Richard Agee

Genesis 20: Was Abraham a liar after Sodom was on fire?

Richard AgeeIs the purpose of this story to tell us that Abraham was a coward lacking in faith that he would use his wife to protect him from death? No, God brought Abraham there to teach Abimelech a lesson.

We are told at the beginning of this chapter that “Abraham Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.” 

Kadesh was not the name of the area at the time, the town had a different name in his lifetime. Genesis 17 tells us what the town of Kadesh was called in Abraham’s time. The author who put the book together used the more recent name so more recent readers could understand the story. 

Did Abraham tell a lie by passing Sarah off as his sister? We read that Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister, they had the same father but a different mother. 

When Abraham arrives in Gerar, he meets the ruler of the area, a man called Abimelech. His title means “Father is king.” Was Abimelech a pagan or an idolater? This event occurred only 370 years after the flood so knowledge of the true God would still have been prevalent on the earth. 

When Abimelech met Abraham and his “sister” Sarah, he took Sarah from Abraham into his own house. In response, God approaches Abimelech in a dream and God spoke with him very plainly, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.”

Abimelech appeals his innocence to God. He had not defiled Sarah or approached her in any way. He asks God, “Lord, will you destroy an unwitting and righteous nation?” Why would Abimelech be considered a righteous person? It’s obvious from this conversation that Abimelech believed in God very much. Abimelech goes on to say,  In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” God does not dispute Abimelech’s integrity at all, God actually affirms Abimelech’s integrity. He was not a creep or an evil king. 

God tells Abimelech in a subsequent dream that He “kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” Abimelech might not have been righteous or possess integrity by our standards, but God understands the heart more than we do. 

Gen. 20:7 is very important to understanding how God judges matters. First, God tells Abimelech that Abraham is a prophet. This is the first time we see this word in Scripture. The word prophet in Hebrew is נָבִיא nabi (Strongs lexicon No. H5030), which means that Abraham was a spokesman for God. Abraham speaks for God. God then tells Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham and that Abraham would pray for Abimelech and Abraham’s prayer would save his life. 

Abimelech then called his servants and told them what God had told him and they were very afraid. They remember the events of the flood that occurred less than 400 years before. God’s reputation as the destroyer was still renown in the world. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were still very recent history as well. God’s destructive power was well known.

Abimelech confronts Abraham and asked how Abraham could have said such a thing. People often wonder if Abraham was so lacking in faith as to lie to get himself out of trouble. After all, in previous chapters, we read about Abraham’s military prowess when he conquered five kings to save Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet, this is not the same thing. 

Abraham answers Abimelech by telling Abimelech that he didn’t know if there was fear of God in the area or not. Abraham owned up to the story (Gen. 20:13). Abimelech accepted Abraham’s answer and did not cast him out of the country. Abimelech did not have a vengeful spirit against Abraham and continued to treat him with hospitality. 

Is the purpose of this story to tell us that Abraham was a coward lacking in faith that he would use his wife to protect him from death? No. God’s purpose was in this story. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham had to move his household to Gerar to be able to engage in trade and commerce. God brought Abraham there to teach Abimelech a lesson. 

When Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham, he says to Sarah:

“Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.”

Notice, he did address Abraham as Sarah’s husband but as her brother. Some translations say that Sarah was “rebuked” or “reproved,” but that is not the best meaning of the Hebrew word יָכַח yakach (Strong’s H3198). A more accurate meaning was that she was justified, vindicated, made right. 

Abraham intervened and prayed to God for Abimelech because God told Abraham to do so. We don’ t know the exact words Abraham prayed but God responded by healing Abimelech and his household so that they could have children again. Job 5:18 says, “For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal.” It was God that closed up the wombs of the women in Abimelech’s house, this was not a natural occurrence.

In Isa. 61:1, we find another example of how God “binds up” and “makes whole”:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners.” 

We read in Job that God is the one who breaks hearts, but we read in Isaiah that it is God who mends them, too. When Isaiah talks about “liberty for the captives” what captives was he liberating? When Yeshua quoted this text in the synagogue that day, was He going to break into every jail in Judea and let the prisoners go?

No, the captives Isaiah is talking about here were the captives of Israel and Judea that God had allowed the Assyrians and the Babylonians to take captive away from the Promised Land. God, through the prophet, is assuring His people that one day He will liberate them from their captivity and bring them back to Him. When Yeshua tells the disciples in Matt. 10:6 that they were to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” that was the beginning of the liberation of the captives prophesied by Isaiah. [See the study “Lost Sheep of Israel: Continuation theology vs. replacement theology.”]

When we look at Abimelech’s story, what do we learn about God? He is a disciplinarian, a much more strict parent than most of us are. He helps us learn from our mistakes and missteps. This incident gave Abimelech a good dose of humility, and that’s a lesson we would do well to learn. It’s more pleasant to learn from other people’s mistakes than our own. 

Speaker: Richard Agee. Reader: Jeff. Summary: Tammy.

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