Genesis (Part 87)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis: 21:22-34

22 At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “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 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.” 24 And Abraham said, “I will swear.”

25 When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, 26 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.” 27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant. 28 Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock apart. 29 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?” 30 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.” 31 Therefore that place was called Beersheba because there both of them swore an oath. 32 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. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.

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We revisit Abimelech. The text had us meeting with him immediately prior to the birth of Isaac and the impression is that Abraham has been sojournining in the south for this entire time. Let’s look at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for verse 22:

(22) Abimelech and Phichol.—Abimelech, that is Father-King, was the title not only of the king of Gerar, but of the kings of the Philistines generally (Genesis 26:11 Samuel 21:10, marg.; Psalms 34, tit.). In like manner Phichol, mouth of all, seems to have been the official designation of the prime minister, and commander-in-chief. This visit of the king and his vizier appears to have taken place some considerable time after the beginning of the sojourn of Abraham at Gerar; for the friendly feelings which then existed had evidently given way to a coolness, occasioned by the quarrels between their herdsmen. In this narrative, Abraham appears as a chieftain powerful enough for a king to wish to make an alliance with him; and thus his abandonment of Sarah, and his receiving of presents in compensation for the wrong done her, seems the more unworthy of him. Abimelech, on the other hand, acts generously as of old, and shows no signs of ill-will at the growing power of one whose expectation was that his race would possess the whole land.

This section of verses clarify that Abimelech is the leader of the Philistines – and this also represents the first mention of this people group in the Book of Genesis.

Who are the Philistines?

The Philistines were an ancient people who lived on the south coast of Canaan from the 12th century BC until 604 BC, when their polity, after having already been subjugated for centuries by Assyria, was finally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. After becoming part of his empire and its successor, the Persian Empire, they lost their distinct ethnic identity and disappeared from the historical and archaeological record by the late 5th century BC. The Philistines are known for their biblical conflict with the Israelites. Though the primary source of information about the Philistines is the Hebrew Bible, they are first attested to in reliefs at the Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, in which they are called Peleset (accepted as cognate with Hebrew Peleshet); the parallel Assyrian term is PalastuPilišti, or Pilistu.

Several theories are given about the origins of the Philistines. The Hebrew Bible mentions in two places that they originate from Caphtor (possibly Crete/Minoa). The Septuagint connects the Philistines to other biblical groups such as Caphtorim and the Cherethites and Pelethites, which have been identified with the island of Crete. This has led to the modern theory of Philistines having an Aegean origin. In 2016, a large Philistine cemetery was discovered near Ashkelon, containing more than 150 dead buried in oval-shaped graves. A 2019 genetic study found that, while all three Ashkelon populations derive most of their ancestry from the local Semitic-speaking Levantine gene pool, the early Iron Age population was genetically distinct due to a European-related admixture; this genetic signal is no longer detectable in the later Iron Age population. According to the authors, the admixture was likely due to a “gene flow from a European-related gene pool” during the Bronze to Iron Age transition, which supports the theory that a migration event occurred.

Lookin at The Pulpit Commentaries for verses 23 and 24:

Genesis 21:23

Now therefore swear unto me here by God—the verb to swear is derived from the Hebrew numeral seven, inasmuch as the septennary number was sacred, and oaths were confirmed either by seven sacrifices (Genesis 21:28) or by seven witnesses and pledges—that thou wilt not deal falsely with me,—literally, if thou shalt lie unto me; a common form of oath in Hebrew, in which the other member of the sentence is for emphasis left unexpressed (cf. Ruth 1:17and vide Genesis 14:23). As a prince, Abimelech was afraid of Abraham’s growing power; as a good man, he insures the safety of himself and his dominions not by resorting to war, but by forming an amicable treaty with his neighbor—nor with my son, nor with my son’s son:—σπέρμα καὶ ὅνομα(LXX.); posteri et stirps (Vulgate); offspring and progeny (Kalisch); kith and kin (Murphy)—but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee (vide Genesis 20:15), thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned—the land being put for the people (cf. Numbers 14:13).

Genesis 21:24

And Abraham said, I will swear. Only before concluding the agreement there was a matter of a more personal character that required settlement.

swear = שָׁבַע shâbaʻ, shaw-bah’; a primitive root; properly to be complete, but used only as a denominative from H7651; to seven oneself, i.e. swear (as if by repeating a declaration seven times):—adjure, charge (by an oath, with an oath), feed to the full (by mistake for H7646), take an oath, × straitly, (cause to, make to) swear.

Swear coming from the word seven is interesting. What are some other signs of significance relating to the number seven?

Used 735 times (54 times in the book of Revelation alone), the number 7 is the foundation of God’s word. If we include with this count how many times ‘sevenfold’ (6) and ‘seventh’ (119) is used, our total jumps to 860 references.

Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God’s creation of all things. According to some Jewish traditions, the creation of Adam occurred on September 26, 3760 B.C. (or the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar). The word ‘created’ is used 7 times describing God’s creative work (Genesis 1:1, 21, 27 three times; 2:3; 2:4). There are 7 days in a week and God’s Sabbath is on the 7th day.

The Bible, as a whole, was originally divided into 7 major divisions. They are 1) the Law; 2) the Prophets; 3) the Writings, or Psalms; 4) the Gospels and Acts; 5) the General Epistles; 6) the Epistles of Paul; and 7) the book of Revelation. The total number of originally inspired books was forty-nine, or 7 x 7, demonstrating the absolute perfection of the Word of God.

Elsewhere, a comment on numerology and the number seven at aboutjewishpeople.com:

According to Numerology in the Hebrew Biblethe number 7 represents perfection. Number 7 has high reverence in the Bible. Everything that is created and complete is associated with number 7. If you look at a rainbow, it has seven colors; if you look at the week, it has seven days. Thus, it is believed that God worked on all seven days and in perfection. Hence, the number 7 is the most sacred numerology bible numbers.

Returning to the text in verse 25, with a look again at the Pulpit Commentary:

And Abraham reproved (literally, reasoned with, and proved to the satisfaction of) Abimelech (who was, until informed, entirely unacquainted with the action of his servants) because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away. The greatest possible injury of a material kind that could be done to a nomads chief was the all faction of his water supplies. Hence “the ownership of wells m Palestine was as jealously guarded as the possession of a mine in our own” (Inglis). Contests for wells “are now very common all over the country, but more especially in the southern deserts”.

reproved = יָכַח yâkach, yaw-kahh’; a primitive root; to be right (i.e. correct); reciprocal, to argue; causatively, to decide, justify or convict:—appoint, argue, chasten, convince, correct(-ion), daysman, dispute, judge, maintain, plead, reason (together), rebuke, reprove(-r), surely, in any wise.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary attributes this dispute over the well as the reason for the meeting between Abimelech and Abraham in the first place:

(26) I wot not.—This explains the reason of Abimelech’s visit. The king’s herdsmen had robbed Abraham of a well, a species of property jealously defended in the East because of its great value, and Abraham in some way had made his displeasure felt. Abimelech, ever friendly towards Abraham, by whose nobleness of character he had been greatly impressed, comes to learn the cause of the coolness, and to enter into a more close and lasting alliance with the patriarch. With Oriental indirectness, he makes no complaint, and speaks only of his wish for continued friendship, but by his allusion to his past kindness hints that this had not been received as it ought. Abraham fully understands his real meaning, and tells him what had happened; whereupon the matter is set right, and Abraham requites his previous generosity with gifts of cattle.

The Philistine monarch and Abraham – who seems to be viewed as a powerful nomadic chieftain – create a covenant with one another.

From the Pulpit Commentary again:

And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech As the usual covenant presents (cf. 1 Kings 15:19Isaiah 30:6Isaiah 39:1). And both of them made a covenant. As already Mature, Aner, and Eshcol had formed a league with the patriarch (vide Genesis 14:13).

1 Kings 15:19: “Let there be a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you a present of silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.”

Isaiah 30:6:

An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb.

Through a land of trouble and anguish,
    from where come the lioness and the lion,
    the adder and the flying fiery serpent,
they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys,
    and their treasures on the humps of camels,
    to a people that cannot profit them.

Isaiah 39:1: At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.

^The verses here cited in the comment seem to indicate the practice of giving presents under these circumstances but “usual” should be understood to not imply types of gifts but rather timing of gifts.

In verse 28, it is not clear whether Abimelech understands the purpose of Abraham’s gift or whether his question is part of a covenant ceremony. See Ellicott’s note below:

(28) Seven ewe lambs.—The word in Hebrew for swearing is a passive verb, literally signifying “to be sevened,” that is, done or confirmed by seven. In this ancient narrative we see a covenant actually thus made binding. Seven ewe lambs are picked out and placed by themselves, and by accepting these Abimelech bound himself to acknowledge and respect Abraham’s title to the well. Apparently this manner of ratifying an oath was unknown to the Philistines, as Abimelech asks, “What mean these seven ewe lambs?” but it is equally possible that this question was dictated by the rules of Oriental courtesy. When Abraham had picked out the lambs, it became Abimelech’s duty to ask what was the purpose of the act, which was then explained, and as soon as the lambs were accepted, the ratification was complete,

We learn further from the note at The Pulpit Commentary that this particular type of oath never occurs again in the Old Testament:

And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves (designing by another covenant to secure himself against future invasion of Isis rights). And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves? And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me,—that this peculiar kind of oath never occurs again in Old Testament history is no proof of the mythical character of the narrative (Bohlen); on the contrary, “that the custom existed in primitive Hebrew times is shown by the word נִשְׁבַּע, which had early passed into the language, and which would be inexplicable without the existence of such a custom” (Havernick)—that I have digged this well.

