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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-7


Genesis 20:1. Kadesh; Shur; Gerar.] All lying near the southern borders of Canaan. Gerar was the chief city of the Philistines. It is now called Khirbet-el-Gerar, i.e., the ruins of Gerar. The site is still pointed out near Gaza, where traces of the ancient city remain.

Genesis 20:2. Abimelech.] Father of the king. Probably the standing title of the kings of Gerar. Took Sarah, i.e., into his harem.

Genesis 20:3. Behold, thou art but a dead man.] “Thou art dying, or on the point of dying, if thou persist. A deadly plague was already in the body of Abimelech, on account of Sarah.” (Murphy.) Perhaps it was merely intended that he was dead as regards progeny. (Genesis 20:17.)

Genesis 20:5. In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands.] Heb. “In the perfection, sincerity, or simplicity of my heart,” etc. Comp. Psalms 26:6; Psalms 73:13.

Genesis 20:7. He is a prophet.] One who speaks on behalf of God. “Enoch had prophesied before this, as we learn from Jude, and Noah had uttered a prophetic blessing; but Abraham is the first one in the O.T. who is called a prophet.” (Jacobus.) He shall pray for thee. Intercession was a special work of prophets. (Jeremiah 27:18. Compare also Jeremiah 14:11; Jeremiah 15:1.)



I. Their power may slumber long. Twenty-four years had passed away since Abraham committed this same fault. He then distrusted the king and people of Egypt, as he does Abimelech in this instance. One would have thought that so long an experience of such extraordinary favours, on the part of God, would have so strengthened the faith of Abraham as to make him superior to all temptations which imply distrust in his Divine Director. He must have seen, by this time, that God had a way of deliverance when all human resources were at an end; and, therefore, that all carnal expedients were vain. Surely, the temptation to employ devices which had been proved to fail would now have no power over him! But this incident teaches us that the force of this old temptation was not destroyed, but only slumbered for awhile. We are never safe from the invasion of temptations which have once vanquished us. They have discovered our weak part, and this must always be a source of danger—a chronic infirmity of the soul which is but imperfectly healed.

II. Circumstances may arise which will revive their strength. Abraham was again placed in similar circumstances to those in which he had once fallen, and the old temptation assaults him with all its former strength. Science considers two kinds of energy, one in which it is active, and the other potential. The energy of a cannon ball is active: we can see the effects of it; but the energy of a heavy body in an elevated position, or that which slumbers in gunpowder, is potential. There it is, though to all appearance most harmless; and by fitting means can in a moment be called into action. Such is the power of old temptations. They watch us like a tiger his prey, silently and in ambush, and then spring upon us in an unguarded moment. In the particular instance of Abraham there were several causes which, at this time, contributed to render him weak against the assault of his old temptation.

1. Reaction after great spiritual excitement. He had seen that terrible instance of God’s judgment upon the cities of the plain—his kinsman scarcely saved—silence, desolation, and death reigning over a land once beautiful and full of busy life. The sight of these things must have filled his heart with conflicting emotions. The kind of excitement hence arising may strengthen the soul, but it is that intermittent strength which is succeeded by intervals of depression. Hence it is that retirement and watchfulness are most necessary at such times. The soul is too weak to trust herself abroad—to go out into the open field of conflict. The man out of whom Jesus had cast the devils wished to continue with Him. He was transported with joy and gratitude—in a most excited state of feeling, and ready to make any sacrifice. But Jesus discouraged his over-confident zeal, and told him that a state of retirement, the quiet and obscure ways of life, would be best for him. “Return to thy own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee.” (Luke 8:38-39.)

2. Experience of social corruption. Abraham had seen all around him the worst forms of wickedness. He might well be tempted to consider that no truth, no high justice, could be due to those who were so irrecoverably bad. Such crooked ways of iniquity could only be combated by the cunning of the serpent. Abraham thought that the people were extremely wicked, and devoid of all religious thought and feeling. (Genesis 20:11.) He was under the temptation that he must not deal with them upon high principle and an open sincerity. Thus the very corruptions of mankind are dangerous to the virtues of saints. Besides, Abraham might reflect that he had escaped out of his former difficulty in Egypt with little hurt to himself, perhaps advantage, on the whole. The scheme had succeeded once—at least it had brought him no real damage—and why should he not try it again? The experience of long years had not shown him that mankind was growing better; it rather seemed as if corruption was increasing more and more. The state of society was such as to tempt even a righteous man to renounce ideal truth and integrity, and employ a compromised or qualified veracity.

