The Life of Abraham, Part 12: Abraham's Witness to Abimelech
Last week we learned of the terrible destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their gross wickedness. From the destruction, the LORD graciously delivered Lot and his two daughters. The tragedy was compounded when Lot was too afraid to go to the small town or Zoar he had bargained with the LORD to go to. Lot had been a witness for the LORD in the most difficult of places, and he nearly paid for it with his life. He could have settled down at Zoar and been a witness there. But instead of going there, he shut himself up with his two daughters in a cave, hoping to find the sanctuary of a monastery. However, you cannot run from evil by escape. His daughters had gotten him drunk for the purpose that their own father would sleep with them and produce offspring. We can see in the attempt of Abraham and Sarah to have children by Hagar that this family had some odd ways to bring about having children. Before we try to compare Abraham to Lot as though Abraham was a strong man who made good choices and was blessed for his goodness by God and Lot who was weak in faith was punished for making bad choices, we will not have to look at the passage in today’s lesson. We shall soon learn that Abraham was not blessed for his merit but made choices as foolish as Lot’s.
Exposition of the Text
Abraham and Sarah were promised by God that they would be parents of a boy named Isaac in twelve months. We need to keep this thought in mind as we look at the happenings here. Abraham for whatever reason headed to the desert area from where he was. As the Negev was pretty hostile and dry, we might wonder why he did so. Perhaps after he had seen the flames and smoke come up from Sodom and Gomorrah, he wanted to get away from city life as far as possible. Perhaps this was an escape.
However, on the way there, he stopped at a small town named Gerar. When asked about her he told the king or the crown prince as Abimelech means “My Father (is) king. We must not think of kings in the Old Testament in the same light as we do in the great monarchs of history. They were more like clan leaders of mostly small groups. Perhaps the comparison here could be made to a small town mayor. Abimelech must have asked about Sarah, Abraham’s ninety year old wife and responded was told by Abraham that Sarah was his sister. Hearing this, he summoned Sarah to his harem.
Another detail we should not miss is that Sarah was an old worn out woman. Something must have happened to her to restore her youth and beauty. Usually, a prince or a king looks for pretty young women for a harem. Without saying it directly. God had restored Sarah’s youth and also her fertility. Her clock had been set back.
Old man Abraham had reverted to the same old lie he had told Pharaoh. And like the first lie, it became a source of stumbling. Abraham and Sarah were to become parents in one year, presumably conceiving a child in the normal way nine months earlier. If one looks at the math, one would discover a serious problem. Sarah was in another man’s harem, and the time to conceive Isaac was near. God was going to have to work fast.
God did so directly by coming to Abimelech in a dream and telling him that he was as good as dead for taking someone else’s wife. This is not the news you want to be awakened to hear. But Abimelech had been honorable and not yet slept with Sarah. Abimelech strangely answers the LORD with the same concern Abraham had for Sodom when Abraham told the LORD it was not right to slay the innocent with the guilty. Abimelech knew immediately when God came to him in the dream that Abraham had lied. And he protests his innocence to God, that he had taken Sarah based on false information.
We should note the generic term “God” is used in talking to Abimelech and not Yahweh. Also he does not address God by the name either but uses Adon, which is Lord, not LORD. The relationship that Abimelech has is not the same as that of Abraham. If the favor of being in covenant relationship was based upon works rather than grace, the more honorable pagan Abimelech was more deserving of being in covenant with Yahweh. This was a lesson that should have been learned by the wilderness generation who was reminded by Moses that they were not chosen because they were great and honorable but simply by God’s free choice and election. After all, the story of Abraham was recorded by Moses in the first five books of the bible just before his death.
God responds to Abimelech that he is aware of the situation and it was by his grace that He prevented Abimelech from consummating the relationship. God orders Abimelech to restore Sarah to Abraham right away or his entire clan would die.
