Sunday, March 05, 2006


Genesis 20


December 4, 2005

Good morning! Last Sunday we continued in our study
of Genesis, the book of beginnings by looking at the
destruction of Sodom and the escape of Lot, his wife
and daughters. We also saw Lot’s wife die for the sin
of disobedience and Lot succumb to the sin of
drunkenness. Lot then behaved in one of the most
shameful manners imaginable and sank to one of the
vilest of sins. If anyone needed proof of the dangers
of the abuse of alcohol, that story showed it. Even
more it showed the consequences of sin. From those
unholy unions came the races that would be a curse to
the future nation of Israel. How Satan must have
chortled over the shame he had brought onto the seed
that will one day crush his head! Yet we also see
that God’s sovereign will is never defeated. One of
those nations would produce Ruth the Moabite, who we
find in the line of Christ.

We might speculate here that God had great plans for
the seed of Lot had he remained faithful and not
backslidden. The line of descent to our Lord might
have been much more glorious and Lot considered one of
the Patriarchs throughout history. Nonetheless, the
holy line WAS continued, but how about Lot? He simply
disappears from the narrative of the Old Testament.
The shameful statement of Genesis 19:36 is the last we
hear of him in the writings of Moses.

The application to us today seems obvious. First of
all, we mere humans can do nothing to confound God’s
ultimate will. Secondly, if we continue in sin, the
day will come when we are simply set aside, never to
be of service to him again. Thankfully we have a God
of second chances. And as we’ll see in today’s
lesson, the God of many more chances than just two.
Turn with me to the 20th Chapter of the book of
Genesis and let’s continue our lesson.

Genesis 20:1-18. Read.

I don’t suppose I have to tell you what liberal
“scholars” say about this chapter. Since it is
parallel to the story of a similar incident with
Pharaoh 20 years before and since something similar
happens with Isaac in Chapter 26, they claim it is
simply an ancient oral myth attributed to a number of
different sources. They are in error. I quote the
New Bible Commentary.

“This passage is not a literary ‘duplicate’ of that in
Genesis, 12, 10-20. The details are strikingly
different and, above all the narrative itself tells us
why such an incident occurred a second time. It was
an agreed policy (20:13)”

There are some other objections to consider about this
chapter from those who refuse to take God at his word.
They will state that is highly unlikely that
Abimelech would make the same mistake both with Sarah
in this chapter and Rebekah in Chapter 26. Any good
study of the language of the time will show that
Abimelech is a title, such as “King” or “Governor”
rather than a proper name.

A major objection is Sarah’s age. How could a
powerful King desire an elderly woman for a wife? We
have to realize that it was the custom in Middle
Eastern society to cement treaties by the giving of a
close relative of one powerful leader, such as
Abraham, to be married to another. The presence of
the new wife in the household made attack by her
relatives that might result in harm to her less
likely. In effect, the bride became a hostage. So in
many cases the age was unimportant. Also, we have no
idea of Abimelech’s age. I remember hearing an older
gentleman saying that the first thing he noticed when
he turned 60 was how attractive his 60 year old wife
had become. But there may be another explanation.
Sarah had God’s promise in Chapter 18 that a miracle
would be done in her and that she would conceive a
son. God always keeps his promises. We do not know
the outward effect of the miracle that made Sarah able
to bear a child at advanced age. She may well have
been progressively looking younger and more beautiful
as the time neared for her to become with child.

We must not forget too that the Enemy was involved
here. He is and was quite capable of twisting
Abimelech’s perceptions and making him have lustful
desire for Sarah. We will never know this side of
eternity, but there IS something we do know. God is
not mocked. His word is literally true to the last
“jot and tittle”. I have repeated this to the point
where it may become boring to people, but we don’t get
to pick and choose which scripture we will believe.
If you can not accept that Genesis 20 literally
happened the way it is written, you have no right to
claim “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt
be saved.” and “I go to prepare a place for you”. His
word is either true or it is a lie.

Let us begin to look at the chapter in more detail:

Genesis 20:1. Read.

Why did Abraham journey south? The world as he knew
it had just been destroyed. The once fertile valley
of Sodom and Gomorrah was a volcanic wasteland. It
remains so to this day. Not for nothing is it called
the Dead Sea. Abraham owned vast flocks that needed
an area to graze, so he moved toward more fertile
territory. If you look at your map of Israel in the
back of your Bible, find the Dead Sea and trace
straight west to the city of Gaza on the shore of the
Mediterranean. Six miles straight south of Gaza and
about 6 miles from the sea is Gerar. Gerar was on the
Philistine boundary. So Abraham, who had a large
amount of possessions waiting to be plundered, felt a
need to make alliance with the king of Gerar.

Genesis 20:2. Read.

When someone is asked to testify in court, he places
his hand on a Bible and is asked, “Do you solemnly
swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth?.” That is the standard for a man of
God. If I am selling one of my beloved Geo Metros and
I tell the prospective buyer that it makes 50 miles
per gallon and it does fantastic on icy roads and that
it doesn’t use much oil and that the heater works
fine, but don’t tell him say… that the air conditioner
compressor needs replaced, then I am telling the
truth, but not the WHOLE truth. I’m sure James could
tell you stories about cattle he’s purchased from
sellers who told the truth, but not the whole truth.

