Conquering Conflict – Genesis 21:22-34

Conquering Conflict
Gen. 21:22-34
Hope In Christ Bible Church 4/14/19
The passage of God’s Word to which we come this morning is Genesis 21. It’s the last paragraph of Genesis 21, verses 22-34.
Abraham and Isaac have just experienced the momentous answer to their heart’s desire they had longed to see for most of their lives.
They had waited and then, just as He had promised, God gave them the miracle son when it was humanly impossible.
Though the ½ brother Ishmael was older by 14 years, it was God’s gift of Isaac that He had chosen to be the elect line- the line that would lead to the ultimate descendant in Christ.
How long would that take? How many generations would come between?
Matthew 1:17 answers that saying, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”
That’s wonderful. Because it shows us how God in His perfect wisdom perfectly orchestrated every part of Abraham and Sarah’s lives.
That included what we also saw last week how God intervened during a time of heated conflict in Abraham’s home. God affirmed His plan was that Hagar and Ishmael would be sent away to live in the wilderness.
No sooner is the conflict in the home resolved then Abraham finds himself in a second conflict with Abimelech, king of Gerar.
Remember, he’s the one we met in chapter 20 whom Abraham deceived when he told the king Sarah was his sister, not his wife.
Though the king had taken Sarah into his harem, God stopped the king in his tracks and caused him to return Sarah to Abraham.
But now there’s another sticky situation that
Abraham faces with this king. It’s a serious
conflict that could have ended in Abimelech
and Abraham going to war together.
But instead, we get to see how God so
graciously intervenes, and through
Abimelech and Abraham, conquers the
conflict.
None of us are immune to conflict. Where
there are human relationships, there are
disagreements and discord.
Conflicts arise in marriage between
husbands and wives.
Conflicts show up between parents and
children and between brothers and sisters.
Among friends, co-workers, fellow students,
yes and even between members of the
church, disagreements and discord threaten.
So it is, each of us has great need to learn
how we can have victory in the face of
conflict. Our text this morning of Abraham’s
real life situation will help us learn life
lessons from the Lord in this.
Take in now with me our passage in Genesis
21:22–34.
“Now it came about at that time that
Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his
army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “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 offspring or
with my posterity, but according to the
kindness that I have shown to you, you shall
show to me and to the land in which you
have sojourned.” 24 Abraham said, “I swear
it.” 25 But Abraham complained to Abimelech
because of the well of water which the
servants of Abimelech had seized. 26 And
Abimelech said, “I do not know who has
done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I
hear of it until today.” 27 Abraham took sheep
and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and
the two of them made a covenant. 28 Then
Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock
by themselves. 29 Abimelech said to
Abraham, “What do these seven ewe lambs
mean, which you have set by themselves?”
30 He said, “You shall take these seven ewe
lambs from my hand so that it may be a
witness to me, that I dug this well.” 31
Therefore he called that place Beersheba,
because there the two of them took an oath.
32 So they made a covenant at Beersheba;
and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander
of his army, arose and returned to the land of
the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a
tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he
called on the name of the LORD, the
Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned
in the land of the Philistines for many days.
——————
Woven into the tapestry of this event, we
learn from God’s inspired Word about
Dealing with Dispute. It helps us understand
how we can be peacemakers and not
troublemakers, how we can pursue and
enjoy harmonious relationships.
We need to realize from the get go, that God
sovereignly works not only through Abraham
but through Abimelech to achieve a peaceful
relationship between them.
It comes to us in 4 key moves that we can
readily follow. They are the:
1. Affirmation 22-24
2. Confrontation 25-26
3. Negotiation 27-32
4. Adoration 33-34
Let’s begin where the Holy Spirit does
through Moses’ pen in verse.
1. Affirmation 22-24
“Now it came about at that time that
Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of
his army, spoke to Abraham, saying,
“God is with you in all that you do.”
God loves to give us as readers helpful time
markers so we can get our bearings in
Scripture.
“Now it came about at that time” serves as
such a markers.
It tells us this was the same time when
Abraham had sent Hagar and Ishmael out of
his household.
After that Abraham had every reason to
breathe a deep sigh of relief- for the tension
in the home with Sarah and her jealous maid
Hagar as well as their sons (who are half
brothers) Isaac and Ishmael, that’s now
behind Abraham.
Yet it’s at that time two special and
unexpected visitors show up.
The first is Abimelech- that would be the king
of Gerar with whom Abraham had the run in
not long before (chap. 20).
