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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-18


Abraham and Abimelech of Gerar. His and Sarah’s renewed exposure through his human, calculating prudence, as formerly in Egypt before Pharaoh. The Divine preservation. Abraham’s intercession for Abimelech

Genesis 20:1-18

1And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south1 country [the mid-day], and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned [as a stranger even] in Gerar [lodging-place, pilgrim’s rest]. 2And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister; and Abimelech 3[father of the king, or father-king] king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God [Elohim] came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man [thou diest, art dead], for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife 4[is married]. But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? 5Said 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 the innocency of my hands have I done this. 6And 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. 7Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet,2 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. 8Therefore 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. 9Then 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. 10And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou 11[evil], that thou hast done this thing? And Abraham said, Because I thought [said], Surely the fear of God [Elohim] is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake. 12And 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. 13And it came to pass when God [Elohim] caused me to Wander [to go on pilgrimages; a striking plural.3 The manifestations of God here and there, caused me to go here and there, pilgrimages] from my father’s house, that I said unto her. This is thy kindness which thou shalt show unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother. 14And Abimelech took sheep and oxen [small and large cattle], and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. 15And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee 16[stands open to thee]: dwell where it pleaseth thee [is good in thine eyes]. And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold he is to thee [for] a covering of the eyes unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved4 [set right, proved to be a wife, not unmarried].

17So Abraham prayed unto God [Elohim]: and God [Elohim] healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants: and they bare children. 18For the Lord5 had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.


1. The present chapter and the following appear to favor strongly the documentary hypothesis. The cases in which the name Jehovah appears (Genesis 20:18; Genesis 21:1), have, according to Delitzsch, all the traits of explanatory additions of the completer. But Knobel accepts, aside from the text of the original writing (Genesis 21:2-5), a twofold enlargement, which should be ascribed to the Jehovistic writer, but which he must have derived in great part from Elohistic records designed to complete the original record, and only in part from a completing Jehovistic record (p. 180, 181). We leave the hypothesis of different records to rest upon its own basis, but shall enquire how far the choice in the names of God may be explained from the text itself, and this without regard to the hypothesis in question.

2. The repetition of the fact that Abraham proclaims his wife to be his sister has been noticed already. In Knobel’s view, the Jehovistic writer has recorded the occurrence with Sarah already (Genesis 12:11-20), because he could then do it independently, which could not be the case here. “This conjecture,” remarks Delitzsch, “is certainly plausible if one ascribes the Elohistic portions to a peculiar source, but it is equally probable that the same event might occur twice in the life of Abraham.” Keil, on the other hand, justly brings into prominence the great distinction between the two histories. The first difficulty, viz. that Abraham, after having experienced in Egypt the reproach of this deed, should here repeat it once more, cannot be removed, if, as Delitzsch holds, Abraham in Egypt had condemned himself to penitence after the reproof of Pharoah; if even he walked under a general sense that he had done wrong, as Delitzsch and Baumgarten state the case. [It is not insupposible, surely, in the light of experience, that even such a believer as Abraham should have fallen again into the same sin: that he should have repeated the act even when he was walking under the sense of his wrong-doing in the first instance.—A. G.] Our history gives us the key (v. 13) why this act was repeated. Abraham could not make an explanation to Pharoah, concerning the determination to proclaim his wife his sister while among strangers, but Abimelech has instilled the necessary confidence in him, for this confidential explanation. But if the saying was then founded and chosen, the event might, under possible circumstances, have often occurred unless Jehovah had interfered to prevent this venture of an unfounded and exaggerated confidence; which we have already above distinguished from a mere exposure of Sarah. It must be taken into account, moreover, that Abraham had recently received fearful impressions of the godless beings in the world, which naturally filled him with suspicion. The second difficulty consists in this: that Abimelech should have found delight in taking Sarah, who was ninety years old, into his harem. According to Kurtz, her still blooming or now rejuvenated beauty was not the motive; according to Delitzsch, he would relate himself by marriage with the rich nomadic prince, Abraham. Beauty and the consideration of rank do not exclude each other; spiritual excellence and greatness have often an almost magical effect. But it is to be observed that here it is not said that the beauty of Sarah was reported to Abimilech. He knew only, it may be, that there was a sister of Abraham in his tent, and brought her to himself.

