Summary: How good a witness was Abraham to the pagans? How well do we witness?

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The Life of Abraham, Part 12: Abraham’s Witness to Abimelech

Genesis 20:1-18


Last week we learned of the terrible destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their gross wickedness. From the destruction, the LORD graciously delivered Lot and his two daughters. The tragedy was compounded when Lot was too afraid to go to the small town or Zoar he had bargained with the LORD to go to. Lot had been a witness for the LORD in the most difficult of places, and he nearly paid for it with his life. He could have settled down at Zoar and been a witness there. But instead of going there, he shut himself up with his two daughters in a cave, hoping to find the sanctuary of a monastery. However, you cannot run from evil by escape. His daughters had gotten him drunk for the purpose that their own father would sleep with them and produce offspring. We can see in the attempt of Abraham and Sarah to have children by Hagar that this family had some odd ways to bring about having children. Before we try to compare Abraham to Lot as though Abraham was a strong man who made good choices and was blessed for his goodness by God and Lot who was weak in faith was punished for making bad choices, we will not have to look at the passage in today’s lesson. We shall soon learn that Abraham was not blessed for his merit but made choices as foolish as Lot’s.

Exposition of the Text

Abraham and Sarah were promised by God that they would be parents of a boy named Isaac in twelve months. We need to keep this thought in mind as we look at the happenings here. Abraham for whatever reason headed to the desert area from where he was. As the Negev was pretty hostile and dry, we might wonder why he did so. Perhaps after he had seen the flames and smoke come up from Sodom and Gomorrah, he wanted to get away from city life as far as possible. Perhaps this was an escape.

However, on the way there, he stopped at a small town named Gerar. When asked about her he told the king or the crown prince as Abimelech means “My Father (is) king. We must not think of kings in the Old Testament in the same light as we do in the great monarchs of history. They were more like clan leaders of mostly small groups. Perhaps the comparison here could be made to a small town mayor. Abimelech must have asked about Sarah, Abraham’s ninety year old wife and responded was told by Abraham that Sarah was his sister. Hearing this, he summoned Sarah to his harem.

Another detail we should not miss is that Sarah was an old worn out woman. Something must have happened to her to restore her youth and beauty. Usually, a prince or a king looks for pretty young women for a harem. Without saying it directly. God had restored Sarah’s youth and also her fertility. Her clock had been set back.

Old man Abraham had reverted to the same old lie he had told Pharaoh. And like the first lie, it became a source of stumbling. Abraham and Sarah were to become parents in one year, presumably conceiving a child in the normal way nine months earlier. If one looks at the math, one would discover a serious problem. Sarah was in another man’s harem, and the time to conceive Isaac was near. God was going to have to work fast.

God did so directly by coming to Abimelech in a dream and telling him that he was as good as dead for taking someone else’s wife. This is not the news you want to be awakened to hear. But Abimelech had been honorable and not yet slept with Sarah. Abimelech strangely answers the LORD with the same concern Abraham had for Sodom when Abraham told the LORD it was not right to slay the innocent with the guilty. Abimelech knew immediately when God came to him in the dream that Abraham had lied. And he protests his innocence to God, that he had taken Sarah based on false information.

We should note the generic term “God” is used in talking to Abimelech and not Yahweh. Also he does not address God by the name either but uses Adon, which is Lord, not LORD. The relationship that Abimelech has is not the same as that of Abraham. If the favor of being in covenant relationship was based upon works rather than grace, the more honorable pagan Abimelech was more deserving of being in covenant with Yahweh. This was a lesson that should have been learned by the wilderness generation who was reminded by Moses that they were not chosen because they were great and honorable but simply by God’s free choice and election. After all, the story of Abraham was recorded by Moses in the first five books of the bible just before his death.

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