Daily Distinctives, March 27, 2018 – Abraham the Recidivist?

Alas, my favorite part of the day. I love getting to dig into the WORD and go deeper than what I call “check-box” devotionals. You know what I mean. Those times where you rush through a few verses in a daily reading so you can “check the box.” I am not saying that you can’t get anything out of light reading, so long as you don’t make it the only kind of reading and studying you do. It would be like going on a diet. When you diet you limit your caloric intake and over time you start to lose weight. But if your diet on the Bible has little to no caloric intake, so to speak, then you run the risk of being biblically malnourished.

The thing about habits (good or bad) is the more you do them the easier they become to do. If you get into the habit of studying the WORD as opposed to checking off the box you will find that deeper studies will become easier to do. On the same token, if you do negative things, such as sin, over time your sin will begin to become easier and easier to do. This might be said of Abraham, who in our verses today returns to his old ways.

[Gen 20:1 NKJV]
And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar.

Now we are not told exactly why Abraham pulled up his stakes and moved but one could imagine how difficult it must have been to look out over the valley and see the smoldering destruction that once was Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s just say that his residence no longer had the “curb-appeal” that it once had.

Now, as I look back on the previous studies, I don’t see anywhere that Abraham received a confirmation of Lot being spared. I have to think that he must have known, or at least had faith that God had delivered him. Some extra-biblical commentary suggests that Abraham knew of Lot’s rescue by divine revelation, others suggest that Lot’s reputation preceded him and Abram discovered his fate later on. But since we are not told I am going to leave it alone. I bring this up only because it might have been a motive for Abraham’s departure. From Abraham’s vantage point he could have watched over Lot, or at least been close enough to help Lot if need be. If Abraham presumed Lot to be dead then there would be nothing but bad memories each time he looked out over the plain that the LORD God destroyed.

[Gen 20:2 NKJV]
Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She [is] my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

So, Abraham and his family are in Gerar now and it does not take Abraham very long to resort to his old tricks. Now, why would Abraham bother to continue with his lies about Sarah being his sister? Well, like most lies, they are told when it is expedient to do so. Technically, as we will see moving forward, Sarah was his sister (see my last devotional on incest), but Abraham was not being completely honest here.

You have to understand the culture of that time. Though Abraham had many men who were of age and able-bodied in the event that there was a need to go to battle, Abraham likely came into this region with the realization that he was greatly outnumbered (Luke 14:31-32 –though not in context still an applicable example). Seeing that he was outnumbered he decides to “play it safe.” In this day in age, it would have been a common practice to conquer a rival and as an act of supremacy, the invading party would defile the wives of the harem of the opposing force. Abraham, being a wealthy man, likely had a relatively large harem (it was not uncommon to have multiple wives in this age–and though we are only told of one other wife, Hagar, other servant women may have made up a sizeable harem of sorts). Rather than run the risk of being overthrown he thought it was more prudent that he be found with a sister who was quite the prize than to be found with a wife and killed for her and the spoils which he possessed in abundance.

Now, this begs the question, how attractive was Sarah really? I mean, I have seen some 90-year-old women, and while they are absolutely beautiful in a different kind of way, they all have passed beyond the flower of their youth and would not likely make the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition. Some commentaries suggest that in order for her to be able to bear a child in her old age that God had to have somehow rejuvenated her, While this could explain things, I would argue that the customs of the time likely precluded would-be attackers from harming Abraham because it was his sister and not his wife. I read a great deal of debate on the topic of “wife-sisters” as they relate to Hurrian customs, but I don’t want to open that can of worms. At the end of the day, we can argue everything but Abrahams motives. Abraham didn’t want to die.

Now, we can look back at the previous account when Abraham lied to Pharaoh for some interesting differences. In the previous account, God did not intervene by direct contact with Pharaoh, as we will see in this account, but He brought a plague upon Pharaoh. Now we are not told how it was revealed to Pharoah that Sarai was Abrams wife, but one might suggest that the actions of Abram and Sarai were that of a married couple and Pharaoh put two and two together for himself. But here, we see that not only is there a physical consequence for the king of Gerar taking Sarah (as the wombs of the women of Gerar were closed while Sarah was in the custody of the king), but God also comes to the king, Abimelech, in a dream warning him that he was in danger of sinning against God by taking Sarah carnally.

