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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.

Abraham journeyed from thence. Whence? No place is mentioned in connection with the patriarch's name in the context immediately preceding. We must look back to Genesis 13:18; because all the transactions related in the intermediate chapters took place while Abraham had his headquarters established in "Mamre, which is in Hebron." His motive for removing might be a necessity to obtain fresh pastures; but considering it was immediately subsequent to the destruction of the plain, it probably was fear to dwell among the Canaanites.

Toward the south country. The word Negeb, or 'south,' is used to describe that tract of country through which lay the ordinary caravan road between central Canaan and Egypt. It comprised a considerable but irregularly-shaped region; its main portion stretching from the mountains and lowland of Judah on the north, to the mountains of the Azazimeh on the south, and from the Dead Sea and southern Ghor on the east, to the Mediterranean on the west. It had, however, a further extension northeastwardly to Lamentations 3:0 1ø 35' or 40', and southwestwardly to about Lamentations 3:0 0ø 35', where it met the desert et-Tih; thus occupying a middle position, both topographicaly and physically, between the rich soil of central Canaan and the sand wastes and "that great and terrible wilderness" (Negeb).

And dwelled between Kadesh and Shur (i:e., in the southwest portion of the Negeb: cf. 2 Chronicles 14:12).

And sojourned in Gerar. He with his family established his residence in the capital Gerar, situated at a spot now called Khirbet el-Jerar situated about three hours south-southeast of Gaza, near the mouth of Wady Es-Sheriah, and on the banks of Tour el-Gerar-the river Gerar (Williams' 'Holy City').

The territory of Gerar in the time of the patriarchs did not probably extend much to the north of the metropolis, but seems to have been comprised within nearly the same limits as the country of the Tiyahah tribe in the present day, which stretches northward as far as the neighbourhood of Gaza and Bir es-Seba. The eastern boundary, by a cross line to Wady el-Abyad, and Wady er-Ruhaibeh, is formed by the rocky district of the Azazimch; on the south it terminated at Wady el-Jerur (50 miles south from Gerar, in a line between Ain el-Kadeis and Jebel es-Sur), which runs into Wady el-Arish; while the western boundary, which must have been drawn at some distance from the sea, corresponded to the line of demarcation between the modern Arab tribes of Tiyƒhah and Terabin (Negeb). It was an undulating region, the extent and fertility of which, both as an arable and pastoral country, rendered it a favorite resort of the patriarchs.

Verse 2

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.

Abraham said of Sarah ... She is my sister - fear of the people among whom he was, tempted him to equivocate. His conduct was highly culpable. It was deceit, deliberate and premeditated-there was no sudden pressure upon him-it was the second offence of the kind-it was a distrust of God every way surprising, and it was calculated to produce injurious effects on the people around. Its mischievous tendency was not long in being developed.

Abimelech king of Gerar. Abimelech = father of the king, or my father-king. The name, like that of Pharaoh, seems to have been an official title, and probably assumed to distinguish the kingship as hereditary, not elective. He had a court and an army (Genesis 21:22); and from the close affinity of the government and usages to those of Egypt, there is every reason to believe the sovereigns were connected with the shepherd kings who ruled in lower Egypt (Deuteronomy 2:23), but who, being worsted in the politics convulsions of that country, had on their expulsion established themselves in the extensive pasture lands which lay along its northern border. Those early Philistines were a settled population, who occupied themselves for the most part in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture and keeping cattle. They were far superior in civilization and refinement to the Canaanitish tribes around; and this polish they doubtless owed to their Egyptian origin.

On Abraham's arrival in Gerar he was exposed to the same risk on account of his wife's beauty, that he had formerly experienced in Egypt and the same result followed-namely, that of Sarah's being taken into the royal harem-a result to which Abraham himself had directly led, by following the unworthy course of equivocation concerning her relation to him as his wife. Abimelech sent and took her to be one of his wives, in the exercise of a privilege claimed by Eastern sovereigns, already explained, Genesis 12:19.

