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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-7

Genesis 20:1-7

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister

Abraham’s repetition of his old fault; the power of former temptations


THEIR POWER MAY SLUMBER LONG. In this instance, twenty-four years. Never safe from invasion of temptations once yielded to.


1. Reaction after great spiritual excitement.

2. Experience of social corruption.


1. The distress of anxiety.

2. Possible loss to ourselves.

3. The shame of reproof from worldly men.


1. The infirmities of believers appeal to the Divine compassion.

2. GOD is concerned to maintain the promises made to faith. (T. H.Leale.)

A bit of the old nature

His CONDUCT WAS VERY COWARDLY. He risked Sarah’s virtue, and the purity of the promised seed.



1. We are never safe, so long as we are in this world.

2. We have no right to throw ourselves into the way of temptation which has often mastered us.

3. We may be encouraged by God’s treatment of Abraham’s sin. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

Abraham’s artifice with Abimelech

THE ATROCIOUS NATURE OF THE SIN OF ADULTERY, WHICH CONSISTS IN VIOLATING CONNUBIAL RIGHTS, IS HERE REPRESENTED IN A VERY STRIKING MANNER. Though Abraham supposed that there was no sense of GOD and religion among the people of Gerar, yet he seems not to have entertained the least suspicion that they would insult the honour of his family, either by rape or seduction. His apprehension was that they would kill him for his wife’s sake. His whole conduct, in this and the former instance, is grounded on the supposition that a ruffian, who is bloody enough to assassinate an innocent man, yet may not be so brutal as to violate a married woman. This crime has been held in detestation by almost all nations, in all ages of the world. By the ancient laws of Draco and Solon, the husband of an adulteress, if he detected her in her guilt, might immediately kill both the criminals, or stigmatise them, or put out their eyes, or might exact of the adulterer a heavy fine. But, by the law of Moses, they were both to be put to death with public infamy; and, in ordinary cases, there was no dispensation.

THAT A SENSE OF VIRTUE AND RELIGION IS SOMETIMES FOUND WHERE WE LEAST EXPECT IT. How different was the true character of the people in Gerar, from that which Abraham’s jealousy had drawn for them! There was much of the fear of God among them, though he had imagined there was none at all.

THAT THE INDULGENCE OF TOO BAD AN OPINION OF MANKIND IS OF DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCE TO OURSELVES AND OTHERS. Had Abraham entertained a just opinion of the prince and people of Gerar, or taken pains to become acquainted with them, before he listened to the secret whispers of jealousy, he would have shunned so dangerous an artifice as to disguise his relation to his wife, and would have prevented the mischiefs which ensued, and the still greater mischiefs which threatened his own family and the house of Abimelech. It was a special Divine interposition which averted consequences of the most serious nature.

THAT IN THE BEST MEN THERE MAY BE GREAT INFIRMITIES AND FAILINGS. Even they whose faith is strong must guard against the prevailing influence of fear, and call into exercise that confidence in God which is the best security against the terrors of the world. In times of apparent danger, and threatening temptation, they have need to be peculiarly watchful. We are never so safe as when we invariably follow the path of virtue and integrity. He who walks uprightly, walks surely; but he who perverts his way, shall fall. Duplicity and artifice, to avoid an evil, will but embarrass us the more. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Abraham’s sin repeated

His sin in so speaking seems to be much greater than it was before. For--

1. He had narrowly escaped the first time. The repetition of the same fault looked like presuming upon Providence.

2. Sarah was now with child, and that of a son of promise; he might, therefore, surely have trusted God to preserve their lives in the straight-forward path of duty. (A. Fuller.)

Abimelech’s plea accepted

The answer of God admits his plea of ignorance, and suggests that he was not charged with having yet sinned, but threatened with death in case he persisted now that he was informed of the truth. It is intimated, however, that if he had come near her he should in so doing have sinned against God, whether he had signed against Abraham or not; and this perhaps owing to her being in a state of pregnancy, of which, in that case, he could not have been ignorant. We see in this account--

1. That absolute ignorance excuses from guilt; but this does not prove that all ignorance does so, or that it is in itself excusable. Where the powers and means of knowledge are possessed, and ignorance arises from neglecting to make use of them, or from aversion to the truth, it so far from excusing that it is in itself sinful.

2. That great as the wickedness of men is upon the face of the earth, it would be much greater, were it not that God by His providence in innumerable instances “withholds “ them from it. The conduct of intelligent beings is influenced by motives; and all motives which are presented to the mind are subject to His disposal. (A. Fuller.)

Abraham’s reaction after his high spiritual experiences

Consider this repetition of his old fault with regard to--

Its causes.

1. Recent experience of the corruption of the world.

2. False prudence.

3. Exaggerated confidence.

4. The brotherly relation to Sarah.

5. The probable issue of the case in Egypt.

Its natural results.

1. Anxiety and danger.

2. Shame before a heathen’s princely court.

Its gracious issue through the interference of God. (Lange.)

Abraham reproved for denying his wife


The offence which he committed. A very grievous sin. Look at--

1. The principle from which it sprang--loss of faith.

2. Its natural and necessary tendencies.

3. The fact of its having been before practised by him, and reproved.

The rebuke given him on account of it. In this we observe much that was--

1. Disgraceful to Abraham.

2. Honourable to Abimelech:

(1) Moderation.

(2) Equity.

(3) Virtue. Application--

(a) Shun every species of deception.

(b) Guard against relapses into sin.

(c) Be thankful to God for His protecting grace.

(d) Strive to the uttermost to cancel the effects of your transgressions. (C. Simeon, M. A.)

Abraham and Abimelech

The thing that is most remarkable in the whole story is that God should apparently have taken Abraham’s part instead of humbling and punishing him in the sight of the heathen.

