Summary: God saves Abraham and Sarah from Abimelech.
Last time we saw Abraham he was watching the smoke rise from what was left of Sodom (19:28). God has called him to live as a stranger in the land of Canaan, but He’s promised to make him the father of many nations. Abraham’s waited for many years, living in tents on someone else’s land, and finally God promises that within the next year he’ll have his first son with his wife, Sarah. This is the son of the promise. Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90, so it’s going to take a special act of God. But just as Abraham had to wait, so will we. Let’s look at what we find in chapter 20:
And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.
So, he’s staying in Canaan, but he moves from the plains of Mamre (18:1) to a place called Gerar about 30 miles southwest. This was a Philistine city, and their king was Abimelech. Now, before we get into the story I want to remind you of the time when Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt during the famine. Just as they were about to enter Abraham asked Sarah to tell everyone they were brother and sister (12:11-13). He figured that since Sarah was so beautiful someone might kill him to marry his widow. But if the Egyptians thought they were brother and sister then they’d show kindness to him so that one of them could marry her. Well, Pharaoh saw her and immediately took her into his house, so the plan sort of backfired. But before he could do anything to her the Lord sent plagues on Pharaoh’s house. Pharaoh rebuked Abraham for his dishonesty and returned Sarah to him. They left Egypt after the famine, and surely they’d learned their lesson about how God will always protect them.
Look at verse 2:
2And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.
Ha! This is Egypt all over again. I can’t help but be relieved knowing that I’m not the only one who has a hard time learning lessons and trusting God. Apparently, even at the age of 90, Sarah is still beautiful enough that Abraham’s worried about being killed over her. So, he tells the king of Gerar that they’re not married, and just like Pharaoh, Abimelech takes her.
3But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.
So God speaks to Abimelech in a dream, and notice that He goes straight to the death penalty for taking Sarah. He doesn’t explain the situation and let the king decide what should be done; in fact He doesn’t even give a command. He just says, “You’re a dead man for what you’ve done.”
4But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, LORD, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? 5Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.
Abimelech says, “Surely you won’t punish us for something I didn’t even know I did. I didn’t touch her, and I had no reason to believe she was married.”
6And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart;
That is, that “you didn’t know what you were doing when you did it.”
for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.
“You didn’t touch her, but the reason you didn’t touch her is because I wouldn’t let you.”
7Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.
So Abimelech can give her back and live or he can refuse and die. But isn’t it interesting that even God still calls Abraham His prophet? Isn’t it even more amazing that Abraham will pray for the king? You know, we tend to think that prayer or intercession is something we do when we’re living right. If we’ve just sinned or if we’re struggling, we tend to give it a little time to let the guilt pass away before we talk to God, but here’s Abraham clearly in the wrong and walking in doubt—he wrongs the king, the king is punished for no wrong doing of his own, and Abraham prays for the king! I think this does a couple things: it surely humbles Abraham and it removes all doubt that God is on Abraham’s side. It makes me think of that verse in Romans where he asks, “If God be for us who can be against us?” The pagans, Sarah, and Abraham shouldn’t have any reason to doubt that after this.