I wanted to be a supportive wife, so I began checking the academic catalog for a course I might take alongside my hubby. Confounded at the absence of a course on prayer, I hurried off a letter to the academic dean. “I'm certain this is simply an oversight,” I wrote. “Since a seminary's purpose is to train pastors, counselors and teachers, I would think the most basic form of communion with God would be a priority in the course offerings.” Okay, so tact and diplomacy wasn't my strong-suit. I hadn't yet realized the intricate inter-weavings of my remarks with my husband's reputation. In a small pond, every splash causes many ripples, and those ripples flow through a myriad of relationships. Seminary became not only a wonderful training ground for my husband's pastoral vocation, but also an obstacle course for my unruly tongue. It started my advanced training on tricky relationships. I'm happy to report that today, the seminary president and academic dean are dear friends, which proves we serve a truly mighty God! When Abraham found himself in the presence of the Philistine's head-honcho, he was much more adept than me at tricky relationships…
Gen. 21:22-23 – “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, 'God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you.'” (emphasis added)
- Do you think Abimelech and Phicol schlepped across the Negev by themselves? Probably not. It's a tricky relationship when a king shows up with his commander (and probably a sizable military escort), “asking” you to take an oath. Notice that Abimelech acknowledged God's blessing on Abraham before he asked two things of him: 1) vow not to deal falsely with him or descendants, and 2) show the SAME kindness that he'd shown Abraham. Did Abe stop listening at the compliment, or did he measure each word of the king? It's easy to analyze each word of Abimelech's proposal 4,000 years later, but when the pressure is on, how well do we listen to the details in an intimidating situation?
- Perhaps Abraham took the oath so readily because it's easy to swear the SAME kindness to one who hasn't been kind! Is it just me, or does Abimelech's reply sound like a load of hooey? At this point, Abraham had the choice to accuse the king or move forward in resolving the problem. Which would you choose? Are you an accuser or a resolver?
- Abraham humbly offers his sheep and cattle in a treaty agreement. Seems unfair, huh? Is he a doormat, bowing to the powerful King of the Philistines? No. His offering has purpose – and a sting. Abraham's treaty offering is three things: 1) meaningful, 2) memorable, and 3) uncomfortable. It's meaningful because it makes Abimelech ask the question. It's memorable because those silly sheep and cattle will have to be herded on the return trip. And it's uncomfortable because Abraham gets the final word, "I dug this well." Abraham left the king's dignity intact, while at the same time making his point.
- Abraham had just sworn an oath binding himself and his descendants to a powerful king, and he‟d won water rights in an arid land in the process. Planting a tree that grows into much-needed shade is a good way to celebrate the successful navigation of a tricky relationship. Calling on the LORD – the God beyond time and space – is an even better idea.