Genesis Chapter 20: Abraham and Abimelech

Feb 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 20: Abraham and Abimelech

Gen. 20:1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.

Abraham moved from the vicinity of Hebron to a spot to the south (Gerar) between Kadesh and Shur in northern Sinai.

Gen. 20:2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.

Sarah, who was ten years younger than Abraham, was 89 or 90 years old at this time, yet she must have been beautiful to be desired by Abimelech, king of Gerar. (She had had a similar experience some years earlier with Pharaoh, king of Egypt—see Genesis 12:10-20.) Abraham said that he had instructed Sarah to say he was her brother when they first left Ur of Chaldees (Gen. 20:13).

God had shut Sarah’s womb for typical reasons. Even though she was old, when the time was right, He simply opened her womb. In addition, Abraham’s impotence was miraculously reversed. In verses 17 and 18, God’s power to close and open wombs is shown in His dealing with Abimelech and his people; it was like turning a key.

Gen. 20:3 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.

Gen. 20:4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?

Gen. 20:5 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.

The people were not responsible for Abimelech’s taking Sarah. In the dream, he reasoned for them: “Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?” He was pleading on behalf of his innocent subjects. Abimelech said he did not know Sarah was married. “In … innocency … have I done this.” Abimelech continued to reason that Sarah herself had said she was Abraham’s sister.

How wonderful that God gave Abimelech the dream just in time to keep him innocent!

Gen. 20:6 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.

Gen. 20:7 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.

God appeared to Abimelech, king of Gerar, in a dream, explaining that strange happenings had occurred in the household because Sarah was the wife of Abraham. A little time would have passed for the closed wombs to be observed (compare verses 17 and 18).

If Abimelech had “touched” Sarah, the sin would have been against God because Abraham had a special relationship with God and the promised seed was to come through Sarah. Abimelech was not willfully trying to sin. He took Sarah in the “integrity” of his heart, so God, reading his heart, made an allowance. Abimelech had some principles.

Notice that Abraham was called a “prophet.” The fact that if Sarah was restored to Abraham, he would pray for Abimelech shows Abraham had a unique relationship with God. We are reminded of Job, who prayed for the three “comforters” (Job 42:10).

Gen. 20:8 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.

Abimelech rose early in the morning and reported the dream to all of his servants. The servants were very fearful. Why? (1) They had been having experiences they did not understand (verses 17 and 18). All the wombs had been closed. Incidentally, Abimelech had an interesting rapport with his servants, for he told them the dream first, before calling Abraham. (2) God had said in the dream that all would die if Sarah was not restored (verse 7).

Gen. 20:9 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.

Gen. 20:10 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?

Abimelech summoned Abraham and asked in effect, “What have you done to us? Why did you bring a great sin on us?”

Gen. 20:11 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.

Gen. 20:12 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.

Abraham said he thought those of Gerar would kill him because of Sarah. He did not think the fear of God was on that place. And technically, Sarah was his sister as well as his wife. She was the daughter of his father, Terah, but not the daughter of his mother; hence she was a half sister. By marrying Abraham, Sarah was both daughter and daughter-in-law of Terah (Gen. 11:31).

……………………………………………………………/ Iscah

…………………………………………………………/ Lot

………………………………../ Haran ………— Milcah (married Nahor)

…………………..Terah — Nahor

………………………………\ Abram

Here was one of the world (Abimelech) reproving Abraham, a servant and friend of God, for a misdeed. We may get a reproof, too, from those of the world if we violate a principle.

Gen. 20:13 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.

Way back when Abraham left Ur of Chaldees, he had told Sarah to say he was her brother when they came to a place. Thus Abraham tried to justify his position to Abimelech.

Gen. 20:14 And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife.

Abimelech gave Abraham sheep, oxen, and male and female servants somewhat similar to what Pharaoh of Egypt had done earlier (Gen. 12:16). Although Abraham was enriched by a situation wherein he had not acted quite properly, Abimelech was really reproving him. What is the principle? Why was Abraham rewarded with material goods in this case? Abimelech wanted to have a clean slate and also a reversal of the calamities that had happened to him and his household. He wanted to be exonerated and not have any retribution come on him. Just because Abraham got rewarded does not mean his actions were right. It was a freewill offering from Abimelech.

Q: Abraham would not profit—he refused the spoils—when he rescued Lot and the king of Sodom (Gen. 14:22-24). Here, however (and in Genesis 12:16), Abraham accepted the temporal gifts. Why did he do this?

A: It was distressing for Abraham to have been without Sarah. He experienced much apprehension in regard to her condition, and now he was being compensated for the mental distress that would have lasted at least several months. Perhaps, also, Abimelech insisted that Abraham take the goods. Moreover, Abraham did pray for God to be merciful to Abimelech (verse 17), so maybe Abraham felt obligated to accept the reward.

And there is another point. A freewill offering is different from the booty of war, which Abraham declined. Spoils of war would be considered more like a wage, not a gift. The situation was complex. In some of our experiences, we, like Abraham, do not always know the full reason why we do certain things.

Gen. 20:15 And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.

Gen. 20:16 And 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.

Much was given to Abraham, for in addition to the thousand pieces of silver, Abimelech gave him sheep, oxen, and male and female servants. In discussing the thousand pieces of silver, Abimelech reproved Sarah according to the KJV (paraphrased): “I have given Abraham, your brother, a thousand pieces of silver. Abraham is to you a covering of the eyes and to all with you.” The RSV renders Abimelech’s statement to Sarah as follows: “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; it is your vindication in the eyes of all who are with you; and before every one you are righted.”

Abraham was at fault to a certain extent for instructing Sarah what to say, but she was at fault for cooperating with him (verse 5). Hence the King James can be right as well as the Revised Standard. The translators did not know which thought to take, and both versions seem plausible. The original Hebrew needs to be checked. Incidentally, when Abimelech said to Sarah, “I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver,” the term “your brother” was a little reproof.

Gen. 20:17 So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.

Gen. 20:18 For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham’s wife.

Abraham prayed to God to heal Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants, and they bore children. (God had closed all of their wombs because of Sarah.)

Q: Sarah’s “set time” was nine months from when the statement was uttered in Genesis 17:21 and 18:14. Is Genesis 21:1 sequential, or does the verse flash back in time, just meaning that Sarah was already pregnant when Abimelech took her into his house?

A: Sarah was already pregnant. That is one reason why God would not let Abimelech touch her.

Comment: Obviously, some time had to pass for Abimelech to notice that all the wombs had been closed up, but the time period could not have exceeded three months, for then Sarah’s pregnancy would have shown.

Reply: The time period was probably about three months or less.

(1987–1989 Study)

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