Genesis 21:33-34 “El-Olam, the Everlasting God of Abraham”

Posted on September 26, 2010. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 21:33-34 “El-Olam, the Everlasting God of Abraham”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bryan E. Walker


Gen.21: 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.





Introduction: One of the things we want to pick up on as we study our way through Genesis, is the names for God that Moses gives us. We need to always keep in mind that God is gradually revealing himself to Abraham and to Moses’ people, Israel, in history and in his Word. What we find with Abraham and Abimelech in Gen. 21 is that Abraham gets his claim to a tiny piece of the land that God had promised him, a well at Beersheba. This treaty with Abimelech around this well is the setting for another revelation about the God who has called and led Abraham all these years, El Olam, the Everlasting God. This name for God, El Olam, not only gives us some sound theology as it teaches us about the nature and attributes of God, but coming when and where it did, it gives us comfort and hope just as it did for Abraham.

  1. I.                   Abraham the Sojourner and God the Everlasting

In Gen21 we see Abimelech with his army commander Phicol meeting with Abraham and confessing that they can readily see that “God is with you in everything you do”. Keep in mind that this is after ch.20 where Abraham had lied to Abimelech and allowed him to take Sarah into his harem and God had sent a plague of sorts upon the whole kingdom! Abimelech gave gifts of livestock and silver to Abraham to cover the offense, even though Abraham had contributed greatly to this embarrassing situation by passing Sarah off as his sister instead of his wife, just like he did in Egypt. And like his sojourn in Egypt he comes away enriched! Surely God has blessed Abraham with great wealth and with favor with kings.

            But here in ch21 we see Abimelech getting Abraham to swear not to deal falsely with Abimelech, his children or his kingdom. We see the pagan king in awe of Abraham because of God’s blessings on him. Now, right after that confession of weakness by Abimelech, that statement of fear, Abraham brings up a complaint against Abimelech’s men who had seized a well of water that Abraham had dug.

            The two leaders make a treaty, Abraham gives some livestock to Abimelech as a testimony that he had in fact dug this well and they swore an oath to that effect, thus possibly even averting a war. At the end of the ceremony, after the pagans had left, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at the new oasis in Beersheba which would be his new base of operations and Isaac’s as well (22:19; 26:33; 28:10; 46:1,5). These trees were used by the Bedouins because they were hardy in that harsh environment and it was a type of seal on the treaty symbolizing the treaty was as permanent as the tree. The tamarisk tree also served as a religious symbol of fecundity or fertility.

            After all this, Abraham calls on the name of the Lord, the eternal God, El Olam. We ask why does Abraham use this name for God at this point in time? Abraham had done a lot of wandering as he follows the Lord’s calling on his life and we keep in mind that God had made a covenant with Abraham to give this land to his descendents. In 15:7 “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” Now we see Abraham claiming a small piece of land as his with this well. He has made a treaty with Abimelech but what good are man made treaties? In my studies of history peace treaties are frequently discarded. But in this simple worship service, Abraham calls on the name of the Lord as the Eternal God, thus invoking God’s eternal, self-existent nature, claiming this land by faith in that eternal, everlasting God who has promised it to him. It signifies that the native population around him is recognizing that Abraham and his God are there for good.

            The name El Olam means God Everlasting, the Eternal God. Olam is an interesting word that is frequently used of a definite time, or of an indefinite time, in relations to God it refers to eternity. Andrew Jukes, a 19th century Cambridge educated pastor in England, writes, (p.135) “this name tells us that God reveals himself to men by varying dispensations, ‘at sundry times and in diverse manners’ as they can bear it; in all carrying out His one unchanging purpose, to bring us out of our fall and make us partakers of His own blessedness.” (p.137) “Olam, which is rendered “everlasting”, contains in itself both the idea of a secret and also of time or of an age…. The word Olam has two senses, though the connexion between the two is obvious. Its first and original sense is to conceal or hide or something hidden. Hence it came to mean time hidden from man or time indefinite. In our version it is often translated forever, and in certain places it may mean time unmeasured for an age or for ages.”

            Waltke writes, (p.300), “As on other occasions, Abraham refers to God by a name appropriate to his particular deeds. The well of Beersheba symbolizes life for Abraham’s posterity….This covenant (with Abimelech) is the small beginning of something much greater. The naming of the site in commemoration of that covenant, the planting of a commemorative tree, and the name of the Lord, ‘Eternal God’, continues to strengthen the faith of pilgrims on their journey to the Promised Land.”

  1. II.                The Everlasting God


1. When we discuss apologetics we see the logic that requires an uncaused First Cause that created everything else. You cannot have an infinite regression of causes because time itself had a creation. Even if you have an oscillating view of the universe you still end up with a problem of infinite regression. Because there is something that exists today, in time, there must be something that is eternal and everlasting that exists outside of time.

            In a previous lesson, probably two years ago, we discussed the Great name for God, YHWH, I Am Who I Am. We learned at that time that God is the ground of being, he is life itself, the eternally present God. Now we see that he is called the eternal God. Look at some other vss that use this name for God or the idea:

            Ps41.13; 90.2; 100.5; 103.17; 119.144; 139.24; Prov. 8.23; Is. 26.4; 40.28; Daniel 7:9.