3. We are here told again that Abraham broke up his tent, and journeyed thence towards the south—the land towards the mid-day (Genesis 12:9; Genesis 13:1). According to Genesis 13:18, he had a permanent abode at Hebron; but here he removes from Hebron to the south. This is to be explained upon the ground that, for the northern parts of Canaan, the south designates preëminently the land of Judah; but for the land of Judah, thus for Hebron itself, it denotes the parts towards Arabia Petrea, Egypt, and the western shore upon the Mediterranean. The southern section of Canaan (which was assigned to the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin) falls into four distinct parts, through the character of the country. The mountains (הָהָר) or highlands form the central part, upon whose westerly slopes lies a hilly country which gradually sinks to the plain (שְׁפֵלָה), while towards the east the descent (מִדְבָּר) falls off into the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, but towards the south, the mid-day land (נֶגֶב, Joshua 15:21; compare above Genesis 12:9; Genesis 13:1) forms, in several distinctly marked terraces, a kind of first step to the mountains, from the Petrean peninsula. (See Gross, in Stud. und Krit. 1843, p. 1080.) Here Abraham descends to the stretch of country between Kadesh and Shur, and remained a long time about Gerar, whose ruins have been recently discovered by Rowland, under the name Khirbet-el-Gerâr, about three hours south-easterly from Gaza, in the neighborhood of a deep and broad wady, which takes the name Dschurf-el-Gerâr.” Delitzsch. Robinson sought Gerar in vain, see Schröder, p. 382. “Eusebius and Jerome locate the place about twenty-five Roman miles south from Eleutheropolis, and Sozomen relates that there stood very near here, in a winter stream, a great and renowned convent. The name of Marcian, bishop of Gerar (perhaps in the convent), appears among the subscribers in the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451.” “Gerar, upon the way from Gaza to Elusa, removed about three hours from the first-named place.” Bunsen. The most southerly of the five cities of the Philistines was not far from Beersheba. The king of Gerar, Abimelech, had this territory in the lands of the Philistines, according to Genesis 21:33. In Genesis 26:1, he is named directly as a king of the Philistines. According to Bertheau, the reference to the Philistines is an anticipation, and Delitzsch also finds in Genesis 26:0 traces of a later hand, though not recognizing therein an actual anticipation. If פְלֶשֶׁת denotes the land of wanderers, or of strangers (Gesenius), the name denotes those who came from the coasts into the interior, in distinction from the earlier Canaanites, and the inquiry whether the later Philistines, of the times of the Judges and Kings, are here meant, is a matter by itself; in any case, the text here intimates that the later confederate cities of the Philistines did not yet exist. Hitzig and Ewald also concede Philistine emigrations into Canaan, or traditions of them, before Moses. Knobel’s view, that Abraham may have left Hebron from a similar anxiety with that which led Lot (to leave Zoar), is arbitrary in the highest degree, since Abraham was in covenant with the mightier men in Hebron. According to Keil, he went probably to find better pastures. In any case the pasture-ground must be changed from time to time, but this could be done through a wider range, as we learn from the history of Joseph and Moses. The neighborhood of the scene of the terrible judgment upon Sodom, in connection with other unknown motives, may have determined him to change his residence. The birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:0) and the offering of Isaac (Genesis 22:0) occur during his residence in the further south: but then he dwelt (Genesis 23:1) again in Hebron, although his return thither from Beersheba, where he had last dwelt (Genesis 21:33), is not recorded.

4. Since, from the promise which was given to Abraham in the oak-grove of Mamre, to the birth of Isaac, we must reckon, according to Genesis 18:0, about a year, Abraham must have drawn southwards very soon after the overthrow of Sodom, and the meeting with Abimelech must also have taken place at an early date. But if Genesis 20:17-18 seem to point to a longer time, this creates no real difficulty, since the sickness of the house of Abimelech may have lasted a long time after Sarah was restored. Moreover, our history illustrates, in two respects, what may introduce the further history of the birth of Isaac. First, we see that Sarah was not faded in her appearance, although according to the usual supposition her body was dead. Then we see how her usual relation to Abraham could be animated and strengthened by a new affection resulting directly through the exposure and disturbance to which it had been subjected.


