Who is El Olam? Mighty and Enduring in our Sojourning
El Olam isn't a name of God that is spoken of much. In truth, in my study of the names of God, I nearly missed it. But it communicates something very important about God to us.
So, What does El Olam mean? In your English Bible, El Olam will read as "the Everlasting God." Its first occurrence is found in Genesis 21:33, "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of Yahweh, El Olam." 'El' is the singular name for God, meaning mighty or powerful. 'Olam' means forever or everlasting or enduring, and is often used in reference to God's covenants with His people. "El Olam" would then be rendered Mighty and Everlasting. The context from which this name comes tells us that El Olam is Mighty and Enduring in Our Sojourning.
It's always important to look into the context, so let's look at El Olam in Genesis 21:22-34.
Conflict in the Land
To get a sweeping picture of what is going on we have to remember the covenant that God promised Abram who is now Abraham.
"Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."' Genesis 12:1-3
God reaffirms this covenant to Abram in Genesis 15 as He reveals to Abram and to us that His name is Adonai. In this reaffirmation of the covenant God is clear to note two promises:
He reaffirms to Abram that the promised seed will come which Isaac did come in Genesis 21:1-8. God also is sure to tell Abram, who is now Abraham that the land that is promised, will not be his. But it will go to his offspring after him (Genesis 15:18-21).
The covenant of God and Abraham is that of seed and land. At the point of time in which Genesis 21 is recorded, Abraham has now received one of those promises, the promised seed. But, God made it clear that Abraham was not to expect to possess this promised land, God promised that descendants will.
The Text of Genesis 21:22-34 is sure to note this. Abraham is NOT in possession of the promised land, he is a sojourner in the land. In the land that is clearly possessed by the Philistines. In fact, Abraham is called a sojourner twice in this brief passage, in verses 23 and 34.
In Scripture, when something is repeated, we must take note! It's important!
As we read on, Abraham is having trouble in the land of his sojourning. Abimelech, who seemed to be one of the many kings in the land approaches Abraham. He notices how God has prospered him and doesn't want any trouble with Abraham. So Abimelech comes with the commander of His army Phicol most likely escorted by an impressive military force.
Abimelech essentially forces Abraham into a covenant with him. Abraham complies with one request, that the well he dug would be given back to him. This is agreed upon and Abraham essentially pays Abimelech for the well that he dug himself, with seven ewe lambs.
El Olam and the Tamarisk Tree
After Abimelech and Phicol left and returned to the land of the Philistines, Abraham plants a tamarisk tree at Beersheba. Then he "calls upon the name of Yahweh, El Olam."
The Tamarisk tree is important, what is it? It's a shrubby evergreen tree that can grow to 20 feet tall. It is also important to note that the tree grows in areas that are inhospitable to local wildlife. These are two important textual qualities:
It's an evergreen
It grows in inhabitable places
Beersheba is at the southernmost end of the future Israelite kingdom. You've read the phrase, "From Dan to Beersheba," or from "north to south." Abraham planted this evergreen tree in an inhabitable land. Declaring that El Olam is Mighty and Everlasting in this desolate place, this land of sojourning.
Abraham isn't looking for God to give him this land. He knows it won't happen, for Adonai has promised to give it to his descendants after him. He is crying out for the Personal God, Yahweh to be mighty and enduring on his behalf the land of his sojourning. Like the tamarisk tree which is full of life and endures the harshest of terrains, El Olam is able to preserve life in His people in the land of their sojourning.
The Land of our Sojourning
Sojourning is a big topic in the Old Testament and fortunate enough for us in the New as well. What is a sojourner? A sojourner is a temporary resident. They are without a permanent place in the land. Israel had laws to protect sojourners, and the New Testament tells us that those who belong to God are sojourners in this land.
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:11-12
Yes, in one sense Peter is writing to the Christian Jews who were now kicked out of Jerusalem. So in that sense, they are sojourners and exiles. But we are too? How? This world is not our home!
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Philippians 3:20
We are just like those men and women of faith in Hebrews 11,
"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." Hebrews 11:13
If you are truly God's child by grace through faith in Jesus Christ then this world is not your home. It is a tabernacle, a passing place, a dry and thirsty land of your sojourning. For we do not look to establish our home on this earth but we look for our home in heaven, where the Builder and Maker is God.
But, like Abraham in his sojourning we too have trials. Trials that seek to suck the life out of us. Trials that would like to overcome and overthrow us. But like Abraham, we say NO! I will not allow these trials and tribulations to destroy me. I will call upon the name of Yahweh, the personal God who walks with me. I will declare that like the Tamarisk tree He is mighty and enduring in me in this land that I sojourn in.
My life is in Yahweh's hands, not the hands of my oppressors! Yahweh's hands are mighty hands, enduring hands, and will continue to produce life in me in this land of sojourning, this land that is not my home!
For those who like Abraham call upon the name of Yahweh, El Olam in time of their oppression, God will establish you like that Tamarisk tree that is enduring and full of life in the harshest of environments.
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