Well, Well, Well! Genesis 26:12-33 July 18, 2010
There was a time when I was maybe 12, when I considered myself a pretty good bike rider. In our small town, my friends and I would ride all over the place, just to pass the time during the summers. We took pride in our bikes and in our bike-riding skills. We liked to boast about how we could do anything and go anywhere on our bikes.
Well, one day during our summer vacation, I remember riding my bike at the park.
It was a used bike I had gotten from a neighbor. It was my first ten-speed, so it was a little big for me, and I wasn’t used to it. It had what I called an ‘old man’ seat—it was about three inches thick and really wide and soft, with springs in it.
You’ll find out why I was thankful for that particular seat in a minute.
Like I said, I was riding this bike (which was just a little bit too big for me) in the park, and I saw someone I recognized from school driving his car into the park entrance. It was the school bully (he must have had his license by this time).
And if you’re keeping track of the stories I tell in my sermons—I might just mention that this was the same kid who I punched in the face probably three or four years earlier because he was picking on one of my friends. I punched him and then I ran away as fast as I could!
Anyways, it had been three or four years since then, and I saw him coming into the park just as I was on my way out on this bike.
And I panicked!
I just knew he was going to beat me up if he had the chance. He was bigger than I was, older than I was, and he was mean!
Not only that, but I had punched him in the face!
So my immediate reaction was to flee the scene before he saw me.
So I stood up on the pedals to really start pumping to get out of there fast. I didn’t want him to see me; I just wanted to get out of there.
So I stood on the pedals to really get going—and my foot slipped off the pedal and I lost my balance and half-crashed and half-stumbled my way up the road for a very awkward couple of yards before I could untangle myself from the bike and assess the damage.
I created such a spectacle that the driver of the car—the kid I knew only as the school bully—he stopped in the middle of the street with his window down and asked if I was alright!
My leg was bleeding from where the pedal scraped me and the front tire was bent enough so that it rubbed the front fork…my hands and wrists were aching and I had a few other bumps and bruises—but nothing hurt worse than my pride.
I had made a fool of myself right in front of the closest thing to an ‘enemy’ I had at the time.
Fear does that to you, you know what I mean?
For me and the kid in the car, our last interaction before this was on the playground when I punched him in the face and ran away as fast as I could.
You could say there was some unresolved conflict there!
That unresolved conflict turned into fear.
And for the next several years that fear grew into something big and ugly and more powerful than me.
It turned a pleasant, ordinary bike ride in the park into a humiliating disaster.
It didn’t have to be like that!
See, conflict is like gasoline—it has enormous power and can be used to enjoy enormous benefit, but if you want to harness that power, the conditions have to be just right.
Otherwise people get hurt.
For example, in the scripture we’re looking at this morning, Isaac was enjoying a life filled with abundant wealth. He planted crops and in that same year he reaped a hundred times what he sowed. He became rich, and his riches only grew.
Now my question is, what happens to us when someone we know strikes it rich? Are we happy for them? Do we celebrate? Or do we envy them?
Abimelech and the Philistines envied Isaac. You could say there was unresolved conflict, because this foreigner was getting rich and the rest of the people weren’t.
So they did what people do when envy turns into fear–they lashed out. They plugged up the wells that Abraham had dug.
It’s an action that doesn’t make much sense–kind of like my experience on the bike that day.
It’s an action that shoots them in the foot–after all doesn’t everyone need water? But they were afraid of this foreigner–so this action made sense to them!
What might that look like today? Who is Isaac today? Who are the foreigners who come to this country and build successful businesses with the skills they have? Who are these people who do the jobs nobody else would do for pay nobody else would take under conditions nobody else would put up with, just to create a better life for themselves?
There’s not much to envy about an immigrants life–but when fear speaks, we tend to listen–we go and plug up the wells, thinking that somehow our actions are justified.