1. Abraham’s settlement in the South, especially in Gerar. Abimelech’s error, and the admonition of God (Genesis 20:1-7).—Between Kadesh and Shur.—Kadesh, see Genesis 14:7; Shur, Genesis 16:7. We must distinguish between this dwelling-place and the peculiar sojourn in Gerar. Schröder: “Leaving his herds and servants behind him in this region, he himself repairs to Gerar.”—Abimelech (Father King, or my Father King). A standing title for the kings of Gerar, as Pharoah was in Egypt and Melchizedec, or Adonizedec, in Salem (see Psalms 34:1); the king the father of the land.—God (Elohim) came to Abimelech.—It is presupposed that Abimelech had the knowledge of the true God; he could not have known him as Jehovah.—In a dream by night.—Knobel finds in this feature, as in similar cases, that these communications are not in accordance with the Elohistic writer. But the supposition is entirely arbitrary. The prophetic dream of the night is generally closely connected with the moral reflections and longings of the day. It is in full agreement with the nature of dreams, that the communication should be made in several, not in one single act (see Genesis 37, 41; Matthew 2:0).—She is a man’s wife (married).—Literally, ruled by a ruler, or her lord. His sin was thus marked as an infringement of the married rights of a stranger. The anxious dream appears to have been introduced through the sickness impending over him (see Genesis 5:17).6Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?—Delitzsch refers the גַּם directly to the adjective righteous. A nation however righteous, i.e., although it is righteous. But why then does he use the term people or nation? Knobel thinks that the fate of the Sodomites was floating in his mind. In this way this chapter is, through a delicate psychological feature, connected with the preceding. Abimelech is conscious of innocence as to his subjective state. He assumes the right to possess a harem or to live in polygamy, and the right of princes to bring into their harem any unmarried persons of their territory. He is conscious of a pure heart, and asserts that his hands are pure, since Abraham and Sarah, through their own declarations, had rendered it impossible that he should have any intention to interfere with the rights of another. She is my sister. [These incidents show the truth and the need of Scripture;—its truth, because it does not represent the patriarchs as exempt from human infirmities; the need of it, because the best of men were not able to make for themselves even a correct standard of moral duty (and how much less of faith) without Scripture. Wordsworth, p. 91.—A. G.]—And God said unto him in a dream.—The transaction continues in a new and more quiet dream. God recognizes the apology as essentially valid, and reveals to him how and why he had kept him from touching the wife of a prophet. With this he points out to him the cause of his sickness. The command to restore the woman was enforced by a threatening. Although he was guiltless as to his subjective state, it is a reproach to him that he acted blindly, and betrayed himself into the danger, either of depriving a prophet of his wife, or rather of being punished by God with death. [That Abimelech thought himself innocent, did this, as he says, in the תָס־לְבַב integrity of his heart, may be explained from his moral and religious standpoint. But that God recognizes his deed as such, and still says to him that he can only live through the intercession of Abraham, thus that his sin was one worthy of death, proves that God regards him as one who was fitted to have, and ought to have, deeper moral views and piety. This is intimated in the change of the names of God in the narrative, and noticed in the text. Keil, p. 168.—A.G.] That is to say, the spirit of a higher moral standpoint comes to him in his dream, and opens to him not only the cause of his sickness, but also that divine preservation secured by the sickness, as well as his duty and the danger of death in which he was still moving. With this he receives an enlargement of his religious knowledge. “At first אלהים (without the article) the Godhead in a general sense appears to him (Genesis 20:3): but Abimelech recognizes in the appearance the Lord אֲדֹנָי, upon which the narrator introduces הָֽאֱלֹהִים the personal and true God, as speaking to him (Genesis 20:6.)—For he is a prophet.—The spirit of prophecy had been present from the beginning in the Scripture, but here the name prophet occurs for the first time. How could this aggravate the error of Abimelech, that Abraham, whose rights he ignorantly had violated, was a prophet? Knobel explains that the sin of violating the rights of the chosen of God, which he had in idea committed, was a sin against God himself. Since every sin is a sin against God himself, it must still be asked, how far this shows the danger of greater guilt? for the text cannot be explained under the idea of a partiality of God for Abraham. But Abimelech held Abraham and Sarah as the ordinary nomads of his time, and thought therefore that he could blindly lay his hands upon them: he thus resisted the dim impression, which they must have made upon him, of a higher calling and aim. A prophet should be received in the name of a prophet; the sin against the divine in the prophet was a sin against the divine in his own conscience, and thus in a special sense a sin against God.—And he shall pray for thee.—Abraham had already appeared as a royal warlike hero, in his conflict with the Eastern kings. We have learned to recognize him as a priest, especially in his intercessory prayer for Sodom: here he appears preëminently as a prophet. But here intercession appears as the most obvious function of the prophet.7 The attributes of the prophet and the priest are thus still inwardly united in one, as this indeed is evident from the altars he erected.

