The Calm After the Storm

Roger Taylor had a plan for retirement. It was not to sell his house in Strongsville, Ohio – which he did. It was not to move to the country – which he did. It was not to purchase a small portion of farm land – which he did. It was not to build a house – which he did. Roger Taylor’s plan for retirement was to plant trees – which he did. He planted a row of pine of trees alongside his driveway. He then planted more pine trees, rows and rows of pine trees to serve as Christmas trees. He also planted shade trees. And it was all very strategic. It was all mapped out in his mind where these shade trees would grow and how they would grow and how they would be enjoyed twenty, thirty years later. And he envisioned picnics. He envisioned his friends and family at those picnics sitting under those trees. But most importantly, Roger envisioned Roger sitting under those trees with a smile on his face.

Roger Taylor planted particular trees for particular reasons. It was one of the first things he ever told me on the first day I met him when I first started dating his daughter Lisa.

Abraham Planted a Tree

Genesis 21:22-34 has been described as “a period of fairly humdrum activity.”[1] Do you know what humdrum means? It means boring. These thirteen verses have been described as boring. And it is simply because not much happens. King Abimelech sends a friend request to Abraham and Abraham accepts (21:22-24). Abraham then asks his new friend for some help in a small matter and Abimelech obliges (Genesis 21:25-27). The two friends then shake hands and return to their homes (Genesis 21:28-32).

But Abraham planted a tree. And he planted a tree not just in a passage where not much happened, but on a day when not much happened. Carefully pay attention to Genesis 21:33. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Abraham planted a tree. This almost never happens in Genesis. The word planted occurs only three times in Genesis. The first time is when God planted a garden (Genesis 2:8). The second time is when Noah planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). And the third time is when Abraham planted a tree. And when this word occurs it is about something particular.

Why Did Abraham Plant a Tree?

Why did Abraham plant a tree? It is about a well of water; a well Abraham had dug and was taken from him. Listen to Genesis 21:25. “When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water…” After Abraham accepted Abimelech’s friend request he reproved him! Another word for reprove would be rebuke or correct. Some translations have the word complained. After Abraham accepted Abimelech’s friend request he complained to him! But the way this word is constructed suggests that Abraham complained several times. After Abraham accepted Abimelech’s friend request he complained and complained and complained to his new friend about this well.

Listen again to Genesis 21:25. “When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized…” Seized means to take by violent force. Abraham had dug a well for his home and his needs and the men of the land who served Abimelech took it, violently. And Abraham said nothing about it until this particular day.

When he mentions this to his new friend there is no arguing, no questions asked, and the matter is settled peacefully (21:26-32). I did wonder though why Abraham did not just dig another well. We need to remember that Abraham is a stranger in this land. Abimelech had invited Abraham to dwell in his land, meaning the land was not Abraham’s but he was a welcomed visitor in it (20:15). The Bible describes this as a sojourner. A sojourner is one that makes a temporary stay and has no ownership rights. So, the men who served Abimelech took a well that did not technically belong to Abraham.

But on this particular day when Abimelech officially gets a new friend, Abraham also gets his well back. His new friend gives him the right to call that well his own (Genesis 21:27). So, it is kind of important because not every sojourner can say that they have their very own well. And what does Abraham then do? He planted a tree.

Where Did Abraham Plant a Tree?

The small point to pay attention to is that Abraham planted a particular tree. Look again at Genesis 21:33. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Most translations call this tree a tamarisk tree. Tamarisk trees were native to this region, the Negeb (20:1). It can grow to be about 25 feet tall. And it is also a good shade tree. You can rest under it. But a tamarisk is not only a tree. It is also a bush or shrub. This leads us to a big question: where did Abraham plant this particular tree?

Look again at Genesis 21:33. “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.” Where did Abraham plant this particular tree? Beersheba.

