Wait, what? In his 90’s? You have to read Genesis 20 and 21 to see this transformation take place. There are two encounters between Abraham and Abimilech. In the first one, Abraham lied and put his wife and future son of promise in jeopardy, while Abimilech, the pagan king, displayed a stronger sense of right and wrong. I think a life verse for Abraham at this point, if it had been written yet, would be Psalm 119:71. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Abraham had learned from his afflictions and his own self-made suffering, and the second encounter with Abimilech is totally different from the first one. Abraham was just 99 in the first one, and he matured a lot when he hit the century mark. My wife is praying it doesn’t take me quite that long.
The second encounter starts with Abimilech acknowledging that he sees the handprints of God all over Abraham’s life. He says to him, “God is with you in all that you do.” May we each grow in humility to the point that we can say that to others in Christ, and may we grow in humility to the point that others see the handprints of God in our own lives as well!
Abimilech then asks Abraham to make a deal with him. He says, “As I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me.” Abraham agrees. This is a business transaction that takes place between two men who have enterprises for which they are responsible. A basic business agreement must be built on trust. That trust allows each party to do what they are supposed to do, and it also allows for discussion when there is a breach of the agreement. And that breach happens pretty fast, as Abraham talked to Abimilech about a well. It was a deep problem, that well. You know, two men were digging one once upside down and one of them fell out. Ok, sorry. But the business ran into a snag because Abimilech’s men seized one of Abraham’s wells.
Notice how Abraham dealt with it. He went and talked to Abimilech. He didn’t try to hurt the men who took the well. He didn’t pack up his things and move away. He didn’t sit in his tent and pout. He didn’t go on social media and tell his followers how much he had been wronged. He went straight to Abimilech, so they could work it out. Abraham reproved him, which can be translated “correct” or “convince.”
Trust between two parties cuts both ways, so we have to take notice of how Abimilech received the reproof. He did not argue. He did not turn the accusation into an accusation of his own. He did not run away. He simply acknowledged that he did not know who did it, and he did not know it had happened until that very moment. No attempt to deny, just asking for grace and time to resolve a matter he had just heard about. Then Abraham does an amazing thing. He gives sheep and oxen to Abimilech, and the two make a covenant together. Since covenants were normally sealed by blood, the idea may be that those animals were sacrificed, and then Abraham gave seven ewe lambs to Abimilech, a living reminder of the covenant that they had made. Whenever you see these lambs I gave you, remember that well was dug by me. Abimilech went back to his land and Abraham worshiped God.
God was working on Abraham, had been for a long time, and adversity polished his character and his faith. It is the same for you and me. Frederick Buechner wrote this: “We believe in God,… we have faith—because certain things happened to us once and go on happening. We work and goof off, we love and dream, we have wonderful times and awful times, are cruelly hurt and hurt others cruelly, get mad and bored and scared stiff and ache with desire, do all such human things as these, and if our faith is not mainly just window dressing or a rabbit’s foot or fire insurance, it is because it grows out of precisely this kind of rich human compost. The God of biblical faith is the God who meets us at those moments in which for better or worse we are being most human, most ourselves, and if we lose touch with those moments, if we don’t stop from time to time to notice what is happening to us and around us and inside us, we run the tragic risk of losing touch with God too.”
Good news. Whether we are 9 or 99, God is working, meeting us right where we are, calling us forward to where he knows we will be.