In our study of Genesis chapter twenty, we look at the lesson that Abraham had to learn concerning faith and location. As the father of our faith, we sometimes forget that Abraham was still a man and so struggled with understanding his faith just as we do today. Here, we will go along with him as he learns that faith is not location specific.
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,
The Negev is a desert/semi-desert region in southern Israel and that is where Abraham went after he witnessed the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah. Why he went into that area instead of the more fertile areas, we do not know but we see that he spent time in Gerar. Throughout the Bible, the desert is a place of testing and the purpose of that testing is to grow us in our faith.
and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
While in Gerar, Abraham lied and denied that Sarah was his wife. We remember from our past studies that she was a beautiful woman and this is not the first time that he lied about Sarah. He had feared that he would be killed so that another man could take his wife. This brings us to the purpose for his time in this place of testing. Abraham was a great man of faith but he had to learn that God is in control in all places at all times. This is a great lesson for us as well, in that, it does not matter what we are going through (which desert), God is still able to protect His own. Jesus promised that He would never leave or forsake us and we can hold onto that because He keeps His promises!
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.'
We see that, even in the face of Abraham's lack of faith, God stepped in on his behalf. We can take courage from the fact that God did this even though Abraham had lied. There are those who walk around worried that God will turn His back on them because of their struggles of faith. Their struggle may be with telling lies, doing drugs or alcohol, or any number of other things. The devil wants us to believe that God's favor depends on our efforts to overcome the struggles instead of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must remember that God's favor is upon us because we are His children through our faith in Jesus.
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.'
In his dream, Abimelek states his case for justice and we are reminded that God knows the heart of man. God knew that he had not intentionally sinned and thought that he was doing what was right. It reminds us that we are not held responsible for things that God does not make known to us. He has given us a Counselor to make us aware of His plans and to guide us in that path.
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.'
We see that it was God who had kept the king from touching Sarah and we are reminded that we must rely on Him to overcome whatever we face. If we will listen and follow the leading of the Spirit, we can be sure that He will keep us from sin. We also see that God's favor was still upon Abraham and it would be displayed for the king by God answering Abraham's prayer on his behalf. He was to go and have Abraham pray on his behalf to save himself and his family. James said that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (see James 5:16) and so we know that the same power is at work today. Unlike Abimelek, we do not have to go to someone else to have them pray for our needs. In Christ, we are made righteous and can ask for what we need on our own. That brings up questions about prayer lists, prayer chains, and getting together for prayer services: Are they more harm than good? The answer is maybe. If believers are thinking that they must be a part of that in order to have their prayers heard and answered, it is really forgetting the fact that Jesus died in order to give us personal access. If Christians are getting together to pray for others, it can be useful to build others up in the faith. When they see the prayers answered, it can build them up in their faith but we must be careful to say that it only takes one Christian to pray for God to hear and act on their behalf. Anything else is close to Nicolaitism which Jesus denounced in His letters to the churches (see Revelation 2). The sad fact is that many prayer chains and services degrade into gossip festivals which do not glorify God. For more on this, check out our modern parable titled Simon's Tears.
Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid.
Abimelek believed God and explained what had happened to his appointed leaders. They became afraid and, in this, we see that God has the power to work in the hearts everyone, even those who do not belong to Him. As the wisest man ever (Solomon) said, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge".
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 to me things that should never be done.' And Abimelek asked Abraham, 'What was your reason for doing this?'
Abimelek asks Abraham why he did this to him. This is a reminder to us, as Christians, that our actions towards those who do not believe in Jesus are very important. Abraham was known to be a man of God and, yet, the king knew that his actions did not reflect that. As children of God, we are to love other believers but we are also to love those who are perishing. Jesus said that people would know that we are His followers by the demonstration of our love.
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.'"'
Abraham begins his explanation with "I said to myself" and that is usually the place where the problem starts. It begins with fear and then grows from there. He did not go by what God had told him but by what he thought. It is the same for us when we fail to remember that what God says about something is what matters and not our thoughts or feelings. Then, he begins to minimize the offense by saying that what he had said was true but it just wasn't the entire truth. We are reminded that a half-truth is still a lie.
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.'
We see that Abimelek went well above what God had required him to do as he presented gifts to Abraham. This man that Abraham had accused of being ungodly was actually showing more honor to God than Abraham had done in not trusting God. His actions remind us that, with repentance, comes a new attitude and that attitude is backed up by action. Abimelek was truly sorry for what he had done and he set about making it right.
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.'
Abimelek's repentance included making things right with Sarah. He gave what would have amounted to about 25 pounds of silver for his offence against her. It is interesting to note that he says he gave it to her "brother" reminding them of the fact that their lie started the mess.
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.
We see that Abimelek had become cursed because of Abraham's lie. Even though Abraham had lied, God still heard and answered his prayer on behalf of Abimelek. That is a reminder to us, as Christians, that we do not have to be perfect to have God hear and answer our prayers. Abraham, the father of our faith, was not perfect and yet God heard and used him in a mighty way.