Verse 3

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

God came to Abimelech in a dream by night. In early times a dream was often made the medium of communicating important truths; and this method was adopted for the preservation of Sarah. This is the first instance that has occurred in the course of the sacred history, of God giving a special revelation to any one who was not within the pale of the church and covenant; and therefore it is proper to observe that in all such supernatural communications it was to persons of power and influence, as Joseph, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel, with a prospective reference to the interests of his own people. So it was also in the instance before us.

And said to him, Behold, thou art ... a dead man - [Hebrew hinªkaa (H2009) meet (H4191).] Behold thee about to die. Laid upon a bed of sickness, in common with several inmates of his palace, by a sudden and violent malady, which apparently threatened to have a fatal issue, he was led to serious reflection. His nights were perturbed by dreams, in which his thoughts naturally took their course, as suggested by the special nature of his disease; and while his mind was thus in a state of preparation, God revealed to him in a dream the cause of all his personal and domestic distress.

Verse 4

But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?

Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? - [ 'Adonaay (H136), Lord: see the note at Genesis 15:2.] The use of this term shows that true religion still lingered in Gerar, as it appears from the case of Melchizedek to have done among a few of the native Canaanites; because Abimelech was evidently acquainted with the name and attributes of the Divine Being to whom he appealed as a worshipper; while the anxious enquiry, "Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?" suggested, doubtless, by the recent awful fate of the cities of the plain, implied that in national character his subjects bore an advantageous contrast with the debased and idolatrous inhabitants of that land.

Verse 5

Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.

Said he not unto me She is my sister? This as the first isit of Abraham to Gerar; and in his ignorance Said he not unto me, She is my sister? This was the first visit of Abraham to Gerar; and in his ignorance whether there was any moral or religious principle among the people of that place, he apprehended that he would be brought into danger from the rare attractions of his wife. By the disingenuous artifice he resorted to, and which he persuaded Sarah to support, he showed an indifference about the chastity of his wife, and through a slavish dread of death seemed eager to provide for his own safety at the expense of her honour; although a moment's reflection on the splendid promises made to him would have been sufficient to dispel all his fears.

In the integrity of my heart ... have I done this. This phrase is used in evident opposition to any deceit or violence; and has a reference solely to integrity and innocence with respect to his obtaining possession of Sarah, whom, on the ground of her ostensible relation to Abraham, he considered himself at liberty to appropriate conformably to the usage of his country and age. This plea God himself was pleased to admit; but at the same time informed him that the illness, under which he suffered was brought upon him to prevent the dishonour of the Hebrew woman, whom he was commanded to restore to her husband.

Verse 6

And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 7

Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.

He is a prophet, [Hebrew, naabiy' (H5030), a recipient of divine revelations] - one who is in direct communication with God-for whom the Deity shows a special favour, and whose intercessory prayers in behalf of any one are of great avail. The scriptural meaning of the word is, an interpreter of the divine will (Exodus 7:1-2). 'Abraham enjoyed many prophetic promises, which were reserved for coming generations; and to this plainly reference is had in the application to him of this term (Havernick).

And he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live. Since Abraham sustained a special covenant relation to God, he was still upheld in honour, notwithstanding this failure. He was the Lord's chosen servant, not on account of his personal righteousness, but by an act of grace; and consequently the divine purposes he had been called to promote would still be carried out, irrespectively of his occasional weaknesses in faith or errors in duty. God therefore told Abimelech to seek the benefit of the patriarch's prayers: for it is an established principle in the divine government that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much;" and there can be no doubt that the king's subsequent conversation with the devout patriarch was greatly conducive to his spiritual well-being.

Verse 8

Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 9

Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.

Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said ... What hast thou done? In what a humiliating plight does the patriarch now appear-he, a servant of the true God, rebuked by a Philistine prince. Who would not rather be in the place of Abimelech than of the honoured but sadly offending patriarch! What a dignified attitude is that of the king-calmly and justly reproving the sin of the prophet, but respecting his person, and heaping coals of fire on his head by the liberal presents made to him.