            2. In looking at God’s eternality we understand that he has always been and he always will be, just exactly who he is. All of God’s attributes are united; God is a whole and is not to be divided. His eternal nature means that all of his attributes are eternal. We studied God’s wrath last in a sermon I preached back in May and again in discussing Sodom. God’s wrath against sin and evil will never go away. His patience and forbearance are eternal. God’s love is eternal. Look at Rom.8:38f. God will never cease to be all powerful, all knowing and everywhere present because he is eternal by nature. This also points toward the immutability of God, he is unchanging as part of his eternality. God’s holiness is eternal. The unrepentant sinner will never escape the holy wrath of God. The adoring believers will always have the high privilege of worshipping the eternally holy God.

            3. According to Andrew Jukes the best way of understanding this name El Olam is as God of the ages, as in Rock of Ages. Throughout all the ages of mankind God remains the only true God. Throughout all the ages, God’s plan of redemption is undeterred. God has a steady revelation of himself through the ages: from clothing Adam and Eve, to putting the mark on Cain, to sealing Noah in the ark, through the call to Abram, the sacrifice of Isaac, the giving of the law to Moses, the capture of the promised land by Joshua, the anointing of David as king, the preaching of the prophets the birth of Christ, the teaching and miracles of Jesus, the death and resurrection of Christ, the preaching of the apostles and the writing of scripture. The everlasting God, El-Olam, works his will, his plan for redemption of his elect.

  1. III.             Jesus Is the Eternal Son of God


Look at John 8:58, Jesus claims the same eternality as God.

John 8: 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

In this conversation Jesus essentially claims to be Divine on four counts. First, he claims God as his Father, something the average Jew of his day would immediately alert on. Second, he claims  that if anyone keeps his word “he will never see death”. Third,  he claims that Abraham, considered the father of the Jews and a prophet, “rejoiced that he would see my day”. Fourth, and more to our point in dealing with the Genesis text, Jesus claimed to be ageless by saying, “before Abraham was, I am.”

            Of this statement, Borchet writes, (p.309) “This statement can of course lead to a great deal of speculation concerning the nature of time itself in relation to the nature of God. Certainly the juxtaposing of the past tense concerning Abraham with both the prior time and the present tense as they relate to Jesus explodes all natural reasoning concerning time.”

            “Extending the present into the past does no compute in most of our minds. …But God does not fit into the teacups of our minds. More pertinent for our purposes, however, is the fact that Jesus claimed to be ‘I am’ over against Abraham. That claim was a reminder of the claims for God in the Old Testament over against creation (cf. Ps.90:2; Isa.42:3-9) and of the self designation for the comforting God of Isaiah (41:4; 43:3,13). The claim of Jesus, therefore, was clearly recognized from the Jews perspective to be a blasphemous statement they could not tolerate. Accordingly, they again made their judgment call, and their verdict implied death by stoning…”

            John Calvin writes, (p.230), “By these words he excludes himself from ordinary human beings and claims superhuman power for himself, a heavenly and divine power, the perception of which reached from the beginning of the world through all ages….It agrees therefore with what the apostle said: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8).

            In short, Jesus is claiming to be God and the specific attribute mentioned here is his eternality. Most of the attributes of God the Father we also find in God the Son (invisibility, non-corporeality would be a couple of differences, however). Jesus definitely claimed to be eternal and divine and that is why the Jews took up stones to execute him.

Heb. 13: 8” Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”  also clearly teaches the eternality of Christ.

The doctrine of the eternality of Christ and of God the Father goes against what the Mormons teach. The LDS teaches that both God and Jesus are created beings. Jesus was created by Heavenly Father, and Heavenly Father was once a man on another planet created by that local god who once was a man himself, created by his god, and so on. The problem of an infinite regression plagues Mormon theology.

We see this doctrine in Gen. 1 with the plural form of God, Elohim, and in the divine conference about creating man, “Let us make man in our image”. In order for the doctrine of the Trinity to hold together, all three members of the Triune Godhead must be co-eternal.

  1. IV.              Applications

Abraham  was   still a   sojourner,  a  pilgrim, who  was  walking by faith, trusting

In God’s provision. This well at Beersheba was the first piece of land he could call his own, can you tell me what the next piece of land he would own would be?

            The cave at Machpelah as a tomb for his wife Sarah in ch.23.

            The treaty with Abimelech, the sacrifices and gifts at the Well of the Sevens, are external signs to Abraham of God’s continuing presence and blessing, and the eternal nature of his covenant with Abraham as mentioned in 17:7 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

            We can certainly trust in God’s everlasting covenant of salvation with us because he is the Eternal God, El Olam.




Borchert, Gerald L. The New American Commentary, vol.25A, John 1-11. Broadman &

            Holman: Nashville, TN. 1996 (pp.308-309)

Calvin, John. The Crossway Classic Commentaries: John. Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL

            1994 (originally 1553), (pp.229-231).

Jukes, Andrew. The Names of God: Discovering God As He Desires to Be Known.

            Kregel: Grand Rapids, MI 1967 (originally published in the 1800’s) (pp.135-154).

            Note about Jukes: he was a universalist of sorts and considered heretical as a


Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Genesis, An Introduction &

            Commentary. InterVarsity Press: London, England 1965 (pp.141-142).

Matthews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary vol.1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26

            Broadman&Holman Publihers: Nashville, TN 2005 (pp280-283).

Towns, Elmer L. My Father’s Names: The Old Testament Names of God and How They

            Can Help You Know Him More Intimately. Regal: Ventura, CA1991 (pp.69-79).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2001 (p.300).


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One Response to “Genesis 21:33-34 “El-Olam, the Everlasting God of Abraham””

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Very helpful. In some places when the scripture refer to the name of GOD the particular name is mentioned. I have not found it so in this instance.

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