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150 Genesis 20 Four Generations of Deceivers

Abraham and Sarah have to move and find themselves in a compromised situation where they lie thinking they will protect Abraham's life. But God intervenes and comes in a dream to the pagan King Abimelech and saves him from violating Sarah who had already been brought to his palace. Apparently she is a very attractive woman at the age of 90 that would prompt the king to send for her. This is a very fascinating story of God's intervention on Sarah's behalf. Notice how the innocent seem to get the punishment and the guilty are not reprimanded.

150 Genesis 20 Four Generations of Deceivers (1)
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Genesis 20— Four Generations of Deceivers

Genesis 20 NLT

Abraham moved south to the Negev and lived for a while between Kadesh and Shur, and then he moved on to Gerar.

Abraham would have moved west from Kadesh and Shur to Gerar which is near the coast and 20 km south of Gaza in Philistine territory.

The reason for this move is not given but it is probably because of famine. Abraham had previously moved to Egypt because of famine (Genesis 12). Isaac will later move here because of famine (Genesis 26). Jacob will later also become dependant on Egypt for food and then move to Goshen because of a famine and because Joseph was the ruler there (Genesis 42).

While living there as a foreigner, 2 Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, “She is my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace.

This is déjà vu. Abraham had used this approach with Pharaoh (12:10-20) and now repeats it. The previous event resulted in a terrible plague coming on Pharaoh as a warning that Sarah was Abram’s wife. Abimelech, however, is warned in a dream that Sarah is Abraham’s wife (vs 3). Isaac, his son of promise, will continue this deceptive way of dealing with challenges by passing off Rebeca as his sister (26:1-11). Grandson Jacob will deceive Isaac and gain the birthright (Genesis 27). The great-grandsons Simeon and Levi will deceive Hamor and Shechem and destroy their households (Genesis 34). Abraham’s family is a family of deceivers to at least the fourth generation.

3 But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”

The LORD can give dreams to anyone he wishes to. He gave dreams to Abimelech and Nebuchadnezzar who were not part of Abraham’s line.

4 But Abimelech had not slept with her yet, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocentnation? 5 Didn’t Abraham tell me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’ I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.”

Abimelech claims innocence in this event and the LORD agrees with him as the next verse indicates.

6 In the dream God responded, “Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.”

Abimelech is threatened with death if he does not return Sarah. Abimelech and his household are terror struck as the next verses indicate. This reaction is startling since Abimelech is innocent of wrongdoing yet he fears the anger of the LORD.

8 Abimelech got up early the next morning and quickly called all his servants together. When he told them what had happened, his men were terrified. 9 Then Abimelech called for Abraham. “What have you done to us?” he demanded. “What crime have I committed that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? No one should ever do what you have done! 10 Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?”

The godless Abimelech rebukes Abraham, the blameless, lying prince of the LORD. It is embarrassing for Abraham. It is embarrassing for the LORD. It is embarrassing for me, a distant descendant of Abraham’s line through Jesus Christ.

11 Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ 12 And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. 13 When God called me to leave my father’s home and to travel from place to place, I told her, ‘Do me a favor. Wherever we go, tell the people that I am your brother.’”

While it is clear that Sarah is a beautiful woman it is possible that these travellers from the Chaldees might have had a different skin colour or some other racial feature that added to the desirability of procreating with Sarah.

14 Then Abimelech took some of his sheep and goats, cattle, and male and female servants, and he presented them to Abraham. He also returned his wife, Sarah, to him. 15 Then Abimelech said, “Look over my land and choose any place where you would like to live.” 16 And he said to Sarah, “Look, I am giving your ‘brother’ 1,000 pieces of silver in the presence of all these witnesses. This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you. This will settle any claim against me, and your reputation is cleared.”

Abimelech is an honourable generous man who values integrity. He is more noble than Abraham in this event.

17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants, so they could have children. 18 For the LORD had caused all the women to be infertile because of what happened with Abraham’s wife, Sarah.

Abraham must have lived in Gerar for some time for it to be noticed that the fertility of Abimelech’s house had been affected. How can we reconcile verse 18 with verse 6 where the LORD states that he knows Abimelech is innocent? If the LORD was going to punish anyone it should have been Abraham and the women in his household. The LORD knows that Abimelech is innocent (6) so how can the LORD cause this infertility.

Abimelech handsomely compensates Abraham with money and animals for any loss he had suffered (14- 16) in this incident. Abimelech demonstrates he noble and generous in his relationship with Abraham but his family is punished with infertility. A similar divine “injustice” will later happen with David numbering Israel (2 Samuel 24). His army commander, Joab, warned David not to do such a prideful action but David proceeded and according to the record the LORD sent a plague which killed 70,000 people. Again, it should have been David who was punished, not the people. David states as much (17).

Apparently, this unjust state of affairs did not bother the writer, Moses. We can look back in hindsight and understand, because of Jesus revelations about the devil, that these supernatural plagues were the devil’s work but the LORD gets the blame for them in the Old Testament.

Ian Hartley, April 2023.

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