Verse 10

And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 11

And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

Abraham said ... I thought, Surely the fear of God is not. From the horrible vices of Sodom, he seems to have taken up the impression that all other cities of Canaan were equally corrupt. There might have been few or none who feared God; but what a sad thing when men of the world show a higher sense of honour and a greater abhorrence of crimes than a true worshipper! Abraham uses here and in Genesis 20:13 the name "God" - as being perhaps more adapted to the understanding of the king than "the Lord."

Verse 12

And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

Yet indeed she is my sister - (see the note at Genesis 11:31.) Terah must have been a polygamist, or a widower who had contracted a second marriage, if Sarah was sister to Abraham. But Sarah ( = Iscah) is called not the daughter but the daughter-in-law of Terah (Genesis 11:13), and she is represented as Abraham's niece (Genesis 11:29), the daughter of Haran, who might be Terah's son by a first wife, and consequently Sarah and Abraham were descended from Terah by different wives; or, it may be that the word "sister" is used here in the same latitude of meaning as "brother" is (Genesis 14:14). The law of incest in early times was probably traditional, and therefore liable to indistinctness and uncertainty. Hence, marriages with half-sisters have at all times been frequent in Eastern countries; and every reader of ancient history will recollect the well-known instances of Cambyses (Herodotus, 3:31) and Herod Aggippa ('Juv.,' 6:, 157).

What a poor defense Abraham made! The statement absolved him from the charge of direct and absolute falsehood; but he had told a moral untruth, because there was an intention to deceive (cf. Genesis 12:11-13). 'Honesty is always the best policy.' Abraham's life would have been as well protected without the fraud as with it: and what shame to himself-what distrust of God-what dishonour to religion might have been prevented! "Let us speak truth every man to his neighbour."

Verses 13-15

And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 16

And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.

I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver. [The word sheqel (H8255) is often omitted: cf. Genesis 37:28; Deuteronomy 22:19; Hosea 3:2.]

He is to thee a covering of the eyes. This is commonly understood to mean a veil to conceal her charms, and be a public manifestation to all that she was a married woman (1 Corinthians 11:10). As Calvin expounds it-`If you were unmarried, you would be exposed to many and great perils. But since God has given you a husband to be the guardian of your chastity, it becomes you to conceal yourself under that covering. Why should you voluntarily lay it aside?' But not to dwell on the extraordinary amount given, if the money was designed solely for the purchase of a veil, there is no certain evidence that in oriental countries the use of the veil was at any period confined to married women [ kªcuwt (H3682) `eeynayim (H5869), a covering of the eyes]. Gesenius ('Lex.') defines this phrase to be 'a present offered as an expiation for some fault, in order that one may shut his eyes upon it; or a present made in the hope of pardon; an atonement, a penalty.' According to this definition, the right interpretation of the clause before us is as follows: 'Lo this' (namely, the thousand shekels) is given as a compensation for all that has happened with thee-and before all - i:e., publicly. The Septuagint renders it in the same manner, tauta estai soi eis timeen tou prosoopou sou. - timee (G5092) being used in the sense of fine, penalty (see the note at Genesis 32:21: cf. Job 9:24).

Thus she was reproved, [Hebrew, wªnokaachat (H3198)] - and she was convicted, had nothing to say in excuse (Gesenius). According to this view, these words contain a remark by the historian. But if the interpretation we have given of the preceding clause be correct, there was no reproof either expressed or implied; and accordingly De Wette, Tuch, Knobel, and Delitzsch, who consider these words as the concluding part of Abimelech's address to Sarah, render them thus; 'and with these (i:e., the thousand shekels) justice has been done to thee-I have made full reparation for the wrong.' This appears to be the true interpretation. For after the explanation given in Genesis 20:12, and the refreshing influence, doubtless, produced upon the sick king's soul by the prayers and conversation of the patriarch, Abimelech had evidently no intention of censuring Abraham and Sarah for what they had done. On the contrary, he was humbled in penitential sorrow, took all the blame upon himself, and displayed an extreme anxiety to make an adequate expiation for the injury he had committed. [The Septuagint gives here a totally different sense-kai panta aleetheuson, and on all occasions speak the truth.]