2. The atonement of Abimelech(Genesis 20:8-16).—And called all his servants (courtiers).—It marks the frank, open character of this God-fearing king, that he humbles himself by communicating the events of the night, before his courtiers. It was humbling in the first place to confess that, in spiritual blindness, he had made a dangerous mistake, and secondly that he must restore to the stranger his wife. It speaks well also for his household and his court, that the effect of his reverence communicates itself to his servants.—Then Abimelech called Abraham.—He addresses him before his people, for Abraham had not only brought him into danger, but also his household and kingdom. He had reason to complain of the conduct of Abraham, as Pharaoh before him (Genesis 12:0). He is thus also evidently a bold, heroic character, who does not shrink from declaring against Abraham his injured sense of truth and justice, although he must have regarded him as under the special protection of God. He does not belong to the kings who oppose the priests in slavish bigotry.—What hast thou done to us?—Done to us. Thus he values the unity in which he feels that he is bound with his household and people. But he reproaches him especially with this: that he had brought him into danger of bringing sin both upon himself and his people. This, he says, is immoral. But since he takes up again the words, What have I offended thee? and asks, What hast thou seen? he utters in a discreet form, which concedes the possibility that he might have ignorantly occasioned the wrong of Abraham, his consciousness that he had himself indeed given no occasion for this deceitful course. Keil and Knobel explain the words what hast thou seen? what hast thou in thy eye, what purpose? Delitzsch (with a reference to Psalms 37:37; Psalms 66:18): “It is preferable to take the word in its usual sense through all time: what evil hast thou seen in me or in us, that thou believest us capable of greater evil?”—Abraham said, because I thought (said).—He assumes the antecedent; I acted thus, because he is ashamed. The two grounds of apology follow. The first runs: Because I spake (thought or considered it with myself and with Sarah). [This use of he word אמרהי is fully illustrated by Bush, who refers to Exodus 2:14; 1 Kings 5:5; Psalms 14:1.—A. G.]—Surely the fear of God is not in this place.—This special motive has its explanation in the fact that he had so recently seen the destruction of Sodom. The fear of men which had determined him so to act in Egypt, was awakened afresh by this destruction. But he palliates the offence of this declaration by his second excuse. He explains at first that what he had said was not untrue, since Sarah, as his half-sister, was his sister; and then why, in his migration from Haran, he had arranged with Sarah that she should journey with him from place to place under the name of his sister. [Some suppose that Sarah is the same with Iscah, Genesis 11:29. Bush holds that Terah had two wives: the one the mother of Haran, the father of Sarah and Lot; the other the mother of Abraham.—A. G.] The suppressed feeling of an endless, difficult pilgrimage, and of a very dangerous situation, reveals itself clearly in the expressions of Genesis 20:13-14. He cannot yet speak to Abimelech of Jehovah, his covenant God. Still less was it necessary that he should reveal to him that Jehovah had promised Canaan to him. Thus he says: at the command of God I entered upon my wanderings. He speaks of his theocratic journeys as wanderings, says Elohim instead of Haelohim, uses this noun with the plural of the verbs, that he may make himself understood by Abimelech. “This use of the substantive with the plural verbs is found (in the Pentateuch only in this author, Genesis 35:7; Exodus 22:8; Exodus 30:4; Exodus 30:8; Joshua 24:19. Gesenius, § 146, 2; Ewald, § 318 a.)” Knobel. Keil finds in the words of Abraham, especially in the plural of the verb, a certain accommodation to the polytheistic standpoint of the Philistine king. Delitzsch, on the other hand, remarks, that the plural connection of Elohim is found in passages which exclude any idea of accommodation, or of any polytheistic reference; by which he refutes at the same time the explanation of Schelling, that the Gods of the house of Terah are to be understood by Elohim. Under the expression אֱלִֹהִים הִתְעוּ [The verb here is not necessarily plural. But if it be, it is only an instance of the literal meaning of Elohim, the eternal, supernatural powers, coming into view. Murphy, p. 328.—A. G.] we understand the fact, expressed with some reservation, that Haelohim, through a plurality of special manifestations of God, which he received here and there, had caused him to move from place to place, and thus, although in the extremest danger which his wanderings could occasion, extended his providence over him still. When, on the contrary, Abimelech (Genesis 26:28) calls God Jehovah, Delitzsch supposes (p. 103), but without certainty, that it is the same person, and besides overlooks the difference of time, in which a longer intercourse may have made the Philistines familiar with the Abrahamic ideas.—And Abimelech took sheep and oxen.—He is satisfied, and acts analogously to the conduct of Pharaoh (Genesis 12:0), in that he makes Abraham rich presents of the ancient nomadic goods. The departure of Abraham from Egypt also seems to find its echo here. He appears to utter a modest wish that Abraham would leave Gerar. [This seems a forced interpretation of the words.—A. G.] Still he may dwell in his territory where it pleases him.—And to Sarah he said.—“The thousand pieces of silver, i.e., the thousand shekels of silver, are not a peculiar present made to Sarah, but the estimated worth of the present (Genesis 20:14), and designate it as something important.” Knobel. So also Keil. Delitzsch, with others, distinguishes a special present in money, “a truly royal present, since thirty shekels was the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32).” (A thousand shekels of silver after the shekel of the sanctuary would be about 550 dollars; according to the ordinary shekel, less. It is not certain which is intended here.) The first interpretation is preferable, as otherwise the second present must have been made to Sarah.—Behold, he is to thee (or that shall be to thee) a covering of the eyes.—This difficult place admits of different explanations. Vitringa: “If the words are referred to Abraham, the idea seems to be: Abraham, if he professes to be the husband of Sarah, would be instead of a veil to those who, looking upon Sarah more intensely, may be inflamed with love for her. (Thus Ewald; so Delitzsch, p. 404.) We prefer, however, to refer the words to the money received by Abraham. As if he says, let this money, paid as a fine to Abraham, prevent any from desiring thee as I have done. He alludes to the veil usually worn by women. See Genesis 24:65.” Gesenius: “This is an expiatory present to thee, for all that has happened to thee, and to Abram, and she was convinced (of her fault).” Knobel similarly, but still with less fitness, and at the conclusion, “thou art adjudged, i.e., justice is done to thee.” Delitzsch and Keil: “This is to thee an atoning present, for all who are with thee (since the whole family is disgraced in the mistress, etc.)” “It is to be explained,” says Knobel, “after כִּפֵּר פְּנֵי to cover one’s face, so that he may forget the wrong done (Genesis 32:21), כִּסָּה פְּנֵי שֹׁפְטִים to cover the face of the judge, so that he shall not see the right.” Michaelis, Baumgarten, and others, explain the words to mean a present for the purchase of a veil which she should wear in the future. [Murphy urges against this that the proper word for veil is צעית. “The covering of the eyes is a figurative phrase for a recompense or pacificatory offering, in consideration of which an offence is overlooked.” And so also Jacobus.—A. G.] Since Sarah wore no veil in Egypt, but the custom of veiling the face quickly with the mantle soon after appears in the history of Rebekah (Genesis 24:65), this thought seems quite probable. But one would then expect a special present to Sarah, besides the one to Abraham. Delitzsch remarks, “this would be bitter irony.” But the irony in the expression, I have given thy brother, cannot, however, be denied. The יְאֶת־כֹּל also agrees well with this thought. Besides, it must be considered that Abimelech had to relieve himself of his displeasure as well against Sarah as against Abraham. And what then could this mean, “that shall be to thee an atoning present, and for all with thee,” leaving out of view that here the conjunctive ו is wanting? As a covering of the eyes, designed to make good his error in her eyes, the great present would excite rather only contempt. The atonement would thus be to the violated rights of the husband; Sarah, who had constantly declared that he was her brother, even when prudent calculation became imprudent temerity, had well deserved that she also should suffer a reproof. Still Abimelech appears to define it as a covering of the eyes only in a figurative sense: in the sense of the Vulgate: hoc erit tibi in velamen oculorum ad omnes qui tecum sint, et quocunque perpexeris; mementoque te deprehensam.8 Since Sarah wore no veil, which designated her as the wife of a husband (see Genesis 24:6; 1 Corinthians 11:10), so the present of Abimelech, wherewith he expiates his fault, has the effect of such a veil; it should for all, and everywhere, be a testimony that she is a married woman. As such should she now be held everywhere, in consequence of his present. With Clericus, therefore, we find here a designed double sense or meaning; a covering of the eyes as an atonement, which should, at the same time, have the effect of a veil. “וְנוֹכַחַת can only be the second person feminine perf. Niph., although the daghesh lene is wanting in ת (Gesenius, § 28, 4, and § 65, 2), for to hold this form for a participle is scarcely possible,” etc.9Keil: Since this word may be rendered adjudged as well as justified, we take it in a middle sense, and as designedly having a twofold meaning: convinced, placed right. This last word does not belong to the writer, but to Abimelech himself. With the pride of injured magnanimity, he declares that he, through his atoning present, would provide her with a veil, and designate her as a married woman. For the veil, see Winer.

