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Abraham and Abimelech: Part 2

February 12, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis

Topic: Christian Life Basics Passage: Genesis 21:22–34

ABRAHAM AND ABIMELECH: PART 2

An Exposition of Genesis 21:22-34

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: February 12, 2023

Series: The Book of Genesis

Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT

Holy Scripture says,

22 At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do.23 Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” 24 And Abraham said, “I will swear.”

25 When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized, 26 Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.” 27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. 28 Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. 29 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?”30 He said, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well.”31 Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath. 32 So they made a covenant at Beersheba. Then Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army rose up and returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines. (Genesis 21:22-34)

INTRODUCTION

This sermon is titled “Abraham and Abimelech: Part 2”. Three weeks ago we unpacked Genesis 20 in a sermon entitled “Abraham and Abimelech: Part 1”. Today’s passage builds upon the earlier passage.

Since that first interaction between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20, much time has passed. In the early part of Genesis 21, Abraham’s son Isaac was born and, after a few years, was weaned. Now in the latter part of Genesis 21, we learn that Abimelech wanted to enter into a goodwill treaty with Abraham. Abimelech was the king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2), which was located in “the land of the Philistines” (Genesis 21:32) – that is, in the land that would eventually be occupied by the Philistines – in the southeastern part of Canaan.

Let’s walk through the passage, and then we’ll draw out some practical application for our own lives as we seek to walk with the Lord. To help us see how the passage unfolds, let’s organize it into three simple parts: before the treaty (v. 22-26), the treaty (v. 27-32a), and after the treaty (v. 32b-34).

BEFORE THE TREATY (v. 22-26)

Before a treaty or covenant can be solemnized, it has to be desired and discussed, and any sticking points have to be ironed out. These pre-treaty activities are summarized for us in verses 22-26.

Abimelech, accompanied by “Phicol the commander of his army” (v. 22), is the initiator of the treaty. Abimelech desires to obtain from Abraham a solemn promise that Abraham will treat Abimelech and his descendants well. But why? Why does Abimelech desire such a covenant with Abraham?

“God is with you in all that you do”

The answer, of course, is that it has become evident to Abimelech that God is with Abraham. This is the first thing that Abimelech says to Abraham: “God is with you in all that you do.” (v. 22) Abimelech recognized that God’s favor was upon Abraham. Abimelech must have reasoned that it would not be beneficial to be at odds with this man of God. If you’re at odds with God’s man, then you are basically at odds with God. Abimelech didn’t think it was a good idea to be at odds with God.

Although Abimelech may not have known about God’s earlier promise to Abraham, what we see in Genesis 21 is the outworking of that promise. God promised Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) Though Abimelech wouldn’t have understood the full significance of this promise, Abimelech had the good sense to realize that it would be beneficial to be rightly related to Abraham. In Genesis 21, Abimelech wants to secure for himself Abraham’s blessing and kindness. All this is just a little glimpse of Genesis 12:3 getting worked out practically in Abraham’s relationships with the people around him.

Let’s probe further by asking two questions.

Question 1: How did Abimelech know that God was with Abraham?

Genesis 21:22-34 doesn’t tell us how Abimelech recognized this. Of course, the reality of God’s favor being upon Abraham was drilled into Abimelech a few years earlier, when the events of Genesis 20 had taken place. Abraham identified his wife Sarah only as his sister, thus making it appear that Sarah was free to be courted by another man. King Abimelech wasted little time, and proceed to take Sarah into his house. Then God showed up, reproving Abimelech for having taken another man’s wife. God also revealed to Abimelech that Abraham was a prophet, and that after Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, Abraham would intercede for Abimelech and Abimelech would be restored. In these stressful circumstances, Abimelech came to realize that God was with Abraham, so much so that God was with Abraham even when Abraham acted foolishly.

Since these events of Genesis 20, a few years have passed. And over these few years, it has become evident to Abimelech not only that God was with Abraham on that one occasion a few years ago, but also that God was always with Abraham: “God is with you in all that you do.” Abimelech saw the tangible effects of God’s favor being upon Abraham. Although we don’t know exactly what these tangible effects were, surely some of these tangible effects were in alignment with the blessings that God later promised to Israel if Israel walked in obedience:

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The LORD will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you. And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them” (Deuteronomy 28:1-13).

