Let’s start with a quick run through who Abraham is. Genesis 1-11 is about the world falling apart. God made a good world for us to live in. He gave us everything we could need. And we lived in a loving relationship with Him and with one another. That is what the world was created to be. Then we rejected Him and sent everything into chaos.
In Genesis 12 God decided that He was going to make it right. He began a mission to rebuild His relationship with us and put right our relationships with one another. To do this God chose one family: Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 12 God explained that if Abraham would follow, God would bless, and Abraham would become a great nation through which the world would be restored to God.
The problem was that Sarah was barren, and both Abraham and Sarah were old. Where exactly was this family going to come from? Abraham’s story is about a man struggling to trust God when everything else around him the tells him the opposite is true. Abraham over and over tries to solve the problem for God. Each time God supports Abraham but calls for him to trust and be dependent on God. Now let’s look at Abraham’s well scene:
Fast Note: Abraham’s well scene comes in two pieces. It is cut in half by Hagar’s well scene. This is the Biblical author’s way of telling us that Abraham’s well scene should be somehow informed by Hagar’s.
Abraham traveled from there south to the Negev and settled down between Kadesh and Shur. While he was camping in Gerar, Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She’s my sister.”
So Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream that night and told him, “You’re as good as dead – that woman you took, she’s a married woman.”
Now Abimelech had not yet slept with her, hadn’t so much as touched her. He said, “Master, would you kill an innocent man? Didn’t he tell me, ‘She’s my sister’? And didn’t she herself say, ‘He’s my brother’? I had no idea I was doing anything wrong when I did this.”
God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know your intentions were pure, that’s why I kept you from sinning against me; I was the one who kept you from going to bed with her. So now give the man’s wife back to him. He’s a prophet and will pray for you – pray for your life. If you don’t give her back, know that it’s certain death both for you and everyone in your family.”
Abimelech was up first thing in the morning. He called all his house servants together and told them the whole story. They were shocked. Then Abimelech called in Abraham and said, “What have you done to us? What have I ever done to you that you would bring on me and my kingdom this huge offense? What you’ve done to me ought never to have been done.” Abimelech went on to Abraham, “Whatever were you thinking of when you did this thing?”
Abraham said, “I just assumed that there was no fear of God in this place and that they’d kill me to get my wife. Besides, the truth is that she is my half sister; she’s my father’s daughter but not my mother’s. When God sent me out as a wanderer from my father’s home, I told her, ‘Do me a favor; wherever we go, tell people that I’m your brother.’”
Then Abimelech gave Sarah back to Abraham, and along with her sent sheep and cattle and servants, both male and female. He said, “My land is open to you; live wherever you wish.” And to Sarah he said, “I’ve given your brother a thousand pieces of silver – that clears you of even a shadow of suspicion before the eyes of the world. You’re vindicated.”
Then Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his maidservants, and they started having babies again. For God had shut down every womb in Abimelech’s household on account of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
At this point the story is interrupted by the birth of Isaac and Hagar’s scene. We will skip that and jump to part two. Keep in mind though that Beersheba is the same well Hagar was at. Abraham and Hagar’s well scenes happen in the same spot.
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.”
Abraham said, “I swear it.” Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized.
But Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”
So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”
He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.” So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there. After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
1) Abraham makes a mess – We start the well scene with Abraham telling a lie that gets him in serious trouble. I can’t imagine what that moment was like when the soliders came to claim Sarah, Abraham’s sister, for Abimelech. What was going through Sarah’s head? What was going through Abraham’s? To make things worse, this isn’t the first time this stunt has backfired on Abraham. He did this crap at the beginning of his journey with God. I see in this scene another instance of Abraham trying to solve his own problems. Instead of turning to God and trusting Him for protection and guidance, Abraham acts like he is on his own.
2) God cleans it up – God’s response to Abraham is great. Abraham deserves to sit in the mess he made. God would be completely justified in saying, “You made it. You fix it.” But God is a God of grace who loves us even though we are walking disasters. Instead God stays true to His end of the deal and blesses Abraham. He comes behind Abraham and cleans up Abraham’s mess.
3) Abraham’s character – Then we come to the well scene. Abraham in the well scene speaks as a person of power, wheeling and dealing with Abimelech. Abimelech’s surprise over the well is fantastic. It reminds me of two business men sitting at a conference table to work out an agreement. Abraham brings to the table a wild card surprise. “Everything in the contracts looks good…oh…um…except the well over there. Yeah. I’m going to need you to give me that well.”
I believe this moment gives us interesting insights into Abraham’s character. Abimelech’s respect for Abraham, the reason Abraham is at the table, is because God has Abraham’s back. Abimelech realized that to mess with Abraham was to mess with God. All of Abraham’s clout comes from God. But Abraham doesn’t seem to realize that. There is very little humility shown on Abraham’s part in the conversation. He doesn’t seem to see that everything he has comes from his relationship with God.
4) God’s place in the well scene – In comparison with Hagar’s story, God’s place in the well scene is also really interesting. For Hagar God was the savior in desperate circumstances. He comes to her at her lowest moment and gives her hope and future. Similarly with Abraham, God shows up when Abraham has no other options but to depend on God for salvation. Abraham has lost his wife, the one whom God’s promise will be fulfilled. He is alone and powerless. That is when God comes to the rescue.
On the other hand, at the well Abraham is playing from a position of strength in his well scene. He takes the well from Abimelech and then offers it to God as a gift. God doesn’t come to Abraham here. Rather, Abraham calls to God. “This is for you! Look at what I bought for you!”
I’m not suggesting that Abraham is wrong in purchasing the well or that he shouldn’t have dedicated the place to God.
At the same time, I don’t think it is an accident that the climax of Abraham’s story (Genesis 22 where God tells Abraham to take Isaac to the top of a mountain and kill him) comes after this moment of Abraham’s self-reliance.
I think when we compare Hagar’s well story with Abraham’s well story the question that lingers is, “Which well story do we want to have?” If we want the intimate, face-to-face connection with God then we should admit that we are helpless like Hagar and seek Him for salvation. If we want to call on God an give him wells we bought with sheep, then we should be like Abraham and pretend we are awesome.
You want to meet God face-to-face? Admit your helplessness and need for His rescue. He’s a God that loves to rescue.