3. Abraham’s intercession(Genesis 20:17-18). “After this compensation Abraham intercedes (Genesis 20:17), and God removes the sickness from Abimelech and his women. The author does not define the sickness more closely (as in Genesis 12:17); according to Genesis 20:6 it was such a sickness as indisposed to sleep. Compare the plague of the Philistines (1 Samuel 5:6-9; 1Sa 12:6; 1 Samuel 12:4, etc.)” Knobel.—And God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants.—Thus Abimelech was not only afflicted with some sexual disease, but indirectly, through his inability, his wife also, i.e., his wife in a peculiar sense, the queen; and his maid-servants, that is, his concubines (see Keil). [They bare means that they were again capable of procreating children. The verb is masculine, because both males and females were involved in this judicial malady. Murphy, p. 329.—A. G.] [This is clear also, since the malady was sent to preserve the purity of Sarah. Abimelech was not suffered to touch her, see Genesis 20:6.—A. G.] Genesis 20:18 contains the explanation—For the Lord (Jehovah) had fast closed up.—[It is Jehovah who delivers Abraham, and preserves the purity of Sarah, the mother of Isaac the promised seed. Wordsworth, p. 93. Who urges also the use of the names of God in the chapter, against the fragmentary hypothesis, with great force.—A. G.] Here the providence of Elohim is traced to the motives of Jehovah, the Covenant God of Abraham, who would protect his chosen. They were closed up; i.e., not as Knobel thinks, they could could not bring to the birth, but the whole household of Abimelech was unfruitful in consequence of his sickness. [The term here used for maid-servants, אֲמָהוֹת, denotes those held as concubines, and is to be distinguished from שְׁפָהוֹת, servants. See 1 Samuel 25:41.Keil, p. 170.—A. G.] This fearful fact for an ancient household was remarkable here, because the state remained after the free return of Sarah, until Abraham enters with his intercession. But this introduces the circumstance that he had interceded for Sarah also.