Morning could not have happened soon enough for Abimelech. He calls in Abraham and severely rebukes Abraham’s dishonesty. He asks why on earth Abraham would subject him to such a threat. Abraham’s answer was that he felt no one feared God in the place. He was afraid for his life the same way he had been afraid in Egypt. So he now tells the truth. Technically, Sarah was his half-sister. He also relates that God had caused him to leave his settled life and wander in Canaan, he had made a pact with her that she would show her loyalty to him by only claiming to be a brother and not mentioning that she was his wife. We can see that Abraham was as mixed up in life as Lot was. He was no better than his nephew. He wasn’t even as good as some of the Canaanites who were to eventually be removed from the land for their wickedness.
Abimelech also showed more understanding of making a guilt offering, even though Abraham was far guiltier than he. He made a great restitution for his theft of Abraham’s wife. The Law of Moses commanded restitution for theft, but Abimelech was extravagant. In the Law that came more than 400 years after Abraham, the thief was to restore at most fourfold. But Abimelech gave Abraham a king’s ransom. He gave 1,000 pieces of silver plus sheep, cattle, servants, and maidservants. It is quite ironic that Abraham had refused great riches from the evil king of Sodom because he did not want it known that that king made him rich. But here, he as really the guilty party takes the riches of a man who was more righteous than he.
Abraham then prayed for the healing of the women. The NET Bible says that the women were unable to conceive while Sarah was in harem. However, when one considers the time element in Abraham and Sarah’s life, I think the KJV says it better in suggesting the pregnant women were unable to go into labor. It would take some time to realize that no women were conceiving. And the fact that Abraham and Sarah needed to be together so that Isaac could be conceived and on one could claim Abimelech as father, I greatly prefer the King James at this point.
So in the end, Abraham and Sarah were where they needed to be for the next step in their great journey. Abraham had acted without faith that the LORD would protect him. The LORD did indeed protect him, but at what cost to himself. What kind of witness did Abraham bear to the Pagan world? Later on Paul would remind us by quoting another Old Testament passage that God’s name was blasphemed every day among the nations because of the actions of the Israelites. Abraham’s poor witness seems to have passed down to his posterity.
Abraham had shown himself most unworthy to be a covenant partner with God based upon his works. We tend to treat him and others like Jacob, Gideon, Samson, and David as being Old Testament heroes whose faith we should follow. Rather, we should see God as the hero who showed tremendous grace to unworthy. Abraham received a great blessing because a more worthy man accepted what should have been Abraham’s guilt as his own and paid a great ransom. In even a greater fashion, Jesus paid the cost and assumed the guilt that rightly was ours. We who deserved the severest punishment for our sin instead walk away enriched by the blessings of the eternal covenant made in Jesus’ blood. In this we should be abundantly and joyously thankful.
We must also remember that we are His children. Children can bring honor or disgrace to his or her parents. How many parents cringe when their child throws a tantrum in a restaurant? The parents will feel that every eye is staring at them. They don’t blame the child as much as the parents. Why should we want to cause the Lord Jesus who has given His all for us shame because of our sub-Christian conduct? Why should it be said that the unbelievers act in more moral a fashion than the children of God.
If we are going to have an effective witness for Jesus Christ, we must do all that is within our power to act in a manner that is honoring to him. Abraham had made an excuse to Abimelech for lying and not an apology. He should have at least confessed his guilt in the manner. And when we sin, we should be fast to confess. If the Pagan Abimelech made more than generous restitution to protect his earthly reputation, how much better would it be to suffer loss if need be than to bring reproach to Christ. Paul talks about such an incident in 1 Corinthians where one Christian was suing another in court, and that before unbelievers. He says it would have better to have been defrauded personally than to make such a spectacle before unbelievers.
We are on a pilgrimage of faith and are soon to enter the Promised Land where there are streets of gold and gates of pearl? We don’t need all the material stuff the world lusts after anyway. When we realize that we have the pearly of great price which we gladly exchanged all of our worldly goods, we can gladly live in our humble tents in the meanwhile. The good thing is that we can share the treasure with others when we share the gospel and be the richer rather than the poorer for it. Let us be above all reproach from the world. We cannot like Lot hide in a cave. We have to bear witness in the world. Just let that be the best witness that honors Jesus. Let us trust Him, because the Lord we are in covenant will rescue us from all danger. Even if we lose all our possessions or even our lives, we belong to Him.