Genesis chapter 20.

Abraham at Gerar.

Sarah again in danger. — V.1. And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. From the grove of Mamre at or near Hebron Abraham gradually journeyed, with all his possessions, to the extreme southern part of Canaan, very likely in search of better pasturage. The region where he tented was, roughly speaking, between Kadesh and Shur, and in his wanderings he encamped also at Gerar, in the land of the Philistines. V.2. And Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, She is my sister; and Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent and took Sarah. As in Egypt, chap. 12, 13, Abraham did not tell the exact and complete truth when he stated that Sarah was his sister. So the king of Gerar, whose standing title was Abimelech, acted in good faith when he added her to his harem. Either the transformation worked in Sarah as a result of God’s promise had renewed her youth, or Abimelech found it to his advantage to be related to the rich Abraham by marriage. V.3. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife. God prevents the greater sin which might have happened as a result of Abraham’s weakness. Appearing to Abimelech in a dream by night, a form of communication which He often adopted, the Lord told him: Behold, thou art destined to die. Sarah was not free to be married: she was literally under her husband as the head of the household: she was a married woman. V.4. But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, Lord, wilt Thou slay also a righteous nation? V.5. Said he not unto me, She is my sister? And she, even she herself, said, He is my brother. In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. It is not only the transgression in deed which makes a person guilty in the sight of God, but even an intention that may result in evil without the knowledge of the person. The majority of the sins of Christians are committed in ignorance. In Abimelech’s case, where the Sixth Commandment had not yet been broken in deed, he defends himself by referring to the plain statements of Abraham and Sarah, on the basis of which he had acted in good faith. Surely the Lord would not slay a people in spite of its righteousness, since he had acted in the guilelessness of his heart and in the purity of his hands; he had not knowingly polluted either his heart or his hands. V.6. And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me; therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. The Lord accepted the excuse of Abimelech, incidentally telling him, however, that the sickness which had prevented the king from consummating the supposed marriage had been inflicted from above, to prevent a greater wrong from being committed. Thus the Lord makes use even of misery and tribulation to keep His children from sin and transgression. V.7. Now, therefore, restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live; and if thou restore her not, know that thou shalt surely die, thou and all that are thine. If, after this revelation, Abimelech had persisted in keeping Sarah, his sin would have been one of malice, and death would have been the certain retribution, not only his own death, but that of his whole family. By telling Abimelech that he would remain alive only by virtue of the intercession of Abraham, who was one of His own prophets, the Lord showed that He knew the king to be capable of true moral understanding. It is a wise person that permits himself to be governed by God’s directions after some stumble or mistake.

Abimelech reproves Abraham. — V.8. Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears; and the men were sore afraid. The sincerity of Abimelech is shown by the fact that he lost no time in righting the unconscious wrong which he had committed. At the very earliest opportunity he informed his servants of the true state of affairs, to whom the effect of his own reverent fear was communicated. V.9. Then Abimelech called Abraham and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? And what have I offended thee that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? Thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done. Abimelech’s open stand in this matter, particularly in inquiring of Abraham the reason and the object of his behavior, was well taken, for the king had acted in good faith, a fact that cannot be alleged on Abraham’s side. V.10. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou that thou hast done this thing? He wanted to know what Abraham had had before his eyes, what object he had had in acting as he did. V.11. And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake. V.12. And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. V.13. And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt show unto me: at every place whither we shall come say of me, He is my brother. This was an explanation, an attempted defense, but a questionable excuse at best, that he had not supposed that men feared God in the land of Abimelech, that consequently he feared for his life on account of Sarah, that he had made an agreement with his wife to have her masquerade as his sister. The Lord could very well have protected him and his wife without such questionable means. The Bible does not hide from us the weaknesses and foibles of the saints, but frankly tells them for our warning. If we are honestly engaged in the work of our calling, we need not resort to subterfuges to save our lives. Without the will of God not a hair of our heads may be touched.

The plague removed from Abimelech. — V.14. And Abimelech took sheep and oxen and men-servants and women-servants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah, his wife. The restoration of Sarah with her honor unspotted followed as a matter of course, but the giving of presents in such rich measure was an act of magnanimity on Abimelech’s part, showing that he felt no false resentment. V.15. And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee; dwell where it pleaseth thee. To offer to Abraham the choice of pasturage in his land in the circumstances was certainly heaping coals of fire on his head. V.16. But unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes unto all that are with thee and with all other. Thus she was reproved. The goods which Abimelech had given to Abraham were estimated at this sum. Now Sarah was to know that this (or he) was to her a covering of the eyes and to her entire household and to all men; that is, according to some explanations, she was to look upon the gifts as presents of atonement, also with respect to such people in whose eyes she might be covered with dishonor. Or, if the reference is to Abraham, it means that he had willfully blinded the eyes of Abimelech and all his people in this transaction, and that Sarah should now be reminded, through this present, never again to agree to such a subterfuge. In that way she stood reproved. V.17. So Abraham prayed unto God; and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maid-servants; and they bare children. V.18. For the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. That was the manner in which God’s punishment upon Abimelech had begun, by denying offspring to his entire household, for it is in His hands, as the Creator of the universe, to grant the blessing of children. The entire story shows that the Lord holds His protecting hand over His children in the midst of all the temptations of the world, Ps. 105, 14. 15.