,
(Deut 33:27) The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.In those unchanging, everlasting arms Abraham finds refuge and strength and comfort and help.
C There is a third thing that Abraham does indicating God has done something momentous, great, wonderful, and important in his life. What is this third thing? Abraham planted a tamarisk tree. You heard me right – I mention the tree again but now I want to look at it from a different point-of-view.
In that time and place, nomads simply did not plant trees as they moved back and forth. Up to this point in time Abraham's life has been on the go. He traveled up the Euphrates Valley to Haran. He moved from Haran to Canaan. He moved from Canaan to Egypt. He moved back to Canaan and traveled through the length and breadth of the land. He did not plant down roots anywhere.
But now, in Beersheba, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree. The tamarisk tree is quite bushy, stays green year round, grows to 30 or so feet in height, has a root that goes deep for water, and is covered with beautiful blossoms in the Spring. Meaning what? Meaning it provides shade year long. Meaning it beautifies Abraham's home. Meaning it is an easy direction marker – to find Abraham go to the tamarisk tree.
Do you see what Abraham was doing? Abraham the nomad was planting roots. Abraham the nomad was staying put. Abraham the nomad was going to stay in one place. Because you only plant a tree if you plan on staying for a while.
When Ruth and I and our sons left our second church and moved to Wisconsin, we were given a red maple tree to plant by our new home. Attached to the tree was a note wishing us the Lord's blessings as we put down roots in our new home and church.Similarly, Abraham was putting down roots. Which is why Scripture can tells us that "Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time" (Gen 21:34).
Now, do you remember Abraham's complaint about the land? We find it in Genesis 20:
(Gen 20:11) "There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife."In other words, it was not a place where he could ever live. That was Abraham's fear. That was Abraham's excuse for lying about his relationship to Sarah. But what does he actually find out? What does he actually experience? It turns out that he can dwell in the land for a long time and he can do so at peace with God and his heathen neighbors. Why? Not because Abraham is such a great and wonderful man. But because of the Lord, the Eternal God, and His promises.
We look at the tree. We look at the worship. We look at the tree again. Abraham's behavior indicates God has done something great and wonderful and important for Abraham.
II The Fulfilment of God's Promises
A So what did God do? What did God do that caused Abraham to plant a tree, worship, and stay in Beersheba a long time? What did God do? God continued to fulfill His wonderful covenant promises to Abraham.
Review, with me, God's promises to Abraham. As I say them, ask yourself whether the promise has been fulfilled by the time of our Scripture reading:
-"I will make your name great" (Gen 12:2). Check ✔. Remember how Abraham defeated the four-king alliance from his homeland who took Lot captive? Remember how both the King of Salem and the King of Sodom greeted him upon his return from battle (Gen 14)? Look at how King Abimelech treats Abraham as an equal in our Scripture reading.
-"I will bless you" (Gen 12:2). Check ✔. Hasn't Abraham received blessing after blessing? Flocks and herds too numerous for the land to support. Traveling mercies. Safety in Egypt and before Abimelech.
-"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse" (Gen 12:3). Check ✔. Isn't this why Abimelech made a treaty with Abraham in our Scripture reading?
-"I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son" (Gen 18:10). Check ✔. Not only was Isaac born, but this was the start of the nation of Israel.
-"I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you" (Gen 17:7). Check ✔. We saw the covenant established in Genesis 17.
God's promises are being fulfilled. One by one. In His time and in His way.
B But by the time of our story not every promise has been fulfilled. There is a promise about kings and nations (Gen 17:6) – that hasn't happened yet. There is the promise that all peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham (Gen 12:3) – this hasn't happened yet. Implicit in these is a promise of the Messiah, the seed of the woman Who would crush the head of the serpent – that hasn't happened yet.
I haven't mentioned God's promise about the land:
(Gen 12:7) "To your offspring I will give this land."
(Gen 13:15-17) All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever .. (17) Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you."
Up to this point in time, how much of the land does Abraham possess? Not even one single acre. As Abimelech puts it, Abraham is "living as an alien" in the land (Gen 21:23). An alien. Someone who doesn't belong. Someone who doesn't have rights. Someone simply passing through.
But notice what God does. By the time the story ends, Abraham receives permanent rights to a well and to its water, the most precious natural resource in that dry and thirsty land. With the well Abraham has his first permanent foothold in the land that God had promised to him and to his descendants. God is, step-by-step, making good on His promises and showing His faithfulness to Abraham. God continues to work out His covenant with Abraham.
