What’s in Your Well? – A Successful Conflict Resolution Story

Whatever your belief system, you can sometimes find useful stories in the bible. Here’s one on creating lasting conflict resolution.

In the Book of Genesis (Chap. 21), Abraham and the Israelites settle in land occupied by the Philistines. After seeing Abraham’s wife Sarah, Abimelech, King of the Philistines, has her abducted for his harem. Before King Abimelech can satisfy his desires, God intervenes. The king releases Sarah and thereafter, the Israelites and the Philistines experience what we’d call a “cold peace.”

As the years go by, King Abimelech notices Abraham’s tribe continuing to thrive. He decides it would be good policy to establish something akin to full diplomatic and trade relations.

The king rides to Abraham’s camp and proposes a real peace. Abraham responds favorably. However, he adds that to fully resolve their differences, an issue needs to be addressed. Several years earlier, after Abraham’s servants dug a well, the Philistines took control of it.

When confronted with this information, King Abimelech denies knowledge. However, he says he’ll do right by Abraham and offers to give him the well.

Abraham doesn’t want a “gift.” He proposes a transaction—an exchange of livestock plus seven ewes for formal recognition of the Israelites’ title to the well. The king agrees.

In centuries to come, there will be much strife between Israelites and Philistines. According to biblical scholars, however, the negotiation of the well at Beersheba—Hebrew for “Well of Seven”—produced the longest period of true peace between the two peoples.

The Lesson: Have you ever mistakenly thought you’d resolved a conflict with someone? What you hoped to be a lasting peace treaty turned out to be merely a temporary ceasefire. If so, chances are an issue lurked below the surface that didn’t get addressed.

The lesson of Abraham’s response to King Abimelech? When parties to a conflict genuinely desire an end to it, an opportunity should be created to bring up grievances that aren’t visible on the surface but may underlie current differences. Get them out in the open so that they get addressed and permanently resolved.

Had Abraham responded to King Abimelech’s overture without mentioning the well, lasting peace probably wouldn’t have occurred since one party would have continued to nurse an undisclosed grievance. By bringing up the well and resolving that issue, Abraham laid the foundation for long-term peace.

What’s in your well?