Notice Deuteronomy 28:10: “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.” Long before these specific words were spoken, Abimelech – the pagan king of Gerar – saw that Abraham was called by God, and at the very least he had developed a healthy fear of Abraham, and so he wanted to have peace with this God-blessed man.

Question 2: How did Abraham become a man graced with God’s presence?

The simple answer, of course, is that God chose Abraham, laid hold of him, and established the covenant with him. Abraham didn’t make it happen. The Lord decided to make it happen, and Abraham was a humble recipient of God’s gracious initiative. Over and over, Genesis 12-21 has showed us that the Lord is with Abraham. The Lord spoke to Abraham when Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. The Lord appeared to Abraham in Shechem. The Lord protected Abraham in Egypt. The Lord gave victory to Abraham when Abraham entered a regional military conflict to rescue his nephew Lot. The Lord visited Abraham when he lived near Hebron. The Lord protected Abraham in Gerar. The Lord had recently fulfilled His promise and granted Abraham and Sarah a son. All these are punctuation marks showing us, the readers of Genesis, that the Lord is with Abraham. But this decision on the Lord’s part is His free and sovereign choice: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2); “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1); “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Genesis 15:7); “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1); “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:4-5) Abraham has not done any tricks to create the illusion of being spiritually in touch. Abraham is the undeserved recipient of God’s grace. Of course, he received this grace with an obedient faith: he trusted the Lord’s words, he went where the Lord told him to go, and he did what the Lord told him to do. When God’s grace captures a man, and that man places his confidence in God’s promises and lives obediently in light of those promises, the end result is the man walking with God, and God walking with the man. When God is with a man – whether on the mountaintop or in the valley, in the home or out in the field, working or resting, with family or friends or colleagues – it is God’s will that His presence bring sanctification and benefit to every dimension of life: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) Abimelech was able to put two and two together: “God is with you in all that you do.”

“Now therefore swear to me”

Given God’s favor upon Abraham, Abimelech wanted Abraham’s word that Abraham would treat him and his descendants with kindness: “Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” (v. 23) Of course, back in Genesis 20 Abraham did “deal falsely” with Abimelech, but God quickly straightened that all out, and by the end of Genesis 20 Abraham and Abimelech were developing a relationship of mutual goodwill. Abimelech had indeed “dealt kindly with [Abraham] by giving him “sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants” (Genesis 20:14), by inviting Abraham to choose the portion of land he desired (Genesis 20:15), and by giving him “a thousand pieces of silver” (Genesis 20:16). In the end, Abimelech had shown kindness, generosity, and hospitality to Abraham. And now Abimelech wants Abraham to promise that Abraham will show kindness, generosity, and hospitality to Abimelech and Abimelech’s descendants in the years and decades to come. Further, Abimelech wants Abraham to treat the land well (Genesis 21:23), not depriving the land of its strength but rather ensuring its ongoing vitality. Abraham apparently had no reservations about making this promise, for he answered, “I will swear.” (v. 24)

A sticking point

However, before two parties enter into covenant with one another, it is necessary to address any sticking points. It is not wise to enter into a covenant with another person if you are aware of an unresolved conflict between the two of you. First, deal honestly with the conflict, then establish the covenant or treaty.

Abraham was aware of a sticking point, and he brought it to Abimelech’s attention: “When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.”” (v. 25-26) Abraham had “dug this well” (v. 30) and had a legitimate right to it, but some of Abimelech’s servants had unlawfully seized it from Abraham. Abimelech answers that he was unaware that this unlawful seizure had happened and he didn’t know who did it. But Abimelech was willing to solemnly affirm Abraham’s right to the well, since the two men resolved this sticking point as part of the treaty agreement.

THE TREATY (v. 27-32a)

These pre-treaty details have cleared the way for the actual treaty or covenant to be made. As I have said before, making a covenant doesn’t simply mean making a promise. Promises are essential to covenant-making, but the covenant-making itself means solemnizing and sealing the promises through a covenant ritual. In Genesis 15, when God made a covenant with Abraham, the covenant ritual involved the sacrifice of animals. In Genesis 21, when Abraham and Abimelech make a covenant with each other, the covenant ritual involves gifts: “So Abraham took sheep and oxen gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant.” (v. 27) Abraham didn’t just swear an oath to treat Abimelech well. Talk by itself can be cheap, and it’s easy to make a promise that you don’t intend to keep. But when you put your money where your mouth is – or you put your sheep and oxen where your mouth is – this communicates that you mean business by the words that you speak.

