Genesis 21:1-34

Genesis 21 recounts one of the most powerful displays of God’s faithfulness in the Bible. This chapter is the record of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah for the promised child that He would give them. We have been studying Abraham and Sarah’s life from Genesis 12 to this point. Twenty-five years earlier, God made a promise that He would give them a child and their descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the sea. This child would be the first of many children who would one day become the nation of Israel. The Scripture records. And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him--whom Sarah bore to him--Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age’” (Gen. 21:1-7).

The fulfillment of the promise.  Vs. 1-7

It is important to note that when God fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah, Scripture makes sure that you won’t miss the essential point that God was faithful to do exactly what He had said. God emphasized and underlined this fact by declaring the same truth twice. He said, “And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.” This is what is called a Hebrew synonymous parallelism. These parallelisms are when God states a similar truth two different ways. Parallelisms are to highlight and focus your attention on a point that God wants to drive home to your heart. The message that God doesn’t want you to miss is that He keeps His promises! In fact, Scripture makes clear that He fulfills every detail of every promise. This is what Jesus meant when He said, Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18). The jot is the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and is the smallest letter. The jot was written above the line and looked like an apostrophe. A tittle is even smaller than a jot, because it is simply a letter extension made by a pen stroke, which can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another. Jesus was declaring by this statement that every detail of every word that God has spoken will be fulfilled. What a comforting thought that God is so faithful to His Word that you can trust what He says. When you trust God and His Word in this manner it will cause you to rest in His faithfulness, even though you cannot see exactly what He is doing!

However, I have met believers who sometimes get angry and doubt God’s faithfulness, because they don’t understand what He is doing. They say to me, “I believed that God spoke to me and promised me this or that, and it hasn’t happened.” If you have ever felt this way or known someone who has, how can you resolve this issue?

First, someone must understand that God fulfills His promises in His time, not on our time schedule. This was exactly the struggle that Abraham and Sarah had with trusting God for His promise of a child. From the time God first promised them a child, it was twenty-five years before this promise was fulfilled. God does what He does, in His own timing and in His own way. He doesn’t do things the way I think things should be done, or in the time frame I have in my mind. I think we would all like God to do things our way, and when we ask Him to do it, but that is not how it works. I am not God; He is! There are numerous times that I have been so glad that God didn’t answer my prayer requests, because I later realized that this would not have been a good thing. This is also why God warned His people about this error in their thinking. He told them, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it’” (Isa. 55:8-11). God will accomplish what He pleases and what He plans to do, because His ways are higher than mine. He has His plan all thought out for exactly when and how He will fulfill His will. Trying to understand God’s ways is impossible, as Paul said they are, “Past finding out.” He declared, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor’” (Rom. 11:33-34). Therefore, don’t try and counsel God, and attempt to tell Him what He should do. His mind is unsearchable! The Greek word unsearchable means that His ways are impossible to discover or to understand. Unless He explains His plans, you could never know them. This is why you should be studying God’s Word daily, so you can know His mind to the best of your ability.

Second, sometimes a promise goes unfulfilled, because you have misapplied one of God’s promises to yourself, when in reality, He has not made this promise to you. People will read a promise made to someone in the Bible, or to the nation Israel, and they will apply it to themselves, because they have a feeling inside. This is a very unwise practice, because your feelings can be wrong. An example of this process would be when a person reads the promise of God to restore Israel back to their land, and then they apply this promise to themselves and being restored back to a job that they were just fired from. This is misinterpreting and misapplying God’s Word. You must first interpret to whom this promise was made. If the promise was to the nation Israel, it was not a promise made to you. If you read a general promise made to all believers such as, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened,” then you should interpret and apply this to yourself (Matt. 7:7-8). Notice that Jesus said, “everyone who asks receives.” The word everyone makes it clear that this promise is made to all, and can be believed and trusted by everyone. So, be careful in applying promises that are not made in general to all people, because you can end up charging God for not being faithful, when it is you that has incorrectly interpreted God’s Word. God will always be faithful to His Word!

What must you do to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise?