[Gen 20:3 NKJV]
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.”

I see this as a form of God’s protection over Sarah. In an age where women were treated as second-class people, on the same level as servants in many instances, God always stands in the gap for the disenfranchised and defenseless. The fact that men like Abraham and Lot did not regard their wives or daughters with the kind of reverence and respect that the Bible admonishes us to have for women today, it is understandable, not acceptable behavior in my opinion. Still, the prospect of God calling you a “dead man” would have you shaking in your boots! It could be said that the term “dead man” here is referring to the inability for the people to have children as indicated by verse 18 of this chapter; however, verse 7 of the same chapter seems to infer the more devastating and final form.

[Gen 20:4 NKJV]
But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also?

Perhaps Abimelech pulled a page from Abrahams book here. It could be that Abraham had recounted his story and his plea for the inhabitants of Sodom and now is appealing to God the way that the believers of God apparently did. In other words, he appealed on the basis of what he knew about God. There is no evidence that Abimelech was a believer in God. It is more likely that he appealed to his perception of what he knew about God’s justice.

[Gen 20:5 NKJV]
“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.”

The reality is God is interested in upholding the truth. Abimelech is being honest in his own defense. Some might argue that the integrity of his own heart and innocence of his hands had little to do with it to do with. No doubt, he was innocent, in that he did not know all of the facts, it is more accurate God divinely intervened and by the sheer grace of God, Abimelech was withheld from defiling Sarah as we discover in the next verse.

[Gen 20:6 NKJV]
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.

[Gen 20:7 NKJV]
“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.”

And so, God makes Abimelech and offer he can’t refuse. God affirms Abimelech’s innocence in the matter but tells him that what he is doing is wrong and that to continue on would mean the demise of him and his family. But I want to bring something to attention here as it deals with motive. We see that though it was not Abimelech’s intention to sin against God, and even though it is unlikely that Abimelech adhered to any biblical standard, he still had a sense of morality to some degree. This begs the question of whether or not unbelievers are under a kind of grace based on what they do with the truth of moral imperatives (Matthew 5:45). In our current culture, we hold to “Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for ignorance is no excuse for the law). It is good to see that God judges not by our ignorance but by the intent of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). But Still, we understand from a salvational perspective that adherence to moral imperatives is not what saves a soul. Still, as it pertains to righteous judgment God sees the heart of Abimelech and vindicates him of any wrongdoing.

Another interesting point I want to draw attention to is the fact that God refers to Abraham as a prophet. This would actually be the first mention and named prophet in the Bible. This is quite interesting considering Abrahams proclivities to do his own thing. This is encouraging considering my own fallacies. A prophet was a spokesman for God, one to whom God revealed His will and through whom He spoke ( Exodus 4:14-16; 7:1-2; Hebrews. 1:1; Zechariah. 7:12; Jeremiah. 1:9).  So, we may rightly conclude that Abraham fit the bill.

[Gen 20:8 NKJV]
So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid.

And rightly so. Abimelech, now convicted by a righteous dose of fear calls his people together and proclaims what the LORD had told him in his dream. But I get the sense that God used Abimelech to teach Abraham a very important lesson. God was definitely not through with Abraham. I find it interesting how God will use pagans to teach his people important lessons. We see examples of how God uses the ungodly to convict and judge God’s people throughout the Bible. This is exactly what we find in the next verse as Abimelech scolds Abraham.

[Gen 20:9 NKJV]
And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.”

[Gen 20:10 NKJV]
Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”

Abimilech’s line of questioning should have brought upon humility in Abraham but it seems like Abraham’s response was less than humble. While Abraham does admit his fault, he justifies it by trying to offer up a technicality. Still, do we not do the same thing from time to time? It is a hard thing for some to accept when they are wrong. It is easier to take the edge off of our own guilt by trying to justify our wrongdoings.

[Gen 20:11 NKJV]
And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God [is] not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.

Had Abraham stopped here it would have been a whole lot easier to view this as an apology and not an excuse. Here Abraham admits to his motives, and while he may have been repentant, I personally do not see any language here that would lead me to believe this was the case. In fact, I am reminded of my of when I catch my own children in the act of doing something wrong and how they justify their behavior. I can think of several examples in my own life where I have done the same thing. Admitting what you have done is the first step to repentance, but we can’t stop there. Repentance must follow close on the heels of admission. I don’t see this with Abraham so far. Instead, we see Abraham argues the technicality and recounts why he has done what he did.

