Summary: Abraham secures water rights, plants a grove, and worships in the land of the Promise!
God finally gave Abraham a son through Sarah, and now we’ll see how He starts to deliver on the promise of the land.
And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest:
You’ll remember from chapter 20 that Abimelech is the king of the Philistine city of Gerar. Abraham lied to him about Sarah, so Abimelech took her as his wife until God came to him in a dream and demanded her release. He and the general of his army realize that God has blessed him, and they know from first-hand experience that He protects him, so they have a peace conference with him saying:
23Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son:
Abimelech’s already seen that Abraham will lie if he feels the need, but he also knows that Abraham fears the Lord. So, he asks for this treaty. Basically he wants a promise of honesty and kindness between the two families for three generations.
but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.
Remember that even when Abraham lied to Abimelech, Abimelech let him live wherever he wanted. He’s shown him kindness, and now he’s calling for the same. “Do to me what I did to you.”
24And Abraham said, I will swear.
This is a covenant of peace for these three generations and Abraham agrees to it. His descendants will conquer and possess the land 400 years later, but for now there’s peace. But before the covenant is ratified Abraham brings up something that’s very important to him:
25And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away.
This is in a desert and there are no city water works. Abraham dug the well himself (probably with tools he made), and without it his flocks won’t live and there’s no use living here. And besides, Abraham has no land and no water rights. The king’s men forced Abraham’s men off their own well, and he has no legal discourse.
26And Abimelech said, I wot (know) not who hath done this thing; neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.
Abimelech seems to always be getting into trouble for stuff he doesn’t do!
27And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.
The actual Hebrew says that they “cut a covenant.” Remember back in chapter 15 when Abraham cut all the animals in half and made a pathway with their bodies? It’s called the Blood Path. God walked down the path to say, “May what happened to these animals happen to Me if I break my word.” Here in chapter 21 we see Abraham again using animals to cut a covenant with Abimelech. Abimelech would go first (since he’s considered the greater in the party), and he’d walk between the pieces, and then Abraham would walk after him. So both men sealed the deal by walking the blood path. But this time Abraham does something unusual:
28And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. 29And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves? 30And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.
In other words, you take these lambs from me, and they’ll be a sort of receipt; they’re proof that you’ve recognized that I have rights to this well. He doesn’t get any land, but he’s a step closer. Sarah dies in chapter 23, and Abraham buys a plot of land so he can bury her (that’s his first possession of the land), but the right to use this well is the first step.
31Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them.
Beersheba means “the well of the oath” or “the well of the seven.” It’s a very important place for Abraham because it’s the first time he’s got something more than a tent in the Promised Land. So, Abimelech agrees to the terms, and,
32Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.
So Abimelech’s happy with the agreement and he returns home. But look at what Abraham does:
33And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba,
These trees are watered by the well in Beersheba, and they’re planted in the land of the promise. These trees were a testament to the promise and provision of God, and they’re evidence of Abraham’s faith. Now he has something more permanent than a tent—he’s got something invested in the land. It would be a lot of hard work to plant a grove, but it’d be worth the effort…after all, his son’s sons would be around to see it. Everything seems to have changed around this point in his life. Up to know he’s been somewhat distrustful and he’s tried to live by his flesh. In the next chapter he offers his son as a sacrifice; in the one after that he buries his wife in his new homeland. It seems he’s finally learned to really trust God, and he’s making plans to call Canaan his permanent home. He planted a grove,