20 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, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelekking of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”
4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”
6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”
8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.”10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him.15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”
16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
(Genesis 20:1-18 NIV)
As we ended Chapter 19, we saw the end of Lot, never to be heard from again.
As we begin Chapter 20, we see Abraham still obeying the Lord and exploring the land God has given him and his future ancestors, per God’s command (Genesis 13:17).
We see the Lord working on Abraham; old sin habits die hard. Abraham continues to carry on the ruse that Sarah is his sister, and Sarah plays along. In this passage, we learn for the first time that Abraham has been partially telling the truth, as Sarah and Abraham have the same father, but different mothers. But Sarah is Abraham’s wife, which supersedes her being his sister both culturally and spiritually.
At ninety years old, Sarah must have been a ravishing beauty, as King Abimelek took Sarah as his wife. In our day, that seems very strange. But considering that Sarah lived to be 127, she would be like a woman in her early to mid 50’s in our day, compared to our normal life expectancy.
But this was not to be a repeat of the scenario in Egypt we learned about back in chapter 12. This time was different – God intervened and spoke to Abimelek in a dream, condemning him for taking Sarah as his wife. Abimelek defended his innocence – he told the Lord he didn’t know she was married. The Lord agreed with Abimelek and told him there was a reason he had not had sex with Sarah – God was protecting her. The Lord told Abimelek not to touch Sarah, and to have Abraham the prophet pray for them.
Like the Pharaoh, Abimelek brings in Abraham and questions him. Abraham blames Abimelek for being godless and blames God for making him wander, both of which were not true. Clearly, Abimelek and his officials feared the Lord. And God did not make Abraham wander – He had given Abraham the land and told him to check it out by walking around and through the entire territory. Clearly, Abraham’s fear of others was greater than his trust in the Lord.
Abimelek obeyed the Lord and gave Sarah back to Abraham. Unlike the Egyptian Pharoah, Abimelek spoke kindly to Abraham and allowed him to live wherever he wished in the land – he did not kick Abraham out of the country like the Pharaoh did.
Abimelek also spoke to Sarah and vindicated her. He restored Sarah’s honor by giving money to Abraham (her brother) as well as speaking to her and publicly telling everyone that she was to be seen as blameless in all this mess.
Abraham then prayed as Abimelek requested – God listened and responded.
In this passage, we see Abraham being used despite his sin. The Lord called Abraham a prophet -Abraham steps into the role and prays for the man who has power over his life.
We also must not miss the meta-narrative, the larger story here. We have seen Abram in Egypt using his wife for self-protection and self-promotion; we saw Lot offer his two daughters to the vicious sex-crazed crowd in Sodom, and now we saw Abraham repeat the “sister” ruse again in Gerar.
In this larger story, God vindicates women and restores their dignity and value through Abimelek (by his payment of money) and through Abraham (through prayer). Could it have been that the Lord opened Sarah’s womb at the same time he opened the wombs of the women of Gerar through these acts of faith and redemption?
May we see and treat the women in our lives as God created them to be – having honor and holiness and dignity and value, not as property or of having less value than men.