Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 20 ESV)
1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
I used to wonder how come God punished Abimelech and not Abraham for his ‘lie.’ And this is the second time already. The first was when he lied to Pharaoh that Sarai was his sister because he was afraid they would kill him to take her as she was beautiful (Gen. 12:11-16).
As I read Genesis 20 again, I looked intently at the speech of the main characters.
“Abraham said of his wife: she is my sister.” (v.2) The narrator did not say to whom Abraham told this ‘fact.’ It seemed to imply that he might have introduced his wife to all people as his sister. And Sarah being beautiful, was taken as wife by Abimelech.
Next came the conversation of God and Abimelech in his dream. God warned that he would die because he committed adultery (v.3). The ‘omniscient’ narrator records that Abimelech did not have sex with Sarah (v.4a). And Abimelech defended himself as he was really innocent of ‘sinning.’ He was deceived both by the man and his wife (v.4b). Even Sarah ‘lied’ to him. “In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands…” these phrases have big implications. And God repeated these words in his reply to Abimelech. Of course, God knows Abimelech was innocent and so He ‘prevented’ him from ‘sinning.’
And God introduced Abraham to Abimelech as His prophet. He told Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham so that Abraham would pray for him and he will live. If not, he will surely die. Bottom line: Return Sarah and live or continue sinning and die!
God used Abraham in his weakness (fear) to be his prophet – to send a message to Abimelech. I wonder how Abraham felt that his wife was returned to him. Did God also tell Abraham to pray for Abimelech afterwards? There is a gap – no mention of such conversation.
8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.”
Sin is the theme of this conversation. Sinful actions… What wrong have I done to you that you caused me and my kingdom to sin? You have done something which should not be done (aka sin).
And Abimelech gave Abraham a chance to explain himself.
10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’
Abraham saw that the people where he lived with did not know God. It was customary to kill the husband and take the wife. And besides, Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister – daughter of his dad but not of his mom.
12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.
The next sentence gives the 2nd reason why Abraham did what he did. It was God who called him to go out from his birthplace to go into foreign territory – a land where there is no fear of God. And he asked his wife to help him do his job. This is the kindness that you must do for me – to tell others that you are my sister. Kindness indeed! How hard it must be for Sarah to be taken as wife in foreign lands – once in Egypt and a second time in Gerar: “at every place to which we come!”
Truth: Kindness is shown not only thru words but more powerfully in deed. Sarah agreed to Abraham’s plan to tell people that he is her brother. But throughout the story, she was silent. Silent kindness speaks loudly!
13 And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.”
God kept his promise to Abraham. Indeed, he would dwell where it pleases him – the land before him.
16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all[a] who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.”
Vindication! Innocence! What pleasant, encouraging words to hear for a wife who is innocent! She was not violated – Abimelech did not touch her. She was proven innocent for telling a half-truth in kind submission and obedience to her husband.
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the LORD had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
So Abraham being a prophet, prayed to God for healing upon Abimelech and his whole household – to teach him the ways of the Lord… the God who is right and just and keeps people from sinning. The God who cares about the integrity of the heart and the innocence of the hands… God vindicates! God heals!