1. See the preliminary remarks and the exigetical paragraphs. The preceding history is the history of sins “crying to heaven.” The history of Abraham in Gerar is a history of unconscious sins, concealed faults in the life of most excellent men, of the father of the faithful, and of a noble heathen king.

2. The first meeting between the house of Abraham and the Philistines. It serves to illustrate the fact, that the knowledge of God among the Philistines has sunken lower and lower in the lapse of time, while it has been more and more completely developed among the theocratic people.
3. Abraham in Gerar, in a certain measure, a counterpart to Lot in the caves. Lot fears the presence of men; Abraham appears to have sought a wider intercourse. Both fall into folly and sin, after the experience of the great judgment upon Sodom. The reaction from a state of great spiritual excitement reveals itself even in Abraham.
4. The repetition of the old saying of Abraham, is a proof that he, in his faith, thought himself justified in using it. We must take into account also, that Sarah also was his sister in the faith, and that she had accustomed herself, in her painful sense of her unfruitfulness, to style themselves brother and sister.

5. Abimelech’s dream. In the night sleep, the spirit of revelation comes nearer to the heathen, as is shown also in the dreams of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. It is a medium of revelation also for children (Joseph, in the old covenant), and for laborers with the hand (Joseph, in the new covenant); and the prophetic disposition, enduring into the night or extending itself through its hours (Isaac, Jacob, Paul). Moreover, Pharaoh’s butler and baker (Genesis 40:8); the Midianites (Judges 7:13-15); the wife of Pilate (Matthew 27:19, compare Wis 18:17-19), had significent dreams.

6. Abimelech’s innocence and guilt. The moral standpoint of tradition, in its relation to the higher standpoint. Traditional morality and the morality of conscience. The religious susceptibility of Abimelech.
7. Abraham a prophet. There are different views as to the derivation of this word. A derivation from the Arabic, analogous form, explains the word to mean the bringer of knowledge, the foreteller or predictor (see Delitzsch, p. 634; a communication of Fleischer). The derivation from the Hebrew נבא, ebullire, appears to us nearer at hand, and corresponds better with the idea of the prophet. In the reference of the word to the Niph., Redslob explains it in a passive sense, what is poured forth; W. Newmann and Hölemann, actively pouring forth, speaking. If we regard the Niph. as both passive and reflexive, then the prophet is a man who, because he has received communications poured into himself, pours forth. One who is a fountain. But the pouring forth designates more than the simple speaking. It is the utterance of that which is new, in the inspired, outpouring form; analogous to the out-pouring of a fountain, which is ever pouring out new, fresh water. The prophet pours forth that which is new, both in words and deeds; the miraculous words of prophecy, and the miraculous deeds of typical import. The derivation which Delitzsch proposes from פח ,פה = בא, to breathe, the inspired, appears to be sought from dogmatic motives. Abraham was a prophet in the most general sense; the organ of the divine revelation, seer of the future. He was a prophet, priest, and king in one person, but preëminently a prophet. And here God brings out distinctly his prophetic dignity, because he is in this especially commended as the friend of God, the object of his protecting care, with whose injury Abimelech’s sickness was connected, and by whose intercession he could be healed. The peculiar order of the prophets, introduced through the prophetic schools of Samuel, was formed after the order of priests, and then the order of kings were severed from the general class or order of prophets.

8. Abimelech’s character and his atonement. Through his noble and pious conduct he wins a friend in Abraham (Genesis 21:22 ff.)

9. Abraham’s intercession, a claim of his faith in the promise. His intercession for Abimelech and Gerar, a counterpart to his intercession for Sodom. The intercession of Abraham for Abimelech, his house, and kingdom, in comparison with his intercession for Sodom.
10. Abraham has, through his fear, and the prudential means which his fear bade him to use, twice directly brought about the very thing which he feared, the taking away of his wife, and perhaps would have incurred his death, either the first or second time, if God had not interfered. How fear first truly makes that actual which it seeks to hinder in ungodly ways, the history of Joseph’s brethren, who sold him that he might not rise above them; the conduct of Pharaoh towards Israel, which brings him and his hosts to destruction in the Red Sea; Saul’s determination against David; but above all, the history of the crucifixion of Christ on the part of the Jewish Sanhedrim prove still more perfectly. How this same fact appears in proverbs, under various forms, e.g., in the saying of Œdipus, is well known.
11. The Philistines (see the Bible Dictionaries). Their first appearance in sacred history makes a favourable impression; Abimelech knows, or learns to know, the only true God. Later, the Philistines appear sunken in idolatry.


