May 7, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

                        

Lesson II.E.1: Sarah Is Taken by Abimelech. Gen. 20:1-8.         

                                                     

Genesis 20:1-8 (KJV)

1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and 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, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?

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.

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.

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 thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.

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.

 

Introduction

Chapter 20 seems about as necessary as a fifth leg on a cow. It is a chapter that you feel as if you would like to leave it out, because in it Abraham repeats the same sin which he committed when he went down into the land of Egypt and lied concerning Sarah, saying, “She is my sister.” It is the same sordid story, but this chapter is put here for a very important reason. Abraham and Sarah are going to have to deal with this sin before they can have Isaac, before they can have blessing. May I say to you, until you and I are willing to deal with the sin in our lives, there is no blessing for us.

 

 

Commentary

 

1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and 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, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?

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.

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.

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 thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.

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.

 

This is quite interesting. Do you think Sarah was beautiful? Well, at this time she is nearly ninety years old, and she is beautiful (v. 2). Not many senior citizens can qualify in this particular department. Let me tell you something about myself; the older I get, the more I look like my father, and he was not good looking at all.

 

Notice also that Abraham is getting quite far south in the land (v. 1). He has gone beyond Kadesh-Barnea where the children of Israel later came up from Egypt and refused to enter the land. Abraham has gone down to Gerar, which I think was a bad idea and something he should not have done, but be that as it may, he lies about Sarah again (v. 2). I want you to notice Abraham’s half-true confession (v. 2) because this is the thing which makes this chapter important and reveals the fact that Abraham and Sarah cannot have Isaac until they deal with this sin that is in their lives—and it goes way back.

 

Twenty-five years after leaving Egypt in disgrace because of lying about his wife          (12:10-20), Abraham reverted to the same ploy. Though Abraham was being deceptive when he said Sarah was his sister, he did not completely lie either, since Sarah, although she was his wife, was also his half-sister (v. 5). If you did not know who Abraham was, and you read this chapter for the first time, which of these two men would you say was the believer? Surely not Abraham the liar. It was not Abraham that showed integrity, and it was not Abraham who God kept from sinning. What Abraham did was selfish, but Abimelech responded with generosity. If anybody reveals excellent character, it is Abimelech and not Abraham, “the friend of God.” Abimelech, who ruled over the people of Gerar was unusually honest, ethical, and fair. His claims to integrity, that is, “perfectness” or sincerity and innocence indicated he was a man of high standards.

 

But before you draw some unwarranted conclusions, take time to review the facts revealed in this event. Abraham’s failures were tragic, but from them we learn some valuable lessons to help us in our walk of faith.

 

When Abimelech took Sarah, God warned him in a dream (v. 3) and by the barrenness of his wife and slave girls (20:17-18{16]) that she was married.

 

This chapter would be an embarrassment to us except for one thing: The Bible tells the truth about all people, and that includes God’s people. It does not hide the fact that Noah got drunk and exposed himself (Ge. 9:20-23), or that Moses lost his temper (Num. 20:1-13), and that David committed adultery and plotted the death of a valiant soldier (2 Sam. 11). Peter denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:69-75), and Barnabas lapsed into false doctrine (Gal. 2:13).

 

These things are recorded not to encourage us to sin, but to warn us to beware of sin. After all, if these great men of faith disobeyed the Lord, then we “ordinary saints” had better be very careful! “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

 

Why did Abraham sin?

 

For one thing, though Abraham had a sinful nature, he had been justified by faith (Ge. 15:6{1]). God gave him a new name (from “Abram” to “Abraham”), but that did not change his old nature. “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth” (1 John 1:8). Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16{2]) and the work of Christ on the cross (Rom. 6), believers can have victory over the old nature; but this is not automatic. We must walk in the Spirit if we hope to overcome temptations.

 

That leads to a second consideration: Abraham moved into “enemy territory.” After living at Hebron for perhaps twenty years, he then decided to go to the land of the Philistines. Gerar is just within Philistine territory (21:34{15]) near the coast and about fifty miles south of Hebron, but it was still a dangerous place to be. Perhaps it was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that caused Abraham to want to move, but whatever his motive was, his decision was not a wise one. True, Abraham did not go down to Egypt as he had done before (Ge. 12). He was still within the boundaries of the land God promised to give him, but his move placed him in a dangerous position. “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!” (Matt. 26:41).

