20 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. 2 Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.” 4 Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? 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 in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
8 So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened. 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 on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. 12 Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife; 13 and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” 14 Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. 15 Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.” 17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. 18 For the Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
The wonder of this passage is not the fact that Abraham could regress so far in his Christian growth and maturity. From my own experience I am ashamed to admit that this is entirely believable. While the faithlessness of Abraham comes as no surprise, the faithfulness of God to Abraham at this time of failure is amazing.
Had I been God, the last thing I would have considered would be to reveal my relationship to Abraham. Even if my own character demanded that I remain faithful to my promises, I would not have disclosed to Abimelech that Abraham was a believer, albeit a carnal one. And yet God disclosed the fact that Abraham was the object of His special care. More than this, Abraham was identified as a prophet (verse 7). He was God’s representative and the intermediary through whom Abimelech must be healed.
This must have left Abimelech shaking his head. How could Abraham be a man of God at the same time he was a liar? Abimelech, however, was not given any opportunity to take punitive action in spite of the problems Abraham’s disobedience had brought upon the king’s household. Abraham was the source of Abimelech’s suffering, it was true, but he was also the solution. Abimelech and Abraham both found themselves in a very awkward position.
Abraham acted out of fear. He feared that because of Sarah’s beauty he would be killed, and she would be taken as a wife by violence. This fear was based upon a faulty theological premise: God is only able to act when men are willing to obey. God could save Abraham only in a place where He was known and feared by men. The inference is that where ungodly men are, God’s hand is shortened and unable to save.
Such theology was due more to unbelief than to ignorance. It was the same fear Abraham had twenty-five years before. According to Abraham’s theology, God could not save him from the hand of Pharaoh either, but He did! Abraham failed because of unbelief, not because he was uninformed.
Abraham here is like one of our children who is caught dead to rights. They are sorry they are caught but not repentant for the wrong they have done.
It also explains the repetition of this sin by Abraham and, later, by his son Isaac. Abraham never said to himself, “I’ll never do that again,” either in Egypt or in Gerar. In both cases Abraham escaped with his wife’s purity and with a sizeable profit to boot. So far as I can tell, Abraham never saw his deceptiveness as a sin. Consequently, it kept cropping up in later generations.
I do not think that Abimelech was impressed with Abraham’s explanation. Nevertheless, God had severely cautioned him, and he knew that Abraham was the only one who could intercede for him to remove the plague which prohibited the bearing of children. Because of this, restitution was made.
What a humbling experience it must have been for Abraham to intercede on behalf of Abimelech. A deep sense of unworthiness must have (or at least should have) come over him. It was surely not his righteousness which was the basis for divine healing. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I must confess to you that I frequently experience feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. Prophets, my friends, are not necessarily more pious, and neither are preachers! The greatest danger that those in positions of prominence or power face is that they begin to believe that their usefulness is based upon their faithfulness and deeper spirituality. Any time that we are used of God, it is solely because of the grace of God.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Genesis 21