Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Genesis 20

Verse 1

GENESIS CHAPTER 20

Abraham sojourns in Gerar, Genesis 20:1; denies Sarah to be his wife: Abimelech sends and takes her, Genesis 20:2. God warns Abimelech in a dream, Genesis 20:3. He expostulates with God, who answers and commands him to restore Sarah, Genesis 20:4-7. Abimelech warns his servants, Genesis 20:8; rebukes Abraham, Genesis 20:9,10; who excuses and defends what he had said, Genesis 20:11-13. Abimelech kind to Abraham; restores his wife, Genesis 20:14,15; rebukes Sarah, Genesis 20:16. Abraham prays for Abimelech; God removes his judgments, Genesis 20:17,18.

1808 From thence; from the plain of Mamre, Genesis 18:1, where he had long dwelt; and whence he removed, either because of its nearness to that filthy lake, which now was in the place of that late fruitful plain; or for other reasons and conveniences needless to be here inquired or determined.

Towards the south country, yet more towards the southern part of Canaan.

Verse 2

Abraham said this lest they should slay him for his beautiful wife’s sake, as himself tells us, Genesis 20:11. For though Sarah was ninety years old, yet she retained her beauty in good measure, partly, because she had not been broken by bearing and nursing of children; partly, because in that age of the world men and women, as they lived longer, so they did not so soon begin to decay, as now they do; and partly, because of God’s especial blessing upon her.

Abimelech took Sarah, not without violence, for it is not to be thought that either Abraham or Sarah would consent to it.

Verse 3

God then used to manifest his mind in dreams, not only to his people, but even to heathens for their sakes, or in things wherein they were concerned.

Thou art but a dead man, thou deservest a present and untimely death; and if thou proceedest in thy intended wickedness, it shall be inflicted upon thee, both for thy injustice in taking her away by force, and for thy intentions to abuse her, though not yet executed.

Verse 4

Abimelech had not come near her, i.e. had not yet lain with her. A modest expression, like that of knowing a woman, Genesis 4:1, or going in to her, Genesis 6:4, or touching her, Proverbs 6:29 1 Corinthians 7:1, by which we are taught to use modesty in our speeches, and not, with the rude cynics, to express all things by their proper names. This clause and history was necessary to be added here for Sarah’s vindication, and especially for the demonstration of Isaac’s original from Abraham and Sarah, according to God’s promise.

Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? i.e. innocent as to this matter. Compare 2 Samuel 4:11. He knew it was just and usual for God to punish a nation for their king’s sins; and therefore, as became a good prince, he is solicitous, and prays for the safety of his nation: or else by nation he may mean his family, for some of them were not involved in the guilt of this fact.

Verse 5

Without any adulterous design in my heart, or outward actions tending to it, being wholly ignorant of what thou now informest me.

Verse 6

I know that thou didst not this knowingly and maliciously, but imprudently and inconsiderately, which is indeed an extenuation of thy sin, though not a total excuse. Compare 1 Kings 9:4 1 Chronicles 29:1.

I also withheld thee, partly by my restraining grace, and partly by my powerful providence, and the plague mentioned Genesis 20:17. Which plainly shows that ignorance is not always an excuse for sin. See Luke 12:48. This sin, though directly committed against Abraham and Sarah only, is said to be against God, as other such sins are, Genesis 39:9 Psalms 51:4, because it was against God’s command written in men’s minds, though not yet published by express word or writing; and against God’s honour; and that here in a particular manner, because it would have rendered Isaac’s original, and thereby God’s promise, doubtful.

Verse 7

He is a prophet, a person very dear to me, and familiarly acquainted with me, and therefore the injuries done to him I take as done to myself. See Psalms 105:15.

He shall pray for thee, which is one part of a prophet’s work, Jeremiah 14:11 15:1.

Thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine; which was not unjust, because they all had sins of their own, for which they deserved death whensoever God thought fit to inflict it; and God might take this occasion to do it, that in punishing them he might also punish the king, whose subjects they were.

Verse 8

His servants; his counsellors and principal officers, as that word is used, 1 Kings 1:2 10:13.

