Genesis Chapter 20 - Abraham and Sarah Deceive Abimelech
GENESIS CHAPTER 20
After Abraham looked upon the destruction of Sodom, he and Sarah moved on to Gerar. There they deceived Abimelech into believing Sarah was unmarried.
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, Genesis 20:1
The LORD had visited Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre and assured Sarah that she would have a son. This region is a plain near Hebron. Abraham pleaded with the LORD to spare Sodom, but not even ten righteous men could be found in this wicked city. The LORD sent his two angels to rescue Lot and his family before they destroyed the cities of the plain of Jordan. Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.
Abraham moved from where he had lived for fifteen or twenty years, into the more southern parts of the land of Canaan. He may have been so deeply disturbed by the destruction of Sodom, the stench of the smoldering sulfur, and not knowing what happened to his nephew Lot, that he left the area. Abraham went to dwell between Kadesh and Shur which were two wildernesses in the western Sinai. The name Kadesh comes from the Hebrew verb,"qadash" which means to be consecrated, hallowed or sanctified. Shur means “wall.” Abraham lived between two wildernesses that walled him in so that he could be sanctified. But then he moved on to Gerar to stay there for a while.
Gerar was an ancient town in the Negev. It’s location in modern day Israel is roughly half-way between Beersheba and Gaza. Gerar was ruled by the Philistine king named Abimelech.
and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. Genesis 20:2
There in Gerar in the land of the Philistines, Abraham hid the fact that he was married to Sarah as he did when he went down to Egypt. Abram had gone down to Egypt along with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot during a time of famine in Canaan. Since Sarai was very beautiful, Abram had deceived the Egyptians into believing that Sarai was only his sister when in fact, she was his wife. Sarai was the half-sister of Abram, but a half-truth is still an entire lie.
There are four men named Abimelech in the Bible. The first mention of the name Abimelech is the king of Gerar who lived during the time of Abraham. The name Abimelech consists of two parts. The first is “abi” formed from the Hebrew word “ab” usually meaning the male parent, but can also mean a far removed ancestor, or the chief of a large household or town. The Hebrew letter “yod” added to “ab” to form the compound abi, means either “my father” or “father of.”
The Hebrew noun, "malak" is usually translated as king, but more specifically means magistrate. The name Abimelech means, “My father is king” or “Father of a king.” Abimelech may have had the name, “Father of a king” but Abram was renamed Abraham by the LORD which means, “Father of many nations.”
Sarai was about 66 when she and Abram went down to Egypt. Since she lived for 127 years, she may still have been in her prime and was very beautiful. Now in Gerar, Sarah was about ninety years of age, and probably pregnant with Isaac. Her beauty isn’t specifically mentioned as a motive for Abraham’s attempt to deceive Abimelech. Sarah may now have been chosen by Abimelech in an attempt for him to form an alliance with Abraham. Not only was Abraham wealthy, but a petty king such as Abimelech would naturally be glad to form an alliance with such a powerful chief as Abraham who had defeated the four kings of Mesopotamia.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” Genesis 20:3
When Abram had gone down to Egypt, he presented Sarai as his sister and not as his wife. They apparently saw themselves as fleeing from certain death in the Canaanite famine and assumed that Sarah's unusual beauty meant that she was likely to be taken anyway. The only question was whether Abram himself could survive. As a husband he would not, but as a brother he might. Out of desperation, they lied. Afterwards, Pharaoh and his household became very ill. In his inquiry to understand why, Pharaoh discovered that he has taken Abram's wife as his own and was being punished for it.
But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. Genesis 12:17
When Abraham and Sarah sojourned to Gerar, they also deceived Abimelech into believing Sarah was unmarried. Although Abimelech had taken Sarah, he wasn’t inflicted by disease but warned by God in a dream that he was facing a death sentence.
Even before the Ten Commandments were instituted, these accounts of Pharaoh and Abimelech are two biblical examples that adultery was understood to be a serious offense by the LORD.
Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” Genesis 20:4-5
Although Abimelech had not attempted to be physical with Sarah, the account in Genesis 12 does not say whether or not Pharaoh had approached Sarai physically. Perhaps, he and his household were inflicted with serious diseases because Pharaoh had attempted intimate physical relations with Sarai. Whereas, Abimelech had not as of yet gone near her.
Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Genesis 20:6
God made it clear to Abimelech that he was facing fatal consequences for taking a married woman as his own. Yet, God kept Abimelech from sinning unintentionally by warning him in a dream. By restraining Abimelech, Sarah was kept from being defiled. Sarah was either pregnant with Isaac, “the child of the promise” or soon would become pregnant by Abraham. Through a dream, God protected his chosen vessel Sarah who would birth the “miraculous son” of the covenant.
There are a number of instances in the Bible where God has sent a warning to a person through a dream.
On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.” Genesis 31:22-24
Using a dream, God warned Laban, who was in hot pursuit of Jacob, not to harm Jacob or try to keep him from returning to the Promised Land through flattery. God protected the patriarch of the 12 tribes of Israel through a dream.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:11-12
After worshipping the newborn “King of the Jews” and presenting him with their gifts, the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Although King Herod told the Magi that he wanted to worship the child, Herod actually wanted to murder the newborn king. By means of a dream, God protected Jesus by keeping the Magi from reporting his whereabouts to Herod.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Matthew 2:13
In a dream, Joseph was warned to flee to Egypt with his wife and the Christ Child in order to escape King Herod’s jurisdiction.
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,"Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee. Matthew 2:19-22
Joseph was commanded in a dream to return to Israel with his family after the death of King Herod. Then Joseph was warned in another dream not to live in Judea, but instead, he and his family went to live in the town of Nazareth.
God not only warned Abimelech in a dream that Sarah was another man’s wife; God commanded that Abimelech return Sarah to Abraham.
Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.” Genesis 20:7
Psalm 105 and verse 15 reads, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” Abraham was designated by the LORD to serve Him as His prophet. Therefore Abraham was a spokesperson for God who had been anointed (empowered by the Holy Spirit) to fulfill this office. Abraham is not only the “Father of the Faith” but is also the first person in the Bible to have been called a prophet.
Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Genesis 20:8
Abimelech wasted no time making matters right before God. He arose early in the morning and reported the substance of his dream to all of his officials. It is obvious by the reaction of Abimelech’s officials that they believed that God can speak through dreams and that their lives were in danger.
Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.” And Abimelech asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?” Genesis 20:9-10
Abraham had been justified by his faith and entered into a covenantal relationship with the LORD. Yet, he now stands before a pagan king and is rightfully accused of acting in an unrighteous manner. This episode in Abraham’s life reminds the reader that all men, including the patriarchs have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’ Genesis 20:11-13
Twenty-five years before this, Abraham had committed a nearly identical sin down in Egypt. Both times he acted in fear and not from faith. By stating that there is surely no fear of God in this place, Abraham’s explanation is an attempt to place the blame on the victims of his deception. It was their fault that he had to lie, and therefore place their lives in jeopardy.
Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.” Genesis 20:14-15
It may have been the fear of Abraham’s God, rather than Abraham’s explanation that motivated Abimelech to be generous towards him. Not only does Abimelech return Sarah to Abraham and offers him valuable gifts, Abimelech offers Abraham the right to dwell anywhere in his territory.
Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.” Thus she was rebuked. Genesis 20:16
The purpose of the payment of silver, in addition to the flocks, herds and slaves, was to compensate Sarah for any wrong Abimelech may have done to her and to clear her reputation. Abimelech did not say to Sarah, “I am giving your husband a thousand shekels of silver,” but that he was giving the payment for the offense to her brother. Abimelech had originally taken Sarah because he believed that Abraham was her brother and not her husband. Abimelech said that he was giving the payment to her brother, to both admonish Abraham and to rebuke Sarah so that this would be the last time they lied about their married relationship.
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah. Genesis 20:17-18
After Abraham interceded in prayer for them, God healed Abimelech and his wife and slave girls. The women had been afflicted by some disease that rendered it impossible for them to have children till it was removed. Abimelech had also been smitten by the LORD with an infirmity that kept him from going near Sarah and defiling her.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. Deuteronomy 7:9
Abraham was declared righteous by his faith and was in covenant relationship with the LORD. Even when Abraham devised a plan of deception out of fear, God supernaturally intervened so that His purposes would stand. When Sarah was placed into circumstances that could have compromised God’s promise that Sarah would birth Isaac, the LORD prevented Abimelech from touching her.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty; but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:9-11