In the aftermath of the covenant, we learn the original name of the well: Beersheba

בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע Bᵉʼêr Shebaʻ, be-ayr’ sheh’-bah; from H875 and H7651 (in the sense of H7650); well of an oath; Beer-Sheba, a place in Palestine:—Beer-shebah.

From Ellicott:

(31) Beer-sheba.—That is, the well of seven, but with a covert allusion to the seven lambs having been used for the ratification of an oath. Robinson found the exact site in the Wady-es-Seba, with its name still preserved as Bir-es-Seba. There are there two wells of solid construction, the first twelve and a half feet in diameter; the other, situated about 200 yards to the south, much smaller, being only five feet in diameter. Both are lined with solid masonry, and reach down to never-failing springs in the rock. Around are stone troughs for watering the cattle, and the parapet of the larger well is worn into deep indentations, by the ropes used in drawing the water (Finn, Bye-ways in Palestine, p. 190).

We have seen the word Beersheba in our text recently in verse 14.

So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

We will also revisit this place name again in a few chapters. Genesis 26:32-33:

32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

There is quite a bit of significance to the location, historically and spiritually, and I will likely dive into it more thoroughly when Isaac’s chapters take us here.

We finish the verses with another look at Ellicot’s Commentary:

(33) And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba.—Heb., a tamarisk tree. Under a noble tree of this kind, which grows to a great size in hot countries, Saul held his court at Gibeah, and under another his bones were laid at Jabesh (1 Samuel 22:61 Samuel 31:13).

And called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.—Heb., on the name of Jehovah, El ‘olam (comp. Genesis 4:26). In Genesis 14:22, Abraham claimed for Jehovah that he was El ‘elyon, the supreme God; in Genesis 17:1, Jehovah reveals Himself as El shaddai, the almighty God; and now Abraham claims for Him the attribute of eternity. As he advanced in holiness, Abraham also grew in knowledge of the manifold nature of the Deity, and we also more clearly understand why the Hebrews called God, not El, but Elohim. In the plural appellation all the Divine attributes were combined. El might be ‘elyon, or shaddai, or ‘olam; Elohim was all in one.

(34) In the Philistines’ land—In Genesis 21:32 Abimelech on returning to Gerar is said to have gone back “into the land of the Philistines!’ But Beer-sheba also in a general way belonged to his dominions, and Abraham dwelt there in peace by reason of the treaty which existed between him and the Philistine king.

In verse 33, the note touches on a topic of continued mystery and interest in this study: the varying names given to God. The note provides an explanation for the plurality of Elohim, though as we have mentioned in previous parts of this study, limiting Elohim in application only to God the Most High becomes problematic. The word Elohim makes more sense (sometimes) if it means “gods” more generally. In other places though, the plural Elohim does seem to refer specifically to God Most High. Psalm 82, for example, discusses Elohim standings in Divine Council, in the midst of the El, and judging among the Elohim.

It’s fascinating and mysterious.

Lord = יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord. Compare H3050H3069.

Everlasting = עוֹלָם ʻôwlâm, o-lawm’; or עֹלָם ʻôlâm; from H5956; properly, concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; generally, time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practically) eternity; frequentatively, adverbial (especially with prepositional prefix) always:—alway(-s), ancient (time), any more, continuance, eternal, (for, (n-)) ever(-lasting, -more, of old), lasting, long (time), (of) old (time), perpetual, at any time, (beginning of the) world (+ without end). Compare H5331H5703.

God = אֵל ʼêl, ale; shortened from H352; strength; as adjective, mighty; especially the Almighty (but used also of any deity):—God (god), × goodly, × great, idol, might(-y one), power, strong. Compare names in ‘-el.’

The Pulpit Commentaries concludes this section with Homilies by J.F. Montgomery

A covenant between the patriarch and the Philistine king.

Abraham a sojourner in that land, afterwards the troubler of Israel; for his sake as discipline, for their sakes as opportunity.

1. God’s care for those beyond the covenant. A Beersheba in a heathen land.

2. The things of this world made a channel of higher blessings. The covenant arising out of bodily wants a civil agreement. The oath a testimony to God where reverently made.

3. He is not far from every one of us. The neighborhood of Beersheba, the revelation of Jehovah, the little company of believers.

4. The blessing made manifest. The days spent in Philistia left behind them some enlightenment.

5. Adaptation of Divine truth to those to whom it is sent. Abraham’s name of God, Jehovah El Olam; the two revelations, the God of nature and the God of grace. The name of the Lord itself an invitation to believe and live. Paul at Athens adapted himself in preaching to the people’s knowledge while leading them to faith.—R.

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