Gracious Assertiveness

Words by Cara Ray | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston


Do you ever struggle to know when it's time to put the interests of the others' first and when you need to assert your own rights? Abraham's dealings with both family members and local leaders give us valuable insights on when to assert our rights and when to relinquish them, trusting God to establish and provide for us.


Genesis 21:22-34

Knowing how to conduct ourselves uprightly in business isn’t always as black and white as we’d like it to be. When faced with an obstacle, when do we act with generosity to benefit others, and when do we protect what is rightfully ours?


For over a decade, my husband and I served on the board of directors of a school where all of our children attended. As board members, it was our primary duty to steward the organization as property of the Lord. However, we often felt the tension of making policies that were in the best interests of the school even when it wasn’t what we wanted for our family. Knowing when to relinquish our rights and when to protect them required much wisdom and discernment.


It’s comforting to know this isn’t a modern dilemma; Abraham struggled with this balance, as well.


Abraham had the distinct privilege of knowing God was going to give him land, multiply his descendents, and make him a great blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet when he could’ve enjoyed his divine privilege to the land, he graciously gave Lot the first choice of where to live, choosing to lay the groundwork for a healthy long-term relationship with his extended family (Genesis 13).


Here in Genesis 21, Abraham is once more at a crossroads of deciding how to dwell in peace with his neighbours. But instead of relinquishing his rights to his neighbour as he did with Lot, this time, he stands up for them. His household is growing rapidly in the land, and their ability to continue to flourish is dependent on having a reliable water source. The nearby well is rightfully his, but Abimelek’s servants have been using it—and negotiating an agreement might prove to be difficult given the history between Abraham and this foreign king.


Some years earlier, when Abraham and Sarah were in the Philistine city of Gerar, Abimelek had taken notice of Sarah (Genesis 20). She was beautiful, and he wanted her for his harem. Abraham was afraid they would kill him, so he told a half-truth: that Sarah was his sister. Instead of taking a stand, Abraham fearfully took a seat, bringing tension and potential future conflict into his relationship with a neighbouring nation.


Despite their past run-in and this blight on Abraham’s character, Abimelek cannot deny that the one true God is with Abraham, blessing him in all that he does (Genesis 21:22). The king wisely interprets the Lord’s favour upon Abraham as a potential threat. He knows that, with God’s blessing, Abraham’s offspring might supplant his own kingdom in the future; thus, making peace with him now will be advantageous.


So Abimelek approaches Abraham to create a covenant between them. This time, though, Abraham doesn’t skirt the issue and deals more honestly with Abimelek. He asserts his rights to the well and confronts Abimelek about his servant’s use of his property. Yet, even in this confrontation, Abraham exhibits grace, sealing the covenant by giving Abimelek seven ewe lambs and naming the place Beersheba, meaning “the well of the oath” (v.31).


This ancient conflict over water rights might at first glance seem inconsequential to our modern lives, but there are lessons for us in the consequences Abraham previously bore due to his lack of assertiveness and the wisdom he embodies here when he extends grace. Abraham learned through his mistakes to assert himself and trust God to provide the right outcome. Even as he blunders through many of his business dealings, we see God's invisible hand of provision working to fulfil His promises to Abraham. We, too, will fail at striking the perfect balance of love for others and sticking up for our rights. Thankfully, God still graciously asserts His will in our lives, despite our many failures, and we can trust Him.



Where in your life do you struggle to be assertive? Invite the Holy Spirit to show you what it looks like practically to marry grace and boldness there.


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