Abraham did just that. What made it a sin? His
intent was to deceive. And his intention was
fulfilled. I’m certain he had great rationalizations.
I’m certain he was able to convince himself God would
not really care. But he was wrong. He ignored
totally the fact that Sarah was God’s chosen vehicle
for the child that would directly lead to the birth of
the Messiah. Had Abraham the love for God and the
love for his wife he should have, he would have rather
died than have her go into Abimelech’s harem. The
Enemy was at work here. If Sarah had relations just
once with this pagan, the chain to the Messiah would
be broken and corrupted. From then on the Gentile
nations would be able to point at Abraham’s seed and
said “SURE God keeps his promise”. So our Lord had to
act fast.

Genesis 20:3. Read.

The words “art but” have been added to the text to
make the meaning plainer in English. They are not in
the original. That is why, if you have a King James
Version, they are likely in italics. God is calling
Abimelech a dead man as though he already has died.
It’s over for him.

Genesis 20:4. Read.

I want you to imagine for a moment that you are a
Middle Eastern potentate. You can have any single
woman you want. See her. Have her. Yet the text
tells us he had not come near her. I want you to
remember that fact. Not just that he had not “known”
her; he had not come near her. Notice also that
something has happened that makes Abimelech believe
that his whole nation will be destroyed.

Genesis 20:5. Read.

So by the king’s testimony Sarah also has participated
in not telling the whole truth. The king offers two
evidences to God here. In his dream he recognizes
that God can see into the heart and tell its
intention, and also he emphasizes that not even his
hands have touched her. This too is important. We’ll
soon see why.

I will quote MacDonald here:

“God intervened to work out His purposes in the birth
of Isaac, which might otherwise have been frustrated.
He threatened Abimelech with death. He is more than
just a spectator on the sidelines of history. He can
overrule the evil of His people, even through the
lives of the unregenerate. The pagan Abimelech acted
more righteously than Abraham, the ‘friend of God.’…
It is shameful when a believer has to be justly
rebuked by a man of the world! When a half-truth is
presented as the whole truth, it is an untruth.”

Genesis 20:6. Read.

God says something interesting to the king. First he
recognizes that the king’s heart was right. Then, he
shows that he had also intervened miraculously to
prevent him sinning. Remember the promise, “God is
faithful, and will, with the temptation, provide a way
of escape.” God provided that escape for Abimelech.
We will soon see it.

Now the Lord gives both instruction and warning.

Genesis 20:7. Read.

God tells him first to restore Sarah to Abraham. Then
God shows us that despite our sin, he will still use
us to benefit those around us. We are to be the
channels of God’s blessing even to the unsaved. As I
have said many times before, our Creator is one that
uses imperfect tools. We know from this verse that
not only had barrenness entered Abimelech’s house,
grave illness had. He, his whole family, and his
servants would die should Abraham not intervene with
God to heal them. There is a curse on those who touch
God’s children. When we are unjustly abused by
unbelievers, I am certain that our first
responsibility, after crying out to God for help and
justice is to pray for them that they will live to
have the opportunity to become Christians.

Genesis 20:8. Read.

Remember, there was terminal illness in this house.
These people were dying and they knew it and now they
knew why and they were “sore afraid”. So we see now
one of the ways God provided a way of escape for
Abimelech to prevent him from going near Sarah. He
was too ill. The greatest terror of that day was
leprosy. It also would cause the sufferer not to go
near others who did not have it. Perhaps that was
what had infected the whole household. I do not know,
but I consider it a strong possibility.

You can trust me here, I know from experience that
when life threatening illness strikes, we at once
blame God. “How could you do this to me? Why are you
allowing this? How can a God of love let me suffer
like this?” We see in this story that God’s ways are
not ours. Abimelech’s sickness unto death was the
cause of him eventually not being condemned to death.
We are not always privy to God’s intents and purposes.
It is our responsibility and duty to trust in him
like Job did. “Though he slay me, I will trust him.”

Abimelech now calls Abraham to him and quite
rightfully verbally takes him to the woodshed.

Genesis 20:9. Read.

God forbid that an unbeliever should have occasion to
righteously speak to any of us in this fashion. I
will remember to my dying day a friend of mine in the
Army chastising me for drunkenness. He knew I was a
Christian and he could see immediately that my
behavior did not fit my profession of faith. The
shame of that moment has never left me.

Genesis 20:10. Read.

I like how the Berkeley translation renders this

“What did you have in view to do such a thing?”

Genesis 20:11. Read.

You will remember I said I believe that as God made
Sarah able to be with child at an advanced age, her
appearance may have been miraculously changed. The
fact Abraham feared he would be murdered in order for
the king to have her, as Uriah the Hittite later would
be by David, seems to indicate I may be right.
Abraham also uses the phrase here, “fear of God”.
What IS the fear of God? Colonel Scofield says this:

“The ‘fear of the Lord,’ a phrase of the O.T. piety,
meaning reverential trust, with hatred of evil.”

