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, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’ Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.” – Genesis 20:1-2
You may read Genesis 20 here: Bible Gateway.
This account seems like a replay of Genesis 12:10-20 (see Abram In Egypt). As Abraham had schemed to protect himself from the Pharaoh in Egypt, he does so again with Abimelech. By falsely assuming the king is wicked, Abraham resorts to his half-truth/half-lie trick.
Believing Sarah is unmarried, Abimelech takes her as his wife. But God mercifully keeps him from the sin of adultery by somehow preventing him from touching her.
It must have been quite the shock when God confronted Abimelech in a dream: “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman” (vs. 3).
Naturally, Abimelech questions Abraham’s motives. And we see a not-so-glorious moment for Abraham. He blames his conduct on God, saying that He made him wander from home to a place that doesn’t fear Him (vs. 11, 13).
As sin usually snowballs, Abraham’s fear of being killed also compels him to pull Sarah into his deception: “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’”
God Punishes Abimelech
God punishes Abimelech for taking Sarah as his wife by preventing the women in his household from bearing children. In his dream, God commands him to return Sarah to Abraham. For “if you do not return her, you can be sure that you and all yours will die.”
This sounds harsh. But I found The NIV Life Application Study Bible footnote helpful when questioning why God would punish innocent Abimelech:
- Even though Abimelech’s intentions were good, as long as Sarah was living in his harem he was in danger of sinning. A person who eats a poisonous toadstool, thinking it’s a harmless mushroom, no doubt has perfectly good intentions—but will still suffer.
- The punishment, “closing up every womb in Abimelech’s household,” lasted only as long as Abimelech was in danger of sleeping with Sarah. It was meant to change the situation, not to harm Abimelech.
- The punishment showed that Abraham was in league with Almighty God. This incident may have made Abimelech respect and fear Abraham’s God.
Abimelech not only returns Sarah, but also generously showers Abraham with gifts and grants him permission to live anywhere on his land.
In response to Abraham’s prayer, God heals the women’s inability to bear babies. But so far in the Genesis account, Sarah remains childless.
Although Abraham is a hero of faith, apparently he didn’t learn his lesson the first time. He also risked setting the pattern of lying anytime he felt threatened by danger. But God watched out for Abraham, and He does the same for us.
Sin’s poison not only hurts ourselves, but also those around us. No matter how sincere our intentions or love for God may be, all of us are vulnerable to certain temptations. Thankfully Jesus, who endured temptation without sinning, is more than able to help us in our struggles.
God kept Abimelech from touching Sarah and sinning. It may seem at times that God is silent. But He works as much in the invisible realm as He does in the obvious. I wonder how many times God has protected us from sin without us knowing?