What was the one thing that God asked Abraham and Sarah to do to receive their promised child? Was it not just to believe and trust God’s Word to them? Yes, absolutely! But the question is, did Abraham and Sarah have perfect faith as they waited? No! In the past nine chapters of Genesis, we saw their many stumbles in faith and sometimes blatant unbelief, when they laughed at God’s promise. They even came up with their own scheme to get a child by Abraham marrying Hagar to help God out. Yet ultimately, Abraham and Sarah were persuaded within their hearts and trusted God for Him to do as He said. It took twenty-five years, but they did come to a place of faith. This action by God clearly showed His faithfulness and longsuffering toward them.

Now, sometimes people ask the question, “If Abrahan and Sarah would have trusted God earlier would the child have come sooner?” I can’t say with absolute confidence that this would have been the case, because the Scripture does not state this fact directly. But I will say that there are other examples in the Scripture where this concept is addressed. One example would be the Children of Israel and their journey to the Promised Land. Scripture does mention the fact that the journey should have taken eleven days to walk from the land of Egypt to the Promised Land (Deut. 1:2). But, how long did it take the Jews to get to there? More that forty years (Deut. 1:3)! Why did it take so long? God explained to us, For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:16-19). Therefore, Scripture made it very clear that their eleven-day journey took forty years because of their unbelief and rebellion. So, I think it is pretty safe to say that in most circumstances, the sooner you believe God, the sooner God’s promise will be fulfilled.

But, how did God persuade Abraham and Sarah to finally believe His promise? It was God’s faithfulness to constantly reprove them, and then continually assure them with further promises that He would do as He had said. This is the testimony you will find from Genesis 12 to this point in their lives. He rebuked them for their unbelief and then assured them of His promise over and over again. Jesus did the same thing with His disciples after the resurrection. You remember that after several witnesses confirmed that Jesus was alive, they still did not believe. Mark shared this moment when he wrote, Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14). Jesus then sought to assure them that He was truly alive by asking the disciples to touch Him, and put their fingers into the holes in His side to convince them (Luke 24:39; John 20:27). So, He rebuked them and gave them physical evidence to persuade them to believe. This is exactly what God did with Abraham and Sarah. Paul declared that they were, “strengthened in faith,” and became, fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Rom. 4:20-21). So how does someone get strengthened in faith? Anyone can get strengthened in faith by allowing God to reprove them for their unbelief, and then God reassures them with His Word that they should believe Him.

If you are struggling to believe God for one of His promises right now, here is what you should do. Allow Him to reprove you for your unbelief, and recognize that your lack of faith is a sin and needs to be repented of. Acknowledge your unbelief to God and ask His forgiveness. Then get into the Word of God and consider how great and powerful He was when He acted in the past. Choose to trust the promises God has made. Ask the Lord to fully convince your heart that He is able to do anything He has promised. Ask for the infilling of His Holy Spirit to come and fill your heart, because the fruit of the Spirit is faith, which is also sometimes translated faithfulness depending on your translation (Gal. 5:22-23). Remember, humans are not strong in faith. Actually, we are naturally weak in faith. This is why we need to be strengthened in faith every day. This is why you need to receive both the reproof and encouragement from God during this strengthening process. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

The good fight of faith.

In the Old Testament there is a Psalm of Asaph that illustrates this process of being strengthened from unbelief to faith. Note in this Psalm how this takes place. The psalmist begins, I cried out to God with my voice-- To God with my voice; and He gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies” (Ps. 77:1-9)? This cry of the psalmist gives you a clear picture of a man who is so troubled that he has a hard time even speaking to God at all. He is overwhelmed and is complaining to God, because he believes that he is cut off from God’s grace. He has prayed into the night without ceasing, but at the same time he is refusing to be comforted by God. This man is in serious unbelief, and reveals this fact by the contradiction he senses within. He wants God to answer him, but is refusing to receive it.

Now notice how everything changes as the psalmist continues. He declared, And I said, ‘This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the works of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph” (Ps. 77:10-15). As you read these next verses you can see that everything has changed from unbelief to faith. Why did his thinking change? The psalmist chooses to remember the years of God’s help and the work of His redemption. Note the term, “I will,” used four times in succession for emphasis. He is choosing to fix his eyes on the greatness of God and the power of His ability. This kind of inspiration of faith always results from taking your eyes off yourself, putting them on the Lord, and remembering what He has already done on your behalf.