 

After arriving in Gerar, Abraham began to walk by sight, and not by faith, for he began to be afraid (20:11{3]). Fear of man and faith in God cannot dwell together in the same heart. “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the LORD means safety” (Prov. 29:25). Abraham forgot that his God was the “Almighty God” (Ge. 17:1{4]) who could do anything (18:14{5]) and who had covenanted to bless Abraham and Sarah.

 

But the basic cause of Abraham’s failure was basically the sad fact that he and Sarah had failed to judge this sin when they had dealt with it in Egypt (See Ge. 12:10-20). They had admitted their sin to Pharaoh and confessed it to God, but the fact that it surfaced again indicates that they did not judge the sin and forsake it—“People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy” (Prov. 28:13). In fact, the sin had grown worse, for now Sarah shared in telling the lie (v. 5). A home kept together by a lie is in bad shape indeed.

 

Both deliverances of the patriarch preserved the purity of Sarah and kept the promise intact. The first incident (Ge. 12), however, was outside the Promised Land and reflected more clearly the life-and-death struggle of the nation in Egypt from which God would later save them and deliver them. The second incident (Ch. 20) was in the land and was an event in which God protected their marriage and thereby His promise. God controls birth; He miraculously intervenes; He opens and closes wombs (v. 17-18). No mere human potentate can thwart God’s plans.

 

There is a fitting wordplay in verse 4. Abraham had prayed that the righteous would not be destroyed with the wicked (See 18:23-32). Now Abimelech’s words echoed the same concern: “Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?” The rebuke of this expression would have been forceful for Abraham. So when Abimelech assured God of his clear conscience (v. 5) in the matter, God told him to return Sarah and to have Abraham (v. 7), the Prophet (the first occurrence of this word in the Old Testament), and God’s spokesman, pray for Abimelech. Only the patriarch’s prayer saved the king’s life.

 

God intervened in this situation in order to work out his purposes in the birth of Isaac, which might otherwise been frustrated. He is more than just a spectator on the sidelines of history. He can overrule the evil of his people, even through the lives of the unregenerate. The pagan Abimelech acted more righteously in this incident than Abraham, the “friend of God.” (Note: Abimelech is a title, and not a proper name.) It is shameful when a believer has to be justly rebuked by a man of the world! When a half-truth is presented as the whole truth, it is an untruth.

 

It is a matter of comfort for those who are honest, that God knows their honesty and will acknowledge it as He did with Abimelech—“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” (v.6)—though perhaps men who are prejudiced against them, cannot be convinced of it, or will simply refuse to believe it. God lets him know that he was kept from proceeding deeper into sin purely by the good hand of God upon him. “I also withheld thee from sinning against me.” God prevented Abimelech from doing wrong, Abraham from suffering wrong, and Sarah from both. It’s a great mercy to be hindered from committing sin: God must have the glory for this, whoever is the instrument (1 Sam. 25:32-33{17]).

 

A lighthearted admission of sin is not the same as a brokenhearted confession of sin (Ps. 51:17{6]). If our attitude is right, we will hate our sins, loath ourselves for having sinned (Eze. 6:9{7]), and despise the very memory of our sins. People who remember their sins with pleasure and “enjoy them again” in their minds have never judged their sins or seen how sinful their sins really are. The father of American psychology, William James, wrote, “For him who confesses, shams are over, and realities have begun.

 

Abraham and Sarah had convinced themselves that they were not telling a lie at all. It was only a “half-truth” (Ge. 20:12{8]), and half-truths are not supposed to be as wicked as out-right lies. They are worse! “A lie consist in the motive as much as in the actual words.” A half-truth has just enough truth in it to make it plausible, and just enough deception to make it dangerous.

 

So, believers do sin; but that does not disannul their faith or destroy their salvation, though it may discredit their testimony. Abraham was still a child of God, even though his witness for the Lord had been greatly weakened. However, Abimelech was in a more dangerous position than Abraham; for Abimelech was under a sentence of death (vs. 3, 7). God did not rebuke Abimelech, but He certainly gave him the sternest of warnings: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.” It was a warning against committing adultery. He should not commit adultery because it was a capital offence. The wording certainly reminds one of the same command in the Ten Commandments: “Do not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). God made Abraham and Sarah one so that they might produce a godly seed.

