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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verses 1-4


Genesis 20:1-4. Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him.

OUR God has been pleased to teach us, no less by example than by precept: and the instruction to be gathered from the life and conduct of his saints, commends itself to us with peculiar force, as being less open to the evasions of criticism, or the objections of prejudice. Doubtless we must exercise a sober judgment in determining how far we are to follow the Patriarchs, Prophets, or Apostles; for there were many things in their conduct which were peculiar to their situation and circumstances. But we can never materially err, if we attend to the spirit of their actions: here they were patterns to us: and as far as relates to this, we are to be “followers of them who through faith and patience now inherit the promises.” We are bidden particularly to “walk in the steps of our father Abraham:” one of the most remarkable of which is that which is mentioned in our text.

We shall endeavour to observe that sobriety of interpretation, while we consider,


The Call of Abram—

The command given to him was most extraordinary—
[The world had speedily relapsed into idolatry. Abram was brought up, it should seem, in the common superstition. But it pleased God to separate him from the idolatrous world, in order that he might be a living witness for Jehovah, and preserve in his family the knowledge of the true God. For this end God appeared to him, and commanded him to leave his country and friends, and to go into a land which should afterwards be shewn him.]
But however strange this may appear, a similar command is given to every one of us—
[We are not indeed called to leave our country and connexions: but to withdraw our affections from earthly things, and to fix them upon things above, we are called [Note: Colossians 3:1-2.]. The whole world around us lies in wickedness [Note: 1 John 5:19.]: and we are expressly forbidden to be of the world, any more than Christ himself was of the world [Note: John 17:14; John 17:16.]. We are not to love it, or any thing that is in it [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.]. We are not to be conformed to it [Note: Romans 12:2.], or to seek its friendship [Note: James 4:4.]: we are rather to come out from it [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.], and be altogether crucified to it [Note: Galatians 6:14.]. We are to regard it as a wilderness through which we are passing to our Father’s house; and in our passage through it to consider ourselves only as strangers and pilgrims [Note: Hebrews 11:13.]. If we meet with good accommodation and kind treatment, we are to be thankful: if we meet with briers and thorns in our way, we must console ourselves with the thought, that it is our appointed way, and that every step will bring us nearer home [Note: Acts 14:22.]. Nothing good is to detain us; nothing evil to divert us from our path. We are to be looking forward to our journey’s end, and to be proceeding towards it, whatever be the weather, or whatever the road [Note: Hebrews 11:14-16.]. The direction given to the church, is the same in every age; “Hearken, O daughter, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house; so shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty [Note: Psalms 45:10-11.].” There is no exemption, no dispensation granted to any, no difference allowed. Some from their occupations in society must be more conversant with the world than others: but in heart and affection all must be withdrawn from it; “not partaking of its sins, lest they should receive also of its plagues [Note: Revelation 18:4.].”]

There will not appear to be any thing harsh in the command given to Abram, if we consider,


The inducements offered him—

These were far more than equivalent to any sacrifice he could make—
[He was to be blessed in himself, and a blessing to others. In respect of temporal things, he was blessed in a very signal manner to the latest hour of his life [Note: Genesis 24:1; Genesis 24:35.]. He was loaded also with spiritual and eternal benefits, being justified and accounted righteous before God, and being exalted after death to the highest seat in his Father’s house. He was also a blessing to many: for his children and household were governed by him in a way most conducive to their best interests. The people amongst whom he sojourned could not but be edified by his instructions and conduct: and to this day the whole of his life affords a stimulus to the church to serve God after his example. But most of all was he a blessing in being the Progenitor of the Messiah, “in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed [Note: Acts 3:25, and Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:16.]:” and every person will be blessed or cursed according as he accepts or rejects that promised Seed.]

Similar inducements are offered to us also—
[Everyone who, for Christ’s sake, will renounce the world, shall be blessed. He may not possess opulence and honour; but “the little that he hath, shall be better to him than all the riches of the ungodly.” In his soul he shall be truly blessed. View him in the state least enviable according to human apprehension; see him weeping and mourning for his sins; yet then is he truly blessed [Note: Matthew 5:3-4.]: he shall have pardon and acceptance with his God: he shall experience the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit: he shall have “joys and consolations which the stranger intermeddleth not with:” and in due time “he shall be blessed with faithful Abraham,” in the eternal fruition of his God.

He shall be a blessing too to all around him. View him in his family connexions; view him as a husband, a parent, a master, a friend; who so kind, so benevolent, so anxious to promote the happiness of those connected with him? View him in the church, or in the state; what blessings does he communicate by the light of his example! what evils does he avert by his prevailing intercessions! Suppose the Christian to be instrumental to the salvation of one single soul; the whole world is not equivalent to the good that he has done. Nor is it that individual soul only that shall acknowledge him as its benefactor; for, all the good that shall arise through the medium of that soul to the remotest posterity, shall be traced up to him as its author; and shall occasion thanksgivings to God on his behalf to all eternity.