We need not wonder at finding in this chapter the narrative of an adventure with the King of Gerar similar to what occurred to Abraham with the Egyptian monarch on account of Sarah. It originated in a royal privilege sanctioned by the character and customs of the East; and therefore what happened to Sarah must have been a thing of frequent occurrence, as clearly appears from the explanatory statement of Abraham to Abimelech (Genesis 20:13). All oriental history shows that princes in that quarter of the world are not very scrupulous as to the taking away the lives of considerable people, when these stand in their way. And if the like spirit was common in Egypt and in Gerar in the time of Abraham, it is neither incredible nor very unlikely that the beauty of Sarah should be much talked of, or that Abraham should be apprehensive of his life on that account (Hackett).

But it has been urged as an objection against the historical character of this narrative, that the idea of a woman belonging to a wandering tribe of shepherds, and, moreover, of about ninety years of age being possessed of charms to captivate the heart of a luxurious prince, is an absurd and incredible fiction. The well-known frequent marriages of oriental sovereigns with women in humble life, as well as the high consideration and wealth of some pastoral people in the East, are sufficient to remove the first objection to the credibility of the story. Then, as to the second-namely, the great age of Sarah-not to dwell on the circumstance that men and women in patriarchal times retained their physical vigour far beyond the age which our experience assigns as the period of bodily decay-we are informed, on apostolic authority, that Sarah's bodily powers, and consequently her fresh and youthful countenance were preternaturally renewed (Hebrews 11:11). Besides, oriental kings are known to have frequently taken certain women into their harems for political reasons, irrespectively either of age or appearance; and therefore it might be that Abimelech was desirous of strengthening his throne by an alliance with so great and wealthy a nomadic chief as Abraham.

Further still, it has been objected to this narrative that it is of a tenor beneath the dignity of the inspired volume. But since the object of the sacred historian was to show how constant and faithful the Lord was to His covenant, by his timely interposition for the rescue of Sarah, notwithstanding the weakness and aberrations of His servants, the insertion of this narrative is perfectly consistent with the character and design of the sacred history.

Verse 17

So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.

So Abraham prayed unto God. Although the efficacy of prayer is not expressly mentioned until the Gospel age (Matthew 7:7; James 5:14-15), there are numerous remarkable instances of its power and influence recorded throughout the Old Testament History. The agency of Abraham being employed in intercessory prayer for the sick, the divine favour to him was manifested anew by an immediate answer in the restoration of Abimelech and his household; and the notice of the fact would tend to raise the patriarch in the estimation of the Gerar people, who would feel themselves laid under obligations for so important a service.

And his maid-servants, [Hebrew, wª'amhotaayw (H519)] - and his female slaves, who were concubines.

And they bare. What was the partitular form of punishment inflicted on the inmates of Gerar palace has been a subject of discussion. It could not be sterility in the women; because the announcment of Sarah's promised son in the following spring was made at Hebron the day previous to the destruction of Sodom; and supposing the patriarch to have left Hebron immediately thereafter, and all transactions at Gerar had taken place before the birth of Isaac, how could the alleged barrenness of Abimelech's wives have been ascertained within so brief a space of time. Hence, some have concluded that this chapter does not stand in its proper place, and that its details refer to a sojourn in Gerar previous to the events related in the chapters immediately preceding. Besides, it is evident that the judgment of God fell particularly upon Abimelech Himself. But, as Calvin ('Comment. in Genesin') remarks, this matter does not form an article of faith, and therefore it may be left undecided. The circumstances at Gerar differed widely from what took place at the Egyptian court, since Abimelech acted in the innocency of his heart, and his people were comparatively a righteous nation; he was therefore dealt with more leniently than the Egyptians.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-20.html. 1871-8.
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