In verse 16 you can see the logical outcome of that mentality towards foreigners who seem to be succeeding in a country where a lot of the natives aren’t.
Abimelech said to Isaac: Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.
So here’s the conflict; and it has to do with wealth and power.
It’s still as true today as it was back then.
Most of the conflict that we deal with–it has to do with wealth and power.
For the most part, as long as the poor and the powerless do what they’re told, then the rich and powerful are happy…and as a result there’s no conflict, right?
Just like Peace is a lot more than the absence of Violence, in the same way conflict is a lot deeper than just the physical violence we inflict on each other.
Look, Isaac did what he was told. He was rich and powerful, but he did what Abimelech told him to do. He moved on.
He cleaned out the wells that the Philistines had plugged up–and I can’t find the part where he sued them for damages or made sure they covered his costs for the clean-up effort.
He just cleaned up the mess the Philistines had made.
And you’ll see that time after time, the natives in the land argued with him and claimed his work as their own.
If I had been him, I would have filled them all right back in, saying “fine, if it’s yours then dig it yourself!”
But Isaac just gives the wells up, one by one until finally he digs one that isn’t disputed.
And finally, after all that, Abimelech comes back to him and makes a treaty because he can see the hand of God upon this guy and his house.
Not because he was rich–but because of how he loved his neighbors!
We can learn a couple of things from this story…and I want to frame these lessons in terms of hope and fear.
If someone else can benefit from the well I’ve dug, even if they don’t like me and they want me to keep moving–then why not let them have it? What could I possibly gain from trying to hang on to a very stationary well in a place where I’m obviously not welcome?
The only hopeful response is to let them have it…and move on.
See, hope by definition is something that considers the future, in spite of the past.
On the other hand, fear is something that seeks to protect today at any cost, and is often built more on the past than anything else.
So you can see, Isaac is running on hope instead of fear.
He’s setting the stage– thinking about what’s best for the future of the region, not just about what’s best for him today.
So he kept digging wells!
And eventually the people left him alone and he feasted with Abimelech–the same guy who made him move in the first place.
That’s the next thing we can learn from how Isaac handles himself while all this conflict was going on.
See, Isaac built his home on a foundation of hope instead of fear. The result of his hard work, his patience, and his hope was that it spread, you see?!
Abimelech was a king, and he was afraid at the beginning of this story. He was afraid that Isaac and his household were growing too strong and too powerful…so he wanted them to move away.
But here by the end of the story, the king caught just a bit of Isaac’s hope!
He comes to him, Isaac feeds him, they spend the night, and they leave Isaac’s camp in peace and goodwill. Again, this wasn’t because Isaac was rich and powerful–it was because of how he treated his neighbors (his enemies)!
Hope is contagious–but so is fear. The difference is that Fear burns bridges–Hope builds them.
We all have conflict in our lives.
It might be the school bully, or our envy of a neighbor or a shady business deal. It could be closer to home in the form of a spouse, a child, or a close friend.
So what wells can you leave for them?
Where will you dig your next one?
What’s your hopeful response?
I was going to call this sermon “the Gambler” because of a Kenny Rogers song that I was thinking about this week. But the more I worked on this sermon, the less the message of his song seemed to fit.
It does seem like a gamble, to build your life on hope rather than surround it with fear–but in reality I don’t think it’s a gamble at all.
It’s not that Isaac was betting on hope– he was banking on it.
He knew God was blessing him not so he could sit on what he had and defend his property and his rights with all the power that his wealth gave him–he knew God was blessing him so that he could bless other people–even and especially the people who didn’t like him…his neighbors who only wanted his water.
It’s hard work to do, and it can lead to one disappointment after the other–but if and when you walk in hope long enough it’s guaranteed that it will spread to someone who was once walking in fear!
And that’s a situation that everyone can enjoy, that makes good neighbors!!
Bank on hope. Build bridges even and especially when you’d rather burn them. It might not be the easiest thing to do today, but the future depends on it.