III. The results of yielding again are most disastrous. Abraham found to his sorrow that his policy did not succeed, but only brought him into trouble.

1. The distress of anxiety. After Abraham had made the representation that Sarah was his sister, how anxious he must have been as to the success of that device in giving them both any real protection. Carnal policies of this kind, while on trial, fill men with anxiety, and should they fail they bring confusion. Whatever is of doubtful virtue may well make us anxious, however good the end may be after which we seek.

2. Possible loss to ourselves. There is always some moral loss. But we may suffer temporal loss. That very good thing for which Abraham contrived—the safety of his wife—he failed to secure. It would have been better for him had he trusted in God, and left all events with Him. It is only by faith that we can fight an honourable and successful battle with the world, for the moment we attempt to fight the world with its own weapons we lose dignity and ensure failure. We must conduct this strife “lawfully.”

3. The shame of reproof from worldly men. (Genesis 20:9-10; Genesis 20:16.) There are men of the world possessed of some strong moral principles, of great natural sagacity, and who are therefore keen to discover faults in others. They expect consistency in those who make a high profession, and are not sparing in indignant censure when they do not find it. When they catch a saint of God using doubtful means they quickly assume a moral superiority, and thus put him to shame.

IV Those who fall under them are only delivered by the special interference of God. Through all his faults God had a regard unto His servant. He was still His “prophet,” the interpreter of His will, the intercessor with Him on behalf of sinful men. He was the representative of faith in a faithless world; and, according to the flesh, the beginning of that line along which God’s purpose of love and mercy should move towards full accomplishment. Therefore God had a special regard unto him, and miraculously interfered to preserve him from the consequences of his fault. God always deals the same way, in principle, with His tried servants.

1. The infirmities of believers appeal to the Divine compassion. God knows the strength of our temptations, the difficulty we have to stand upright in this sinful world. He has regard unto those who have fought bravely against its evils, who have striven hard to obey their heavenly calling. He will put a difference between those whose faith shows occasional infirmity and weakness, and those in whom faith is wanting altogether. The attainments and habits of a life of godliness help the soul to return after the lapses of her infirmity. They appeal to the compassion of God, who is not unmindful of His former mercies. If, as the God of nature, He has regard to the work of His hands, surely, as the God of grace, He will have regard to the work of His new creation.

2. God is concerned to maintain the promises made to faith. A son was promised to Abraham who was to perpetuate the race from which Messiah should spring. The time of fulfilment was now drawing so near that Abraham by his conduct, in this instance, was endangering that promise. But God was guiding all events, and accomplishing His will and purpose. The interests of a magnificent future had to be considered as well as those which belonged personally to Abraham. Promises were made to the patriarch’s faith, and God delivered him for His honour. And even in the case of saints whose lives are obscure, and who are not called to take the chief parts in history, yet so many important interests are bound up in them, that the Divine grace is rich in resources to complete their salvation.


Genesis 20:1. Abraham removed from the doomed district, for it was painful for him to look upon the desolations of God’s anger. The contemplation of acts of Divine judgment is awful and terrible, even though our faith in the righteousness of them may be strong.

Abraham journeyed from thence, either as grieved at the sight of Sodom, or as annoyed by the ill air thereof, or as loathing Lot’s incest, or driven out by famine, or desirous of doing good to many. Whatever it was that occasioned his removal, we find him ever and anon journeying from one place and sojourning in another. God’s people are a brood of travellers. This was Abram the Hebrew, of Heber, which signifieth pilgrim or stranger. They look towards Heaven as their home, as Ulysses is said to do towards Ithaca, as a bird looks to her nest on the highest rocks.—(Trapp).

He had now sojourned many years in the Plains of Mamre (ch. Genesis 13:18, Genesis 18:1), and he had seen much of the Lord’s goodness, as well as of the Lord’s terror, there. But still greater things await him ere his pilgrimage finally closes. The last stage of his earthly journey is to be the most signally blessed and the most remarkably tried of all. He passes, therefore, now into a new scene, where, in new circumstances, he is to see the salvation of God.—(Candlish).

Genesis 20:2. Lies that are not altogether such, but have some truth mixed up with them, are the most dangerous to the interests of mankind.