Verse 9

What hast thou done unto us? How great a danger hast thou exposed us to!

A great sin: even the heathens, who thought fornication harmless, judge adultery to be a very great and heinous crime. See Genesis 38:24 Leviticus 20:10 Ezekiel 16:38 23:45,47. Or, a great punishment, as this word is oft used; which seems better to answer to his offending Abraham now mentioned.

Verse 10

What levity or miscarriage didst thou discern in us which moved thee to deal thus with us?

Verse 11

The fear of God is not in this place, i.e. true piety, or the knowledge of the true God, which is the only effectual restraint from the grossest wickedness.

Verse 12

She is my sister, my near kinswoman; even as Lot upon the same account is called Abraham’s brother, Genesis 13:8.

She is the daughter of my father, i.e. the granddaughter; for grandchildren are commonly called the sons and daughters of their grandparents, as Genesis 31:28 Exodus 2:18. And besides, her father Haran dying before her grandfather, she was left more immediately under his care and education, and therefore was more peculiarly reputed Terah’s daughter, and Abraham’s sister. See Genesis 11:29.

But not the daughter of my mother, because Haran was Abraham’s brother only by the father’s side; for Terah had Haran by another wife.

How could Abraham marry one so near of kin to him?

Answ. There were larger allowances for marriages in those times, as it was convenient there should be; neither had God as yet given those prohibitions, Leviticus 18:1-30. Besides, among all nations, the mother’s side was more regarded than the father’s in all prohibitions of marriage.

Verse 13

To wander. This word he useth because God did not direct him to any certain place, but sent him out he knew not whither, Hebrews 11:8. And being to travel and sojourn amongst persons of divers tempers and manners, and all pagans, he thought this equivocal expression convenient for his security.

Verse 15

My land is before thee, i.e. free for thy view and choice, as Genesis 13:9.

Verse 16

Thy brother; a sharp rebuke and irony: q.d. he whom thou didst miscall thy brother.

A thousand pieces of silver, to wit, shekels, which is commonly understood when a sum of silver or gold is indefinitely mentioned, as Numbers 7:13,85 2 Samuel 18:12 2 Kings 6:25.

He is to thee a covering of the eyes, i.e. a protection to thee from the wanton eyes and attempts of others, whilst they know thee to be the wife of another man, and he such a one whom they reverence and fear; and therefore thou didst take a very wrong course to disown him, whereby thou didst expose thyself to great danger. Or, this is to thee, & c., i.e. this I give to thee to buy thee a veil, wherewith thou mayst cover thy face, as it is fit and usual for married persons to do. Compare Genesis 24:65 1 Corinthians 11:3,6,7,10.

Unto all that are with thee; unto all that here live with thee, or near thee, and with all men whomsoever.

Thus she was reproved, or admonished to be more circumspect for the future; or, and be thou admonished; for they may be the words of Abimelech.

Verse 18

This phrase elsewhere notes barrenness, as 1 Samuel 1:5,6, and so many understand it here. Against which some learned men object that that could not so soon be discovered, for all this happened between the conception and birth of Isaac. Which objection may seem not valid, because the evidences of women’s being with child go so long before the birth of the child, and those evidences not appearing in any of their women, who before that time were generally fruitful and child bearing, they might discern God’s hand in it, especially upon God’s admonition to their king. But because this history seems to have been done in a far less space of time, it not being probable either that God would suffer Sarah to be long with Abimelech ere he warned him, or that he being warned, and so severely threatened, and actually punished, would delay the execution of God’s command, or that upon his obedience to God the mercy and deliverence promised would be delayed by God; that seems more probable which others think, that this was an indisposition, or plague, or sore in the secret parts, by which they were hindered from cohabitation and mutual converse, and consequently from hopes of conception and child-bering; upon the removal whereof, it is said that

they bare children, where, as ofttimes in Scripture, the last and consummating act is put for all the preceding acts: q.d. and they were restored to the conjugal use, and conception, and, in due time, to child-bearing.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Genesis 20". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/genesis-20.html. 1685.