You will recall that this king after returning
Sarah to Abraham unharmed told him,
“Settle wherever you want to on my vast
land.”
But now, there’s something important the
king of Gerar wants to tell Abraham. He
doesn’t send it through an not-so-instant
messenger but in person.
Yet it’s so important, he takes someone
along- a man name Phicol, who was
commander-in-chief of his entire army. He’s
the equivalent of our Mark Milley, 4 star
general and chief of staff of the U.S. Army.
So being accompanied by Phicol, tells us the
negotiation that the king desires involves
both political and military goals.
By the way, that name “”Phicol” may mean
“mouth of all,” which would indicate he spoke
as a representative of the people living in
Gerar.
Well, I find it absolutely amazing what
Abimelech first says to Abraham. Notice
again the first words out of his mouth: “God
is with you in all that you do.”
It’s astounding that this pagan king
recognizes God’s favor on Abraham.
But where did he come up with that? In what
ways had the king seen God’s blessings on
Abraham’s life?
News of the 5 powerful kings of the east
being defeated by Abraham had no doubt
reached the ears of the king of Gerar. But
there was more.
This king had also heard directly from God in
a dream that Abraham was a prophet of God.
And that king of Gerar realized that because
of Abraham praying to God, God had healed
Abimelech, his wife and his maids!
That’s why Abimelech has shown unusual
kindness and respect to Abraham.
He knows that Abraham wields great power
in his connection with the living God!
That’s what he means by the statement,
“God is with you in all that you do.”
Let’s take a moment to remember, the
powerful presence of God that dwells in the
lives of his own.
We see throughout Scripture, God being with
you makes all the difference in the world.
Genesis 39:2 The LORD was with Joseph,
so he became a successful man. And he was
in the house of his master, the Egyptian.
Exodus 3:12 And He said, “Certainly I will be
with you, and this shall be the sign to you
that it is I who have sent you: when you have
brought the people out of Egypt, you shall
worship God at this mountain.”
Psalm 46:7,11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of
Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
Matthew 1:23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE
WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY
SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which
translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
Zechariah 8:23 “Thus says the LORD of
hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the
nations will grasp the garment of a Jew,
saying, “Let us go with you, for we have
heard that God is with you.” ’ ”
The resurrected Christ declared in Matthew
28:20 “And lo, I am with you always, even
to the end of the age.”
Acts 18:10 “for I am with you, and no
man will attack you in order to harm you,
for I have many people in this city.”
Hebrews 13:5 “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU,
NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.”
Christian, what joyous confidence it gives to
recall that God is with you.
That means that in whatever comes against
you, you are not alone. For the all-powerful
and all wise God of the universe goes with
you in it all.
So that day in Abraham’s life, God used an
unbelieving king to remind Abraham of that
precious truth, “God is with you in all that you
do!”
And that deep-down confidence prepared
Abraham for the king’s request that follows:
Verse 23: “now therefore, swear to me
here by God that you will not deal falsely
with me or with my offspring or with my
posterity, but according to the kindness
that I have shown to you, you shall show
to me and to the land in which you have
sojourned.”
Wow, this king Abimelech, he’s asking for a
peaceful relationship with Abraham.
He wants to hear Abraham promise that in
the future days he won’t deceive him or his
descendants.
Ouch! That serves as a fresh reminder how
Abraham had previously lied to the king’s
face which ended up putting the king in a bad
place before God.
“Promise me you won’t treat me so badly,
Abraham. I just need to hear from you that
you will be kind to me and my people as I
was to you.”
Well, that’s a reasonable request. “Just give
me your word that you won’t take advantage
of me again, OK?”
And Abraham says in response: “I swear it.”
So Abraham makes a solemn promise, a
binding oath with God as the listening
witness.
Well, good progress has been made toward
conquering the conflict.
So let me help arm you with application at
this point for the next conflict or relational
clash you will face.
We learn from the king:
1. Take initiative, make the effort in
communicating with one with whom you are
struggling. Don’t ignore it, sweep it under the
carpet. If you are aware there’s been a
misunderstanding, and offense taken, a
perceived insult in a relationship you have
with someone else, then reach out to them.
2. Affirm and don’t attack the other person.
The king’s wise words reminding Abraham,
“God is with you” paved the way for Abraham
to listen to what he would then share.
Sometimes, our tendency it to haul off and
confront a person with whom we have
conflict. We like to think that the problem is
on their end. We need to work hard at
building up and affirming the other person as
we seek to resolve the tension.
