Sunday, November 14, 2010

Abraham Deceives Abimelech: Genesis 20:1-18

Abraham moves on from where he had been staying and lives for a while in Gerar (near the Philistines and about halfway between Gaza and Beersheba).  There, "Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.'  Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her." (Genesis 20:2 NIV)

Oh no, here we go again.  Remember what happened the last time Abraham told this half-truth?  This is the second time in which God has to intervene to protect Sarah, the one who God has promised will bear Abraham a son.  I don't know how Sarah thought about the whole matter, but I can guess.  I know that I wouldn't have been very happy.  Apparently, Abraham has let his fear get the best of him again.  God has promised to protect Abraham, but Abraham's faith is not quite up to believing that yet.

When Abraham had been in a similar situation in Egypt, the Lord had afflicted Pharaoh's household with serious diseases until Pharaoh returned Sarah to Abraham.  This time, God speaks to Abimelech in a dream.  Perhaps it is more like a nightmare, because God warns:  "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." (Genesis 20:3 NIV)  Abimelech protests that he has done this innocently.  Both Abraham and Sarah had told him that Sarah was merely Abraham's sister.

"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.  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 yours will die.' " (Genesis 20:6-7 NIV)  Nothing like stating things in a clear and unambiguous manner, right?

"Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid."  (Genesis 20:8 NIV)  The following verses show us just how upset Abimelech was as well:  "Then Abimelech 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 not be done.'  And Abimelech asked Abraham, 'What was your reason for doing this?' " (Genesis 20:9-10 NIV)  I couldn't help but compare how seriously Abimelech viewed adultery, with the present day carelessness about it.  To Abimelech, such a thing could affect not only himself, but his entire kingdom.

Abraham, embarrassed, has to admit, "...I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.'  Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.  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." '  (Genesis 20:11-13 NIV)  It must have been embarrassing for Abraham to have to admit to the king that he thought his kingdom was ungodly, especially when that king was acting in a more godly manner than Abraham was at the moment.

Mercifully, Abimelech does not point this out, and neither does he explore the rather shallow excuse that Sarah was, indeed, Abraham's half-sister.  It was not the time to quibble.  (Verse 18 indicates that God had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because Sarah had been taken into Abimelech's household.)  Instead, "Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, 'My land is before you; live wherever you like.' " (Genesis 20:14-15 NIV)

Abimelech also graciously gave Abraham a thousand shekels of silver to show that Sarah was innocent and to make up for any offense to her honor.  "Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for  the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah." (Genesis 20:17-18 NIV)

If you are thinking that all this was very dramatic and perhaps overdone, remember that it is not all about Abraham and Sarah and their promised son, Isaac.  That was important, but behind it all is the fact that although Abraham did not know it, the promised Messiah would later come through this same Abrahamic line, so any attempt to disrupt that line was a direct affront to, and attack upon, God's plan of redemption.  Also, it seems that God's punishment of nations for attacks against the Jewish people was generally 'in like kind'.  For example, in the well known example of the ten plagues upon Egypt, since Pharaoh was oppressing God's firstborn (Israel) and trying to put Israelite children to death, the Pharaoh's firstborn dies.  In the present case, since the continuance of the physical line of Abraham was being threatened, the punishment of closing every womb in Abimelech's household (thus threatening the continuance of Abimelech's physical line) was very appropriate.

However, once again, God intervened and restored Sarah (untouched) to Abraham.  This dispelled the threat, and allowed Abimelech's household to go back to normal as well.  Not to mention the other consequences:   Abraham being somewhat enriched by Abimelech's gifts.  I hope Abraham gave the thousand shekels of silver to Sarah to help make up for everything he had put her through. ;)
PS:  Sarah must really have been one beautiful woman, for the Pharaoh of Egypt found her attractive at age 65 and now, at the time of this situation with Abimelech, I believe she is somewhere near 90 years old.

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