Abraham moved his flocks toward the Negev following the departure of the three heavenly guests. The text does not specify; but, this move may have been necessary following the catastrophic devastation of the cities of Siddim.
And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister. And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.
But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.
And God said to him in a dream, Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.
Abraham established a temporary home base on the coastal plain near the Negev. The nearest city was Gerar about 15 miles south east of modern-day Gaza and some 50 miles west of Hebron. As was their practice when in unfamiliar territory, Abraham and Sarah agreed to present themselves as brother and sister rather than as husband and wife.
What they hadn’t anticipated was Abimelech’s abduction of Sarah for his harem. Although an extraordinarily beautiful woman even at 90 years of age, Abimelech used the situation to create an alliance with Abraham, who was a wealthy and powerful prince.
Once again, God intervened on Abraham and Sarah’s behalf. Appearing to Abimelech in a dream He tersely warned, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife” (Gen. 20:3).
Abimelech’s response is illuminating: “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? (v. 4). It is obvious Abimelech knew about the devastation of the cities in the Valley of Siddim and appealed to God’s mercy. It appears that he attempted to excuse his actions based on the information given by Abraham and Sarah. However, while conceding that Abimelech had acted in ignorance, God still held him accountable for his actions.
This was a crucial moment not only in God’s redemptive purpose, but also in the life of Abraham and Sarah. God had promised a son fathered by Abraham and born through Sarah—the son of the covenant through which Messiah would come. God protected Sarah and in the process afflicted not only Abimelech, but also his family with a malady that made procreation impossible.
Interestingly, God informed Abimelech that his only hope was for Abraham to intercede on his behalf in prayer!
When Abimelech told his family and servants about the dream the next morning, everyone—including the men, “were very much afraid” (v. 8). Then, Abimelech called for Abraham. Like Pharaoh two decades earlier, he demanded an explanation.
Abimelech was apparently satisfied with Abraham’s clarification and quickly responded by returning Sarah.
In addition to a generous gift of livestock and servants, Abimelech also gave Abraham freedom to live and graze flocks wherever he pleased on the king’s land.
Finally, Abimelech gave Abraham 1,000 shekels of silver as an expiatory gift to make amends for any shame he had caused Sarah (v. 16). The payment was a veiled admission of wrongdoing that brought closure to the matter.
Abimelech obviously saw the advantage of maintaining a friendly relationship with Abraham who represented the One-true God.
As promised, Abraham interceded for Abimelech resulting in the immediate healing of the entire family (v.17). Abraham’s intercessory prayer for Abimelech was a powerful testimony of the greatness of the One-true God.
In this situation, God did two things. He forced Abimelech to acknowledge His sovereignty while underscoring His unique relationship with Abraham. Abraham also experientially learned that God was able to protect him in every situation—even in the untoward actions of neighboring kings.
1) Bible opened to Isaiah. By Ken Horn, [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Abimelech restores Sarah, as in Genesis 20:14. (By Phillip Medhurst, Own work), [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.