Any homiletic use of this chapter presupposes homiletic wisdom. Themes: Abraham in the repetition of his fall.—Abraham and Abimelech.—Abraham’s character: reverent humility, moral pride.—Abraham, the believer, in his weakness, exalted above the man of the world, in his strength. [The exaltation, however, a matter of pure grace.—A.G.]

First Section.—Abraham’s and Abimelech’s error (Genesis 20:1-7) Abraham’s reaction after his high spiritual experiences.—The repetition of his old fault. 1. Causes: Recent experience of the corruption of the world, false prudence, exaggerated confidence, the brotherly relation to Sarah, the tolerable issue of the case in Egypt. 2. Natural results: Anxiety and danger, shame before a heathen’s princely court. 3. Gracious issue through the interference of God.10—How self-will rushes into the danger which, with many plans, it seeks to avoid.—How the believer endangers the promise of God, and how it is wonderfully guarded through the grace of God.—Abimelech’s integrity the point of union for the gracious providence of God.—The author of sacred marriage is also its protector.—The care of God for Sarah a care for the world.

Starke: Now God, in his providence, rescues Abraham again from his human weakness.—(Genesis 20:4. The Holy Spirit marks this doubtless, lest any one should say that Isaac was the son of Abimelech.) (Although God is a lover of life, yet still, according to his punitive righteousness, there may be ascribed to him, as here, a destruction, consumption, etc.)—God suffers his saints to fall into folly and sin, that it may be clear how little they are able to do right by themselves.—Cramer: God preserves the sacred marriage state.—Osiander: Subjects are often punished on account of the transgressions of their rulers.

Genesis 20:6. A simple and not evilly intended plan, even in a bad cause, if it proceeds from inconsideration, Or from ignorant zeal, is described by this word—simplicity, in Holy Scripture (2 Samuel 15:11, etc.)

Genesis 20:6. God hinders men from committing sin in many ways.—God searches the heart, and knows what is done in integrity and what in pretence.—Calwer, Handbuch: Genesis 20:2. As there (in Egypt) so here, Abraham reaches the directly opposite point from that which he intended. Sarah was taken away, just because he said, she is my sister.—Schröder: (V. Herberger.) Genesis 20:1. Abraham will avoid the cross, (?) but he passes from the smoke into the flame, from the mud into the mire. There are in foreign lands misfortunes and adversities as well as where he has lived hitherto. Ah! Lord, help us, that we may sit quietly in our little space; the dear cross dwells yet nowhere, as everywhere, i.e., wherever we are.—His sin appears greater here than at the first offence; he stands no longer as then (in Egypt), at the beginning of the divine leadings. After so many and such great experiences of God’s faithfulness, still such unfaithfulness to him. (?)—(Calvin.) All those who will not, as is becoming, trust themselves to the providence of God, shall win like fruits of unbelief.

Genesis 20:2. It is to be considered that an extraordinary beauty is ascribed to Sarah; then also, that notwithstanding her ninety years, she is in the first half of human life at that period of the world.—Luther: Genesis 20:3. It is impossible that a man who believes in the promises of God, should be forsaken.—God would suffer the heavens to fall, rather than forsake his believing people.—Thus God shows how displeasing adultery is to him.

Genesis 20:6. Abimelech has sinned nevertheless, therefore God by no means concedes to him “purity of hands,” as the “integrity of heart.”—Passavant: An old oak which loses a bough or twig, has not, therefore lost its crown.—Pharaoh and Abimelech. Genesis 20:4. Many a king who is called christian, has done what these two kings did, and even worse, and his people have necessarily suffered for it in various ways before his crumbling throne; in a thousand offences, sins, sorrows, etc. Kings may learn what the sins of princes are before God, and the people also may learn to hate and deplore the evil which descends from the upper ranks.—The prosperity of the family depends upon the marriage state, and the welfare of society upon that of the family, and upon the society turns the good of the state.

Genesis 20:6. It is a great grace when God guards any one from sinning, either against their fellows or against God.—Thou knowest not how often God has kept thee and me (Psalms 105:14-15; Zechariah 2:8).—Schwenke: The Scriptures do not describe a saint in Abraham, but a man, who, although so good, is yet a sinner like ourselves, but who through faith was justified before God, and what he did as he went from step to step in the narrow path of faith stands recorded, that we with him might enter the school of faith.

Second Section.—Abraham’s confusion and shame, and Abimelech’s atonement.—(Genesis 20:8-16). The castigatory speech of the heathen to the father of the faithful.

Genesis 20:11. The judgment of faith concerning the world ought not to be a prejudice.—The danger of life in Abraham’s pilgrimage an apology for his swerving to his own way.

Genesis 20:8. The zeal of Abimelech in the removing and expiating of his fault.—His noble and pious integrity: 1. In the expression of his fear of God; 2. of his injured moral feeling; 3. his readiness to make his error good.