3. When a person reaches out to you to deal
with an interpersonal matter, like we see in
Abraham, be willing to deal with them. The
silent treatment and ignoring them only
aggravates the problem.
Even if you can’t quite figure out how to
resolve the conflict, at least respond and let
them know you are committed to working it
through with them. If a suggestion is made
by the other person as was made by
Abimelech, and will contribute to a peaceful
solution, then seek to be agreeable with their
suggestion.
Now let’s bring key statements by God into
the conversation about pursuing harmonious
relationships. First, remember how God
loves unity among brethren:
Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how
pleasant it is For brothers to dwell
together in unity!”
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the
peacemakers, for they shall be called
sons of God.”
Mark 9:50 Christ tells His disciples to “be at
peace with one another.”
Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it
depends on you, be at peace with all
men.”
2 Corinthians 13:11 “Finally, brethren,
rejoice, be made complete, be comforted,
be like-minded, live in peace; and the God
of love and peace will be with you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:13 Live in peace with
one another.
That’s God’s desire for each and every one
of us as His children- to live together in
harmony. And that’s what He enables as we
walk by His Spirit and affirm the peace He
gives.
From the affirmation we now see the
2. Confrontation 25-26
There’s a sore spot Abraham has with the
king. And it’s at this point he wisely brings it
up.
Verse 25 explains: “But Abraham
complained to Abimelech because of the
well of water which the servants of
Abimelech had seized.”
Now Abraham is not just complaining
because he doesn’t get his way. It’s far more
serious than that.
The word “complained” here has the idea of
reproving and correcting. In fact, the word
was often used by the Jews to describe a
legal confrontation.
God uses the same term when He as plaintiff
brings Judah into his law court.
And He pleads with Judah, “Come now,
and let us reason together,” says the
LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow; though
they are red like crimson, They will be like
wool.” Isaiah 1:18
In other words, God confronts His people
with what they had done that hurt their
relationship with Him.
And Abraham does the same before
Abimelech.
Now, what’s the cause of the contention that
called for confrontation?
Abraham puts his finger on the problemsome
of the king’s servants had seized one
of his wells.
That term “seized”- (gazal) means to steal, to
take violently.
It was later used in the law to describe one
violating another’s personal property. It’s
taking advantage of someone.
To take someone’s well in the first century
Canaan was a big deal. Here’s why:
The lives of nomadic shepherds depended
on a regular supply of fresh water.
In fact, water is still a precious commodity in
the land of Israel, and they use all kinds of
special technology and irrigation to make the
most of the water they have.
In the southern region of Israel, the average
rainfall is 1.18 inches annually- that’s so little
rain for an entire year!
That’s why those in Abraham’s day had to
dig deep wells- so they had a regular supply
of fresh water to drink.
By the way, Abraham is now in Beersheba
where a number of ancient wells have
actually been discovered.
This area of Beersheba (roughly 45 miles
SW of Jerusalem) did not belong to
Abimelech. So for his men to take over the
well was tantamount to claiming that territory
for themselves. For whoever controlled the
well controlled the land.
Well, notice how the king responds to
Abraham’s confrontation.
Verse 26: “And Abimelech said, “I do not
know who has done this thing; you did
not tell me, nor did I hear of it until
today.”
Abimelech claims to have no idea about what
his servants had done in stealing the well.
He’s telling Abraham it’s the first time I have
ever heard about this- you have never told
me this before.
If we take what he says at face value,
Abimelech is not aware of the problem.
We can be pretty confident he is telling the
truth that Abraham has never told him before
that the king’s servants had taken over one
of his well.
Because if Abraham had told him in the past,
now would have been the time Abraham
would have reminded him of that.
Here’s the point we can learn from this.
When you find yourself in conflict with
someone else, don’t assume the other
person is aware of what has happened. Just
because you have taken offense does not
mean the other person is out to get you.
Now this doesn’t mean the one who doesn’t
know what’s going on is off the hook. The
king’s men were no doubt guilty, and the
cause of the discord has to be addressed.
Friends, God gives us many opportunities in
relationships with one another to grow in our
sanctification. And a key to that is a humble
heart that is willing to graciously
communicate.
So again, when you perceive tension in with
your spouse, child, or friend, don’t assume
they know how much things are bothering
you.
Graciously, share what’s on your heart and
clarify what you perceive is the cause of
offense.
And by the way, don’t assume the other
person has the log in his eye and is the one
to blame.
