Genesis 19 ends with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot barely escapes the destruction. His wife is a pillar of salt, his two daughters get him drunk with wine, and his grandchildren are result of incestuous relationships with both of them. The Bible leaves him in the mountains around the city of Zoar. He is afraid to go back into any city after witnessing such destruction by God’s hand of judgment. It is terrifying to witness how far down Lot went.
Yet Abraham is still cultivating a life of faith. He built altars to God, gave the best land to Lot, and later rescued his nephew from wicked men who carried him away into captivity with his family and his servants. The King of Salem, Melchizedek, blessed Abraham upon his return, and the man of faith gave a tithe of the spoils to the King. Abraham believed the promise of God, and his faith was credited as righteousness. Abraham was a man of great faith.
Abraham is a striking contrast to Lot. However, the Bible realistically portrays the sin of this man of faith. He lied to Pharaoh according to a previous arrangement he had made with Sarah. Instead of protecting his wife with godly authority, he gave into her demand and committed fornication with Hagar. The result was not the heir God promised but the child Ishmael, one who would bring strife instead of peace. You would think that after everything Abraham went through, he would not sin in the same way again. You would think that, but you would be wrong.
God does not hide the deficiency and carnality of Abraham. This simply fortifies the fact that we are reading the very words of God. Abraham is certainly a man who cultivated a life of great faith, but he did so amidst great personal failure. There were times during which he proved he certainly had a sin nature. The carnality came out.
The Deception and the Dream (20.1-7)
Genesis 20 contains two dialogues. One is between God and Abimelech (vv. 3-7) and the other between Abimelech and Abraham (vv. 9-13). Verses 1-2 tell us that Abraham lied to a foreign ruler once again. First, the Pharaoh and now the Abimelech. Abimelech is a title similar to that of Pharaoh. It is not a proper name. It means royal father or “the king is my father.” Abimelech sent for and took Sarah. A crisis now presents itself.
This section begins with God’s ominous proclamation to the Abimelech: “You are a dead man.” It ends with another somber warning: “If you do not restore [Sarah], know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” God came to Abimelech in a dream. He leveled this death sentence because Abimelech was about to commit adultery.
Abimelech, however, had not come near Sarah (v. 4). He also claimed to be king of a righteous, blameless nation. He acted with integrity and was innocent of wrong doing. The Lord God always does that which is right. Would he destroy the righteous with the wicked? Abraham has asked that same question in Genesis 18.
God acknowledged the integrity of Abimelech (v.6). As a matter of record, God Himself withheld Abimelech from sinning against Him; He did not allow Abimelech to touch her. God restrains evil in the world. He restrains His children from committing destructive sin. He restrains the wicked as well. The only reason Abimelech had a clear conscience before the Lord is that God had graciously intervened.
Abimelech and his household would live once Abraham prayed. Right now, they all lived under a certain death sentence. Some physical disease was more than likely sent from God, because He healed Abimelech. The women of the nation became barren at the hand of God as well. God would eventually open their wombs once again.
But still: If Abimelech did not restore Sarah to Abraham, he was a dead man. Restoration and forgiveness were possible for Abimelech, but he had to restore Sarah. Later, we find out that Abraham would have to intercede on his behalf. Here we see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility once again in the Scriptures. Both are stated. God was in complete control of the situation, but Abimelech must restore Sarah. There is the real and potential outcome that he would not. Otherwise, the warnings of God make little sense.
Fear prompts deceit.
Abraham had experienced the love and mercy of God to a great extent during his life. But he still lied. Fear prompts deceit. Fear narrows our focus so that we see no way out other than deceiving people. If God is as powerful as we maintain, He is certainly able to protect us. Isn’t it true that we are indestructible until God is finished with us on this earth? How has God failed you? Why are you doubting His love, faithfulness, and power over your current circumstance? Deceitful lives resemble the father of lies rather than reflect the glory of God!
Deceit becomes an avalanche.
Abraham’s deceit quickly became a problem not just for him but for the many around him. It could have cost him his wife and the favor of God. It could have cost Abimelech and his people their lives. This is the consequence and nature of deceitfulness. If God had not intervened, the promised Messiah would not have come. Nothing can be left to us because of our unfaithfulness. All is of grace. And yet our deceitful avalanche will cause collateral damage. While the promises of God remain unaffected, our lives take a turn for the worse.
The Disgrace and the Disapproval (20.8-13)
This is the second main section of dialogue in the chapter. Abimelech is a Gentile king who, unlike Pharaoh, has a sensitive conscience. He seems to know right from wrong. He is open to the revelation of God. This was not the case with Pharaoh. Abimelech reacts to his dream by rising early in the morning, reporting to his people what had happened, and the men feared.