Let these inducements be duly weighed, and how light will the vanities of this world appear in comparison of them!]
From a believing prospect of these benefits arose,


His ready obedience—

Notwithstanding all the obstacles in his way, he without hesitation obeyed the call—
[His friends and relatives would consider his conduct as an indication of consummate weakness and folly: especially, when he could not so much as tell them whither he was going, they would be ready to pity him as insane. But as, on the one hand, he valued not the comforts of their society, so neither, on the other hand, did he regard their contempt and ridicule: every consideration gave way to a sense of duty, and a desire of the promised blessings. He believed, firmly believed, all that God had spoken. He believed especially that the Saviour of the world should spring from his loins; and that, through the merits of that Saviour, he himself, together with all his believing posterity, should possess that good land, even heaven itself, of which Canaan was a type and shadow. Under the influence of this faith he was contented to forego all the comforts that he could lose, and to endure all the sufferings that could come upon him [Note: Hebrews 11:8-10.].]

In this he was a pattern and example to all believers—
[If we renounce the world for Christ’s sake, and set ourselves in earnest to seek the land of promise, we shall be despised and hated, even as Christ himself was [Note: John 15:18-20.]. But this we are not to regard. We are “not to confer with flesh and blood;” but instantly and perseveringly to pursue our destined course. What though we have never seen heaven, nor can even tell where it lies? it is sufficient for us to know that it is a land flowing with milk and honey, and that it is “kept for us until the time appointed of the “Father.” Nor need we doubt but that it will far more than counterbalance all the sufferings that we can endure in our way to it [Note: Romans 8:18.]. Let us only exercise the faith of Abram, and we shall instantly set out to follow his steps.]


Those who are at ease in their native land—

[It may appear harsh to say, that, “if you hate not father and mother, and houses and lands, yea and your own life also, you cannot be Christ’s disciple [Note: Luke 14:26.]:” but this is the word of Christ himself. It is true, we are not to understand it in a literal sense; for we are not to “hate” even our enemies: but when our friends, or even life itself, stand in competition with Christ, we must act as if we hated them; we must sacrifice them all without one moment’s hesitation. On lower terms than these Christ never will accept us: “We must forsake all, and follow him.”]


Those who have set out towards the land of promise—

[Terah the father, and Nahor the brother, of Abram, accompanied him as far as Charran; and there (from what motive we know not) they all abode five years. God then renewed his call to Abram; but alas! his father was dead; and Nahor was weary of a wandering life; so that, on the recommencement of his journey, Abram had no associate but his Wife and Nephew. We pretend not to determine any thing of the spiritual state of Terah or Nahor; but their never entering into the land of Canaan may well be a caution to us to “beware, lest, having received a promise of entering into God’s rest, any of us should seem to come short of it [Note: Hebrews 4:1.].” It were better never to have begun our journey heaven-ward, than to turn back, even in our hearts [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-21; Hebrews 10:38-39.].]

Verse 9


Genesis 20:9. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great tin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.

WE admire the fidelity of Scripture history. There is not a saint, however eminent, but his faults are reported as faithfully as his virtues. And we are constrained to acknowledge, that the best of men, when they come into temptation, are weak and fallible as others, if they be not succoured from above. We are habituated to behold Abraham as a burning and shining light: but now we are called to view him under an eclipse. We see the father of the faithful drawing upon himself a just rebuke, and that too, not for some slight defect in his obedience, but for a great and heinous transgression. It will afford us a salutary lesson to consider,


The offence which Abraham committed—

He was guilty of dissimulation in calling Sarah his sister, when she was in reality his wife. It is true, she was also his sister, in the same sense that Lot was his brother; she was his niece, the daughter of Haran, who was his brother by the father’s side. But was there nothing wrong in this concealment? We do not hesitate to declare, that it was a very grievous sin. Consider,


The principle from which it sprang—

[He had been called out from his country to sojourn in a strange land: and, depending upon God for direction and support, “he went forth, not knowing whither he went.” For the space of twenty-five years he had experienced the faithfulness and loving-kindness of his God. And he had recently received the most express promises that he should have a son by Sarah, who should be the progenitor of the Messiah. Yet behold, when he comes to Gerar, a city of the Philistines, he is afraid that the people will kill him, in order to gain possession of his wife, who, though ninety years of age, still retained a considerable measure of her former beauty: and, in order to secure himself, he has recourse to this expedient of denying his wife. But was not God still able to protect him? or could the Philistines touch an hair of his head without God’s permission? In what had God failed him, that now at this time he should begin to doubt his faithfulness or power? It was the limiting of these perfections that in after ages brought down upon the whole nation of Israel the heaviest judgments [Note: Psalms 78:20-22; Psalms 78:40-42.]: and it could not but greatly aggravate the offence of Abraham in the present instance.]


