Week Ten - El Olam: The Everlasting God
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God (El Olam). Genesis 21:33 ESV
I thought I would start by plugging the scripture in right there at the top, because honestly, while this is cool, and this is the first time we see “El Olam” in the scriptures, Abraham and his gardening skills aren’t going to be the topic of conversation today.
I found myself going round and round trying to figure out how to share with you how very special and incomprehensible this characteristic of God is, but it’s just that… incomprehensible.
As I studied the scripture and commentaries on this portion of scripture, I was really confused. I didn’t understand why it’s so important that Abraham and Abimelech made a treaty. I didn’t understand the importance of Abraham planting a tree and calling out to God. A quick note: a tamarisk tree is an evergreen and long-living tree, how fitting to use a tamarisk tree as a symbol of permanence! If you missed that, head back to Genesis 21:22 and read until verse 34.
If you’ve spent some time in Genesis or studying the life of Abraham, and if you’re like me, you might be thinking…“wait a second… isn’t Abimelech the guy that Abraham gave his wife to?” Here’s a very quick recap. Abraham was afraid that Abimelech and the men with him would kill him and take his wife Sarah to be Abimelech’s wife. Abraham’s clever ideas was to tell them Sarah was his sister (technically true and um… awkward, see Genesis 20:12). Instead of waiting to see what would happen or pick up and leave, Abraham misled them, and Abimelech, the King of Gerar, took Sarah as his wife. It’s a doozy of a story, check it out by reading Genesis 20. It’s only 18 verses… so you got this!
Um, I have no words, except that THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME HE DID THIS! See Gen 12:10-20. By the way, these are the same folks they were just known back then as Abram and Sarai.
Ladies, I really struggle to get over this. I think this is the hang-up I have with the whole treaty thing. What’s the significance of these two men having a treaty here, what’s the significance of the tamarisk tree? Why does Abraham choose this time and place to worship God and call him “El Olam”?
To answer these, we have to understand some of the context and what has been going on.
Let’s take a look backward. Abraham had so much going for him, yet there are a number of questionable decisions he makes or agrees to. Here’s two:
• He gives his wife to Pharaoh in Genesis 12.
• He lets Sarah convince him to take God’s promise of “being a father of many nations” (Genesis 15:4-5) into his own hands (FYI, he takes Sarah’s servant, Hagar, and gets her pregnant. Again…no words).
So, when I read that Abraham cuts a treaty with the king that he previously gave his wife to and plants a tree to remember this place and moment and calls upon the name of El Olam, the only conclusion I can draw is that we have a God who keeps His promises and His mercy endures. No matter how much we may mess up.
Abraham is flawed and God never leaves him. Friends, we are flawed, and God never leaves us. This feels like a breath of fresh air!
Let’s keep going.
We know from study over previous weeks the term “El” is Hebrew for God. “Olam”, also Hebrew, doesn’t exactly translate to English. The best we can do is describe it as “everlasting.” While “olam” translated as “everlasting” is mentioned 400 times in the Bible, the name “El Olam” is only used four times.
God is Everlasting. God exists for eternity, forever, and is change-less. God will never change.
Let me say that again…God will never change. We can count on that.
Today, things around us are changing, almost constantly. Things are out of our control and we are at the whims and mercy of those wielding the power or decision making. Gas prices are changing, the seasons change, finances change, circumstances and relationships change. Even my kids school schedule changes almost weekly! It’s a phenomenon I can’t get over. I don’t think I’ll ever crush my schedule in any given week when my kids have random days off in the middle of the week, or extra-extra early releases!
In Revelation 1:8, God reveals himself to us as “the Alpha and Omega”. A reference to the Greek alphabet, alpha is the first letter, and omega is the last letter. He’s the beginning and the end of all time. He is the God of now and the God of the future. He is God, who always was, always is, and always will be.
Contrast to us, we are finite. We have a beginning and an end. We were born with physical bodies and we will pass away from this earth.
In my humanity, I can relate to Abraham. I need something stable and something that endures. There is enough change and crazy happening here and I’ve made my fair share of not-so-wise decisions, just like Abraham.
But this isn’t about Abraham. It’s certainly not about me (or you either!). It’s about El Olam, our Everlasting God, who deserves to have evergreens planted as symbols of His character and for us to call on His name and worship Him.
Abraham isn’t the only one to describe God as everlasting. Let’s see how others in scripture have described or worshipped Him.
King David calls out to El Olam: “from eternity to eternity, you are God” (Psalm 90:2) and sings out, the “LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)
God reveals His unchanging nature through a message he gave to Malachi, “I, the Lord, have not changed.” (Malachi 3:6)
The author of Hebrews affirms, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Take a moment and head back to Genesis 21 and read verse 22-34.
These two men had not-so-insignificant issue last chapter and through their resolution they gave each other things (animals, silver and prayers), and here they are again, another issue, resolving it with the exchange of animals again, but this time there’s an addition of seven ewe lambs.
Let’s break this down.
Abimelech asks Abraham…“what’s the meaning of the seven ewe lambs?”.
Abraham explains it’s the legal proof that he dug this well. Side note: digging a well was one of the first and main ways one could establish ownership of a property during these times. Also, water was extremely scarce and valuable in Palestine back then and still to this day. Part of the conflict we hear coming out of the region of Israel and Palestine now has to do with water and the rights to it.
Back to the scripture. So they make an oath, a swearing if you will.
According to Ellicott’s Commentary, “the word in Hebrew for “swearing” is a passive verb, literally signifying “to be sevened,” that is, done or confirmed by seven. In this ancient narrative we see a covenant actually thus made binding. Seven ewe lambs are picked out and placed by themselves, and by accepting these Abimelech bound himself to acknowledge and respect Abraham’s title to the well.”
So, all is well, (no pun intended) and Abraham plants a tree and the place is called Beer Sheba. Any guesses on what Beer Sheba stands for? If you guessed “seven wells” or “oath of wells” you would be correct! Wells can translate to “beer” for us today, or “ba’ar”. “Sheba” came from “sheva”, that is very similar to “seven”, which we know means swearing or an oath. I could go on and on with the linguistics here. It is fascinating stuff, but a lot crammed into this little paragraph. You can dive deeper into this any time by getting yourself a study bible, books on Hebrew translations or commentaries.
Alas, we’re at the end (“alas” stems from the Latin word lassus meaning…I’m kidding, I’m done with the linguistics).
But we are at the end.
When all of this is said and done, Abraham has been through so much, and there’s definitely more coming for him if you keep reading Genesis. But, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to create a meaningful place to commemorate this enduring oath. He plants a tree as this symbol and he worships his God, his El Olam. The everlasting God who endures, who keeps His promises, who never leaves us, who never changes.
Abraham knows this to be the true, the accurate character of God, because he walks with Him, he listens to Him. Abraham’s life hasn’t been perfect and we know there are some things he’s done that leave us scratching our heads, but God doesn’t change. And God doesn’t let the flaws we have get in the way. Our everlasting God deserves our praise and worship. And now that we know this, we can call on Him, by name.
So who is El Olam to you?
How does knowing God as El Olam impact you, the way you live and the way you worship?
If you haven’t known God as El Olam, what steps can you take to learn more about Him?
What’s one thing in your life right now that you can or need to call out to El Olam?
El Olam, you are our Everlasting Father. You deserve all the glory and praise. Your love and promises endure. You endure. You are our refuge and safe place and we know we can count on You and Your unchanging nature, and we know nothing we can do or say will make You turn from us. Help each one of us to continually turn toward You in our times of challenge or stress. Thank You for Your love, mercy, and grace that You give freely to us, each and every day. Amen.