It’s a bit ironic. Everyone is afraid here. Abraham was prompted by fear to lie. Abimelech and his people feared God because of the fact that Abraham lied. God’s promises to Abraham did not stop him from fearing other men. He resembles Lot more than a man who is cultivating a life of faith. That means we are prone to the fear of men as well. Your faith can and will fail at times.
This is really a catastrophic failure. It’s one thing to fail within a small circle, but to fail in such a public way and be rebuked by a worldly leader is certainly disgraceful. It must be remembered that he has failed like this twice in very public situations.
The question in v. 10 from Abimelech is quite penetrating. What did Abraham have in view? His answer reveals his problem: He thought of Gerar in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah. He assumed that the fear of God was not in this place. Sarah was so beautiful; he believed they’d kill him for her. After all, God caused him to wander in this strange land. His focus was not on God but on the world around him. He allowed experience and emotion to direct his steps. When fear dictates our steps, we act as disgracefully as he did.
It is hard to imagine Sarah’s mindset. Abraham should have protected his wife. Instead, he led her down the paths of deceit and sin. Abraham should have been willing to sacrifice himself for the honor of his wife; instead, he sacrificed his wife’s honor for fear of man. He also brought Abimelech and his household under severe judgment. Had Abimelech and his family died, Abraham would have been the cause of it. Deep shame and sorrow now belonged to Abraham. It’s hard to think of anything more disgraceful than allowing your wife to be taken by another man, no matter how powerful he is. Still God dealt mercifully with Abraham. The offended king did not treat Abraham the way he deserved to be treated. He was more honorable than Abraham in this situation. He was careful, fair, and even virtuous in his response.
The Deference and the Deliverance (20.14-18)
Abimelech’s fear of God prompted a quick response from him and from his people. He gave much to Abraham in addition to restoring Sarah. He goes above and beyond what God had commanded he do. He gave Abraham the choice of the best land, which is quite haunting when compared to the early decision Lot had made regarding land. He also gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver, and Sarah was vindicated and justified (not rebuked as in the NKJV).
I should like to hear Abimelech’s tone when he said to Sarah, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver…” Perhaps a little sarcasm was present? Abimelech could have been angry about the malady his household had suffered and about the barrenness in his house, but his rebuke is recorded in the penetrating question he asked Abraham: “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”
Abraham prays to God. He would have to come face-to-face with his own unfaithfulness in the midst of God’s great faithfulness. We make decisions that cause a great deal of pain in our lives, but these choices don’t impact that overarching plan of God. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2.13).
- Speak the truth. It is rare to find people who speak the truth. We often think we’re fine as long as we don’t tell unadulterated lies. It’s okay to shade the truth for most of us. We tell white lies because it’s not possible to tell evil, black ones. We magnify sin in others, and this is a great deceit. We lie to gain the praise of men or avoid being persecuted by them. We exaggerate a temptation or conceal it. We justify it by saying simple and foolish things like, “It’s only in this one little area. Nobody’s perfect!” We lie to one another and then come to church in great hypocrisy and claim to worship God. Perhaps our meditation this week ought to be David’s in Psalm 119.29: “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”
- Keep yourself pure. We turn from sin and forsake it because of the grace of God. We forget that we are able to fall again to the same sin even as Abraham did. What is your besetting sin. You mourn over it. You have victory in Christ. God has chosen not to take away the temptation, but He has enabled you to stand against the temptation and experience victory and purity. Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. But still temptation will come. Abraham was well along in his relationship with God. He failed due to fear and unbelief. Let his failure serve as a bracing warning to you this week. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10.12-13). Keep yourself pure!
- Be grateful for grace. God protects and preserves us by grace. If it were up to us, we would dishonor God and despise our privileges as sons and daughters of the Almighty. Even when we were enemies of God, he kept us from all that we could have done. There were snares and dangers from which He mercifully kept us. Grace is truly amazing. It kept us from certain death and enables a powerful life worth living!
- Mitigate the damage. Once we sin, the only way out is genuine humility. It is here where we begin to mitigate against the damage we’ve caused in our own lives and the lives of others we claim to love. God hears the broken and contrite heart. Our lives will become edifying and useful again. We cannot cancel out the consequences of our sin; however, should an opportunity present itself to bring good to the situation, we ought to take it by the grace of God. Pray for those you have hurt. Ask God to take away the bitter memory someone has of you. Pray that He would not be dishonored and disgraced by your foolishness. Take opportunity to show the love of Christ through a gracious and forgiving spirit.