In addition to the sheep and oxen, Abraham also “set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart.” (v. 28) In verse 29, Abimelech inquired about “the meaning of these seven ewe lambs” (v. 29). Abraham answered, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well.” (v. 30) Here we see that part of the treaty-making between Abraham and Abimelech addressed the property dispute mentioned in verse 25. When Abraham gives “seven ewe lambs” to Abimelech, he is showing the seriousness of his claim. By accepting these lambs, which he evidently does, Abimelech is solemnly swearing to uphold Abraham’s right to the well.

Verse 31 implies that Abimelech did, in fact, accept the seven lambs: “Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath.” The place-name Beersheba connects Abraham’s well to the treaty, because Beersheba means either ‘well of seven’ or ‘well of oath’. If it means ‘well of seven’, then it refers to the seven lambs given to Abimelech. If it means ‘well of oath’, then it refers to the well as the place where Abraham and Abimelech swore an oath to each other. Either way, it means that the property dispute regarding the well was successfully resolved when Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant with each other.

With the treaty-making now complete, the beginning of verse 32 summarizes what had just taken place: “So they made a covenant at Beersheba.” Abraham pledged to deal kindly with Abimelech, with Abimelech’s descendants and posterity, and with Abimelech’s land. Abimelech may have pledged along the same lines, and Abimelech certainly pledged to respect Abraham’s right to the well in Beersheba.

AFTER THE TREATY (v. 32b-34)

With Abimelech’s purpose to obtain a promise from Abraham now satisfied, Abimelech and Phicol could return home: “Then Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army rose up and returned to the land of the Philistines.” (v. 32b) It is interesting to note that Abimelech “returned to the land of the Philistines” (v. 32) and “Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines” (v. 34). Were they living in the same place? Yes and no. Both Abimelech and Abraham were both living in the same general region, but they were living in different parts of the region. Abraham was living in Beersheba, whereas Abimelech’s home base was in Gerar. According to one Bible atlas, Beersheba and Gerar may have been about 20 miles apart.

Abraham continued to worship the Lord

While living in Beersheba, Abraham continued to do what he always did: he worshiped the Lord. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” (v. 33) When Abraham first entered Canaan, “he built… an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 12:7) in Shechem. Later in the Bethel-Ai region “he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:8). Eventually he settled in the Hebron region for a long time, and early on in Hebron “he built an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 13:18). Now Abraham would “[sojourn] many days in the land of the Philistines” (Genesis 21:34), and here also he “called… on the name of the LORD” (v. 33). It may well be that the tamarisk tree functioned as a tangible place-marker that in this particular place he would meet with God.

The Everlasting God

It is worth highlighting that the Lord is identified as “the Everlasting God” in verse 33. The Lord God is the unshakable and stable refuge of His people in a shakable and unstable world. Abraham had no permanent home in this world, as is evident by his frequent travels and his status as a sojourner. Abraham lived in this world as an outsider – an outsider to Canaan, an outsider to Egypt, an outsider to the land of the Philistines. Abraham had seen Sodom and Gomorrah wiped out. Abraham had known conflict in his own household: conflict between his servants and Lot’s servants (Genesis 13:7), conflict between Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16, 21). Abraham had to experience his nephew Lot becoming a prisoner of war (Genesis 14:12), and his son Ishmael having to be sent away (Genesis 21:14). Abraham had gotten himself into volatile situations in Egypt and Gerar. More recently, a well that he had dug had been unlawfully seized. So, if anyone thinks that God being with Abraham meant that Abraham’s life was a walk in the park, you’re obviously not paying attention. God being with Abraham didn’t mean that Abraham’s life was easy. God being with Abraham meant that Abraham had God’s help, strength, guidance, protection, provision, hope-giving promise and stabilizing presence in the midst of this unstable, transient, and heartbreaking world. And Abraham didn’t forget to give thanks. Abraham didn’t forget the everlasting arms that upheld him. Abraham remembered that God alone was his anchor, sustainer, and faithful promise-keeper. Abraham remembered to keep calling “on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” God is the giver of every good gift, including water sources like the well of water in Beersheba. But God Himself is the ultimate refresher and strengthener of His people:

APPLICATION: MAKING AN IMPACT UPON THE WORLD

I would like to apply this passage by setting it before you as an example of how God wants His covenant people to be light to the nations, to the pagans, to our unbelieving neighbors, to the Abimelechs and Phicols of the world.