It is impossible to acquit Abraham of the sin of gross unbelief. For the space of twenty-five years he had experienced the faithfulness and loving-kindness of his God. He had recently received the promise that he should have a son by Sarah, who should be the progenitor of the Messiah. But on coming to Gerar, his heart fails him for fear that the people will kill him in order to gain possession of his wife. This was a practical distrust in the protection of Jehovah. In what had God failed him that he should begin now to doubt of His faithfulness and power? Besides, it ought to have occurred to him that he had once before been guilty of the same dissimulation, and had been reproved for it. The repetition of so gross an offence, after such a warning and such a deliverance, increased its sinfulness a hundredfold.—(Bush).

How difficult it is, even for the best of saints, to forego the suggestions and guiding of their own wisdom and to trust entirely in God!
The calamity from which Abraham sought to shield his wife by sinful evasion fell upon her. Thus was he chastened for his evil counsel. All devices arising from practical distrust in God must fail, and bring their penalties upon all who have recourse to them.

This is the second time he thus sinned. So Jehoshaphat was twice taken tardy in Ahab’s amity (2 Chronicles 19:2; 2 Chronicles 20:37); Jonah twice reproved for rebellion; and John, for angel-worship; Samson, twenty years after he had loved the Philistine woman, goes down to Gaza, and went into Delilah (Judges 15:20; Judges 16:1). But what shall we say to that example of the Apostles (Luke 22:24), amongst whom “there was a strife who should be accounted the greatest?” And this was not the first, but the third time they had thus offended by ambition. But the last time most unseasonably, after that He had foretold His passion to follow within two days. See the incredible perverseness of corrupt nature! How strongly do the best still smell of the old cask, taste of the old stock, though ingrafted into Christ, and though poured from vessel to vessel (John 5:14). “And this have ye done again,” saith the Lord (Malachi 2:13). A great aggravation, as numbers added to numbers, are first ten times more, and then a hundred, and then a thousand. “How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert” (Psalms 78:40).—(Trapp.)

Genesis 20:3. The crisis was serious, and worthy of the special interference of God. Miracles are not recorded in Scripture as having been performed on frivolous occasions, as if intended merely to astonish. God interposes when the time is momentous.

The evil that men propose to do has often a gracious issue, for God interferes that He may prevent sin. We know not how much of the Divine dealings with men have this special object in view.

In the night sleep, the spirit of revelation comes nearer to the heathen, as is shown in the dreams of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar. It is a medium of revelation also for children (Joseph, in the old covenant), and for labourers 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 (ch. Genesis 40:8); the Midianites (Judges 7:13-15); the wife of Pilate (Matthew 27:19, compare Wis. 18:17-19), had significant dreams.—(Lange.)

Evil is overruled for good. Abraham’s fault procured for Abimelech the advantage of a Divine visitation; which, though marked by severity, was kind in intent and issue.
The king thought he was innocent, but God interposed to show the true bearing of his conduct. So Saul on his way to Damascus thought he was doing God service, but the Divine voice suddenly alarmed him with a view of the real tendency and meaning of the act in which he was engaged.
Man’s wisdom leads him into a pit, and God’s wisdom must draw him out. (Fuller.)

Genesis 20:4. How carefully are all the essential particulars regarding the genealogy of the Messiah preserved in the sacred records! The Holy Spirit marks this fact lest anyone should say that Isaac was the son of Abimelech.

Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? A reference, probably, to the recent event of Sodom’s overthrow, which must have greatly impressed the surrounding country. It is as if he had said, “I am aware that thou hast slain a nation notorious for its filthy and unnatural crimes, but we are not such a nation, and in the present case all that has been done was done in perfect ignorance; surely thou wilt not slay the innocent as if they were guilty.” The language, evidently carries with it the implication, which is abundantly warranted elsewhere in the Scripture, that from the close connection existing between them the sins of rulers were often visited upon their people. See this illustrated in the case of David (1 Chronicles 21:14; 1 Chronicles 21:17).—(Bush.)

A heathen king knows how to address the Supreme. Thus the knowledge of the true God had not at this time entirely perished from among the Gentiles.

Genesis 20:5. The servants of God stand reproved by a heathen king.

Abimelech vindicates his conduct by undeniable facts which (to say the least) partly justify it.
With this example before us it is not too much to believe that some among the heathen live according to the dictates of conscience.

The saints of God often fail in those very graces and virtues for which they are the most remarkable. Abraham was famous for his faith, and Sarah for not being “afraid with any amazement” (1 Peter 3:6), and yet they both manifest distrust and fear.

Genesis 20:6. God admits the integrity of this heathen king. He had not committed that foul crime of which he was here in danger. Men who, as regards the whole law of God, are sinners, may yet be innocent of some particular forms of transgression.