Genesis 20:9. Abimelech knew that his royal sins fell upon his household and kingdom, as a burden and as guilt.

Starke: Genesis 20:9. It is to the praise of this heathen king, who, however, was not without some fear and knowledge of God, that he held a breach of the marriage law to be so great a sin that the whole land could be punished.

Genesis 20:10. Osiander: A pious ruler and a pious father of the household agree well, since they warn and keep their own in the fear of God.—The praise of mildness and gentleness.—Luther: The saints were gently punished and for their good.—Bibl. Tüb. Genesis 20:9. We should amend our past faults without delay.—Schröder: (Luther) He who was before a king (Abimelech) is now a bishop who spreads among his subjects the fear and knowledge of God, so that they also should learn to fear God and honor his word. Here indeed the Sodomites, and those who dwelt in Gerar, are held in broad contrast.

Genesis 20:12. (Museums: Concerning Sarah as the sister of Abraham: recognize hero the type of Christ and the Church. The Church is the sister and the bride of Christ; sister through God the Father, bride through the mystery of the incarnation, and the truth of his espousal, etc.)

Genesis 20:15. While the Egyptian invites Abraham in a complimentary way out of his land, the Philistine says, Behold my land is before thee.—(Calvin): This distinction is due to the fact that the severely punished Pharoah experienced only fear, so that the presence of Abraham was intolerable. Abimelech, on the other hand, was, with the terror, at the same time comforted.—Passavant: Genesis 20:11. Christians’ excuses are oftentimes worse than their faults.—But Abraham is the father of the faithful; God sees in him Isaac, the son of promise, conceived, born, reared in faith, etc.; he sees in him Jacob his servant, etc., Moses, Aaron, Joshua, but above all that one of the seed of David, Galatians 3:16.—The forefather bore already in himself, that seed of faith upon the Son of God from which should bloom the new hosts of saints and righteous of the old and new covenant, as the dew drops from the womb of the morning (Psalms 110:0).—Schwenke: Thus the Lord knows how to make good what has been complicated, and endangered through human prudence.

Third Section.—Abraham’s intercession, the healing of Abimelech and his household. (Genesis 20:17-18). Abraham believes still in the efficacy of intercession, although Sodom was destroyed notwithstanding his intercessory prayer.—The connection of intercession, with the receptivity of those to whom it relates.—Abraham as an intercessor for Sodom and for Gerar.—The healing of Abimelech an illustration of salvation, and leading to it.—Starke: A beautiful exchange between the worldly and spiritual state. That bestows gold and possessions, this recompenses with the knowledge of God and prayer.—Osiander: If God punishes this king with such serious earnestness and severity, who ignorantly had taken another man’s wife, how will they escape who knowingly and deliberately defame and dishonor other men’s wives and daughters?—Schröder: (Calvin.) Abraham arms and disarms the hand of God at the same time.—(Roos): Thus God does not forsake his own in their need, although there are not wanting faults on their side.—(Val. Hebberger: We know how to make what is good evil, since we are masters there, but how to make good again what is evil, that is the work of God.)—Because Abraham and Sarah should laugh, they must first weep sound repentance. The martyr-week ever precedes the Easter-week with Christians.


[1][Genesis 20:1.—הַנֶּגֶב. The region south of what was afterwards called Judah.—A. G.]

[2][Genesis 20:7.—נָבִיא, from נבא, to cause to bubble up as a fountain. Keil, Delitzsch, and others derive it from a root נא and פא, to breathe, and thus make uabi to mean one inspired—who speaks that which is inbreathed of God.—A. G.]

[3][Genesis 20:13.—הִּתְעוּ is plural in punctuation, agreeing grammatically with אֱלֹהִים.Vav, however, may be regarded as the third radical, and the verb may then really be singular. Murphy, p. 325.—A. G.]

[4][Genesis 20:16.—נֹכָחַת, 2 pers. fem. sing. Niphal, an unusual form. See the Exegetical note.—A. G.]

[5][Genesis 20:18.—Jehovah.—A. G.]

[6][The term, however, may mean, dead as to progeny, which is rendered probable by Genesis 20:17. God healed Abimelech. Jacobus.—A G.]

[7][See Jeremiah 27:18, referred to by Bush.—A. G.]

[8][Wordsworth suggests all three senses—that of a propitiation; of a provision for the purchase of a veil; and of an allusion to the usage of covering a bride with a veil, p. 92.—A. G.]

[9][If, with Baumgarten, and according to the accents, we connect the וְאֶת־כֹּל with the last word, the sense can only be: and all this has been done or given that thou mayest be righted or redressed, p. 220. So also Murphy.—A. G.]

[10][How thankful for the interference of God,—A. G.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 20". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-20.html. 1857-84.
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