But, why is this struggle in faith so difficult at times, as it was for the psalmist? Because it is a fight of faith. Notice how Paul described this battle to believe, in spite of all the distractions and circumstances we all encounter. Paul said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:10-12). The word fight in verse 12 is in the present tense, which describes a continuous battle that goes on inside each of us. In other words, this fight of faith never ends. It is a battle you will have every single day of your Christian life. As Paul stated above, it is a fight against the worldly distractions of the love of money and materialism. It is a fight against the lies of the wicked one in your mind (2 Cor 10:3-5). It is a fight to pursue righteousness and godliness. If you choose not to fight in faith, then you will lose your personal battles, and you will be overcome by your own flesh, and the lies in your mind. But, if you fight this fight of faith, you will overcome all that seeks to hinder you in your pursuit of godliness. So, these are your only two options, fight in faith, or be overcome. Abraham and Sarah had to fight for twenty-five years, but in the end, they received the promise.

The conflict with Hagar and Ishmael and their departure.  Vs. 8-21

Scripture continues now concerning this promised child, “So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.’ And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, ‘Let me not see the death of the boy.’ So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, ‘What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (Gen. 21:8-21).

The Conflict.

At this point in the account of Abraham and Sarah’s life, Ishmael is called a lad in verse 17. The Hebrew word for lad means a young man, because Ishmael was approximately 16 to 18 years old at this point. How do we know this to be true? Because Ishmael was born when Abraham was eighty-five years old, and now he is more than one hundred years old. In addition, Isaac was being weaned at this point, which would have made him from 1 to 3 years old.

Another very important point in this record is what caused this conflict. Scripture declared that Sarah saw Ishmael scoffing at Isaac. The natural question one might ask is, why would scoffing at Isaac cause Sarah to get so upset that she wanted Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away? The answer to this question comes when you understand the meaning of the Hebrew word for scoffing in verse 9. This word scoffing literally means to sexually fondle, to humiliate, or to mock someone. This Hebrew word is used several other places in the Scripture to describe someone sexually touching another person (Gen. 26:8; Ex. 32:6). Understanding the meaning of this word makes it clear that what Sarah saw was some kind of inappropriate sexual contact between Ishmael and her son Isaac. Sarah saw this action by Ishmael as mocking her son, and would not allow this behavior to continue. This is why Sarah wanted Hagar and Ishmael out of their tent for good. Sarah was telling Abraham, “I’m done with this bondwoman and her son. They cannot live here with us anymore.”  

Abraham’s response.

Scripture tells us that Abraham was very displeased, when he heard this demand from Sarah (Vs. 11). The word displeased, literally means to be in distress, to be hurt, or to be emotionally afflicted. In other words, Abraham was feeling quite miserable and sad at Sarah’s request. This word can also be translated deeply disturbed (Neh. 2:10). Obviously, Abraham was pretty upset. But, what did he do at this moment? He did the right thing! Abraham went out and prayed and waited on the Lord for His direction. He sought God, and the Lord confirmed to him what he should do.

What did God tell him to do? The Lord said, Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.” God tells Abraham four things. Don’t get upset, listen to the voice of your wife, I will take care of Hagar and Ishmael, and I will bless your son because he is your seed.

I believe one of the most interesting things that God tells Abraham in this passage is to listen to his wife’s voice. This is interesting because the first time Abraham listened to her voice, he married Hagar and this ended up bringing all these problems into his home (Gen. 16:2). In addition, Abraham did not pray and consult the Lord over that decision. But this time Abraham did the right thing and went out to wait upon the Lord, and God gave him the instruction of what to do. What would have happened if Abraham had sought the Lord when Sarah had counseled him to take Hagar as his wife? God would have obviously told him to wait and trust Him, and not do as Sarah had instructed. The key point here is to always seek the Lord first before making any critical decision. When someone offers you counsel or advice, immediately take that counsel to the Lord in prayer. Why? Because husbands, your wives may give you some really good counsel, but she may also give you some terrible counsel, as Sarah did. When difficult decisions come up you need to seek the Lord, or you will end up making foolish decisions as Abraham did. Therefore, your wife or friends can give both wise and foolish counsel, but God will confirm what you should do. If you will wait upon the Lord and ask for confirmation, He will direct your path (Prov. 3:5-6; Ex. 18:13-23). 

