Abraham The Troublemaker
If you did not know who Abraham was, and you read this chapter for the first time, which of the two men would you say was the believer?
Surely not Abraham, the liar! It was not Abraham who showed integrity, and it was not Abraham whom God kept from sinning. What Abraham did was selfish, but Abimelech responded with generosity. If anybody reveals excellent character, it is Abimelech and not Abraham, “the friend of God.”
But before you draw some unwarranted conclusions, take time to consider the facts revealed in this event. Abraham’s failures were tragic, but from them we learn some valuable lessons to help us in our walk of faith.
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Abraham Deceives Abimelech
Scripture is brutally honest when it comes to people. It never sugarcoats the depths of human degeneracy. Here is a prime example: Lot’s daughters conspire to commit incest with him, an act so reprehensible it is universally condemned. They do so in order to guarantee their future and security, but as a result they create a future where insecurity and trouble are guaranteed. The nations, which they birth, become two of the most troublesome enemy nations God’s people will ever have to deal with. As time goes on, the Moabites and Ammonites become fierce adversaries to the children of Abraham.
After spending a period of time in the hill country, Abraham moved on into the region of the Negev and settled in the land between Kadesh and Shur. Then he moved on to Gerar.
Genesis 20:1 (VOICE)
According to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Abraham had dwelt nearly twenty years in Mamre.
Why did he move on from a place where he had been safe and secure to a place where he feared for his life?
No reason is given. The mention of this right after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah might suggest that this was a response to that horrible incident or to the incident of his nephew’s daughters’ being pregnant through incest.
Because he was living in Gerar as a foreigner, Abraham once again told everyone that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her into his harem.
Genesis 20:2 (VOICE)
This wasn’t the first time Abraham had done this. He lapsed back into a sin that he had committed before (Genesis 12:10-20). He had Sarah lie about being his wife in order to avoid any threat to him. Whatever we carry with us from the old life will create problems in the new life. It is one thing to confess our sins but another thing to judge them before God and forsake them (Prov. 28:13).
When a marriage must be protected by a lie, the home is in danger.
God’s protection of him before showed this was unnecessary, yet he repeated it. And to make matters worse, Sarah had become pregnant with the promised seed. This should have made his care and protection of Sarah even more paramount, but it didn’t. If not for the intervention of God, this could have thrown into doubt whether the seed of Sarah was actually the seed of Abraham.
This chapter would be an embarrassment to us except for one thing: The Bible tells the truth about all people, and that includes God’s people.
These things are recorded, not to encourage us to sin, but to warn us to beware of sin. After all, if this great man of faith disobeyed the Lord, then we “ordinary saints” had better be very careful! “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Why did Abraham sin?
For one thing, though Abraham had a sinful nature, he had been justified by faith (Gen. 15:6). God gave him a new name (from “Abram” to “Abraham”), but that did not change his old nature. “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (1 John 1:8). Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and the work of Christ on the cross (Rom. 6), believers can have victory over the old nature; but this is not automatic.
We must walk in the Spirit if we hope to overcome temptation.
That leads to a second consideration: Abraham moved into “enemy territory.” After living at Hebron (“fellowship”) for perhaps twenty years, he then decided to go to the land of the Philistines. Gerar is just within Philistine country, but it was still a dangerous place to be. Perhaps it was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that caused Abraham to want to move; but whatever his motive was, the decision was not a wise one. True, Abraham did not go down to Egypt as he had done before. He was still within the boundaries of the land God promised to give him, but his move put him in a dangerous position. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).
After arriving in Gerar, Abraham began to walk by sight and not by faith, for he began to be afraid. Fear of man and faith in God cannot dwell together in the same heart.
“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety“ (Prov. 29:25).
But the basic cause of Abraham’s failure was the sad fact that he and Sarah had failed to judge this sin when they had dealt with it in Egypt. (See 12:10-20.) They had admitted then-sin to Pharaoh and confessed it to God, but the facts that it surfaced again indicates that they did not judge the sin and forsake it (Prov. 28:13). In fact, the sin had grown worse; for now Sarah shared in telling the lie (Gen. 20:5).
A home kept together by a lie is in bad shape indeed.
A lighthearted admission of sin is not the same as a brokenhearted confession of sin (Ps. 51:17). If our attitude is right, we will hate our sins, loathe ourselves for having sinned (Ezek. 6:9; 36:31), and despise the very memory of our sins. People who remember their sins with pleasure and “enjoy them again” in their minds have never judged their sins or seen how sinful their sins really are.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream that night and told him, “You’re as good as dead—that woman you took, she’s a married woman.”
Now Abimelech had not yet slept with her, hadn’t so much as touched her. He said, “Master, would you kill an innocent man? Didn’t he tell me, ‘She’s my sister’? And didn’t she herself say, ‘He’s my brother’? I had no idea I was doing anything wrong when I did this.”
God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know your intentions were pure, that’s why I kept you from sinning against me; I was the one who kept you from going to bed with her. So now give the man’s wife back to him. He’s a prophet and will pray for you—pray for your life. If you don’t give her back, know that it’s certain death both for you and everyone in your family.”
Genesis 20:3-7 (MSG)
Abimelech must have been a somewhat godly man to respond to this the way he did. He would not have taken Sarah if he knew she was Abraham’s wife. This makes Abraham’s sin more grievous in the sense that it was totally unnecessary.
Notice that Abimelech was the one who God reproved and not Abraham. That is not to say that Abimelech was more at fault than Abraham. But Abraham was the one with the covenant that stated whoever blessed him would be blessed and whoever cursed him would be cursed (Genesis 12:3). God gives us what the covenant promises, not what we deserve.
