Genesis 20 — But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die

Mercy and Grace — courtesy of

Read Genesis 20

The last we saw Abraham, he was in the place where he had stood before the Lord. He was standing on the promontory overlooking Sodom and Gomorrah. The valley was smoking, with dense smoke like smoke from a furnace, the Bible says. They were utterly and completely destroyed. God is to be feared for His judgement is perfect, and also thorough. (Genesis 19:28)

Now we see Abraham on the move again. He heads South to the Negev and while in the region of the Negev, he spends some time in Gerar, a Philistine city South of the Gaza Strip on Israel’s West coast. It’s here in Gerar where we see Abraham make the same mistake a second time. As he did in Egypt, Abraham feared that the king would become taken with his wife Sarah’s great beauty and kill him to get him out of the way, that the king might take Sarah into his harem. So Abraham describes her to the people of Gerar as his sister. And Sarah describes Abraham to the people of Gerar as her brother. A half truth because although Sarah was Abraham’s wife, Sarah and Abraham also had the same father but did not share the same mother. So Abraham’s telling a half truth about his half sister. His motivation to do so was fear — the fear of man. Abraham tried to speculate on what was going on in the king’s head. He assumed that king Abimelek would kill him so he could have Sarah for himself. A suspicion of evil in others is often the little bit of leaven that leads to the pollution of the whole loaf. That is to say that suspicion of evil in others is often the seed that sprouts and grows into more sin. There’s great wisdom in being charitable towards others, in giving others the benefit of the doubt. For more on the trap of the fear of man and speculating on people’s motives see the previous post on Genesis 12:10-20.

Predictably, king Abimelek sends for Sarah and takes her for himself. Things look desperate. Sarah’s gone from the family and has become a part of the king’s harem. How low Abraham must have been feeling at that moment. He’s lost his beautiful wife because of his cowardly behavior. However the next two words, as they so often do, bring hope and light to the situation. The next two words are “But God…” (v. 3)

But God came to Abimelek in a dream… and said to him, “You are as good as dead…” God comes to Abimelek and lays the whole thing out. You, Abimelek, are as good as dead! Because Sarah is a married woman. Notice here that Abraham’s sin has opened up Abimelek to sin. As Matthew Henry says, “The sin of one often occasions the sin of others; he that breaks the hedge of God’s commandments opens a gap to he knows not how many; the beginning of sin is as the letting forth of water.”

Abimelek, who hadn’t yet gotten anywhere near Sarah,  pleads his case and says, Lord, I’m innocent, and the kingdom of Gerar is innocent. Abraham told us that she’s his sister, and she told us that he’s her brother. My actions were based on the best information that I had at the time. What more can I do?

God replies, Yes, I know, that’s why I kept you from her, that’s why I didn’t let you touch her.

God prevents Abimelek from sinning, He also prevents Abraham from suffering from sin, and He prevents Sarah from both. People sometimes pose the question, “How could a loving God allow evil and suffering?” The answer is that, yes, it’s true, since Adam, the world is in a fallen state, and with the fall came evil and suffering. But as we see here, things aren’t as bad as hell and evil men would have them, because of God’s intervention. The Lord in His mercy prevents greater sin and suffering. Sin and suffering don’t come from the Lord. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

Now return her to Abraham, for he’s a prophet of mine, and he’ll pray for you and you’ll live, God continues. But, if you don’t return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die. (v. 7)

Early the next morning Abimelek calls a big meeting of all his officials and when he tells them about his dream they freak. With his whole administration afraid because of what’s happened, it’s obvious to Abimelek what he has to do next.

Abimelek summons Abraham to return Sarah to him. But first he chastises Abraham, he says, What is the deal? What did I ever do to you that you would bring this guilt upon me and my kingdom? Notice here that Abimelek recognizes that his actions have consequences for his kingdom. This is a good reminder to you. You’re example to your people is one of the most powerful dimensions of your leadership. The sin of the leader often results in the suffering of those who follow him. And the integrity of the leader averts disaster and results in blessings. (Traveler and the Chaplain, Matthew Henry)

Abimelek continues, You’ve done things to me that should never be done! What were you thinking?

Abraham replies, I was thinking that there’s no fear of God in this place, and that you would kill me to get me out of the way so you could take my trophy wife from me. Oh, and by the way, she really is my sister you know. We both have the same father but different mothers. When God told me to travel from my father’s household, I figured that I better have a plan to deal with kings like you who might want to kill me for my wife. So I concocted this plan for Sarah to say that she’s my sister.