The separation.

The first question people usually ask about this passage is, “Was it right for Sarah to ask her husband to send away Hagar and Ishmael?” Yes, she was! How can you be sure this was the right thing to do? Because God confirmed to Abraham to take this action. This would also be the reason that sometimes in your life separation from others is the appropriate thing to do. What do I mean? There are times when separation from a spouse, a family member, or a friend is appropriate. What would these circumstances be? When you face an intolerable living situation due to a safety concern because of physical abuse, spousal abuse, or any sexually inappropriate behavior. David separated himself from Saul because of an obvious safety concern, after Saul tried to kill him twice. David voiced everyone’s desire for safety, and God’s approval for this need. David wrote, “‘For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now I will arise,’ says the LORD; ‘I will set him in the safety for which he yearns’” (Ps. 12:5). In situations like this, sometimes it is your only option to separate from someone who wants to do you harm. With this circumstance with Abraham and Sarah, God’s counsel was to separate. If the Lord thought this was an appropriate response in this situation, that is good enough for me.

However, separation should be your last option. Why? Because God will always want to see people repent and reconcile issues. Paul said in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” So, if it is possible, as much as depends on you, always seek reconciliation first so there can be peace. But sometimes it is not possible, that is why Paul adds the phrase if it is possible in this verse. Sarah must have seen things with Ishmael that convinced her that it was not possible to solve this problem, and God must have seen the same things, which is why He confirmed that this separation must take place.

Does God reject Hagar and Ishmael after this conflict?

The answer to this question is, absolutely not! God doesn’t say to Hagar, “Hey you’re on your own now.” No! Even though Hagar completely despaired of a solution to her circumstances, and believed she and her child would die in the wilderness, the Lord came to her at that moment and encouraged her. What did God promise Hagar? He first took care of her immediate need for water, and then promised to make a great nation from her son Ishmael. It is important to note that Ishmael did not despair out in the wilderness. Ishmael prayed and the Scripture declared that God “Heard the voice of the lad.” After God heard Ishmael’s prayer, He opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water right in front of her. This fact illustrates some very important truths concerning your emotions and prayer. First, sometimes your emotions can make you feel like all is lost and you despair, which results in prayerlessness, just like Hagar. Second, emotions can completely cloud your view of the answer and solution to your need, just as Hagar was blinded to the well of water that was right in front of her. Third, if you allow your emotions to control you, then you will believe that God has forsaken you, and does not see you or know about your specific problem. Hagar had forgotten that the Lord had already revealed Himself to her as, “The God Who sees” (Gen. 16:13). Always remember this fact, because God does see and knows every detail of your life, and He is the One who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

There is more to this story.

In Galatians 4:22-24 it declared, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons: one by a bond woman, and the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bond woman was born according to the flesh, and he of the free woman through the promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar.” Paul declared here that these two children were symbolic of a deeper truth in the Scriptures. They illustrate the difference between the covenant of law versus the covenant of grace. Law and self-effort bring bondage to people, and God’s promise gives grace to those who believe. These two covenants illustrate the great conflict that goes on inside of you every single day between your self-effort to change yourself, and God’s grace that transforms you. They illustrate the difference between the works of the flesh, and the grace of God through faith. Abraham tried through the works of his own flesh to help God out, and to try and fulfill the promise of God. However, later Abraham chose to trust God to fulfill His promise of giving him a child through Sarah. Therefore, when you as a believer trust God’s promise, this is when you will see the fulfillment of those promises.

The second part of this illustration was that Hagar was added as a second wife, just as the law was added because of transgression. Scripture declared in Galatians 3:19, “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come [referring to the Messiah.] to whom the promise was made.” So just as Hagar was added as a second wife, so the law was added because of man’s transgressions. In addition, Hagar was a slave which illustrates that the law brings people into bondage to their own sinful nature. Therefore, the harder you try in your own strength to do what is right, the stronger your sin nature becomes. Paul said that, The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). This is why we need God’s grace and His promises to believe. Grace and faith will always liberate the believer, because they are rooted in God’s power and promise, not my ability or self-effort.