A little point of this passage is to tell us how Beersheba got its name. It is composed of two words: beer and sheba. Beer means well and sheba means seven. The well is Abraham’s well that he himself had dug, but it was taken from him. At this well Abraham gave seven ewe lambs to his new friend as a witness that this well was indeed Abraham’s well. Then the two men make a covenant together that they are indeed friends and that this is indeed Abraham’s well and each swear an oath (21:24; 27; 30-31). The word oath or swear (shaba) comes from the word seven (sheba). “Therefore that place was called Beersheba” (21:31). And what does Abraham then do? He planted a tree.

Why Does It Matter?

Why does it matter? Why does the name Beersheba matter? Why does it matter that Abraham planted a tree and planted it there? Now pay attention to Genesis 21:22. “At that time…” Pause there. Those three words are pointing to a particular time. Abraham planted a particular tree in a particular place at a particular time. At what particular time? What time do those three little words refer to?

Turn to Genesis 21:14. This is when Abraham sent Hagar and his son Ishmael away. “So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” Hagar and Ishmael were lost. Hagar and Ishmael got to a point where all seemed lost. And where was this?

What happened next? Now read Genesis 21:15. “She put the child under one of the bushes.” Hagar put Ishmael under a bush. What kind of bush could this be? A tamarisk bush.

Now listen to Genesis 21:17. It took me two weeks to really understand the significance of this verse. “And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.’” Where was Ishmael? Under a tamarisk bush. And where was this tamarisk bush? In Beersheba. Why is any of this so significant?

The Calm After the Storm

The words “at that time” connect Genesis 21:22-34 with Genesis 21:15-21. And it is not just to connect, but to compare. These two passages are two different kind of days.

There are those days when we are lost, and all seems lost. Let’s call those days storms. It feels like this is the end and there is no end to the storm in sight. This is Genesis 21:15-21 and those verses, for that kind of day, there is verse seventeen. “God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” God hears your voice there and so, listen to his voice there. “What troubles you?” This is in the storm! What is going to ease your trouble in the seemingly endless storm? God will do what he says he will do; God will do what he promises he will do; and God will do it in his perfect timing. Therefore, get up.

Then there are those days that are rather humdrum or ordinary. Let’s call those days calm. This is Genesis 21:22-34. Did you notice that Ishmael under the tamarisk bush in Beersheba and Abraham planting a tree in Beersheba both occur in the same chapter? The storm and then the calm. I would like to call these verses, Genesis 21:22-34, the calm after the storm.

We all have these days; the calm days. These days are kind of routine. We get up, get ready, get dressed, get some coffee, get the kids ready, get the kids some coffee, do some work, get the kids, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. And then we do it all over again. And in that kind of day, there are little things, not storms, just little things that kind of matter to us. No one else could really care, but it is like that well. My thought was, why not dig another well? Abraham’s well, to me, was a little thing. And Abraham’s well compared to Ishmael lost and feeling that all was lost, was rather calm. What do we do with those kinds of days? I know what to do for the storm and in the storm. Cry out to God like your life depends on it. Hagar and Ishmael did. God heard their voices right where they were.

But what about the other days? I have a feeling that when our lives are all said and done, and our days are measured, we will have more calm days than storm days. What do we do with the calm, humdrum, rather boring days? Charles Spurgeon had this to say: “The infinite Lord is at home doing little things.”

Did you notice what Abraham did after he planted that particular tree in that particular place? He worshiped. He proclaimed God’s greatness and he called God “the Everlasting God.” Listen to Isaiah 40:28. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

When did Abraham discover that? It was on a calm, humdrum, rather boring day. The greatness of God is to be had in those days too. Abraham planted a particular tree in a particular place for a particular reason. His calm, humdrum, rather boring days were not hidden from God. God was at home doing little things.

There are days of desperation, I get that. But I do not want to miss the splendor of God in the mundane either. It is as simple as daily planting a tree and proclaiming God’s greatness in the calm.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 2, page 94.

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