In terms of the passage itself, think of these four aspects: 1) God was with Abraham in all that Abraham did; 2) Abimelech noticed; 3) Abimelech wanted to be the recipient of Abraham’s goodwill; and 4) Abraham pledged his goodwill to Abimelech.

Now think of these four aspects applied similarly to the church: 1) God is with the church in all that it does; 2) God wants the world to notice; 3) God wants the world to be the recipient of the church’s goodwill; and 4) the church ought to demonstrate its goodwill to the world.

The basic idea is that God wants His people to be a blessing to the world. God promised Abraham, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2); “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) The blessed man becomes a blessing to the wider world. The blessed man becomes a blessing to the not yet blessed. And by ‘blessed’, I mean blessed by God’s saving mercies.

As I read earlier, a holy and blessed Israel was supposed to be known as a nation called by God: “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.” (Deuteronomy 28:10) Similarly, the prayer of Psalm 67 begins,

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us… that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1-2)

The prayer is that God’s favor upon Israel would result in God’s truth being revealed to the world.

In the New Testament, we learn that the church is now entrusted with this privilege of making the Father known to the world. Jesus said to His disciples,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

God is with us in all that we do, which generates bucketloads of “good works”, so that His light and salvation might be revealed to more and more people. God’s will is that other people notice what’s going on – “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father”.

With this big picture in mind, let me emphasize two things: 1) the precious truth that God is with His people; and 2) God wants to make Himself known through our good conduct in and toward the world.

The precious truth that God is with His people

We begin with the precious truth that God is with His people. Although my exhortation to us that we demonstrate goodwill to the world is very practical, it is not a mere social message to treat people nicely. The instruction for us Christians to love our neighbors is rooted in the fact that God is with us, and that we are in fellowship with Him. Living in fellowship with God is the fruit of His gracious salvation.

Remember how Paul describes unsaved people, which is what we were before God’s grace laid hold of us: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Another passage teaches us that unredeemed sinners do know “the way of peace” and have “no fear of God” (Romans 3:17, 18). In Titus 3, Paul writes: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3) The man who remains bound in sin is far from God, and doesn’t have a heart for God, and doesn’t have a life that reflects God’s character.

But just as God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans and Israel out of Egypt, so God calls His chosen ones out of sin and death: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). And back to Titus 3: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). When God makes us alive through Jesus Christ, we enter into fellowship with Him. “[Through Christ] we… have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). “[We] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). We are united to Christ, the true vine who nourishes us (John 15:1-17). The Holy Spirit who dwells within us enlivens and sustains our practical communion with the Triune God, joins us together as brothers and sisters at the heart level, propels us forward on the path of obedience, and empowers us to bear witness to God’s gracious salvation. There is no part of a believer’s life that is unaffected by fellowship with the Lord: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16) Our ever-present Lord, who brings to us His ever-present peace, enables us to “[rejoice] always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Just as God was with Abraham in all that he did, so God is with us Christian believers in all that we do.

God’s redeemed people impact the world

Now this precious truth that God is with us has a hundred implications for our lives. But in light of Genesis 21:22-34, I simply want to highlight one implication. Abraham’s life bore witness to Abimelech that God was with Abraham in all that he did. And then, once Abimelech took notice and told Abraham that he had noticed, Abraham pledged his goodwill to Abimelech, Abimelech’s descendants, and Abimelech’s land. So, in light of that, I want to emphasize that since God is with us, our lives should make an impression upon the world and we must be resolved to do good to the world. Of course, I’m using the phrase ‘the world’ as shorthand for our unbelieving neighbors. We’re not supposed to have some grand programmatic strategy to impact all of the world’s eight billion people. But we are supposed to function as light to the unbelieving neighbors in our little corner of the world.