Abimelech was a man of integrity; and when God spoke to him, he obeyed. He had many fine qualities; but he was not a believer, and therefore he was a dead man (Eph. 2:1-3). This is not to minimize the enormity of Abraham’s sin, for a believer should not do what Abraham did. But Abraham and Abimelech had two different standings before God: One was saved, and the other was lost.
When Believers Sin, They Suffer
Charles Spurgeon said, “God does not allow His children to sin successfully.” When we deliberately disobey God, we suffer both from the consequences of our sins and from the chastening hand of God, unless we repent and submit (Heb. 12:5-11). God in His grace will forgive our sins (1 John 1:5-10), but God in His sovereignty must allow sin to produce a sad harvest (Gal. 6:7).
It took only a few seconds for Abraham to tell a lie, but that lie was more than sounds and puffs of breath in the air. That lie became a seed that was planted and grew and brought forth bitter fruit. God hates lies (Prov. 6:17; 12:22). He is a God of truth (Deut. 32:4), the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), and the Word is the Word of Truth (James 1:18).
What did this one cost Abraham?
To begin with, it cost him character. Phillips Brooks said, “The purpose of life is the building of character through truth.” God is not just “saving souls” and taking people to heaven. Through the trials and testing of life, He is making saved people more like Jesus Christ and thereby glorifying Himself. Abraham stopped asking,
“What is right?”
and began asking
‘What is safe?”
and this led to his downfall.
Once the salt has lost its taste, how do you restore it?
He also lost his testimony.
How could Abraham talk to his pagan neighbors about the God of truth when he himself had told a lie?
Lot lost his witness in Sodom, and Abraham lost his witness in Gerar.
Abimelech got up early the next morning and called all of his servants together. He told them his dream, and the men became very afraid. Then Abimelech called for Abraham to meet with him.
Abimelech (to Abraham): What have you done to us? What were you thinking? What have I ever done to deserve your bringing such great shame and guilt on me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done to another human being.
Imagine how humiliated Abraham was when Abimelech called him in, confronted him, and rebuked him. It is hard enough to submit to the rebuke of a Christian brother or sister, but to accept rebuke from an unsaved person demands a great deal of honesty and humility. “No one should ever do what you have done!” (Gen. 20:9). Those words cut deep! Christians must be careful how they relate to those who are “outside” (Col. 4:5; 1 Thes. 4:12).
Abraham: I did it for my own protection. I did it because I thought this was not a God-fearing place, and I was afraid you would surely kill me to possess my wife. Besides it isn’t entirely a lie. She really is my sister. She’s the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother. But, of course, she did become my wife. Ever since God called me away from my father’s house years ago, I told her, “I need you to do this favor for me—whenever we visit or stay in some strange or foreign place you need to tell people I am your brother.”
Genesis 20:11-13 (VOICE)
See here much to blame, even in the father of the faithful. Mark his distrust of God, his undue care about life, and his intent to deceive. He also threw temptation in the way of others, caused affliction to them, exposed himself and Sarah to just rebukes, and yet attempted an excuse. These things are written for our warning, not for us to imitate.
Perhaps one of the saddest consequences of Abraham’s sin was Isaac’s repetition of it years later (Gen. 26:7-11). It is sad when our sins affect outsiders, but it is sadder still when our sins are duplicated in our own families. In fact, Isaac’s lie was worse than his father’s because Sarah really was Abraham’s half sister, while Rebekah was only Isaac’s cousin.
When believers sin, they are disciplined by God until they come to a place of repentance and confession. This discipline is not enjoyable, but it is profitable; and in the end, it produces happiness and holiness to the glory of God.
For good measure Abimelech took sheep and oxen, as well as male and female slaves, and he gave them to Abraham when he gave back his wife Sarah to him.
Abimelech (to Abraham): Look, my land is your land; make your home wherever you please.
(to Sarah) Look now, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. This is to make up for what has happened. Everyone will see that you are completely vindicated of any wrongdoing.
Abimelech, being warned of God, takes the warning; and being truly afraid of sin and its consequences, he rose early to pursue the directions given him.
In those days, the paying of a large sum of money was public “atonement” for guilt; however, sin is never profitable. God did not forsake His friend (Ps. 105:15; 2 Timothy 2:12-13) but honored him in the end and answered his prayer.
Financially, Abraham was richer; spiritually, he was poorer. He lost character as well as opportunity to witness and glorify God.
Abraham prayed to God on Abimelech’s behalf, and God healed Abimelech. He also healed the infertility that plagued Abimelech’s wife and female slaves enabling them to again bear children because God had temporarily sealed the wombs of all of the females of Abimelech’s household—all because of what happened to Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Genesis 20:17-18 (VOICE)
Abraham bore the greater fault and yet he was God’s anointed and God flowed through him. This stands for all to see that God has never had anyone qualified to work through yet. You will not be the first. It’s by God’s grace that any of us get used.
God was the one who caused this barrenness, but it wasn’t a blessing–it was a judgment. In the New Testament, God placed our judgment on Jesus, and we only get the blessings, not the curses (Galatians 3:13-14).
Notice how God honored and protected Sarah. She shared the blame for this incident (Genesis 20:5), yet God delivered her from this tragic situation. Praise God for His mercy and blessing (Genesis 12:3).
The important thing is that we deal with our sins humbly and honestly, confess them to God, judge them and forsake them, and claim His promises of forgiveness (1 John 1:9; Micah 7:18-19; Isa. 55:6-13). Abraham and Sarah made a new beginning, and so can you.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Have you noticed that when we let fear control us rather than place our faith in God is when we get ourselves in trouble?
I am so thankful for God’s tender mercies and His grace that when we repent we are restored back to Him. God is forever faithful.