1. The reason why he could yet claim innocence of “the great transgression “was God’s restraining power and grace.
2. What a hell on earth would there be but for God’s various restraints in conscience, the Scripture, the Church, the civil law, education, and society, and, most of all, the Holy Ghost.
3. How thankful should every man be for God’s restraints.
4. What infinite need have we of a Saviour from sin.

Augustine says: “We see a sin is done against God when it is in the eyes of men of small moment, because they treat lightly mere sins of the flesh.” (Psalms 51:3.)—(Jacobus.)

Who that knows anything of his own heart is not conscious that he has at some times tampered with sin, and laid such snares for his own feet that nothing but God’s grace and unlooked-for interference has preserved him!—(Bush.)

Genesis 20:7. Wrong may be done even when we have not reached the limit of actual transgression.

We are only safe when we cut off the occasion of sin, and place ourselves in the condition of the least danger.
Abimelech had sinned against one who was the ambassador of the Heavenly King—both the aggravation of his offence and the ground of his hope of pardon.
Life and death hang upon our treatment of the message of God’s prophets.

As with every sacrifice there was incense, so should every ministerial duty he performed with prayer. St. Paul begins his epistles with prayer, and proceeds and ends in like manner. What is it that he would have every one of his Epistles stamped with his own hand, but prayer for all his people? (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18.)—(Trapp.)

Abraham is here designated by the Lord a prophet. This is a step in advance of all his previous spiritual attainments. A prophet is God’s spokesman, who utters with authority certain of the things of God. (Exodus 7:1; Exodus 4:15.) This implies two things:

1. The things of God are known only to him, and therefore must be communicated by him.
2. The prophet must be enabled of God to announce in correct terms the things made known to him. These things refer not only to the future, but in general to all such matters as fall within the purpose and procedure of God. They may even include otherwise known or knowable by man, so far as these are necessary to the exposition of the Divine will. Now Abraham has heretofore received many communications from God. But this did not constitute him a prophet. It is the divinely authorised utterance of new truth which raises him to this rank. And Abraham’s first exercise in prophecy is not speaking to men of God, but to God for men. He shall pray for thee. The prophetic and the priestly offices go together in the Father of the Faithful. These dignities belong to him not from any absolute merit, but from his call to be the holder of the promise and the father of that seed to whom the promises were made.—(Murphy.)

Verses 8-16


Genesis 20:8. Servants.] Court officers—his counsellors. (1 Kings 1:2; 1 Kings 10:5; 2 Kings 6:8.)

Genesis 20:10. What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?] “What purpose hadst thou in view—what could have been thy motive?”

Genesis 20:13. God caused me to wander.] One of the rare instances in which the plural verb is used with the name God, itself in the plural form. “If the verb be plural, it is only an instance of the literal meaning of Elohim, the Eternal Supernatural Powers, coming into view.” (Murphy.)

Genesis 20:16. Behold he is unto thee for a covering of the eyes.] Heb. “Lo, it is to thee as a covering of the eyes.” “Not, as some imagine, a veil, understanding the present as money to buy one; but it is rather a peace-offering in consideration of the damage done to them. ‘To cover one’s face’ is the Heb. idiom for causing one to forget a wrong done. (Ch. Genesis 32:20-21.) ‘I will cover his face,’ i.e., I will appease him with a present. (Job 9:24.) So, also, to cover sin is to pardon—to see it no more.” (Jacobus.) Thus she was reproved. Heb. So thou art judged, i.e., justice has been done to thee. “The original of this is most naturally taken as a part of Abimelech’s speech, and then it is to be translated, And all this that thou mayest be righted. All this had been done or given, that the injury to Sarah may be redressed.” (Murphy.) He had now made amends for all that had happened.



The Divine call of Abraham was the first step towards the formation of the visible Church, and the interests of that Church centre in his life. He was the home of Revelation, the expositor of the known will of God. To Abimelech no Divine communication had been made. He, therefore, represents those who are outside the Church. All that was good in him was the product of what is called “Natural Religion.” This history shows what fair and noble things of life and conduct may grow from such a soil.

I. Morality outside the Church may attain to great excellence. The conduct of Abimelech shows that men may attain to principles of virtue and righteous living who are yet beyond the pale of revelation. He represents heathen morality at its best. There is much to admire both in his thought and feeling concerning human conduct.