Now the way to make an impression upon our unbelieving neighbors is not by trying hard to make an impression. If you make relevance your main thing, you will eventually make yourself irrelevant as far as God’s kingdom purposes are concerned. Instead, the way to make an impression upon our unbelieving neighbors is to walk in obedience to God. You can’t manufacture ‘God is with you in all that you do’. You’re not supposed to market the concept. Instead, you’re supposed to live the reality. Abraham lived the reality: he followed God’s call, trusted God’s word, called upon God’s name, and worshiped God wherever he went. Israel’s promised blessing in Deuteronomy 28 was conditioned on faith and obedience. So is ours. Practically speaking, who is the salt of the earth and the light of the world that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:13-16? It is the people he had just spoken about in Matthew 5:3-12 – the poor in spirit, the brokenhearted, the gentle and meek, the pursuers of righteousness, the merciful, the purehearted, the peacemakers, the people who are so committed to righteousness and to the Lord that they are willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake and for the Lord’s sake, and they count it all joy when they do.

Furthermore, when such people are doing life together in community, what a powerful testimony to the world! “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) As people among us face grief, broken pipes due to cold weather, and illness, it is beautiful to see our church family caring for one another in practical ways.

In Philippians 2, it is obedient and content and uncomplaining Christians who are “without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [they] shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15-16).

In 1 Peter we learn that unbelieving pagans “are surprised when [we] do not join them” in their pursuit of sinful living (1 Peter 4:4). In other words, our holy conduct stands out. In the case of 1 Peter 4, Peter tells us that these surprised pagans malign us (1 Peter 4:4). But even though unbelievers will sometimes malign us, they won’t always malign us. Abimelech didn’t malign Abraham. And there are many examples in Scripture of unbelievers showing kindness to believers. Sometimes unbelievers show us kindness because, unbeknownst to them, God is in the process of calling them to Himself. Other times unbelievers show us kindness simply because God wants to show us kindness through them.

But regardless of how unbelievers respond to the visible reality that God is with us, we have a responsibility to show goodwill to unbelievers. We seldom give focused attention to this responsibility, so let me take a few minutes to do this right now. Just as Abraham pledged goodwill to Abimelech and Abimelech’s descendants and Abimelech’s land, so we should be resolved to demonstrate goodwill to our unbelieving neighbors. This never means compromising the truth or watering down our message. But it always means walking in kindness toward them. Consider these many passages and let them sink in:

“[May] the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:12, italics added).

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always week to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15, italics added).

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, italics added).

“[Speak] evil of one one,” “avoid quarreling,” “be gentle, and… show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2, italics added).

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

“[But] in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you: yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…. [If] your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17-18, 20, 21, italics added)

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone.” (1 Peter 2:16-17, italics added)

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also the unjust.” (1 Peter 2:18)

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

And remember this promise – as a proverb, it should be taken as a general statement of what often happens, not as a blanket statement for what always happens: “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)

The goal in all this is not merely that we have peaceful relations with our unbelieving neighbors. That is a truly good thing, of course, provided we’re not compromising truth and holiness in pursuit of peaceful relations. But the larger goal is that we want our unbelieving neighbors to come to know God. We want them to be drawn to the Father. We want them to see the beauty of Christ’s self-giving love. We want them to catch a glimpse of God’s character. We want them to understand the gospel, so that they might turn away from their sin and trust in the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, take Abraham as your example and do good to your unbelieving neighbors. 

If anyone is here this morning who is in the position of Abimelech, and you want to be a recipient of the goodwill of the Christian people you know, I urge you to not stop there. Peaceful relations with the church won’t save you. You need peaceful relations with the Lord. Therefore I urge you: entreat the favor the Lord and call upon His name, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Assohoto, Barnabe and Samuel Ngewa, “Genesis.” In Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Editor. Zondervan Edition (first edition published in 2006).

Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Book of Genesis (Ariel’s Bible Commentary). Fourth Edition. San Antonio: Ariel Ministries, 2020.

Henry, Matthew. A Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Steinmann, Andrew E. Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

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