The third aspect of this illustration was that Hagar was cast out. Paul continued in Galatians 4:28-31, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.  This part of the illustration was symbolic of what you need to do to walk in freedom in the Christian life. You must put off or cast out any dependence upon the law or yourself. As I just said, self-effort will keep you in bondage to your own sin nature. This is why the Bible teaches that you must put off the old man with his lusts, and put on the new man which is empowered by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:8-9). So, whatever the issue is where you struggle, whether it is pride, fear, anger, lust, or some other issue, you have to trust the Lord for the power of the Holy Spirit to make these desires die within you. Why is this essential? Because when you obey God’s command to, “be filled with the Spirit,” then you will, “walk in the Spirit,” which will keep you from fulfilling the desires of the flesh (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16). Remember, if your flesh reigns inside you, then you will be controlled by it in every area you seek freedom. If the Holy Spirit reigns inside of you, your flesh cannot control you. Only by faith in the power of the Spirit will you be set free. You cannot free yourself by your own self-effort. Jesus has already done the work of conquering your old man, so trust Him to fulfill His promise to do the work inside you today!

The conflict with Abimelech over a well in Beersheba.  Vs. 22-34

Scripture continues, “And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, ‘God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.’ And Abraham said, ‘I will swear.’ Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized. And Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor had I heard of it until today.’ So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Then Abimelech asked Abraham, ‘What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?’ And he said, ‘You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.’ Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there. Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. So Abimelech rose with Phichol, the commander of his army, and they returned to the land of the Philistines. Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines many days” (Gen. 21:22-34).

In these last few verses of Genesis 21, we have recorded a confrontation between Abraham and Abimelech and Phichol the commander of his army over a well that Abraham had dug in Beersheba. We are not told specifically why this confrontation took place, but it appears from the text that Abraham had taken possession of this well again after Abimelech’s servants had seized control of it. It is important to note that Abimelech came with the commander of the army to bring some extra clout to the negotiations. Also, Abimelech did not dispute the fact that this well belonged to Abraham, when he rebuked Abimelech for allowing his servants to seize the well. Abimelech asserted that he did not know anything about this seizure and wanted peace with Abraham. Now, even though the well was dug by Abraham, he then chose to give Abimelech sheep and oxen, which appears to be a kind of a peace offering to satisfy him. Then the two made a covenant with each other with seven lambs, and they took an oath not to do one another any harm. This account has some good lessons for each of us to learn concerning conflict with others.

First, Abimelech spoke very gently with Abraham, because he remembered his previous encounter with him in Genesis 20. The king knew that God was with Abraham, and that Abraham’s God was very powerful, so he sought a peaceful resolution to this problem by coming to talk and by making a covenant with him. Abimelech didn’t want to make things worse; he sought to talk the issue out, and not to fight. This is a great piece of wisdom. Always seek to talk through an issue before you come ready to fight. However, many times this is not the case with people when a conflict arises. They come to make charges and accusations; they don’t want to seek peace. The Apostle Peter quoted a portion from Psalm 34 where David warned believers, For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil’” (1 Peter 3:10-12). Note that God has called each of us to seek peace and pursue it, by controlling our tongues, and by being honest with people when there is a conflict. If we do not come to people in this manner, then God considers us as doing evil. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). So, when a conflict arises with anyone, as much as depends on you, seek peace and a resolution with this person.

Second, notice that Abraham and Abimelech found a mutually agreeable solution to their problem. Remember that to find solutions to conflicts will always require compromise from both persons. I am not suggesting compromise over moral, legal, or biblical truth, but compromise can always be found over a myriad of other issues that create conflict between people (Gal. 2:5). The compromise in this circumstance was that Abimelech received some sheep and oxen, and Abraham got the well. And the best part is that they didn’t end up going to war. However, compromise also requires humility and a willingness to yield to find these solutions. James taught that, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18). So, if you are in the midst of a conflict with another person right now, ask God to empower you with the fruit of the Spirit which is peace (Gal. 5:22-23). Also, ask Him to show you where you can be merciful and be willing to yield so you can find a compromise and the ultimate solution. This is where the fruit of righteousness will always be found, and God will be glorified. So, let’s seek to resolve the conflicts that come up with others as quickly as we can (Matt. 5:25). Seek peace and pursue it!