1. Belief in a moral standard of right and wrong. He did not regard human actions as indifferent, or to be determined by the mere will and caprice of the individual without any reference to their moral qualities and issues. They are to be referred to a standard, whose witness and counterpart is the law written in the heart. In his view there were “deeds that ought not to be done” (Genesis 20:9). Moral obligation is herein implied. This ought and ought not is the imperative of conscience. The action of conscience implies that there is a law existing somewhere. Though the man may be greatly ignorant, yet that faculty when awakened obeys the impulse from an unseen source.

2. Belief in the moral relations of human society. He knows that the welfare of nations depends upon their righteousness (Genesis 20:4). He censures the conduct of Abraham, which had nearly involved both himself and his nation in a great sin (Genesis 20:9). The members of human society are so connected together by the principle of mutual dependence, and the ties of a common interest, that the great sins of the few must affect the many. A nation cannot maintain existence without some moral bonds.

3. A sense of injured moral feeling in the presence of wrong. He not only recognised the moral character of actions, and held human responsibility as a doctrine, but also as a principle of heart and life. He felt strongly upon the subject. His moral sensibilities were wounded and outraged at the very thought of the sin which he was so near committing.

4. A readiness to make restitution for faults committed against others (Genesis 20:14-15). Abimelech not only restores Abraham his wife, but gives him presents by way of atonement for any wrong he may unwittingly have done him. His high sense of justice is not content with sentiment and abstractions, but contemplates practical duty.

II. Morality outside the Church may have lessons of reproof for those who are within it. Sarah stood “reproved” (Genesis 20:16), and so did Abraham; for they had agreed together to act this part. They held to a statement which, though not altogether false, was a moral untruth—a deceit and a culpable concealment. The manly and open conduct of the heathen king reproved them.

1. For their mean subterfuges. This conduct was unworthy of them as persons of wealth and position, and whose previous history entitled them to respect and honour from the surrounding people. To take the lowest ground, it lacked open sincerity and manly courage. It was a mean subterfuge unworthy of noble souls. The cunning and dissembling in their conduct towards others, too often practised by professing Christians, is reproved by the more open and manly dealing of many who have enjoyed no religious advantages.

2. Their distrust of Providence. Surely the patriarch and his wife had sufficient proof already of the power and willingness of God to protect them, and bring them out of every danger. They imperiled the truth to prevent (as they considered) worse consequences; and thus they took refuge in a human expedient instead of trusting in God. Surely the heathen have reason to reprove us when we cannot trust our God, in whom we profess to believe, in the time of peril. In so far as we act as if we had no Divine director, we belie our profession of religion. There are actions in the life of many, who are yet true members of the Church, which really show a practical disbelief in the help and guidance of Providence.

3. Their religious prejudices. Abraham excuses his conduct by saying, “Because I thought; surely, the fear of God is not in this place.” (Genesis 20:11.) He considered, that those not so favoured of God as himself were without any just ideas of duty and of the purpose of life. He took it for granted that men who had no special revelation must, of necessity, be without moral principle, and not to be trusted. How incorrectly do the best of men often judge of those who are outside their own pale! Men find it hard to believe in the goodness of those whose views on the subject of religion are essentially different from their own. Some narrow-minded Christians selfishly rest in the thought that they are the special favourites of God, and form harsh and uncharitable judgments of all the rest of mankind. We have no right to limit the grace of God by confiding its operation to the Church only. The revelation of Christianity may be the privilege of the few, but the dispensation of it is intended for the benefit of all. The hindrances to the universal sway of God’s truth and righteousness arise from man. His infinite goodness would bless all. His grace can raise the fruits of righteousness even where there is no open vision, and where religious minds think His fear does not exist. We are not to despise human goodness because it has not been nourished in the Church.


Genesis 20:8. It is wise to act promptly upon Divine warnings.

1. As they concern ourselves. Abimelech had taken a wrong step, but by the grace of God was prevented from rushing into greater evil. His was the fault, and the matter concerned himself first of all.
2. As they concern others. The king announced the fact to his household, for he could not transgress the moral law without bringing upon them also the effects of his great sin. Human interests are so related that the results of a man’s sin must spread far beyond himself.

There is hope for men who are afraid of the judgments of God. It shows their minds are fully alive to their real situation. There is a courage of open defiance which only comes of ignorance. When men begin to fear they are ready to listen to the voice of wisdom.

Nature taught infidels to take care of their own families. Socrates is said to have called philosophy down from heaven to earth; that is, to have directed men to be good at home. The malicious Pharisees could object it to our Saviour—“Thy disciples wash not,” “Thy disciples fast not,” etc.; as if He were much to blame for suffering such things. And surely, he is not a complete Christian, walks not “in a perfect way,” that is not good “at home” (Psalms 101:2.) The fifth commandment is called by Philo a mixed commandment, and made a part of the first table. It is therefore set betwixt both tables of the law, saith another, because all we get from God or men we bring it home to our houses—as Abimelech here relates his divine dream to his servants—the place of well employing it.—(Trapp.)