Its natural and necessary tendency—

[We shudder while we contemplate the tendency of this shameful expedient. It was calculated to ensnare the people among whom he sojourned; while it exposed the virtue of Sarah to the extremest hazard. Had she been acknowledged for Abraham’s wife, every one would have known the unlawfulness of entertaining a desire after her, and would have abstained from shewing her any undue attention, or from cherishing in his bosom an inclination towards her. But when she passed for an unmarried woman, every one was at liberty to insinuate himself into her affections, and to seek to the uttermost an honourable connexion with her. The event indeed shews what might reasonably have been expected from such a plot. What other catastrophe could well be looked for? Terrible as it might have proved, both to her and to Abimelech. it was no other than the natural consequence of the deceit which was practised.
But what was its aspect and tendency with respect to the Messiah? We tremble to relate. Surely the whole human race combined could not have devised or executed any thing more injurious to his honour. It was but just before, perhaps a week or two, that God had promised to Abraham, that within the year he should have a son by Sarah. Suppose then that matters had proceeded according to Abimelech’s intention, and that God had not miraculously interposed to prevent the execution of his purpose, it would have remained a doubt at this moment whether the promises were ever fulfilled to Abraham, and whether the Messiah did indeed descend from his loins. Consequently, the covenant made with Abraham, and all the promises made to him and his seed, would be left in an awful uncertainty. If it would have been criminal in Abraham and Sarah to concert such a plan under any circumstances whatever, how much more criminal was it to do so under the peculiar circumstances in which they then were!]


Its having been before practised by him, and reproved—

[Had the Philistines come suddenly upon Abraham, and threatened to put him to death for his wife’s sake, we should the less have wondered that they were prevailed upon to conceal their relation to each other. But he had committed this same offence many years before; and had thereby ensnared Pharaoh king of Egypt; nor was he then delivered without a divine interposition, and a just rebuke from the injured monarch [Note: Genesis 12:12-20.]. Surely he ought to have profited by past experience: he should have been sensible of the evil of such a proceeding; and, having been once rescued, as it were by a miracle, he should never have subjected himself again to such danger, reproach. and infamy. The repetition of so heinous a crime, after such a warning and such a deliverance, increased its malignity an hundred-fold.]

If we consider the offence of Abraham in this complicated view, we shall not wonder at,


The rebuke given him on account of it—

Abimelech. admonished by God in a dream to restore Abraham his wife, sent for him, and reproved him for the imposition he had practised. In this rebuke we observe,


Much that was disgraceful to Abraham—

[It was no little disgrace that Abraham, a saint, a prophet of the most high God, should be reproved at all by a heathen: but, when we reflect how much occasion he had given for the reproof, it was disgraceful indeed.
The uncharitableness which he had manifested was very dishonourable to his character. He had indeed just heard of the horrible impiety of Sodom; and he concluded perhaps, that if a whole city so virulently assaulted Lot for the purpose of gratifying their diabolical inclinations with the men that were his guests, much more would some individual be found in Gerar to destroy him, for the purpose of gaining access to a female that was so renowned for her beauty. Glad should we be to offer this excuse for him: but he had before acted in the same manner without any such considerations to influence his conduct; and therefore we cannot lay any material stress on this recent occurrence. But supposing he had been actuated by such reflections, what right had he to judge so harshly of a people whom he did not know? Abimelech justly asked him, “What sawest thou that thou hast done this thing?” He had no other grounds than mere surmise: “I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place.” But why should he think so? Could not that God who had brought him out from an idolatrous country, and preserved Lot and Melchizedec in the midst of the most abandoned people, have some “hidden ones” in Gerar also? Or, supposing that there were none who truly feared God, must they therefore be so impious as to murder him in order to possess his wife? It is a fact, that many who are not truly religious, have 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 upon his own head.

In what a disgraceful manner too was his wife restored to his hands! How must he blush to be told, that he who should have been her protector, had been her tempter; that, in fact, he had put a price upon her virtue; and that, instead of being willing, as he ought to have been, to die in her defence, he had sacrificed her honour to his own groundless fears. It must not be forgotten, that Sarah was actually given up to Abimelech. and that Abraham had forborne to claim her: so that he was answerable, not only for the consequences that did ensue, but for those also which. according to the common course of things, were to be expected.
Further, in what light must he appear to himself and all around him, when he was informed, that he had brought on Abimelech and all his household some very severe judgments, and had actually exposed them all to instantaneous death! What Abimelech had done, “he had done in the integrity of his heart:” and, if he and all his family had died for it,, Abraham would have been the sole author of their ruin.
We need add no more to the humiliating picture that has been exhibited. Methinks we see Abraham before our eyes ashamed to lift up his head, and with deepest penitence accepting the punishment of his iniquity.]


