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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

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Verse 1

Abraham Sojourns in Gerar

Without being told why Abraham leaves Mamre, where he has been for almost twenty years, we are told that he leaves from there. He goes back to the land of the Negev, that is to the south. What Abraham is doing now reminds us of Genesis 12, where he also travels south and ends up in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-Proverbs :). Here he doesn’t go as far as that. He comes to Gerar, the border area. It was not a way of faith at that time, nor is it a way of faith at this time. At that time he had to learn a humbling lesson. Now he has to learn that again.

We too sometimes have to learn the same lesson a few times. This teaches us what slow learners we are. God allows these histories of great believers to be recorded to show that they too are ordinary, fallible people.

Abraham comes to Gerar, which is in the land of the Philistines. Egypt is a picture of the world. The Philistines are a picture of nominal Christians, people who confess that they are Christians, but do not take God into account (2 Timothy 3:5). They do live in the land God promised His people and even claim it – as can be seen from the name Palestine derived from Philistia – but they have no right to it. Nominal Christians claim to know and do God’s will, but distort the Scriptures and give them their own interpretation. Spiritually speaking, Abraham ends up with them.

Verse 2

Abraham Loses Sara

The result of his stay there is that he denies his true relationship with Sara and loses her. From Galatians 4 we know that Sarah is a picture of grace (Galatians 4:23-Jeremiah :). Abraham represents here a believer who, through his dealings with nominal Christians, loses the sense of grace. The nominal Christian knows nothing about this. He abuses grace for his own pleasure and turns it into debauchery (Jude 1:4). Abraham’s failure here is worse than in Genesis 12. Here he denies his relationship to the mother of the heir. It is a low point in the life of the believing Abraham.

Verses 3-7

God Speaks to Abimelech

God intervenes in grace for His failing servant and appears in a dream to Abimelech. God will always speak up for His own against their enemies (Zechariah 2:8) and maintain them against the world (Numbers 23:7-2 Samuel :; Numbers 23:18-Isaiah :Numbers 24:2-1 Samuel :). In the dream he rebukes Abimelech for his actions (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalms 105:15). Nevertheless, the whole history is humbling for Abraham, as the sequel shows.

With Abimelech there is a certain respect for what God says, but in any case no confession of guilt. He justifies himself. Certainly, Abraham is much more responsible than Abimelech, but that does not acquit Abimelech. His talking about innocence and purity of hands is recognized by God in this case. But although he is before God, it does not bring him to acknowledge other sins which he has abundantly in his life.

God tells him that He has prevented him from sinning in this case. It would also have been a serious sin, for the woman he took is married. She belongs to a man. Taking her as a wife means adultery, but God prevents it. Sin is sometimes planned and intended in the heart of people that never is executed because God prevents people from committing that sin.

The same goes for those who belong to Him, as we see in the history of David, if he wants to punish Nabal for the treatment he has received from this man. To prevent this, God uses Abigail, but He has the honor: “Then David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, 33and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand” (1 Samuel 25:32-Micah :).

Abimelech’s wrong-doing is also evident from the punishment God imposes on the people of Abimelech (Genesis 20:18). There can only be liberation from this punishment when Abraham prays for him. He is not such a good boy. That is now the nominal Christian, who will always maintain himself against God and men. He doesn’t know about bowing down. The mistakes of others are enhanced by him, those of himself are reasoned away by him. That is how we can be.

The word “prophet” appears here for the first time in the Old Testament. With ‘prophet’ we should not only think about predicting the future. It is not even the main idea. A prophet passes on the words from someone else (Exodus 7:1), here from God. God uses a prophet to communicate to His people, or even to those who do not belong to His people, something that He considers necessary for the addressed person to know.

Verses 8-16

Abimelech and Abraham

Abimelech calls Abraham come to him. That already indicates in what dependent position the great man of God has come against this man of the world. The reproaches from Abimelech to Abraham are right. Abraham’s defense is weak. He has consulted within Himself, not with God. He has noticed that there is no fear of God in that place, and out of pure self-preservation, i.e. selfishness, he has denied his relationship to Sarah.

In so doing, he has resorted to half a truth, which is often worse than a whole lie. Here he gives an excuse for his insincerity. This insincerity also lies in what he says about God, that He “caused him to wander from my father’s house” (Genesis 20:13). It is not God who has made him wander; he himself has started wandering. Here, the language of faith is completely lacking.

Abimelech lectured him and ended the conversation with words indicating that Abraham is free to leave. In another translation, the end of Genesis 20:16 reads: “And be taught.” Let us also learn from it.

Verses 17-18

Abraham Prays for Abimelech

Abraham prays for Abimelech, after which the plague God had laid on the house of Abimelech is removed. Thus God healed Miriam as Moses prayed for her, after God punished her with leprosy for evil speaking against Moses (Numbers 12:13). The same is true of Job who has to pray for his friends because they have not spoken of God what is right (Job 42:8-1 Samuel :).

After Abraham has been brought back into the right relationship with God and the wrong that has come between him and Abimelech through his fault has been cleared up, he can again be used as a blessing for others. In a way, he was the cause of this plague being imposed on the people of Abimelech. When believers become unfaithful to the Lord, they are no longer a blessing to their surroundings, but rather a curse. If they clean up the wrong thing, they can be used again until they are ready for their environment.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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