Genesis 21:22–34

2122 At that time Abimelech, and Phicol commander of his troops, said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. 23 So swear to me by God that you will not falsely deal with me, my children, or my descendants. Just as I have treated you faithfully, so you must treat me and the land in which you are a sojourner.”
     24 Abraham said, “I swear it.” 25 Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech about a well that Abimelech’s servants had seized.
     26 Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this, nor have you told me. I never heard about it until today.” 27 Abraham took flocks and cattle, gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them cut a covenant. 28 Abraham set aside seven ewes, 29 and Abimelech said to Abraham, “What are these seven lambs you’ve set apart?”
     30 Abraham said, “These seven lambs you shall take from me; they will witness that I dug this well.” 31 Therefore, that place is called Beer-sheba (Well of the Seven-Swearing) because there they swore each other their word. 32 After they cut a covenant[c] at Beer-sheba, Abimelech, and Phicol commander of his forces, rose and returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and he worshipped there in the name of YHWH, God of the Ages. 34 Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land for many days.

After an interlude of Isaac’s birth and Ishmael’s exile, we are returned to the story of Abimelech. It takes a moment to remember that all wombs, even Sarah’s, were opened. It is that result from the false story to Abimelech that led to Isaac.

There were two involved with tricking Abimelech. Now we turn to resolve matters between Abraham and Abimelech. Abimelech and his military general set about formalizing a treaty with Abraham that builds on the gift of sheep, cattle, slaves, and land he was given.

Abraham is pointedly asked not to lie to Abimelech again. This treaty will set a trade agreement regarding sheep, cattle, slaves, and land. In each case, preference will be given to the other.

Without a moment to catch the significance of this agreement, we are thrown into its first crisis—water. Abimelech again claims innocence. After Abraham’s face-saving issue has been dealt with, Abraham and Abimelech seal the deal with a nominal purchase of the well in question. Abraham has claimed his portion of Abimelech’s offer of land.

Another well comes into focus and will return in subsequent tales. Beer-Sheba means either Well of Oath/Promise/Treaty or Well of Seven (for the purchase price of seven ewes).

Two geographic notes: First, the reference to the land of the Philistines is anachronistic as the Philistines will not arrive on Canaan’s coast for another four hundred years. Abimelech is not a king of the Philistines. This misreporting reminds us that, regardless of whatever archeological connections can be made, this is a story larger than any fact or lack of fact. Every telling and retelling of stories-of-origin carry more than provable points.Second, the tamarisk tree is seldom mentioned and functions as a cultic marker, much like the Terebinths (Oaks) of Mamre. It marks a place of life in a dry place, a well that can be seen at some distance. It might be seen as Abraham alongside YHWH (a well of creation where set-apart water allows life to rise from soil). Life in the wilderness needs its well.

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