Then Abimelek did the same thing that Pharaoh did when he found himself in this situation, he gave Sarah back to Abraham and he gave him sheep, and cattle, and male slaves, and female slaves. And he gave Abraham 1,000 shekels of silver (around 25 lbs. or 12 kilos). Interestingly, when Abimelek does so he says to Sarah, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver,” (emphasis mine) reminding Sarah and Abraham that they deceived him by withholding that Abraham is Sarah’s husband. (v. 16)

And finally, Abimelek told Abraham to live wherever he wanted in the kingdom of Gerar.

All of these blessings were given to Abraham, not because Abimelek was impressed with Abraham, but rather, because Abimelek was impressed with Abraham’s God.

Now while Abimelek held Sarah, God had caused all the women in Abimelek’s household to become barren. So after the king returned Sarah to Abraham, Abraham prayed to the Lord and He healed all the women so they could have children again.

This brings us to the end of Genesis chapter 20.

God’s Digital Red One Camera:

My son Nathaniel has made a couple of independent films. He shot his first one on regular film but for his second movie, he used an amazing digital camera called the Red One.

What a difference. When he used regular film there was no easy way to take bad scenes and delete them from the reel of raw footage. All of the lousy scenes, all of the scenes that he and his team wished they could do over, may not have made it into the final version of the movie, but they remained on a reel of raw footage, in a canister, preserved there, forever.

But with the Red One camera, Nate and his team could, with relative speed and ease, delete scenes that they no longer wanted around.

Do you ever wish that you could delete scenes from your life? Do you ever wish that you could go back in time and do life over?

Of course you do! We all do. We all have regrets over the way we’ve handled different situations in life. No doubt Abraham did after lying to Pharaoh and then blowing it again with Abimelek. After making his wife vulnerable that way in order to preserve his own skin — twice.

I am so glad that I’m not God. If I were God, at this point in Abraham’s life, I’d be saying to him, “Are you kidding me?!? Didn’t we go through this same deal with Pharaoh, just a few chapters ago? What part of honoring Me through integrity and honesty don’t you understand? I was going to hold you up as the father of faith, but no more. From now on you’ll be known as the coward who hid behind his wife’s skirt. You blew it Abraham.”

But thankfully, I’m not God. And mercifully, God didn’t respond that way.

Instead God protected Sarah from Abimelek. Instead God protected Abraham from Abimelek and the army of his kingdom. Instead God blessed Abraham with favor from the king of Gerar.

Instead, in spite of Abraham’s sin, God calls him His prophet — Genesis 20, verse 7 is the first time in the Bible that the word prophet is used. Talk about grace, after Abraham lies and behaves in this milk-livered manner, God in His grace and mercy, identifies Abraham as His prophet, He tells Abimelek that Abraham belongs to Him.

Instead, and again in spite of Abraham’s sin, God uses him to heal Abimelek’s household through Abraham’s prayer.

Instead, God even calls Abraham the father of faith in Galatians 3.

And now, for you and for me, God, who’s perfect memory films, if you will, every moment of your life, and every moment of mine, the One who records even every thought in your mind, He is using the Red One camera.

Do you have some scenes in your life that you want to delete? Do you want a chance to start over? I have great news. God has provided a way. He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins. He sent his Son to erase from God’s perfect memory your sins and mine.

Want to start your life over again? Jesus said you can be born again. (John 3:1-17)

Want to delete some scenes from your life? Enter into the new covenant with Jesus Christ and the Lord will forgive you and delete your sins from His memory. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

In spite of Abraham’s sin, in spite of the fact that Abraham is committing the same sin for the second time, God is abundantly merciful and gracious to Abraham. And just think, this is before the new covenant! Just think how much more merciful and gracious God will be toward you and toward me now that Christ has died on our behalf. Now that Christ has torn the curtain of the temple in two from top to bottom.  (Mark 15:38) Now that the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

You can start over. You can have the sin in your life erased from God’s memory.

Accept Jesus Christ as your savior.

Take hope in the words of Jesus:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:17

See So Your Life Is Falling Apart .

Genesis 20:

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”

Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.” And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”

Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”

To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, for the LORD had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.


Traveler and the Chaplain – A Christian Parable

Bible Gateway

Ben Courson

Blue Letter Bible

Matthew Henry

Ray Stedman

Jon Courson

One Comment on “Genesis 20 — But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die

  1. Pingback: Genesis 21:22-34 What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves? « bennett's blog

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