Much that was honourable to Abimelech—

[If we were to judge from this portion of sacred history, we should be ready to think that Abraham had been the heathen, and Abimelech the prophet of the Lord. In the reproof this offended king administered, he was a most eminent pattern of moderation, of equity, and of virtue,

Considering what injury he had sustained, it is truly wonderful that he should express himself with such mildness and composure. The occasion would almost have justified the bitterest reproaches: and it might well be expected that Abimelech would cast reflections on his religion; condemning that as worthless, or him as hypocritical. But not one reproachful word escaped his lips. The only word that has at all that aspect, is the gentle sarcasm in his address to Sarah; “I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver;” admonishing her thereby no more to call him by that deceitful name.

On restoring Sarah to her husband, he endeavoured to make all possible reparation for the evil which he had unwittingly committed. He loaded Abraham with presents, and permitted him to dwell in any part of his dominions; and gave him a thousand pieces of silver to purchase veils for Sarah and her attendants, that they might no longer tempt his subjects by their beauty [Note: This seems to be the sense of 6. “It (the silver) is to thee, &c.”].

Finally, we cannot but admire the utter abhorrence which this heathen prince expressed of a sin, which is too lightly regarded by the generality of those who call themselves Christians. It is observable that 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 inquired what he had done to provoke Abraham to the commission of it: “What have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and my kingdom a great sin?” Surely a more striking refutation of Abraham’s sentiments concerning him it was not in the power of language to express.]

On this subject we would found “a word of exhortation”—

Shun every species of equivocation and deception—

[They are rarely to be found who will under all circumstances rigidly adhere to truth. Many who would not choose to utter a direct and palpable falsehood, will yet put such a colour upon things as to convey an idea quite contrary to truth. To magnify another’s faults or to extenuate their own, to raise or depreciate the value of some commodity, to avoid persecution or obtain applause, are temptations which forcibly operate to produce either exaggeration or concealment. In disagreements especially, no person can be fully credited in his own statement. But this is dishonourable to religion. There is scarcely any thing that affords a greater triumph to the enemies of religion, than to find instances of disingenuousness in those who profess it. And it requires constant watchfulness and self-command to speak the truth at all times. O let us beg of God to “put truth in our inward parts:” and let none of us think it beneath him to use that humiliating prayer of David, “Remove from me the way of lying [Note: Psalms 119:29.].”]


Guard against relapses into sin—

[We may have repented of a sin, and for a long time forsaken it, and yet be in danger of falling into it again. Indeed our besetting sin, however repented of, will generally continue our besetting sin: and the power of divine grace will appear, not so much in taking away all temptation to it, as in enabling us to withstand and vanquish the temptation. The Spirit of God may form the contrary grace in our hearts, and even cause us to exercise it in a very eminent degree: but still we are not beyond the reach and influence of temptation. If we had all the strength of Abraham’s faith, we might fall, like him, through cowardice and unbelief. Let us then watch in all things, but especially in those things wherein we have once been overcome: and let our falls be constant monitors before our eyes, to shew us our weakness, and to stimulate us to prayer. More particularly, if we imagine that we have so forsaken our sin as to be in no danger of committing it again, let us beware: “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”]


Be thankful to God for his protecting and preserving grace—

[If God had taken no better care of us than we have done of ourselves, how many times should we have dishonoured our holy profession! Who that knows any thing 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 gracious and unlooked-for interference has preserved him? While we were in our unconverted state, “God has withheld us” on many occasions, as he did Abimelech. “from sinning against him.” And since God has been pleased to call us by his grace, we have frequently been rescued by his providence from dangers, to which the folly and depravity of our own hearts have exposed us. Let us then magnify the grace of God: and, if we are enabled to maintain a holy and consistent conduct, let us say with David, “My foot standeth fast; in the congregations will I praise the Lord.”]


Strive to the uttermost to cancel the effects of your transgressions—

[Abraham by his prevarication had brought distress on Abimelech and all his household. But when he was humbled for his transgression, he prayed to God to remove his judgments from the persons whom he had so seduced. By this means, as far as in him lay, he counteracted and reversed the evil 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 to us, we should embrace it gladly, and pursue it eagerly. At all events, the measure 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 impression, which either by our words or actions we have made upon 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 which they may have suffered through our means.]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 20". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/genesis-20.html. 1832.
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