Genesis 21:22-34 (ESV)
At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. 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.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.”
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.” So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?” 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.” Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath. 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. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.
To the modern eye, all this pomp and circumstance looks like so much showing off, but it actually has a purpose. At this point in history, there is no contract law and no government to enforce it anyway. Any commitment can only be enforced through military conflict. The only way to win a military conflict is by having many people who are willing to fight and die for you.
The key to getting people to do that is trust. A leader must be respected or no one will follow him. The purpose of all this pomp is to put Abraham’s and Abimelech’s honor on the line. By swearing oaths and giving livestock as a sign, they are bringing in lots of witnesses. Break these promises and everyone will know.
So, their treaties are enforced by the publicity. They have no interest in conflict anyway, so they depart friends and that’s the end of it.
When we thank God for the great country we live in, we usually don’t even think of the basic functions of government. Laws make life work. We trust that everything that we depend on will be there tomorrow. The electricity will be on. The gas stations will have gas. Our money won’t suddenly be worthless. We won’t be persecuted.
This has not always been true, and isn’t true now for many people around the world. We’re where we are, and not where they are, simply because of where we were born.
Pray for the persecuted church. We don’t deserve to be spared their pain. We could be in their shoes. We should be in their shoes.
This isn’t a one day prayer request. This should be a permanent attitude.
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