Years earlier, God had made a promise to Abraham that his seed would be a blessing to the nations. Readers of Genesis have been waiting for an example of this fulfilled promise, and now Moses points out that shortly after the birth of Isaac a powerful Philistine group voluntarily aligned themselves with Abraham because they had observed that God was with him. The desire for identification with Abraham is all the more surprising because, as we observed in our reading on Genesis 20, Abraham had been deceptive in his earlier contact with this group of Philistines. Yet on that occasion he had discovered that they feared God.
Since Abraham was at the centre of God’s plan of salvation, readers of Genesis would assume that others with an interest in his mercy would desire to join his servant in a public manner. It is evident that Abimelech realised that Abraham was going to be present in the land for a long time, which is why he asked that future generations of his people would receive blessings through Abraham.
Abimelech and Phicol were willing to confess that the land belonged to a man who at that time seemed to have very little in comparison to what they had. But they did not judge things by the sight of their eyes; instead they looked ahead with the eyes of faith and recognised that God would certainly bless Abraham. This is how we are to respond to the gospel. On a human level, the church of Christ seems insignificant. Yet the fact is that the future belongs to it and not to those who seem currently to have a place of prominence. Heavenly wisdom states that we should by faith identify ourselves with the despised people of God.
We may wonder why Abraham made such a fuss about a well in Beersheba when he brought up the matter with Abimelech. It is likely that Abraham had dug this well (although some scholars think it is the well that Hagar used). I suspect that the reason why he complained was due to the fact that his ownership was disputed by the servants of Abimelech, and he points out to the Philistine ruler that such conduct is not allowed among those who identify with Abraham. They have to confess that the land belongs to him, not them.
Abraham’s response to the treaty with Abimelech is worship. He planted a grove as a place where he would engage in worship and call upon the name of God. Candlish suggests that the grove was designed for use by both Abraham and Abimelech. ‘And there, from time to time, the two friends might meet, as members of the same communion, having now a common faith, a common hope, a common love, to call in common “on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God”.’
Genesis 21 reveals that Abraham had many reasons for giving thanks. His God had kept his promises concerning Isaac, had provided for Hagar and Ishmael, and had created permanent peace between Abraham and Abimelech. And what he did for the father of the faithful, he does for those who follow in his steps.