But God Came
If you're anything like me, you have probably felt like you have frustrated God's plans for your life due to your poor life choices. I know I have had my fair share of "If only I had..." or even more often, "If only I had not..."
I believe the interaction between Abraham and Abimelech is recorded in Genesis 20 to help people like me, and perhaps people like you, not lose heart.
The events described in Genesis 20 must have taken place soon after the events described in Genesis 19 (post here) and Genesis 18 (posts here and here). In Genesis 18:10 God tells Abraham that this time next year Sarah will have a son. Since it takes about 9 months for a baby to be born that leaves 3 months before Sarah conceives. Since Sarah is not yet pregnant in Genesis 20, the events described in this chapter must have happened within three months of the events recorded in Genesis 18.
My post on Genesis 18 entitled "Is Anything Too Hard for The LORD? is one of my most popular posts on this blog and is worth reading since this post is closely related to it. In Genesis 18 God had told Abraham, promised Abraham, prophesied, that Abraham would have a child with Sarah. This would be the son of promise, the son Abraham and Sarah have been waiting for their whole lives! Not to mention that Abraham's son and his descendants played a major role in God's plan of salvation. The salvation of everyone in the world is at stake here.
Now that we have established the setting, let us move on to the story recorded in Genesis 20.
The beginning of Genesis 20 sure sounds familiar...
And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
- Genesis 20:1-2NKJV (bold mine)
Now, where have we seen this before? Oh yeah, Genesis 12!
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you area woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that Imay live because of you.”
So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.
- Genesis 12:10-15 NKJV (bold mine)
There are differences in the story. This time around there is no reason given for Abraham to have journeyed south, as opposed to the first time be because of the drought (I have a post on Genesis 12 here). When Abraham lies again in Genesis 20 we realize that he either didn't learn his lesson or has forgotten it after 25 years. This story reveals Abraham's human frailty. How many times have you committed the same sin again? Even when you knew it would only make things worse?Even when you thought you had already learned your lesson and promised you would never do it again?
But God came!
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”
- Genesis 20:3 NKJV (bold mine)
This is the portion where I got the title from. God makes all the difference. I believe this is the most important point for us to take away from this story. The only reason the story of Abraham is known to this day is because of what God did for him. Abraham is the father of the children of Israel because God came. God had to come and intervene, yet again, to keep Abraham from throwing away everything God had been doing in his life up to this point.
Whenever I am tempted to take any credit for my accomplishments in life I must remember that the only reason I accomplish anything is because of God and what He does for me. We serve a God who is involved in the lives of those who love Him and He comes and intervenes when necessary. God is the real hero in this story, and in every story. It is a miracle that God even takes time to involve us in His plans since we are so ready to mess everything up at every turn.
Talking to outsiders
Does it surprise you that God is giving a vision to someone other than Abraham? It is worth noting that something similar happens in Genesis 31:24 when God speaks to Laban.
But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”
- Genesis 31:24 NKJV
And in Numbers 22:20 when God spoke to Balaam.
And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you—that you shall do.”
- Numbers 22:20 NKJV
All these stories have very similar wording, God comes in a dream by night. Looking at these different occurrences we realize that God reveals Himself through a dream by night to an outsider in order to save His people. This reinforces the idea that God does not speak only to Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament. God is a universal God and He reveals Himself to non-Jews.
But Abimelech had not come near her.
This story is fascinating! Abimelech had intentions of making Sarah his wife, even though she was in her 90s (Genesis 17:17), but he had not yet come near her. We will talk more about this later, but notice what Abimelech says to God
“Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also?
- Genesis 20:4b NKJV
This is similar to what Abraham said to God in Genesis 18:23.
And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
The storyteller is very much interested in revealing to the reader the way God judges. God does not punish the righteous, God does not punish the righteous with the wicked. The way Abimelech speaks to God also makes Abimelech similar to Abraham, concerned about the righteous. Abimelech is innocent in this case, Abimelech can even be considered righteous at this point since he had not committed adultery. Abraham, on the other hand, is portrayed as a lying coward. How unexpected for this outsider to be portrayed as a righteous man and not Abraham or Sarah, who ironically worked together to deceive Abimelech. To make matters worse, not only is it sinful to deceive, it would have lead to adultery and ultimately a frustration of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah, and God's plan to bless and save the entire world.