Our Lord’s words to his disciples about this
very thing in Matthew 7:3–5 expose a wrong
approach that we can so often fall into in
confronting others whom we have something
against:
“Why do you look at the speck that is in
your brother’s eye, but do not notice the
log that is in your own eye? 4 “Or how can
you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the
speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the
log is in your own eye? 5 “You hypocrite,
first take the log out of your own eye, and
then you will see clearly to take the speck
out of your brother’s eye.”
This morning it’s our joy to welcome a
wonderful batch of new members. We have
had 4 classes with them- a wonderful time
seeing their love for the Lord and for HCBC.
We warn them, it’s just a matter of time until
someone does something that will offends
you. So, we stress how they must be
prepared to graciously work this out and
show forgiveness.
In fact, I asked Benjamin to come up front
and step on my toe. And I said, “Ouch!”
Then I returned the favor and stepped on his
toe.
And it that was at that point, we had a
choice. How would we deal with each other.
Would we just try to ignore it and act like it
never happened? Would we avoid each
other? Would we each go tell others how
much we had been offended? Or would we
seek to make things right with one another?
Look at what Abraham does. It’s a fantastic
example to us.
3. Negotiation 27-32
Verse 27 tell us that “Abraham took sheep
and oxen and gave them to Abimelech,
and the two of them made a covenant.”
What? Abimelech’s men had stolen the well
but who is giving the gift here? Abraham is!
Abraham the one who has been offended
takes the low road and graciously gives the
king some of his sheep and oxen as a peace
offering. We recall that the king, following
the difficulty with Sarah, had given Abraham
sheep and oxen (20:14).
Here’s a great example, and the principle
goes like this. The best way to deal with an
enemy is to treat him as a friend.
Turn with me to a wonderful illustration of this
in Romans 12:20–21.
Paul quotes from Prov. 25:21 and writes,
“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM,
AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN
SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON
HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good.”
What are the burning coals about? It was an
ancient custom when a person would show
humiliation by carrying a pan of burning coals
above their head. It was an admission of
shame and guilt.
The point is this. God has put people
together so that they don’t generally respond
best when they are attacked by others. They
respond best and are humbled by
undeserved expression of loving care.
The gift of sheep and oxen that Abraham
gives to the king- those may have been used
as a sacrifice as the two of them made a
mutual promise together.
But there’s more. Would you notice what
else Abraham does as he works out this
dispute with Abimelech?
Continuing in the 28th verse: “Then Abraham
set seven ewe lambs of the flock by
themselves.”
A “ewe” lamb is a female sheep. They likely
would have been young and flawless.
Remember, Nathan when he confronts David
over his sin speaks of a man who had a
precious little ewe lamb.
Here’s another practical point in resolving
conflict. As you are able, make a tangible
expression of your heart of forgiveness
toward the other person. It might be as
simple as a text message or some other
token of kindness to them.
Well, in verse 29 “Abimelech [says] to
Abraham, ‘What do these seven ewe
lambs mean, which you have set by
themselves?”
Watch now. It’s more that just a friendly
gesture to the king.
Verse 30: “He (Abraham) said, ‘You shall
take these seven ewe lambs from my hand
so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug
this well.”
Abraham in giving the gift doesn’t ignore the
issue. Rather, he wants to clarify the
situation with the king so that it doesn’t
happen again.
Those 7 lambs were a tangible reminder that
the well belonged to Abraham. In fact, he’s
real clear in telling the king not to forget that
“I dug this well.”
By the way, the text assumes that Abimelech
made things right by returning the well to
Abraham.
Here’s the timeless principle. To resolve
conflict biblically, you have to deal with the
root cause. And you and the person with
whom you have discord have come to
agreement with how you will prevent the
conflict with repeating itself in the future.
It’s purposing to remove any issues so as to
avoid ongoing disputes.
And friends, that requires humility and
wisdom from the Lord.
Well, Abraham goes a step further to seal the
deal.
Verse 31 “Therefore he called that place
Beersheba, because there the two of them
took an oath.”
“Beersheba” mean “well of the seven.” And
that same root word also mean to promise or
swear to an agreement.
Abraham and Abimelech have both made a
solemn oath that they would show mutual
respect to one another concerning the well.
And the name of that place Beersheba would
be repeated thousands and thousands of
times for generations to come.
Each time it was said, it would be a reminder
to the Israelites of how God blessed
Abraham and returned that well to him.
