Genesis 20:1-18

1 And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar.

2 Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”

4 But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also?

5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”

6 And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld 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 shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid.

9 And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.”

10 Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”

11 And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.

12 But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

13 And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother. ’ ”

14 Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him.

15 And Abimelech said, “See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.”

16 Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.” Thus she was rebuked.

17 So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children;

18 for the Lord had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

For some unknown reason, Abraham at this time decided to take a trip down through the Negev and into Gerar, the capital city at that time of the land of the Philistines, near the Egyptian border. This was a prosperous city, as revealed by archaeological excavations there, and it may be that Abraham had some kind of business dealings in mind. The city controlled a lucrative caravan route and Abraham by this time was a wealthy and powerful chieftain.

The Philistines were Hamitic peoples (Genesis 10:14) who apparently settled at various times along the seacoast, coming probably from Crete. The name of Palestine was derived from their name. Though most of them did not arrive until many centuries later, apparently early contingents of them had settled there by the time of Abraham. — Morris, pages 359-360


His [Abraham’s] fall on this occasion was deeper than on the prior one; for he now had the Divine promise that within that very year Sarah should become the mother of a miraculous child. — Williams, page 24


If it be objected that this whole occurrence is incredible, because no heathen prince would desire to marry a woman upwards of 90 years of age, or to conceive such a passion for her that, to secure her, he would murder her husband—the very fate which Abraham feared for himself—it may be replied that, first, this was Satan’s second effort to bring about the birth of the Messiah by the intervention of a heathen father, and that therefore he would, and could, incite Abimelech to this action; and, in the second place, it is not unreasonable to believe, from the fact that Sarah nourished Isaac from his birth until he was between 3 and 5 years of age, that God must have miraculously renewed her youth, so that she became sufficiently youthful in appearance to suitably become the wife of Abimelech. — Williams, page 24.


Possibly Abimelech (evidently a standard name for Philistine kings, like Pharaoh in Egypt) viewed union with [Sarah] as of political value, since Abraham was a powerful and rich chieftain. Abimelech already had a harem and, as considered customary in those days, kings had a right to take any woman they  might choose into their harem, whether for personal or political motives. — Morris, pages 360-361.


Regardless of their mistake, however, God would not allow His promise to Abraham and Sarah to be broken. Before Abimelech had touched Sarah, God struck him with some kind of lethal infirmity (verses 3, 17), evidently of such nature as to prevent his coming in to her (verse 6). Furthermore, He “closed up the wombs” (verse 18) of the others in his harem and household. It may even be that the plague was about to be imposed on the entire nation, or at least Abimelech feared that it might (verse 4). — Morris, page 361.


Before [Abimelech] asked Abraham to pray for him, as God had instructed him, he first delivered Abraham and Sarah a stinging rebuke for their deception, which had almost resulted in such a calamity to his nation. There is no indication that God Himself rebuked Abraham, though certainly He was not pleased with what he had done. …

Abraham gave the excuse that, since the Philistines had no fear of God, they might otherwise have slain him and taken his wife anyway. Abimelech did not deny this, so possibly the fear was well grounded, as far as Abimelech’s own intentions were concerned. — Morris, page 362.


A divine principle, however, shines forth in this sad chapter, and that is, that God in His amazing grace is not ashamed to be called the God of a poor, feeble, imperfect, and stumbling man, if there is, in spite of all the weakness, faith and love in the heart. This principle appears again in the prophecy of Balaam, when Jehovah’s word is “I have not seen perverseness in Israel”: and, again, as to Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3), God answers Satan, not by pointing to any  moral beauty in Joshua, but to what He Himself had done for him in snatching him as a brand from the fire. Similarly, on this occasion, He owns Abraham as His prophet; and if the patriarch by his own faithlessness had deeply degraded himself, so as to be justly rebuked by the heathen prince, yet God, in His faithfulness, clothes him with dignity and honours him in the presence of Abimelech. …

Thus it is emphasized that natural goodness and integrity, as in the case of Abimelech, do not necessarily make a man a child of God, and, on the other hand, a temporary moral lapse through fear does not unmake the believer a member of the household of faith. The apostle Peter’s case is also an illustration of this truth. — Williams, pages, 24-25.


Abimelech was told Abraham was a prophet not that Abraham might predict the future, but so he might pray for him. This is the first occurrence of the word in the Bible, and shows that “prophecy” is not primarily prediction, but rather speaking the words of God, as inspired by Him. — Morris, page 363.


Abimelech also “reproved” Sarah for her part in this deception, saying that Abraham should be “to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other.” It is not completely clear what these words mean, but most likely they were intended to stress to Sarah that, since Abraham was her husband and also God’s prophet, she had no need to fear the lustful attentions of other men. He himself was a sufficient veil over her eyes to prevent other men from looking on her in this way. — Morris, page 363.


In contrast to this previous episode [in Genesis 12:10-20], however, in which the text occupies four verses with consideration of Abraham’s sinful motives (i.e., fear of famine, fear of death), in the present instance we are told simply that “Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.'” Though the same lack of faith is undoubtedly motivating Abraham to lie again about his relationship, the text focuses in this instance on the response to Abraham’s sin—and inevitably therefore on the contrast between Abraham’s response and that of Abimelech—which in turn serves to underscore God’s grace and faithfulness in upholding His covenant with Abraham (whereas the explicit focus on Abraham’s depraved motives in chapter 12 serves to underscore God’s grace in establishing His covenant). — Wechsler, pages 204-205.


In marked contrast to Abimelech’s behavior, Abraham refuses to acknowledge his lie, seeking instead to excuse himself for two reasons that are (at best) only “half-truths” themselves—to wit: (1) because he thought that there was no fear of God among the Philistines of Gerar—which Abimelech’s behavior has clearly disproven; and (2) because Sarah actually is Abraham’s sister (i.e., half-sister) by the same father—though this can hardly be claimed as a justifiable interpretation of one’s introducing one’s wife as one’s sister”! To Abimelech’s credit—and as an undoubted example to the reader—he does not press the matter, but rather, having done his part in confronting the sinner with his sin, leaves the hoped-for conviction and repentance of Abraham as something to be worked about between the latter and his God. Indeed, to top it all off Abimelech goes beyond what anyone could justly ask of him and freely gives a thousand pieces of silver to Abraham as a public vindication of Sarah’s purity—and who can blame him for giving vent to a slight bit of sarcasm when he tells Sarah that he gave this money not to her husband but to her brother! — Wechsler, pages 205-206.

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