 

Abimelech was a man of integrity; and when God spoke to him, he obeyed. He had many fine qualities; but he was not a believer, and therefore he was a dead man (Eph. 2:1-3{9]). This is not to minimize the enormity of Abraham’s sin, for a believer should not do what Abraham did. But Abraham and Abimelech had two different standings before God: One was saved and the other was lost.

 

So any unsaved person who wants to use Genesis 20 as “ammunition” against believers (“You’re all hypocrites”) had better consider his or her spiritual condition before God. If unsaved people accept what the Bible says about Abraham, that he lied, then they must also accept what the Bible says about them: They are dead in trespasses and sins. In spite of his disobedience, Abraham was accepted before God; but Abimelech was rejected and under divine condemnation (John 3:18-21{10]). God chastened Abraham, but He condemned Abimelech.

 

It took only a few seconds for Abraham to tell a lie, but that lie was more than sounds and puffs of breath in the air. That lie became a seed that was planted and grew and brought forth bitter fruit. God hates lies (Prov. 6:17{11]). He is a God of truth (Deut. 32:4{12]), the Spirit will be the Spirit of truth (John 14:17{13]), and the Word is the Word of truth (James 1:18{14]). “A lying tongue is but for a moment,” wrote Matthew Henry. “Truth is the daughter of time, and in time, it will win out.”

 

What did this one lie cost Abraham? To begin with, it cost him character. Someone said, “The purpose of life is building character through truth.” God is not just “saving souls,” and taking people to heaven. Through the trials and testing of life He is making saved people more like Jesus Christ and thereby glorifying Himself. Abraham stopped asking “What is right? and began asking “What is safe?” and this led to his downfall. Once the salt has lost its taste, how do you restore it?

 

He also lost his testimony. How could Abraham talk to his pagan neighbors about the God of truth when he himself had told a lie? Lot lost his witness in Sodom, and Abraham lost his witness in Gerar. It’s been said, “A bad man’s example has little influence over good men. But the bad example of good men eminent in station and established in reputation, has an enormous power over evil.

 

 

scripture reference and special notes

 

{1] (Ge. 15:6) And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous because of his faith.

 

{2] (Gal. 5:16) So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves.

 

{3] (Ge. 20:11) "Well," Abraham said, "I figured this to be a godless place. I thought, 'They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.'

 

{4] (Ge. 17:1) When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.

 

{5] (Ge. 18:14) Is anything too hard for the LORD? About a year from now, just as I told you, I will return, and Sarah will have a son."

 

{6] (Ps. 51:17) The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.

 

{7] (Eze. 16:9) Then when they are exiled among the nations, they will remember me. They will recognize how grieved I am by their unfaithful hearts and lustful eyes that long for other gods. Then at last they will hate themselves for all their wickedness.

 

{8] (Ge. 20:12) Besides, she is my sister–we both have the same father, though different mothers -- and I married her.

 

{9] (Eph. 2:1-3) Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else.

 

{10] (John 3:18-21) “There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God. Their judgment is based on this fact: The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished. But those who do what is right come to the light gladly, so everyone can see that they are doing what God wants.”

 

{11] (Prov. 6:17) There are six things the LORD hates—haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent . . .

 

{12] (Deut. 32:4) He is the Rock; his work is perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!"

 

{13] (John 14:17) He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn't looking for him and doesn't recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

 

{14] (James 1:18) In his goodness he chose to make us his own children by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his choice possession.

 

{15] (Ge. 21:34) And Abraham lived in Philistine country for a long time.

 

{16] (Ge. 20:17-18) Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and the other women of the household, so they could have children. For the LORD had stricken all the women with infertility as a warning to Abimelech for having taken Abraham's wife.

 

{17] (1 Sam. 25:32-33) For I swear by the LORD, the God of Israel, who has kept me from hurting you, that if you had not hurried out to meet me, not one of Nabal's men would be alive tomorrow morning." Then David accepted her gifts and told her, "Return home in peace. We will not kill your husband."

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