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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 20

 

 


Verses 1-18

ABRAHAM EXPOSED AND REPROVED

Now we return to Abraham's history. He journeyed toward the south, which is typical of pleasant circumstances, but nearly always having danger in it. He dwelt between Kadesh and Shur. Kadesh means "set apart for a purpose," which beautifully describes God's work with Abraham, and is true also of all Christians. However, Shur means "point of observation." Does this not tell us that, though we know we are set apart for God, we sometimes look the other way to observe what others may be doing? They may be doing more work, seemingly for the Lord, than we are. They may have apparent public success in a way that surpasses us. They may have attractive programs and entertainments. But whatever it is, the child of God should remember that he is set apart for a special purpose as the Lord's possession, and should always be guided by the Lord, not by his observation.

Is it surprising that following this he sojourned in Gerar? Gerar, a Philistine city, means "dragging away." If we are led merely by our personal observation, it is always likely that we shall be dragged away from the place of devoted separation to God. We can be thankful, however, that it was only a temporary visit in Gerar. But it involved a humiliating experience for Abraham. He fell into the same snare as when he went down into Egypt (ch.12:10-13), saying that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife (v.2). A Christian, when he fails to walk by faith, will always give the wrong impression as to his true relationships. Let us be unafraid, unashamed to let it be known that we belong to the Lord Jesus, therefore are set apart for the purpose of pleasing Him.

Just as in Egypt, it was the king who took Sarah into his house. It may seem amazing that, at 89 years of age, Sarah had retained such beauty that a king was attracted by her. Whether she was pregnant with Isaac at this time we do not know, but Abraham did know that Sarah was to have a son, which seems an added reason that he should not think of denying that she was his wife.

We have before noted that Sara pictures the covenant of God's grace (Galatians 4:22-31). The beauty of grace far outshines the vanity of the law of works, and it is the true possession of the man of faith. Though unbelievers may commend its beauty, grace cannot be their possession, for they hold to the principle of works of law. Believers are sometimes afraid to stand firmly for the truth that grace alone gives us any true relationship with God, and we may leave the impression with the world that we depend on good works rather than on the pure grace of God. In this case our faith has faltered, as did Abraham's.

God again mercifully intervened, not this time by plagues, as He did with Pharaoh, but directly speaking to Abimelech in a dream, telling him he was a dead man because of the woman he had taken, for she was a man's wife. Why did God not directly reprove Abraham? Was it not because the reproof he received from Abimelech would cause him to feel ashamed before the face of the man he had wronged?

Thou Abimelech had Sarah in his house, he had not come near her, so that he protests to the Lord, would He kill a nation that was blameless? The Lord had not said He would kill the nation, or even Abimelech, but rather that Abimelech's condition was one of virtual death because he had Sarah in his house, even though, as he said, both Abraham and Sarah had deceived the Philistines.

It was true enough that Abimelech had not been guilty of wrong in his treatment of Sarah, and God acknowledges this to him, but adds also that also that He Himself had kept Abimelech from sinning against Him, in not allowing him to touch Sarah (v.6). How gracious indeed is our God and Father in the way He protects us even when we put ourselves in compromising positions! Yet this is no excuse for our failure, and we must not dare to count upon God's protection when we deliberately do wrong.

Then the Lord tells Abimelech to restore Abraham's wife to him, and because he was a prophet he would pray for Abimelech. This itself would be humbling for Abraham and instructive for Abimelech. Even if one is ignorantly involved in a wrong, he requires the grace of God. But then the Lord tells him that if he would not restore Sarah to her husband, he would certainly die, together with his household. Now that he knew the truth he must act on it.

Abimelech rose early the next morning, first to acquaint his servants with what God had told him, which frightened them, for they were members of his household (v.8). Then he called Abraham and protested strongly against Abraham's treating him and his kingdom so unfairly in the deceit he had practiced. Had Abimelech sinned against Abraham that he should deserve to suffer in this way? What had Abraham seen among the Philistines to move him to do such a thing? (v.10).

Abraham's explanation sadly shows the weakness of his faith in the living God. If God had led him to that place, then whether the fear of God was in the place or not, he would be sustained by God. But he says he thought the fear of God was not in the place, and reasoned that he might be killed for his wife's sake, so that he concealed the truth that Sarah was his wife. However, he wanted Abimelech to understand that he had not told an outright lie, for Sarah was actually his half sister, and had become his wife. But his deception obtained the same result that a deliberate lie would have. When we practice deceit it will likely led us to embarrassing trouble, for it stems from weakness of faith.

Also, Abraham exposes the sad fact that he had planned with Sarah to adopt this subterfuge wherever they went (v.13). We only read of two cases where Sarah was taken into the household of another, but we may wonder why Sarah did not strongly object to having part in such deception. However, our fear will make us do strange things.

Abraham found that he was wrong in thinking that the fear of God was not in Gerar. It was the fear of God that prompted Abimelech, not only to restore Sarah to her husband, but to accompany this with presents to Abraham of sheep and oxen and servants, both male and female (v.14). The very receiving of such gifts would be a reproof to Abraham's fear, but a kind reproof. In fact, Abimelech also gave Abraham permission to live wherever he wanted to in the land (v.15).

Sarah also was reproved by Abimelech (v.16). Since she illustrates the grace of God she is a picture of the church in marriage relationship to the Lord. Her beauty should be really for Him, not for the admiration of others (Psalms 45:11). So Abimelech says he was giving to "her brother," a thousand pieces of silver for a covering for her eyes, a veil for Sarah to conceal her beauty from others rather than display it. This reminds us of Rebekah, when she saw Isaac, covering herself with a veil (Genesis 24:65). If Sarah had done this in Gerar, the king would not have noticed her.

Then Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household, and the Lord reversed the governmental infliction he had placed upon them. None of the wives in all the court of Abimelech had been able to bear children because of Sarah's being taken into his household. Typically this reminds us that, though religious systems, claiming to be Christian, apparently like the idea of bringing the grace of God into their ritual, still they only see it as an addition to their principle of law-keeping, and this kind of mixture of law and grace is abhorrent to God. "If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6).

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 20:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-20.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 1st, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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