Genesis 21:22-34 What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?

How To Be Happy

Read Genesis 21:22-34

Ripped Off

Abimelek the king of Gerar and his top general Phicol approach Abraham and say to him, We recognize that God is with you in everything you do. So swear to me here before God that you won’t deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants.

It’s no wonder that Abimelek is asking Abraham to swear that he wont’ deal falsely with him. A few years ago Abraham told this same Abimelek that Sarah was his sister. So Abimelek took Sarah into his harem. But God revealed to Abimelek the truth that Sarah is Abraham’s wife. Thus Abimelek narrowly averted sinning against the Lord which, the Lord informed him, would have cost him his life. (See previous post about Abraham and Abimelek)

Abimelek continued, I have treated you well all this time that you’ve resided here in my kingdom as a foreigner. Show to me and my country the same kindness I’ve shown you.

And Abraham responded, “I swear it.”

Then Abraham brings up a sore subject, a delicate matter, a touchy issue with Abimelek. He complains to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized.

Abimelek responds, This is the first I’ve heard of it. You’ve never said anything to me about this before and I don’t know who might have done it.

So Abraham, to demonstrate his commitment to the treaty and to demonstrate his good will toward Abimelek, brings to Abimelek sheep and cattle. So the treaty is solidified. The deal is sealed. It’s done, these two powerful men have entered into the treaty with one another. Then Abraham does something unexpected.

Abraham’s Wisdom and Grace

He sets apart seven lambs from the flock and gives them to Abimelek.

What’s with these? Abimelek asks.

And Abraham replies, These seven lambs are a witness that I dug the well that your servants seized.

Now if Abraham dug the well it was his. So why, after he already gave Abimelek flocks of sheep and cattle, did Abraham give him seven lambs as “a witness” that Abraham dug the well?

Abusive Cop

Yesterday I participated in a class that teaches you how to communicate with people on the street in a way that encourages cooperation and avoids the need for physical force. I heard a story about a new police officer who, on his first day on the job, caught someone speeding. He made a traffic stop that went something like this:

“License and registration please.”

“Listen, I know my rights. I don’t have to give you my license and registration.”

“Sir I need you to step out of the car.”

“Listen you !@#$  %^&*^$!, I’m not doin it! As a tax payer I’m your boss — I pay your !@#$%^&* salary!”

This new cop couldn’t believe it. He checked his uniform, it looked good. He checked his boots, they were shiny. He checked his police cruiser, it looked good, the light bar was on. He checked his badge, it was on right side up.

Why isn’t this guy complying?

Then this brand new cop said, “Sir, step out of the car. I won’t ask you again!

Do you see what happened here? The new cop and the driver of the car are both backed into a corner. Because of the cop’s statement that “I won’t ask you again!” this situation is destined to go sideways. Not surprisingly, the driver of the car didn’t comply. The next thing that happened was that the new cop pulled him through the window, arrested him, and took him down town to HQ. The driver of the vehicle wasn’t given a graceful way out. And as a result things turned ugly.

By the way the new cop’s boss, the Police Chief, called him into his office the next day for what the new cop thought was going to be an atta-boy. Well it didn’t turn out quite the way he expected. He was, to put it gently, directed to find a way to verbally persuade subjects to cooperate.

Wisdom For You And For Me

But what about Abraham? Here he is in this situation where he dug a well, a large investment in that area at that time. His men may have dug who knows how many dry wells before finding this one. And they didn’t have backhoes or drilling rigs in those days. So it’s a huge deal for someone to take over a well as Abimelek’s servants did. So what does Abraham do?

Abraham, the one who took his army of 318 men and rescued Lot from the armies of four kings, Abraham goes after the servants of Abimelek and takes them out, right? Abimelek’s servants seized the well so Abraham mustered his servants and seized it right back, correct?

Nope.

Abraham didn’t fight with Abimelek’s servants. Abraham decided to take a different approach.

You see, I think that Abraham may have recognized that Abimelek was in a tight spot.

It may have been that his servants were telling him, No way, Abraham didn’t dig that well, we did! He’s lying!

So if Abimelek gives the well back to Abraham, Abimelek’s servants might react, You believe that foreigner over us? You, our leader and master, have pulled the rug out from under us! You’re not backing us up!

So instead of fighting Abimelek or insisting on Abimelek giving back control of the well, Abraham provides a graceful way out. He gives Abimelek seven lambs so Abimelek can tell his servants that the well has been purchased. Abraham gets his well back. Abimelek’s servants save face. Abimelek avoids contention within his ranks. And all’s well.

“But that’s not fair!” You might be saying.

“Where’s the justice?” You might be thinking.

“He’s letting Abimelek’s servants off the hook!” You might be protesting.

You know what I’ve learned? Every wise person I know, finds some means of providing a graceful way out for those with whom they have an issue.

And you know what else? It’s not our job to meet out justice anyway. It’s our job to love God and to love people. It’s God’s job to meet out justice.

Didn’t Jesus tell us “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  And If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41)

If you’re a Christian, and you’re not a cop, then it’s not your job to come down on people.

Give people you’re in disagreement with a graceful way out. You’ll be happier, people will be more cooperative toward you, and you’ll have healthier relationships.

Abraham was about relationships.

How To Be Happy

The most comprehensive longitudinal study in history is a research project called the Grant Study. In the Grant Study, 268 Harvard graduates (including John F. Kennedy by the way. His file is sealed until 2040) have received regular medical exams, taken psychological tests, returned questionnaires, and sat for interviews for the last 72 years or until they died. The files holding the data are as thick as unabridged dictionaries.

The man who’s been thoroughly analyzing these files for the last 44 years is Dr. George Valliant. Not long ago he was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?”

Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” ( What makes us happy? The Atlantic, June 2009 )

The scriptures confirm that statement.

The Bible is about relationships.

Jesus told us that all the law and all the prophets are summed up in these two statements: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Lord’s whole thing boils down to that. It’s about relationships with people. It’s about your relationship with the person of God and your relationships with other people.

Nothing else matters.

Nothing.

“Love God and do what you will.”

Saint Augustine


Genesis 21:22-34

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

Abraham said, “I swear it.”

Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. But Abimelek said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 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.”

So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.


References:

Bible Gateway

Blue Letter Bible

Jon Courson

What makes us happy? The Atlantic, June 2009

Image via klaasjan – Creative Commons

One thought on “Genesis 21:22-34 What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?

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