Once again, Abraham calls his wife his sister. Recall in Genesis 12, Abraham (then Abram) called Sarah his sister to befriend the pagan Pharaoh in Egypt. And again, Abraham makes his own plans while waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. He tells the same lie as before. Why didn’t he learn, especially after seeing what happens to those who completely lose sight of the Lord in Genesis 19? Well, why don’t we learn from our mistakes, sins, and failures? Why do we repeat the same sin over and over again, always coming back to God for forgiveness? The beauty of this story is how God uses a righteous man’s sins to show a pagan people a prophet, and how God uses a pagan to teach a righteous man.
At this point, it is quite possible that Sarah is still beautiful (Genesis 12:14), even at 90, since Abimelek took her as she came into the region of Negev. Abimelek means “father is king.” God appears to the king, and the king immediately addresses Him as Lord, showing that Abimelek had some knowledge of God’s covenant with the world. Then things get scary. In a dream, God tells Abimelek he is a dead man. Talk about a nightmare. The harshness here is to protect Abraham’s seed inside Sarah. If Abimelek had also planted his seed inside Sarah, an element of doubt in God’s promises would be attached (literally) to Jesus’ ancestral line.
Abimelek’s response is one of honesty and innocence. Put ourselves in his shoes. I don’t think any of us would want to be severely punished for an action where our heart was in the right place, and we did not knowingly sin against God. God is fair and just. He knows our hearts. Here, God saw Abimelek’s integrity and protected him from worse sin by telling Abimelek that Sarah was married.
Abraham is called out by Abimelek, who asks his reasoning. And, like many of us, Abraham responds with an excuse. “Well… I thought this would happen if I didn’t do anything right now.” He took things into his own, imperfect, human hands instead of trusting in and having fear of the Lord, who had already delivered him this far. God has provided us with many blessings and helped us through many trials. If we forget everything He has done for us, what He is capable of, and focus on our fears of this world, we will continue making our own, ungodly choices, which leads us (and others) into more trouble.
Abimelek takes heed to God’s warning and makes right before consequences fall upon him. He even shows generosity to Abraham, the man who had wronged him. This characteristic mirrors that of our Lord, who continues to love us even though we wrong him over and over again. Also, Abraham most likely felt guilty after tempting a man unknowingly into sin. Abimelek forgiving him and giving him more than he deserves, even after Abraham’s excuses, probably made Abraham feel even more guilty. This burden of guilt is lifted when we return to the Lord and ask for forgiveness. It is avoided when we do not continue in these same sins.
“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” – Romans 12:20
Even Abraham, the father of many nations, was not justified by his works. His lies tempted another into sin. We should we warned by Abraham’s actions, and also find peace in God’s mercy and fairness. God protects and humbles us to that we can lead others more to Him.