Today I heard my first Ted Talk. Where have I been? A surgeon spoke on “4 questions to ask your doctor.” The questions include: “Is this really necessary? What are the risks? What will happen if I do nothing? What are the other options?” (1) As usual, the link between my recent new knowledge of Ted Talks and our Scripture is obscure and personal. But I think it might be convicting to apply these questions to the Bible’s instruction for us to be peacemakers, which, we have seen this year, is plentiful. We know that Christians have the most reason and power to be the bet peacemakers; if not us, then who? What is the risk of not making peace? Are there other options? What will happen if we do nothing? These are redundant questions for those of us who follow Christ, but I hope we’ll be able to think and act more biblically as a result of meditation on an episode in the Old Testament. Bear with me as I review the events of Genesis 26.
During a famine in Canaan, when Isaac was probably a middle-aged family man and needed to find food, he “…went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.’” (Genesis 26:1-3) Isaac obeyed God but repeated the sin of Abraham, lying to Abimelech about his wife, saying she was his sister. “When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. So Abimelech called Isaac and said, ‘Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, “She is my sister”?’” (vs. 8-9) Isaac was self-protective, not acting as a peacemaker toward Abimelech. In spite of this, God was gracious and blessed him with great crops and herds (vs. 12-14). But that created envy among the Philistines. Abimelech wise suggested that Isaac move away, which he did (v. 16). “So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, ‘The water is ours.’ So he called the name of the well Esek [contention], because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah [enmity] (vs. 20-21). Finally, Isaac moved again, and the squabbling stopped. He named the new place Rehoboth [broad place] and found peace. “From there he went up to Beersheba. And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.’ So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well” (vs. 23-25).
I can only imagine Isaac’s surprise when Abimelech came to him at Beersheba seeking a treaty with him (26:26-33). He thought Abimelech was finished with him, that he “hated him.” But Isaac’s peacemaking, moving (at least) three times in Gerar to avoid conflict over wells had won his and God’s respect with Abimelech. His is an excellent example of intentionally distancing himself from bickering for a peaceful, biblical approach to conflict. What would have happened if Isaac hadn’t moved? But he distanced himself and his people from squabbling to the place where he belonged, and God met him there. We remember the times Jesus withdrew from large crowds and the angry Jewish leaders because he was not interested in fighting with them. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘…He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.’” (Matthew 12:15-21) Rarely did Jesus accomplish his gospel purpose of mercy through rightful, indignant anger, as he displayed during the temple cleansing. Instead, he intentionally left the threatening crowds knowing he would submit to their torture. Did the people think of what he had preached in the Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:9-11)
Like Isaac, Jesus moved away from quarrels to a place of quietness and prayer, making room for to do God’s work. James Boice notes the progress of God’s dealings with Isaac. “The first thing we are told is that God blessed him to such an extent that the crops he planted reaped a hundredfold. This would be a good harvest in any land, but it was particularly good in the barren border country between the Promised Land and Egypt…Out of God’s will and yet blessed by God? Yes. Strange as it may seem, God does at times work in this fashion. But the blessing is not without problems, and in this case, the problems came because of Isaac’s great wealth.” (2) Our blessings will sometimes create issues with others that might become a crisis, or at the least a hindrance in a relationship, depending on how we handle it. Isaac could have insisted on his right to stay where he was, feeling entitled. Dr. Christer Mjåset, when confronted by a woman who did not want his surgical solution, could have automatically said it was necessary because he’s a surgeon. But like Isaac, he was humble enough to admit that although he loves doing surgery, it wouldn’t have been the best for his patient who asked, “Is this really necessary?” Isaac humbly moved on until he found a place where there was no jealous conflict and was rewarded threefold, with peace with the Philistines, God’s personal attention, and a treaty with Abimelech. Imagine what he would have lost if he had stayed put and done no peacemaking. “Now that he was where he should be, God appeared to him again for the second, and apparently the last, time, saying, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham” (v. 24). Isaac built an altar and worshipped the Lord.
The next time you are confronted with conflict or squabbling, will you ask yourself, What will happen if I do nothing, what are my options, and what is necessary to be a peacemaker? What issue or conflict seems to draw you in and tempt you to quarrel? Will you take a break, for God to work and make peace? Do you follow God in obedience, application of biblical truths, prayer, and action for peace in your relationships, work, service, or family? What might you change to find God’s peace more readily? Is not Christ’s personal attention and peaceful relationships a worthy goal? “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:8-10)
(1) 4 Questions You Should Always Ask your doctor by Dr. Christer Mjåset, Ted Talks Daily Podcast or at https://www.ted.com/talks/christer_mjaset_4_questions_you_should_always_ask_your_doctor
(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Genesis 26, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
September 20, 2019