The prompt obedience of this heathen king reproves us who have greater privileges. God appeared to him only in a dream, but us He calls daily by Moses, by the prophets, by apostles, and by His only-begotten Son. Should all this convergence of testimony and spiritual force have less effect upon us than a single vision had upon this man?

Genesis 20:9. A heathen king reproving the Father of the Faithful! The better the man who is subjected to such reproach, the more shameful the position.

The dangers of life’s pilgrimage are so great that believers are tempted to adopt worldly policy and scheming for their own safety, but when such devices are discovered they bring shame and contempt.
Were we to judge simply from this portion of the sacred narrative we should be ready to think that Abraham had been the heathen and Abimelech the prophet of the Lord. In this offended king’s reproof we see much to admire and to commend. Considering the injury he had sustained, and the danger to which he had been exposed, it is truly wonderful that he should express himself with such mildness and moderation. The occasion would almost have justified the bitterest reproaches; and it might well have been expected that Abimelech would cast reflections upon the partriarch’s religion, condemning that as worthless or him as hypocritical. He never once complained of the punishment which he and his family had suffered, nor of the danger to which they had been exposed, but only of their seduction into sin. He considered this as the greatest injury that could have been done to him, and inquires with artless but earnest anxiety what he had done to provoke Abraham to the commission of it.—(Bush.)

There are moral properties belonging to human actions by which they are referred to an eternal law of right and wrong. The heathen have a conscience which pronounces upon the character of their actions.
The sense of moral obligation makes religion possible to man.

Genesis 20:10-11. Under the influence of fear Abraham could not see his own conduct in the right light. Abimelech now bids him consider it with the coolness and severity of reason.


1. It is often strong in those who enjoy high religious privileges. Abraham thought himself so highly favoured of God that he was unwilling to admit that any goodness could be found among those who were less favoured. The pride of our superior position renders us indisposed to believe in the virtues of those who by their providential position are ignorant of the written Word.
2. The evils of it are great.
(1) It limits the power of the grace of God. He can fulfil Himself in many ways and work by many methods. He is not confined to one mode of making Himself known.
(2) It is a sin against charity. Charity inclines to hope for the best, and is most at home with large views.
(3) It issues in committing wrong against others. Abraham greatly wronged this man. Those hasty judgments of mankind, which have their root in our own pride and self-importance, cause us to sin against others.

Could not that God who had brought him out from an idolatrous country, and preserved Lot and Melchizedek in the midst of the most abandoned people, have some “hidden ones” in Gerar also? Or, supposing that there were none who had truly feared God, must they therefore be so impious as to murder him in order to possess his wife? There can be no doubt that many who are not truly religious have well-nigh as high a sense of honour and as great an abhorrence of atrocious crimes as any converted man can feel; and therefore the reproach which he so unjustifiably cast on them returned deservedly on his own head.—(Bush.)

The doctrine of human depravity does not oblige us to believe that all men are vicious.
The fear of God may exist among those who have had no special revelation of His will.
The history of the first formation of the Church does not shut out hope of the salvability of the heathen.
The fear of God is the best foundation for the stability and the prosperity of nations.

The fear of God is the best curb to restrain from evil, and spur to incite to good. All honesty flows from this holy fear. It is a problem in Aristotle, why men are trusted in more than other creatures? The answer is, “Man only reverenceth God;” therefore you may trust in him, therefore you may commit yourself to him. He that truly feareth God is like unto Cato, of whom it is said, “He never did well that he might appear to do so, but because he could do no otherwise.” You need not fear me, said Joseph to his brethren, for I fear God, and so dare do you no hurt. Ought ye not to have feared God? said Nehemiah to those usurious Jews (Nehemiah 5:9).—(Trapp.)

“They will slay me.” The tendency of selfishness is to lead men to lean upon their own wisdom and to distrust God. The thought of our own safety may so absorb us, that we become unmindful of what is due to God’s honour.

Genesis 20:12. The slight semblance of truth by which the falsehood was upheld only testified that it was known to be a falsehood in the conscience.—(Alford.)