Genesis 20:12. Read.

So it appears that Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister
fathered by his father Terah. Later on in history,
marriages like this would be forbidden in Leviticus
18:9, 20:17, and Deuteronomy 27:22. Early on, this
close to the Flood, it was necessary to repopulate the

But now Abraham is going to shame himself still
further and try to shift some of the blame for this
situation onto God!

Genesis 20:13. Read.

“God caused me to wander.” As though all of this was
God’s fault? Yet we cannot be too critical of him.
Again quoting MacDonald:

“It seems incredible to us that Abraham would again
try to pass off Sarah as his sister within twenty
years of the same blunder with Pharaoh – incredible,
that is, until we remember our own perpetual proneness
to sin!”

We also know from this verse that this sin was
premeditated. This idea did not just pop into his
head a couple of time over the years, it was a regular
part of their lives. As can happen with us, sin
became so intertwined in their behavior over the
years, it became part of the fabric of their lives.

Genesis 20:14. Read.

He did not just restore Sarah to Abraham, he gave
gifts of slaves and livestock, enriching Abraham even
more, then he gave him an even greater gift:

Genesis 20:15. Read.

He opened his land to Abraham’s large holdings of
livestock. This was at a time when the massive
destruction had just taken place at Sodom. Grazing
land and water rights were at a premium. He could
have demanded large rents or tariffs of anyone who
wished to move their herds there, yet he gives this
bounty free to Abraham.

Now Abimelech turns his attention to Sarah:

Genesis 20:16. Read.

He tells her he has given Abraham this large amount of
money for a specific purpose, “the covering of eyes”.
Abimelech knows that in the eyes of Sarah’s family and
servants, there will be grave doubt about whether she
has remained chaste in his harem. He is telling her
that her husband is to be witness that she has. This
large gift of money is to guarantee that Abraham does
not forget later that he has the responsibility to do
this. The word “reproved” here means in our more
modern English, “vindicated”. Abraham is to see that
her purity is always witnessed to.

I promised earlier we would see another way beside
terminal illness in which Abimelech had been provided
with a way of escape from the temptation to sin with

Genesis 20: 17, 18. Read.

We see two miracles in this passage. The dread
illness that would have killed the king and his
household was taken away. They were all healed. But
something else happened. God had closed the womb of
every woman in the palace. The king’s harem, his
daughters, and all his female slaves were suddenly
unable to conceive. There would never be any chance
that people could point at Isaac some day and gossip
that he wasn’t really Sarah’s son, that she had stolen
him from one of Abimelech’s household. The line to
Messiah would remain pure and unsullied.

I believe something else happened. If you will
remember back to our earlier studies, Sarah and
Abraham had difficulty believing she would have a son
because “it had ceased to be with her as is the way
with women”. She had gone through menopause. When
God’s promise was miraculously fulfilled, she would
once more have begun to have normal female function.
Thus she would have been the only one capable of that
in the king’s house. Think back to what we have
learned in the past and will see as we arrive there in
this study about what both Jewish law and Mid Eastern
tradition say about the behavior expected of men when
women are in that condition… the man of the house can
not touch them as verses 5 and 6 state nor even “come
near” as Abimelech declares in verse 4.

Do we have a God who is faithful, who will with the
temptation provide a way of escape? Be certain of it.
And what does that say about the Christian who,
knowing there is a way of escape from temptation does
not seek it and take it? He is without excuse.

Our God, in the underserved love he shows us, also
provides a way of escape for all. He is not willing
that any should perish. Each human on this planet is
born in sin, inheriting the sinful nature of Adam.
Our holy God cannot look upon sin. The sinful nature
we are all born with condemns us to eternal separation
from him in hell. Yet he paid a most awful price to
save us from that condemnation. He sent the Messiah,
born of this carefully preserved seed of Abraham, his
only son, to be tortured to death for us. Jesus
Christ was the pure lamb, the sinless sacrifice whose
shed blood was the only price that could pay for our
sins. A thousand pieces of silver weren’t enough, nor
a thousand times a thousand. Only the precious blood
of God’s own beloved son was sufficient. He offers
that salvation to each of us as a free gift. It is a
gift we need only accept. If there is one here who
has never accepted that free gift of salvation, I beg
of you, take it now. In your heart acknowledge to God
your sinful condition. Express your belief in the
sufficiency of the shed blood of his son to wash those
sins away and ask him to make you a new creature.

To those of us who have already made that decision,
there is a lesson to be learned from today’s study.
We have a God who is a holy God. He requires of us to
be holy as he is holy. What does that mean? In light
of Abraham’s experience in Genesis 20, it means to
tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth. It means that when the Enemy places temptation
in our path we actively resist him and seek God’s way
of escape. It means living a life before the
unbelieving world that will never allow the
possibility of their behavior being more righteous
than ours nor for them to have occasion to chastise us
for being morally wrong. May each of use seek to live
such a life today.
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