It pictures God’s faithful provision for
Abraham and his descendants.
By the way, Beersheba still exists today and
is considered the capital of the Negev and is
the 8th most populous city in Israel!
Well, there’s wonderful resolution to the
conflict.
Moses writes, (v. 32) “So they made a
covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech
and Phicol, the commander of his army,
arose and returned to the land of the
Philistines.”
The king and his commander head home to
Gerar which later becomes infamous as the
land of the Philistines. The negotiation for
peace had been successful, and both parties
were glad!
Affirmation, Confrontation, Negotiation
result in the wonderful
4. Adoration 33-34
Look in verse 33 how Abraham shows his
deep gratitude to God for the restored
relationship.
“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at
Beersheba, and there he called on the
name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.”
Some say Abraham didn’t really plant a tree.
Friends, if we can’t trust God when he tells
us Abraham planted a tree, then we can’t
trust Him for anything. And we can’t be sure
there was a tree of life in the garden (Gen.
2:9) or that there will be a tree of life in
heaven (as Rev. 22:2 tells us)!
He planted that tamarisk tree. It’s a shrublike
tree with hard wood and evergreen trees.
It resembles the cypress tree.
Why does he plant the tree? It’s not because
of his great interest in ecology. And it’s
certainly not as a fetish or idol.
He plants this tamarisk tree to commemorate
what God had done and as reminder what
He owned God in return: worship.
Worshipping the God of peace who had
given him peace with Himself and peace with
the king of Gerar.
And we know that all of that ultimately is
because of God giving His son to die on
another tree, He the prince of peace giving
His life. It’s on the basis of Christ as our
Lord and Savior, that’s what opens wide the
door that we might enjoy peace with God and
peace with one another.
Well there by that tree he planted, and take
to heart again, it’s there he calls on the name
of the LORD, the everlasting God.
Abraham knew God as El Elyon (God most
high- 14:19). He knew Him as El Shaddai
(the All-sufficient One). And now he
acknowledges and worships God as El
Olam- the everlasting God.
Wells would disappear, trees would be cut
down, the ewe lambs would grow and then
die, treaties would be forgotten, but the
everlasting God remains forever.
Verse 34: “And Abraham sojourned in the
land of the Philistines for many days.”
Abraham would remain in that southern
region for many more years.
And as he did that tamarisk tree would serve
as a wonderful reminder.
On the southern bank of the Klamath River
Valley in Northern California stands a
beautiful tree that is unlike any other pine
trees in the area.
It looks like a cypress tree in the middle of a
wide-open area. It testifies of the Chinese
community that had lived and worked there
over a century ago during the gold rush era.
While there are no more Chinese laborers in
the entire area, it stands as a monument of a
fascinating time of history.
We need reminders. And God has given us a
vivid reminder this morning.
God had met Abraham at his point of need.
He resolved a difficult conflict and was
worthy to be worshipped as the great and
eternal God.
Friends, that’s the ultimate issue for relying
on the Lord to resolve conflict. It’s not just
about you feeling better and having harmony
with another person. It’s so that you would
experience the power of God at work through
you and respond in greater worship to Him.
Heavenly Father, we thank you Father that
you have not only called us to peaceful
relationships but you have shown us the
way.
Thank that Christ is our peace and that He
has brought us to you if we repented and
rested our faith in Him.
We praise you that you are the one who
causes us to live in harmony and peace with
one another. May we rest in that and actively
rely upon You for grace and wisdom to walk
in peace with those around us. Make us
lights that shine for You we pray in a crooked
and perverse generation that more might
come to know our Him who is our peace, the
Lord Jesus Christ. We pray this in His name
and for His glory, amen.
Conquering Conflict
Gen. 21:22-34
Hope In Christ Bible Church 4/14/19
Intro. Mat. 1:17
1. Affirmation 22-24
Gen. 39:2; Ex. 3:12; Psalm 46:7,11; Mat. 1:23; Zech. 8:23;
Mat. 28:20; Acts 18:10; Heb. 13:5; Psalm 133:1; Mat. 5:9;
Mark 9:50; Rom. 12:18; II Cor 13:11; I Thes. 5:13
2. Confrontation 25-26
Isa. 1:18; Mat. 7:3–5
3. Negotiation 27-32
Rom. 12:20–21 (Prov. 25:21)
4. Adoration 33-34
Gen. 2:9; Rev. 22:2
In what specific areas would God call me to actively trust
in Him to resolve conflict with another?