Notice also that Abimelech cannot take credit for his righteousness, for his right actions, since God tells him,
For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.
- Genesis 20:6b NKJV
Abimelech is righteous only because God kept him from sinning in his ignorance. Abimelech is innocent not because of his virtue, but rather because God kept him from sinning. However, now that Abimelech knows the truth God expect him to behave accordingly.
The word "Prophet" shows up for the first time in the Bible and God is the one who uses it. This situation emphasizes the intercessory role of a prophet. Abraham is not sinless, or perfect, but He was chosen by God and has a special mission. Likewise, you do not have to be perfect or sinless in order for God to use you. Your relationship with God enables God to use you to bring others to a closer relationship with Him.
Abraham is a prophet not because of anything he did, but because of what God does for him. Similarly, we are saved not because we are superior in any way, but because God saves us. God is willing to use Abraham, even though he is imperfect. The same goes for every Bible hero. Jesus is the only One who is sinless.
The fact that you are still growing in your faith and relationship with Jesus does not exclude you from working for God. But you must remain humble because there are those who do not know Jesus who might be more righteous than you in some aspects of their lives. God uses Abimelech to rebuke Abraham.
So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”
- Genesis 20:8-10 NKJV
Notice how the text describes the fear of not only Abimelech but also all his servants. Abimelech and all his servants were "very much afraid!" Now contrast this with Abraham's sorry attempt at an excuse for his behavior.
And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.
- Genesis 20:11 NKJV
Abraham continues to try to explain to Abimelech the rationale behind his lie. I can't help but feel sorry for the man. What an embarrassing situation for the prophet of the LORD to find himself in. He was caught lying, his cowardice was revealed before the ruler of the area he inhabited. Abimelech did fear God, and Abraham is telling him how Abraham didn't expect much from him since he was not of the same religion of Abraham.
How dangerous it is for us to feel superior to those who do not have the same faith. Abraham had the truth, Abraham had a greater revelation and knowledge of the true God. However, Abraham did not always live up to the revelation he had received. Abraham's life did not always measure up to God's expectations of him. Even among non-believers God works and reveals Himself. Abimelech had much to learn about God from Abraham, but that did not mean that Abraham had nothing to learn from Abimelech or that Abimelech was inferior to Abraham. God had used Abimelech to reveal to Abraham his weaknesses. But Abimelech needed to have Abraham pray for him.
You don't have to be perfect in order to intercede for another. You do need, however, to have an authentic and sincere relationship with God, and God will help you realize and work on your weaknesses.
Dwell where it pleases you
Similarly to Pharaoh, Abimelech gives Abraham gifts. One glaring difference is that Pharaoh sent Abraham away (Genesis 12:20, Blog post here) and Abimelech offered Abraham land inviting him to stay. Notice that Abraham does not fight for or take land by force, rather it is offered to him as a gift.
Pharaoh gave Abraham (Genesis 12:16)
- male donkeys,
- male and female servants,
- female donkeys,
Abimelech gave Abraham (Genesis 20:14-16)
- male and female servants
- one thousand pieces of silver
Abraham prayed to God
So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children; for the Lord had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
- Genesis 20:17-18 NKJV
The story ends with Abraham praying for Abimelech and God opening the wombs of the house of Abimelech. Ironically, Sarah still can't have children. Are you okay with God answering your prayers when you pray for others while withholding the same blessings from you? Are you able to handle people around you having what you have been unable to have?
Your shortcomings do not prevent God from using you. Don't count yourself out because you're still struggling in some areas of your life.
Do not judge outsiders. God is working in their lives as well and some of those outsiders may have strengths in areas where you are weak. God can strengthen both of you as you draw closer to Him.
Pray for others. Your prayers cause God to bless those around you, those you pray for. You are not to hog all the blessings to yourself. God has not called you to be superior. God wants to save you, but even more than that He wants to use you to bless those around you so that they may be saved as well.