[Gen 20:12 NKJV]
“But indeed [she is] truly my sister. She [is] the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

[Gen 20:13 NKJV]
“And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This [is] your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He [is] my brother.” ‘ “

To make matters worse for Abraham, it seems here that he actually blames God. Notice he says, “…when God caused me to wander from my father’s house.” Abraham was guilty of not only not trusting God’s provision, but accusing God of causing him to have to lie. Again, I find it comforting to know that one can be a work in progress and still be used by God. This is why I view the process of sanctification with delight. Sure, it hurts going through the sanctification process. Just as rosebush is pruned so that it can produce even more beautiful flowers, so we are pruned to be conformed to the image of God.

[Gen 20:14 NKJV]
Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave [them] to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him.

[Gen 20:15 NKJV]
And Abimelech said, “See, my land [is] before you; dwell where it pleases you.”

So, Abimelech passes judgment on Abraham but then blesses Abraham and follows the command of the LORD. I would have to say that Abimelech may very well have become a believer after this. He certainly does what believers are commanded to do by blessing Abraham after he used him in the way that he did (Luke 6:28). But what about Sarah’s culpability in the matter? “I would have gotten away with it too if weren’t for those pesky last couple of verses! (using my best Scooby Doo villain voice). Sarah was at fault for playing along with the charade and Abimelech calls her out for it in similar form.

[Gen 20:16 NKJV]
Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand [pieces] of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who [are] with you and before everybody.” Thus she was rebuked.

Still, we have to deal with Abraham on the issue of repentance. Up until this point, we see no fruit of repentance; however, it could be argued that repentance shows its fruit in the form of action. Perhaps this next verse will give us a bit of a clue as to how we ought to repent when we are guilty of sinning against another person.

[Gen 20:17 NKJV]
So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore [children];

[Gen 20:18 NKJV]
for the LORD had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

If indeed this was an act of repentance then we can surmise that when we sin against another actions are demanded of us as well. I like the fact that Abraham prays to God. It would appear that even in his sinful state, Abraham was an intercessory prayer warrior. I suppose then when it comes to a practical application when we are the offending party that we should go to God in prayer. We are not told exactly what Abraham prayed, but we could very well assume, based on the godly character of Abraham (that is when he was living in accordance with godliness), that Abraham prayed first for forgiveness and then sought to bless the one whom he had wronged. We do know that God answered his prayer in the affirmative as the wombs of the house of Abimelech were again opened and they were able to bear children.

Prayer: LORD, help me to not sin in ignorance. Even more, help me to not willfully sin against You. I know what manner of man that I am, and I do desire to live righteously before You, still I struggle with the same difficulties that Paul argued, “the things I will not to do that I practice.” LORD, I know that practice makes perfect and I don’t want to perfect my own sinfulness so I pray that You would help me to identify temptation more readily and give me the desire to please You above my own flesh. I am a selfish person and I want what I want when I want it. I am thankful that age has curbed some of the ugliness of my selfishness, and Your WORD and Spirit have entered into me to teach me beyond where experience has left off. Still, I need You daily, every moment really to help me discern the truth and then walk in it.  I am grateful that I am a work in progress and that You are not finished with me. I am even more grateful that You don’t make me wait until I am perfect before I can be of any use to You. I gladly submit to You LORD, help me to submit even more. I love You LORD and I pray for Your people, starting with my family whom You have entrusted me to shepherd. I pray that You would cause them to look to my godliness and not my sinfulness as to the manner of man that I truly am. That they would see in me a man who earnestly desires to be pleasing to You. I pray for my church family. I ask LORD, that You would attend to their spiritual and physical needs as You have with me. I pray for our church leaders, but even more specifically for my pastor and his family as they struggle with health issues. I pray that Your will would be done, but intercede for healing as You are the Great Physician and Your miraculous hand still works wonders. Let Your wonders be witnessed in this family. Lord, I pray for the church as a whole that You would bless Your body with revival. Finally, I pray for the lost, that You would use Your church to reach them, and if I am fit in Your eyes to do so that You would use me as well. I ask this in the blessed name of Jesus my Savior. –Amen

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