The root of bitterness, in this melancholy instance, was an evil heart of unbelief. The element of unbelief enters into all sins—and into none more than into this sin of concealment or disguise. To dissemble before men is to distrust God. Had Abraham been exercising his faith in God, as simply and as implicitly, in reference to the providence which watched over him, as in reference to the righteousness which justified him, he would not have thought of resorting to any carnal or crooked policy. The particular measure of precaution which he did adopt might seem the most prudent and the best, as well for his partner as for himself. If he was to do anything for himself in this matter, perhaps nothing else could be suggested than what he actually did. But the evil was that he did anything; that he did not leave the entire management of the affair to God; that he did not resolve to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.—(Candlish.)

Abraham failed where many believers are so likely to fail.

1. Not in wrong views of their covenant relations with God. In this Abraham was correct to the revealed will of the Almighty. He had not fallen into any doctrinal error. So believers may commit serious faults while they still hold the great verities of religion.
2. Not in wrong views of the requirements of the godly life. Abraham, all the time, well knew what was required of him in the service of his God. He would have shrunk from any act of open disobedience. But,
3. Believers often fail where Abraham failed, in the practical application of principles to the duties and difficulties of common life. We may be right in our views of doctrine and duty, and yet make serious mistakes in applying them to special cases arising from the complications of human affairs.

The immense power of evil which is in the world is a strong temptation to the people of God, by leading them to resort to worldly devices in order to meet that evil.
Scripture history shows that many of the saints of God failed exactly in those graces for which they were chiefly distinguished. Thus Moses, the meekest man, spake unadvisedly with his lips. Elijah the brave showed himself a coward and was ready to give up his work in despair. Abraham was renowned for his faith. At the call of God, he went forth not knowing whither he went. When God promised him a son, against hope he believed in hope. When afterwards he offered up that son, he accounted that God was able to raise him from the dead. He lived by faith, ordering all his public and private affairs by the thought that he was immediately under the eye of God. Yet in that which was the strength of his spiritual character, he failed.

Genesis 20:13. He was sent forth to go he knew not whither, and in allusion to this he is said to have “wandered.” But what is “wandering” to us, when led by Divine guidance, is a definite course of journeying to the omniscient eye that watches over and orders our steps. The fact which Abraham here mentions of an early precautionary arrangement between him and Sarah, would go far to set him right in Abimelech’s esteem, as it would prove that he did not resort to the expedient because he thought worse of him and his people than of the other nations among whom he expected to sojourn. Neither the king nor people of Gerar were at all in his view when he proposed to adopt the artifice in question.—(Bush.)

That which may seem to be kindness, in its effects upon others, may be done at the expense of our Godward duties.
Here is a man who lives a life of faith, and in all sincerity intends it, yet employs a carnal device, which is inconsistent with the idea of such a life. What contradictions there are, even in the best of saints!
Human prudence may be disloyalty to God.

Genesis 20:14. Abimelech bestows his royal bounty, the prophet gives his prayers. Each makes such restitution as he can for his fault.

Abraham by his conduct had exposed another man to the danger of a great sin—he had made a fatal impression and exercised an evil influence. Opportunities were lost, and mischief done, as it seemed, beyond all repair. But prayer sets all right.

In restoring Sarah to her husband, Abimelech obeyed the command of God. (Genesis 20:7.)

To make restitution is one of the conditions by which we obtain the gifts which come by prayer.

Genesis 20:15. Acts of kindness towards those whom we have justly reproved show that we love them still.

Pharaoh complimented Abraham out of his land (ch. Genesis 12:20); Abimelech gives him leave to dwell where he pleases. The one was moved only by fear, the other had comfort with his fear. Abimelech felt that the presence of this good man in his land would be a blessing to him.

We should set a value on the prayers of others which have brought a blessing to us, and strive to retain the benefit of them.

Genesis 20:16. Gentle reproofs wound not when accompanied by deeds of kindness.

Abimelech’s high sense of justice:

1. In making atonement for the wrong he had done—unwittingly, indeed, on his part, but still a wrong in its effect upon others. This large gift was for “a covering of the eyes,” i.e., for a peace-offering to cover up the offence.

2. In vindicating Sarah’s character. “Unto all that are with thee, and with all other.” All her family would be interested in this act of justice towards her good name.

To render justice to others was a good preparation for enjoying the full benefits of the prophet’s prayers and intercessions.

Abimelech is afterwards greatly blessed for his kindness to Abraham. He had, indeed, received a prophet and had a prophet’s reward. (Ch. Genesis 21:22-34.)

