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Understanding Genesis 20: Ever Loving, Ever Forgiving

Updated on August 12, 2015

And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. Genesis 20:1,2

After Sodom’s destruction, Lot does not return to his uncle. Instead, Abraham moves to Gerar, and while living there, the King hears of Sarah’s beauty and takes her to be his concubine.

Abraham is a very rich man. He has many animals and servants and when he picks up and moves, it is not a simple trek. They are like a large herd moving through towns and plains, and must move slowly to accommodate the animals’ gait. They must be on guard against thieves and lost animals. When they settle in Gerar, news of a rich family settling on his plains reaches the king’s ears, and he sends emissaries to learn about this rich man. When he hears of Sarah’s beauty, he thinks to honor this aged spinster or widow, by offering her to be his concubine.

Sarah must have been very beautiful indeed, because at this point, she is in her 80s; but her beauty is still breathtaking and something to be reported about. Sarah has gone through her own spiritual maturity. From bitterness at not having a child, repenting of the mistake she forced on her marriage, she is now playing mother to her servant’s son and raising him as her own. Perhaps she doesn’t love him as her own, but understanding that he is Abraham’s heir, she raises him with respect and caring. Sometimes she’ll think about God’s promise to her but her logic would war with her faith, "how would her aged body become pregnant?" "And he [Jesus] said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" Genesis 18:10,12

As Sarah is taken away from her husband, she prays to God for deliverance. As Abraham watches his wife be taken away, he realizes that his lie has once again forced a crisis.

It begs the question, “Why did Abraham lie?” But who are we to judge Abraham, when we often make mistakes and lose faith? Our own spiritual journey is not a smooth walk, but full of sins and falling away from God.

Abraham up to this point had worshiped and had faith in His benevolent God. Granted he had to take matters into his own hand when birthing an heir, but God had helped him battle four armies, God had forgiven him his previous lie, and God had shown his power by destroying the cities and people of Sodom. Perhaps this latest revelation truly put into perspective that God is God.

He had always been benevolent toward Abraham, but seeing the destruction of Sodom put fear in Abraham’s heart, perhaps anger at the genocide. Instead of turning to God for understanding and sympathizing the loss of His children, Abraham runs away. Abraham runs away from an omnipresent God.

As he journeys further and further away from Mamre, he struggles in his heart to understand the powerful God talking to him, the sins of Sodom and perhaps his own sins. Because the only time we ever reject God, is when we feel guilty of our sins and are too ashamed to go to church, unable to pray or study the Bible. Our own guilt, not God’s condemnation, is what prevents us to believing in His love toward us. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:7,8 And when the king’s emissaries come to take his wife, Abraham once again fears for his life, rather than trust God.

Live by Faith, Not by Sight

But 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. Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid. Genesis 20:3, 8

Abimelech is a deeply religious man. Not a Godly man, but a superstitious pagan worshiper. God comes to him in a dream and warns him to return Sarah to Abraham. Understanding that Abimelech is a pagan worshiper, God comes to him in a way that Abimelech will understand. How often do atheists say, “if only God would show Himself, we would be a true believer?” But unless there is a heart conversion, there is no love, only fear. These atheists would have worshiped God cerebrally and out of fear that there is a “judgment day,” rather than out of love.

Three years, Judas spent with the Lord, but in the end, his sin was not betraying Jesus, but for not seeing that Jesus would have forgiven Judas, his sin. Peter after denying Jesus at His trial, repented of his sins and returned to Jesus. "So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs." John 21:15 Even though Peter did not fully understand Jesus at this point, Peter still loved Him and had faith in His forgiveness. "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." John 20:29

Appeasing God

And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee. So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children. For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife. Genesis 20:14,15,17,18

Abimelech not knowing who God is, immediately believes the God in his dreams and defends himself against any wrongdoing. Then complies with God’s demand to return Sarah to her husband. But not only does he return Sarah, but also gives animals and servants to Abraham and invites him to dwell anywhere in his kingdom.

Abimelech believes that Abraham is a prophet and that his God is powerful. But thinking that God is like his pagan gods, Abimelech gives these “gifts” as an appeasement to God and his prophet.

How often do we bargain with God? “If you do this for me, I promise not to…” “God, if only you’d help me with this, I will…” “God, I’m so good, I did this…this…this—I’ll be in heaven now, right?” Is your relationship with God, based on bargaining or an exchange? Be honest with yourself, you can fool everyone around you, but you can not fool God. "I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." Jeremiah 17:10

Despite this short chapter, weeks or months must have passed because a curious coincidence of infertility is noticed. None of the women in the palace menstruate or become pregnant. Despite their worship to the fertility goddess, no one is able to get pregnant and in their mind they attribute it to the sin of the king against a powerful god. To these pagans, God is stronger than their fertility goddess.

Oftentimes, we think anything negative is punishment and question, “Why, me God?” But we need to remember that there is sin in this world. Not only our personal sin, but we see the world’s corruption around us. Sin causes the human body to deteriorate and eventually die. Sin causes men and women to be infertile, to be born with “defects.” God in His love and mercy is there with us, to carry us through our moment of despair, and come out on the other side still loving Him. That is where the test of true faith lies.

Don’t worship God out of fear, like Abimelech. Do you have a “friendship” with Jesus, like Judas? Do you believe in God’s love and forgiveness like Peter and Abraham?

After this incident, Abraham prays. Struggling in his heart after Sodom, he is reminded that despite his sin, God still loves him and cares for him. Sarah is saved and her honor restored. Instead of sending Abraham away, Abimelech invites him to dwell in his kingdom. Abimelech is respectful and curious about Abraham’s God. Perhaps Abimelech spends time with Abraham and learns who God is. Learns that despite our mistakes, there is a God who still loves and forgives. In this way, Abraham is able to be a blessing to the nations. "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:" Genesis 12:2

Don’t let your past or current sin prevent you from turning to God. Believe that you are more important than any appeasement you can offer. Believe in His love and forgiveness. Get to know God and love Him. "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Hebrews 8:12

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38,39

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