Genesis 20:1-18

1 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, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister. ” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
3 But God came to Abimelek 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.”
4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 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. ”
6 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. 7 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 who belong to you will die.”
8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelek 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 never be done. ” 10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
11 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.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 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.”’”
14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”
16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

Genesis 20:1-18 (NIV)












No sermon can capture the full richness of what we discover in Holy Scripture. Below you will find a few extra notes to help fill out the meaning of this portion of God’s inspired word.


God has made his covenant promise to Abraham that he would make Abraham into a great nation. He would give him a fertile land to call his own. He would do this through the promised son (seed) of Abraham, who would be a blessing to all nations. God has recently promised that this promised son would be born to Sarah within a year. That promise comes under threat as Abraham, out of fear, surrenders Sarah to the harem of Abimelek. This would undermine the virtue of Sarah and cast doubt upon the divine provision of the child, as well as the purity of the nation which was to come through him. In other words, Abraham was risking the entire covenant promise of God. God had to intervene…

Connections with 1 Sam. 4-6:

“This episode in Abraham’s life functions as a model by which the people Israel could understand their national experience with the Philistines. Like Abraham, Israel was going to face peril from the Philistines. As with Abraham, God would intervene, bring hardship on the Philistines, and direct events so that his people would prevail. Specifically, there are parallels between this account and the Philistines’ capturing the ark of the covenant…. As Abimelech had taken Abraham’s beloved wife, the Philistines captured the ark. God then inflicted them with a curse that caused great discomfort, just as he had inflicted the members of Abimelech’s household with infertility. As God had warned Abimelech in the night, he humiliated the Philistine god Dagon in the night by causing him to fall prostrate before the ark of the covenant. And, parallel to Abimelech’s gifts to Abraham, the Philistines gave the Israelites an offering with the return of the ark.” (nderstanding the Bible Commentary — OT)

Connections with Gen. 18-19:

According to Victor P. Hamilton’s two-volume commentary on Genesis, there are quite a few similarities in vocabulary and theme between Gen. 18-19 and Gen. 20. There is the parallel of the “vulnerable female”, seen in Lot’s willingness to surrenders his daughters and Abraham’s willingness to surrender his wife. Both stories deal with God’s judgment upon a large number of people. Both events have to do with the actions of a righteous man who is a “resident alien.” Both events profile Abraham’s intercessory prayer as a prophet. Both stories take place in cities outside the boundaries of the promised land of Israel. To this we can add that both stories illustrate the righteousness of God’s judgment–he does not punish the innocent, but he justly deals with the sins of the guilty.

On the subject of unintended sin:

“Every willful sinner is a dead man, but Abimelech pleads ignorance…. It is matter of comfort to those who are honest, that God knows their honesty, and will acknowledge it. It is a great mercy to be hindered from committing sin; of this God must have the glory.”

(Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible)

On the subject of pardon and deliverance:

“Though the Lord rebuke, yet he will pardon and deliver his people, and he will give them favor in the sight of those with whom they sojourn; and overrule their infirmities, when they are humbled for them, so that they shall prove useful to themselves and others.”

(Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible)

On the subject of God’s sovereignty:

God’s ability to use even our sins for his own purposes shows that he doesn’t love us simply for the great things we can do for him. There’s an additional verse to the children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me” that we don’t sing very often, but that captures this aspect of God’s love perfectly:

Jesus loves me when I’m good,

When I do the things I should.

Jesus loves me when I’m bad,

Though it makes him very sad.

It is so common to think that God will love us more if we perform some great work, some external achievement. But the Bible (and here the story of Abraham and Abimelech) focuses on making a great heart. Here God was working in Abraham to create an unusual dependence upon him, because “He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”

(Iain Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality)

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