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Abraham, My Friend The Making of a Praying Man_55 Beersheba, and the Everlasting God It’s time for us to rejoin the story line. Isaac is a toddler, and Ishmael is being removed from the scene. The events of the latter part of Genesis 21 all centre around Beersheba. Beersheba became the symbolic edge of the ‘promised land’; the phrase ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ signified the whole land and is used regularly in the scriptures. Abraham has been given the land ‘in promise’ but has not ‘occupied’ a single foot of it; he is a sojourner. He is a sojourner, however, who is turning into a settler and this chapter relates part of that process. Abraham’s fatherly concern for Ishmael is clearly seen in his record. When the promise of Isaac had been repeated more specifically, Abraham’s initial reaction had been to lodge a plea in Ishmael’s interest; Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! (Gen 17:17-18 KJV) Later when the conflict between Hagar’s son and Sarah’s began to show itself, Sarah insisted on Ishmael’s expulsion from the family; And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. (Gen 21:11 KJV) God told Abraham to listen to Sarah’s request and Ishmael was banished. Hagar and her son are ‘cast out’ and wander in the wilderness of Beersheba. (Gen 21:14) Time can pass very unevenly in the book of Genesis and we need to keep our eyes open for clues. In Genesis 21:8 Isaac is probably somewhere around the age of 3 or 4, and consequently Ishmael is in his late teens. The next time-check we have is in Genesis 23:1 where we are told that Sarah was 127 years old when she died. How is your math(s) doing? Sarah was 91 when Isaac was born, so Isaac was 36 years old when Sarah died and that means that Genesis 21 and 22 cover a period of some 33 years. Much of this period is hidden from us; these are ‘the Son’s hidden years’ which suddenly come into clear light in Genesis 22, but more of that later… The remainder of Genesis 21 tells of the earlier part of that period. Ishmael would have been old enough, especially with his developing archer skills, to provide for himself and his mother, but his stamina is not up to the first part of their exile. When the heat of Beersheba’s wilderness overcame him, Sarah abandoned him under the meagre shade of a bush so as not to witness his death. The events that follow are a valuable reminder that God is not only at work in the main plot. There are many ‘Ishmaels’ but the fact that they are not part of the unfolding drama of redemption does not mean that God has abandoned them. This young man has no covenant with God, but God hears his cry. It puts me in mind of an interesting double miracle that might challenge some of our thinking. 5000 men with their women and children were provided with a table in the wilderness in Matthew 14. With five loaves and a two small fish the Lord filled the crowd. This took place in Galilee proper on the western side of the sea; they gathered the leftovers into 12 baskets. Following these events He travelled north to the area around Sidon and then returned south on the eastern side of Galilee. This area was predominantly Gentile and known as the Decapolis. And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. (Mar 7:31 KJV) This area was dominated by 10 cities with a high Greek culture. This time the Lord repeated the miracle but based in on seven loaves and a few small fish; they gathered the leftovers into seven baskets. Twelve baskets and seven baskets; but the old KJV hides an important detail which some more modern versions have revealed; And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. (Mar 8:8 NASB) The seven baskets were of a different kind to the twelve. The twelve were small, picnic size baskets used by travellers, but the seven baskets were donkey-panniers! Paul, later, hid inside one of these. So for the covenant people 12 small baskets left over, but for those outside the covenant seven enormous baskets left over. God has always had a heart for those outside the covenants. Ishmael may have been outside the covenant but he was not outside God’s care and provision. Our Genesis storyline runs on to a neat winding up of Ishmael’s career. And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt. (Gen 21:20-21 KJV) A natural river can never rise higher than its source, and Ishmael’s story ends where it began… in Egypt. He has no part to play in the drama of world redemption and will not be seen again until Abraham’s funeral. (Gen 25:9) The next little Beersheba cameo tells the story of Abraham’s old acquaintance Abimelech, king of Gerar. Abimelech has obviously watched Abraham’s life and is worried. He knows that Abraham is especially favoured; God is with thee in all that thou doest, now therefore... (Gen 21:22,23a) Although Abraham has no title to the land and is a sojourner Abimelech is anxious for the future. He has arrived with his military attaché to put their relationship on a more substantial footing. He requests a permanent pact with Abraham that will continue through the generations of Abimelech’s dynasty, and Abraham agrees. Before he does however there is little local matter that needs clarification; Abimelech’s servants have moved in on Abraham’s well. This is another indication that Abraham is in ‘settler mode’; he has begun to dig wells. Well-digging was very costly in terms of time and labour and they were vital to life in these arid wildernesses. Abraham had opened out sources of life for his people and ‘the thief’ came ‘to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.’ It is interesting that one of the few actions of Isaac, the son, was that he reopened these wells that the ‘father’ had dug and which later become choked with the rubbish of the Philistines. He re-opened the sources of life initiated by his father and made them available again for his people. (Gen 26:17ff) Abimelech protested his ignorance of the event and he and Abraham entered into a mutual covenant. Abraham further endorsed the covenant with a witness gift of seven ewe lambs. This nominal payment sealed the transaction and they called the place of their agreement ‘the well of the seven’; the place receiving its name from the seven lambs, by which Abraham secured to himself possession of the well – Beersheba. If this was indeed a ‘purchased possession’ it is Abraham’s first legal foothold in the land; his second would be a tomb. Things are beginning to look as though they are on a solid footing. His young son, heir of his promises, is growing up in this semi-permanent camp setting. The complications of Hagar and Ishmael have been resolved in their banishment, and now Abraham is on a treaty basis with Abimelech. The water supply is secure. Everything is looking good. Perhaps there will time now for a season of quiet and reflection, and here is our final Beersheba cameo... Abraham plants a tamarisk tree in Beersheba. The tamarisk is still grown as a windbreak and its feathered branches afford a gentle shade from the sun. From here he can live in the evening of his life; watching…Isaac, his flocks. Thinking his thoughts and taking things a little easier… perhaps. There are seasons in our lives and God works in many different manners in such times. Sometimes our lives are filled with activity and busy-ness. We seem to lurch from one crisis to the next and hardly have time to catch our breath. There is a lovely psalm which has become a lovely chorus; As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. (Ps 42) The modern chorus however hardly does justice to the real mood of the psalm. It is a scene of intense distress and the psalmist’s soul is ‘cast down’. Part of his complaint is Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. (Psa 42:7 KJV) It is a graphic image; the relentless beating of the waves has broken his strength. The NASB calls the waves ‘the breakers’. It’s an accurate translation and captures the mood; the experiences of life have crashed in on him. And the billows have gone over me; going, going... There is a special pain in the psalmists cry; all thy waves, all thy billows. He has recognised the hand of God behind the experiences which have overwhelmed him. Any one can whistle a tune in the sunshine. It’s when a man’s head is under the water and he still finds the courage to cry As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, that you know God has done things in his life. But it isn’t all breakers and billows; sometimes its quietness and calm. Sheltered beneath his tamarisk tree, with his supplies secured, and the son in whom he delights growing before him, Abraham’s seasons have changed. When such times come we are not to despise them; they are part of God’s seasons. It was another psalmist who wrote; The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psa 16:6 HCSB) Cherish such times, but don’t demand them. These times can be more dangerous than the breakers and the billows. At times of obvious danger Abraham had built his altars and called upon the name of his God; now, however, is a time of tranquillity Abraham And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Jehovah, the Everlasting God. (Gen 21:33 ASV). Many have the sense to call on the name of the Lord when the breakers and billows are going over their heads; Abraham had the wisdom to do the same when there wasn’t a cloud on the horizon and every aspect was pleasing. Perhaps he realized that men and women under God’s training are never allowed to be spectators for long. Abraham was to be settled here for ‘many days’ (Gen 21:33) but this was not the end of his journey. The greatest expression of his faith was yet to be enacted. We have a new name for God here too; Jehovah, the Everlasting God. What a transitory world we live in. Our moods can sometimes be as fickle as April sunshine, and our plans overturned overnight. Here’s a word for our hearts; God is the Everlasting God. It was at the closing of the Old Testament that God reminded His people of their constant failure and added …I, Jehovah, change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (Mal 3:6 ASV) I heard of a man who put a little poster on his wall with just two words on it; …thou remainest. (Heb 1:11) What a revelation that is when it comes to the heart. All things pass away; but ‘thou remainest’. My tranquillity may be turned into a maelstrom in an instant; but ‘thou remainest’. All my theology has just been turned upside down; but ‘thou remainest’. My ordered life has just fallen to pieces; but ‘thou remainest’. My larder is empty; but ‘thou remainest’. The man I trusted my life to has just disappeared; but ‘thou remainest’. Where are you just now? Is life threatening to slip into turmoil? Yes? then here’s a final one; fill in the blanks yourself! ………………………; but ‘thou remainest.’

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