Verses 17-18


Genesis 20:17. God healed Abimelech.] This may explain in what sense he was on the point of dying (Genesis 20:3), that he was to be considered dead, as regards progeny. His wife, i.e., she who was eminently such—the queen. Maid servants. Concubines are intended, a different word being used for ordinary servants. (1 Samuel 25:41.) And they bare. They were rendered capable of procreating children. The verb is masculine, for both sexes were involved in this judicial malady. It may be that this was inflicted with the design of preserving the purity of Sarah. Abimelech was not suffered to touch her. (Genesis 20:6).

Genesis 20:18. For the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech.] “To be taken with reference to both sexes. God had visited all with incapacity, which visitation was now removed.” (Alford.)



Abraham’s prayer for the doomed cities was not granted, but his prayer for Abimelech was answered in full. “God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maid-servants.” Why was this prayer successful? God has reasons for refusing the requests of His servants, which are often hid from them; and he who prays best is most satisfied calmly to accept the good pleasure of the Divine will. But in the present instance we can see some reasons why it was likely that this prayer should be answered.

I. Because faith was maintained notwithstanding past failures. Abraham had pleaded hard for the cities of the plain, yet he had seen them swept into destruction. His prayer had failed to save that wicked people from their doom. A less hardier soul than his might have been discouraged, and have lost all faith in prayer. But no difficulties daunted this believing man. It is the nature and property of genuine faith to hold out against all discouragements, to believe still in God both when He grants and when He denies. If we have proper confidence in the Divine character we have only patiently to wait and real success will come at last. Abraham still pleaded with God, notwithstanding his failure in a great instance. Persevering faith, which is superior to all discouragements, must be rewarded.

II. Because the objects of it were disposed to receive the blessing. The hindrances to the gracious effects of prayer lie in man’s rebellious heart. God willeth not the death of any sinner. Prayers for others are more likely to be answered when, on their part, there is some disposition to receive Divine blessings. There must be a Godward direction imparted to souls which are to be blest. God meets those who are looking towards Him. Abimelech and his household had this receptivity. By desire and submission they were prepared for healing and blessing. How different with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah! They maintained open defiance against God. In their rebellious souls there was nothing to answer any movement of the Divine goodness towards them. Therefore they were left to the fate of all who contend with their Maker. Thus God’s gracious purposes can be hindered by man. “I would have gathered thy children together, … and ye would not.” (Matthew 23:37).

III. Because God delights to put honour upon His servants. God had entered into covenant with Abraham. He was God’s prophet and faithful friend. It was not for nought that he was called to interpret the Divine will, and to intercede for men. God will set His visible marks of approval upon His own appointed means of blessing. He will not cause his servants to become ashamed of their confidence, but will show the world that He is with them. Learn the importance of the prophet to mankind.

(1) He makes known the will of God. He is a messenger who has received instructions from the Supreme Ruler of all mankind. He comes to speak on behalf of God, for warning, for reproof, for the announcement of gracious purposes.
(2) He is the human channel of spiritual blessings. He teaches men the way of righteousness, how they may find the chief good and reach true blessedness. Who is such a benefactor to the race as this—so important to the dearest interests of mankind! Abimelech could bring his gold, but Abraham could put him in the way of obtaining far better gifts.


Genesis 20:17. Abraham, by his prevarication, had brought distress on Abimelech and all his household. Being now humbled by the rebuke he had received, he prayed to God for the removal of the judgments which he had been instrumental in procuring. By this means, as far as in him lay, he counteracted and reversed the mischief that he had done. It is but seldom that we can cancel in any degree the evil that we have committed; but if any way whatever present itself, we should embrace it gladly, and put forth our utmost endeavours to undo the injury we may have wrought, At all events, the course adopted by Abraham is open to us all. We may pray for those whom we have injured; we may beg of God to obliterate from their minds any bad impressions which, either by word or deed, we may have made on them. And if we find in them a kind, forgiving spirit, we should so much the more redouble our exertions to obtain for them the blessings of salvation, which will infinitely overbalance any evils that they may have suffered through our means.—(Bush.)

Our prayers have power to heal the wrongs we may have done to others by our unbelief.
The effect of Abraham’s prayer is an illustration of salvation, which is the healing of the soul of those diseases sin has brought upon it.
How great is the power of the intercession of the believer with God, when it can stay the hand of judgment, and even prevail notwithstanding the infirmities and lapses of the intercessor! What efficacy, then, must we ascribe to the intercessions of that Divine Advocate who was without sin!

Genesis 20:18. The name Jehovah is employed at the end of the chapter, because the relation of the Creator and Preserver to Sarah is there prominent.—(Murphy.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-20.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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