Genesis 20: God’s Faithfulness Amid Abraham’s Foolishness Before Abimelech

Abraham shows again why the entire plan of God cannot rest in the hands of mere men. This is why man's deliverer must be God incarnate.
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Chapter Notes

Overview

  • Have you ever felt like you had victory over a certain sin, only to commit it again?

  • In Genesis 20, Abraham does in Gerar what he had done in Egypt decades prior, namely, conceals the fact that Sarah is his wife. But we learn, once again, how faithful God is to His promises.

Commentary

  • While the disturbing nature of Genesis 19 is immediately obvious, Genesis 20 is in some ways even more troubling.

  • vv. 1–2 - for reasons not given, Abraham moves to south central Israel, to a place called Gerar. While there, Abraham communicates again that Sarah is just his sister. Abraham’s fear of being killed was probably not unfounded. Kings may have had a history of going to battle for a beautiful woman. In addition, Sarah’s beauty may have been revitalized by God’s work in her life in preparation to conceive and give birth. She is then taken by Abimelech (this is a title, not a name, like Pharaoh).

  • vv. 3–8 - But despite Abraham’s folly, God visits the king. Like Pilate’s wife, Abimelech is warned of God in a dream, argues his innocence, and is informed that God had kept him from sin. God then gives Abimelech a choice between obedience and death, and in the morning he reports the matter to his household. Their response is great fear, possibly because of what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. As an aside, this is the first time someone is called a prophet by God.

  • vv. 9–13 - Abimelech then rebukes Abraham, basically asking, what on earth were you thinking? Why have you wronged me? Abraham’s response is in vv. 11–13 - where he basically says, a) I thought I might be killed because you guys don’t fear God, b) this is the agreement I have with Sarah as we move around into new places.

  • vv. 14–16 - Abimelech, no doubt shaken by God’s warning to him, seeks to show great favor to Abraham, lavishing livestock, servants, and 1000 pieces of silver upon him, giving him a choice of the land, and restoring Sarah to him.

  • vv. 17–18 - the chapter ends with Abraham the prophet, successfully interceding for Abimelech and the fruitfulness of his household.

Application

  1. Do not question the power of old besetting sins. Decades had passed since Abraham had denied Sarah was his wife to the Egyptians. But we are reminded again that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.” The best men are but men at best. Like one of those vines that are almost impossible to kill, so it is with some of our sins. Don’t brag about any victory over sin.

  2. Children, we are reminded in v. 6 that all sin is first and foremost against God. We can hurt one another, but it is God’s law we break when we sin and it is a very serious matter. Also, ignorance of sin is still sin. This is why we pray, “deliver us from evil.”

  3. Human cowardice is a constant danger. And sometimes it manifests in the most offensive of ways. On one occasion, Abraham goes to war and risks his life for his nephew. On another occasion, he’s trying to save his own skin and puts his wife in danger. Abraham is not alone. Many a man is quicker to protect the interests of his boss, than the needs of his wife and children.

  4. Don’t deny the presence of common grace. Some believers think everything in the world is as wicked as it can possibly be. It’s not. Abraham, possibly because of events surrounding Sodom, doesn’t give room for common grace and believes the people of Gerar are much more wicked than they actually are. When Moses penned this history, it was important for the Israelites to know that not all people are like Sodom, and not all kings are like the Pharaoh they were enslaved under. So it is in our day. Just because a leader isn’t a Christian, does not mean God has withheld common grace that enables men to rule well.

  5. Believers are, at times, a public embarrassment. That is the case for Abraham here. vv. 9–10 reflect the damage Abraham has brought upon his own testimony. v. 16 comes across almost like sarcasm when Abimelech refers to Abraham as “thy brother.” If it wasn’t for such an evident display of divine favor, Abimelech could have no respect for Abraham at all.

  6. Learn again how God’s people are protected, not by their own power, but by God. In the previous chapter God delivered Lot because, despite his faults, he was a believer. The same is true here. Despite Abraham’s faults, God preserves him and Sarah.

  7. God’s purpose depends on God, not His people. If salvation was in the hands of any but God, man would perish. I am not sure whether Sarah is already pregnant with Isaac at this point, or whether she is just about to fall pregnant. In either case, consider how Abraham’s selfishness almost jeopardizes so much of the plan of God. Either a) Sarah becomes pregnant at the hands of Abimelech, or b) if she is already pregnant but Abimelech takes her as a concubine, then there would be a huge doubt concerning the father of Isaac, wrecking havoc on the promises of God. Thank God salvation is entirely God’s prerogative. God is continually protecting the promised seed and the line to Christ throughout the Old Testament. Even when our faith fails, our God does not.


The glory of God’s faithfulness is that no sin of man has ever made Him unfaithful. Unbelief is a most damning thing and yet, even though we believe not, God abides faithful. His children may rebel against His law and they may wander far from His statutes, and He may chastise them with many stripes, yet He said, “My lovingkindness will I not utterly take away from them, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” — Charles Spurgeon

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Authors
Armen Thomassian