This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
God had promised Abraham in chapter 18 that the promised son would be born within the year. It would then be expected that this chapter takes up the fulfillment of those words. However, the birth of the son is delayed by this narrative that is very similar to Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt. He again lied about his relationship to Sarah. Sarah was again put in jeopardy. God again came to their rescue. This is behavior that may have seemed fitting for Abraham and Sarah when they were first in the land of Canaan and learning to trust the LORD, but is this the behavior that would be expected of someone who had walked so long with the LORD and had heard His promises repeated so many times? However, the grace of God is evident, for God worked all these things for good. He cares for His own, and is always faithful to His covenant, even when we are unfaithful.
1 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. 2 Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
After the destruction of Sodom, Abraham left Hebron. He went south through the Promised Land and ended up in a place called Gerar. The king of Gerar, Abimelech, took Sarah into his harem, just as Pharaoh had many years earlier. This came about, because Abraham was still fearful of what people would do to him. After all of this time, there was still much work to be done in Abraham’s trust in the LORD.
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.”
God was still protecting Sarah, because she was the wife of Abraham, whom He chose to covenant with and give him offspring that would become a nation for His own purposes. He had protected her in Egypt, and He was still watching out for her so that she would bear a child to Abraham, just as He had promised.
4 Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”
What had happened at Sodom and Gomorrah was probably still fresh on everybody’s mind. Judgment has the effect of causing fear among those in proximity. So Abimelech, at least to some extent, had learned the fear of the LORD. Now he feared that his nation would be destroyed on account of Abraham. He pled his blamelessness before God, for he was ignorant of Abraham and Sarah’s marriage on account of their deceit.
6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
Abimelech must have been astonished at the importance that God attached to Abraham and Sarah who had deceived him. This liar was a prophet of the Most High God! How scandalous it is when God’s people misrepresent His character by their sin. Yet how gracious God is to rescue them from their sin in order to fulfill His promises to His elect.
8 So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.”
Though Abraham was a prophet of God, Abimelech was the one to rebuke Abraham. Abimelech knew the consequences of sin and had even been warned by God that this was a very serious matter. Disobedience would result in death. Abraham’s disobedience had already resulted in the ceasing of conception in Abimelech’s household (cf. 20:18).
10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. 12 Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife; 13 and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
Every time that the text records Abraham and Sarah claiming to be brother and sister instead of husband and wife, something terrible happens! It is not that circumstances led Abraham to insist that Sarah call him her brother, but Abraham’s own fear. He expected the people to be savages and kill him in order to take Sarah for themselves.
14 Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. 15 Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.”
In order to vindicate Sarah, Abimelech paid Abraham a thousand pieces of silver, and he gave gifts to Abraham. In this way, he testified that he had not gone near Sarah, lest anyone think that her ensuing pregnancy was in any way his doing.
17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. 18 For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
The LORD had dramatically acted in order to gain the attention of the people. None of Abimelech’s household (which must have been sizeable) were able to conceive during the time that Sarah was there. All of this must have happened within a very short time, because God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son within the year. When Abraham, acting as God’s prophet, prayed that the wombs of Abimelech’s household would be opened, God also opened Sarah’s womb.
Praise God that His grace is sufficient, for we all find ourselves failing in so many ways. He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us of our sin as soon as we confess it before Him. Just as He was faithful to Abraham to rescue him on account of His covenant, so He is faithful to rescue those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son. What a great Savior we have, and what a faithful God.