So, God's promise of the land? Check ✔.
As for the future, God's promise of kings and nations? Check ✔. God's promise that all peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham? Check ✔. God's promise of the Messiah, our Savior from sin? Check ✔. GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES. EVERYONE OF THEM.
III God is With You
A We should be amazed by Abimelech and his actions. Don't forget, he is the king who was almost struck dead by the Lord because he took Sarah, Abraham's wife, into his palace (cf Gen 20). Yet, he comes to Abraham and asks for a treaty, a covenant. And, by God's providence, it was through Abimelech that God's promises about the land began to be fulfilled.
Why would a pagan king, the ruler of an important city, the owner of much land, ask for a covenant with Abraham the nomad? Why did he make such an effort to win Abraham's approval and friendship? Why was he willing to give up rights to a valuable well in the desert? What did he see in Abraham? What was his attraction to Abraham? Abimelech gives us the answer in verse 22: "God is with you in everything you do."
Abimelech saw that God was with Abraham in all he did. He knew that God was on Abraham's side. He rightly concluded that it would be highly unwise and very dangerous to be Abraham's enemy.
B How did Abimelech reach this conclusion, that God was with Abraham? Obviously, Abimelech heard and knew some things about Abraham. All of them were part of Abraham's public record:
-Abraham's great wealth and success.
-Abraham went to Egypt to escape famine and came back much richer than he had left.
-Abraham defeated the four-king alliance from his homeland who took Lot captive.
-God's protection of Abraham and Sarah before Abimelech even though Abraham's conduct was deplorable.
-Abraham and Sarah, though they were elderly, were blessed with the birth of a son, a miracle child.
Any one of these things, in and of themselves, would be enough to make Abimelech think over his relationship with Abraham. Each one of these – and probably some things not included in Scripture – were enough to convince Abimelech that Abraham was blessed.
But now another question: how did Abimelech know that all these blessings came from God? By the witness of Abraham! Abraham witnessed to his neighbors through every altar he built, every prayer he uttered, every sacrifice he offered, every song he sang; every time of worship was a time of witness. And, Abraham witnessed by his words. Remember his witness to the king of Sodom? The king of Sodom wanted to reward Abraham for defeating the four-king alliance. Abraham said, "I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth ..." (Gen 14:22). And, we know he talked of God to Abimelech (Gen 20:11).
C God was with Abraham and blessed him even though we all know that Abraham was not perfect. The stories of Abraham are a reminder that believers sin. They also remind us that sinning believers can be forgiven and restored and blessed in Christ Jesus.
Abraham, the sinner, was richly blessed by God. How richly? Enough that a pagan king took notice and asked for peace and friendship! Enough that a pagan king came to Abraham and found blessing in him. Enough that a pagan king made his peace with the Lord and with the Lord's anointed (cf Ps 2:10-12).
Let me ask, do your neighbors know that God is with you? Do you make it clear to your neighbors that it is not you, not your hard work, not your intelligence, but the Lord Who gets the credit for all the blessings in your life? Do your unsaved acquaintances recognize your blessings for what they are, envy them, and maybe even seek them for themselves?
I can hear your excuses already. "You don't know my neighbors, the people I work with, and how godless they are!" That was Abraham's original complaint, remember (cf Gen 20:11)? And, yet, Abimelech recognized that the hand of God was upon Abraham.
So ask yourself, "What do the unsaved think of my life? Do they see the blessing of God upon me? Do they want it for themselves?"
Abimelech wanted what Abraham had. So Abraham was given a well. Not much in earthly terms. But in this well Abraham saw the fulfilment of God's promises. Therefore, he planted a tree, he offered worship, and he lived there a long time. In all of this, says Hebrews, Abraham was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (cf Heb 11:10).
Abraham's treaty or covenant with Abimelech was ratified by three elements: sacrifices (Gen 21:27), witnesses (Gen 21:28-30), and promises (Gen 21:31-32). Let me end by saying we find these same elements in God's covenant with us through our Lord Jesus Christ. First, there is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Heb 10:1-14). Second, there is the witness of the Spirit with the believer (Heb 10:15). Third, there are the promises of God's Word (Heb 10:16-18).
Abraham's covenant with Abimelech only guaranteed access to a well and its water. God's covenant with His people guarantees living water that sustains everlasting life for those who believe. And all those who see this can only say that God has blessed us.
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