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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 20

 

 

Verses 1-18

Genesis 20. Abraham Passes off Sarah as his Sister at Gerar.—The first complete narrative from E. The writer uses Elohim, but P's characteristics are absent. Phraseology as well as the use of Elohim instead of Yahweh forbid us to assign it to J, who has also a variant of the story (Genesis 12:1-20); contrast Genesis 20:13 with Genesis 12:11-13. Features which point to E are the phraseology, the representation of Abraham as a prophet (Genesis 20:7) and his home as in the Negeb (Genesis 20:1), also the speaking of God in a dream; Sarah is obviously of an age and beauty to attract royal attention, therefore not ninety years of age (Genesis 17:17). E presumably placed the incident soon after Abraham's entrance into Canaan; he is not, of course, responsible for the ages given in Genesis 12:4, Genesis 17:17. As compared with Genesis 12:12-20 our story exhibits a more refined moral feeling. In Genesis 12:12-20 Abrahamsaves his life at the cost of his wife's honour, and gets rich by the price he receives for her; Pharaoh discovers the truth by the plagues on himself and his household, and Abraham has no explanation to offer; he is accordingly deported. In Genesis 20 Sarah is taken into the harem but her honour is preserved by Abimelech's illness (Genesis 20:17). He learns the truth through Divine communication, and Abraham's lie is reduced to a mental reservation. His wealth is acquired as a compensation for the injury, not to his wife's honour, but to her reputation, and he is encouraged to remain in the country. In Genesis 26:1-11 there is no actual peril to Rebekah, but Abimelech points out that Isaac's lie made such peril possible. The king has no thought of appropriating her, and Isaac's prosperity is due to Yahweh's blessing on his crops. Gerar is also represented as a Philistine city, which is not the case here.

Genesis 20:1. Gerar: site uncertain, perhaps the Wady Jerur, 13 miles SW. of Kadesh.

Genesis 20:4. nation: perhaps indefinite, "righteous folk." King, not nation, was threatened (Genesis 20:3). Observe the ancient view that the act, however innocently done, might involve guilt and penalty (Genesis 20:3), which might be averted by intercession (Genesis 20:7), struggling with the sense that this was unjust where the act was done with pure motives and in ignorance. The prophet is a sacred person who may not be touched with impunity; his wife should therefore be restored. And as a prophet, he can offer prevailing intercession for the king's recovery. The use of the term is a sign that the narrative is later than Samuel (1 Samuel 9:9).

Genesis 20:10. What sawest thou: rather, "What possessed thee."

Genesis 20:12. No hint of this is given in Genesis 12:18 f. It may be E's alleviation of Abraham's lie. Marriage with a half-sister is regarded as possible in 2 Samuel 13:13, though forbidden in Deuteronomy 27:22, Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:11; Leviticus 20:17.

Genesis 20:13. In Genesis 12:11-13 the deceit is concocted for use in Egypt, not a scheme devised for general use in their wanderings.

Genesis 20:16. thy brother: a delicate reproof.—a thousand pieces of silver: this amount of silver would now be worth about £137 10s., but its purchasing power would be vastly greater then than now.—behold . . . righted: the text is corrupt. The general meaning seems to be that Sarah's reputation has been re-established and adequate compensation made.

Genesis 20:17. The barrenness of the king's wife and harem is adequately explained by Abimelech's malady; possibly they were inserted by the hand to which we owe Genesis 20:18; this verse is a gloss—it uses the name Yahweh and misunderstands Genesis 20:17.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 20:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-20.html. 1919.

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