1. Observe, first of all, that if the Divine purpose was to be turned aside by the fault or blemish found in individual character, the Divine government of man is at an end, and human progress is an impossibility. Adam failed, so did Noah, so Abraham, so did Lot. It was not Adam that sinned, or Noah, or Abraham, it was human nature that sinned. Pharaoh seemed to be a better man than Abraham, but he was not so in reality. You say that Abimelech was better than Abraham; now let me ask you what you know about Abimelech? Nothing but what is stated in this chapter. Very well Yea are so far right. You have seen Abimelech at his best and you have seen Abraham at his worst, and then you have rushed to a conclusion! This is not the right way to read history; certainly it is not the right way to read the Bible. We are not to set act against act, but life against life. This, then, is the point at which I find rest when I am disturbed by the evident painful immortality of illustrious Bible characters, viz., human nature has never been perfect in all its qualities, energies, and services; the perfection of human nature can be wrought out only by longcontinued and severe probation; in choosing instruments for the representation of His will and the execution of His purposes, God has always chosen men who were best fitted on the whole for such ministry, though in some particulars they have disastrously and pitiably failed. When I think I could have improved God’s plan, the mistake is mine, because my vision is dim and I never can see more than a very limited section of any human character.

2. In the next place consider, knowing human nature as we do, how beneficial a thing it was to the great men themselves to be shown now and again that they were imperfect, and that they were only great and strong as they were good--as they were true to God. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The exact truth

Two young masons were building a brick wall--the front wall of a high house. One of them, in placing a brick, discovered that it was a little thicker on one side than the other. “It will make your wall untrue, Ben,” the other said. “Pooh!” answered Ben; “what difference will such a trifle as that make? you’re too particular.” “My mother,” replied he, “taught me that ‘truth is truth,’ and ever so little an untruth is a lie, and a lie is no trifle.” “Oh,” said Ben, “:hat’s all very well; but I’m not lying, and have no intention of lying.” “Very true; but you make your wall tell a lie, and I have read that a lie in one’s work is like a lie in his character--it will show itself sooner or later, and bring harm, if not ruin.” “I’ll risk it in this case,” answered Ben, and he worked away, laying more brick, carrying the wall up higher, till the close of the day, when they gave up work and went home. The next morning they went to resume their work, when, behold, the lie had wrought out the result of all lies. The wall, getting a little slant from the untrue brick, had got more and more untrue as it got higher, and at last, in the night, had toppled over. Just so with ever so little an untruth in your character; it grows more and more untrue if you permit it to remain, till it brings sorrow and ruin. Tell, act, and live the truth.

God orders our journeys

A stage coach was passing through the interior of Massachusetts, on the way to Boston. It was a warm summer day, and the coach was filled with passengers, all impatient to arrive at the city at an early hour in the evening. The excessive heat rendered it necessary for the driver to spare his horses more than usual. Most of the passengers were fretting and complaining that he did not urge his horses along faster. But one gentleman sat in the corner of the stage calm and quiet. The irritation, which was destroying the happiness of all the others, seemed not to disturb his feelings in the least. At last the coach broke down as they were ascending a long steep hill, and the passengers were compelled to alight, and travel some distance on foot under the rays of the burning sun. This new interruption caused a general burst of vexatious feelings. All the party, with the exception of the gentleman alluded to, toiled up the hill, irritated and complaining. He walked along, good-humoured and happy, and endeavouring by occasional pleasantry of remark to restore good humour to the party. It was known that this gentleman, who was extensively engaged in mercantile concerns, had business which rendered it necessary that he should be in the city at an early hour. The delay was consequently to him a serious inconvenience. Yet, while all the rest of the party were ill-humoured and vexed, he alone was untroubled. At last one asked how it was that he retained his composure under such vexatious circumstances? The gentleman replied that he could have no control over the circumstances in which he was then placed; that he had commended himself and his business to the protection of the Lord, and that if it were the Lord’s will that he should not enter Boston at as early an hour as he desired, it was his duty patiently and pleasantly to submit. With these feelings he was patient and submissive, and cheerful. The day, which to the rest of the party was rendered disagreeable by vexation and complaint, was by him passed in gratitude and enjoyment. And when, late in the evening, he arrived in the city with a serene mind, he was prepared to engage in his duties.

Verse 11

Genesis 20:11

And Abraham said, Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place

On harsh and selfish judgments

The true fear of God was at that moment in Abimelech’s heart, and not in Abraham’s; it was Abimelech who was playing the Christian part, that of the child of the light and of the day; Abraham was for the moment the child of fear, darkness, night.


1. The first a heathen Roman can illustrate for us (Acts 22:27-28). The thing has cost us much; we feel it is hard to believe that it can be widely shared. Abraham had made a terrible sacrifice to assure his calling. As for those easy, jovial, prosperous heathen, surely the fear of God was not there.

2. A second source of this harshness of judgment is the predominance in all of us of the natural aristocratic principle over the Christian principle of communion. Men naturally believe in election. But, with tale exceptions, they naturally believe themselves to he the elect. It is hard indeed to believe that a private possession gains instead of loses by being shared by all mankind.

THE HISTORIES OF SCRIPTURE ARE A PERPETUAL WARNING AGAINST NARROW AND SELFISH JUDGMENTS OF MEN. It is as if the Spirit had resolved that the virtues of those outside the pale should be kept clearly before the eyes of men. God is no respecter of persons, and He keeps hold in ways, of which we little dream, of the most unlikely human hearts.


1. Let your personal fellowship be based on the clear explicit manifestation of that which is in tune with your higher life and Christ’s.

2. As for those who are without, believe that God is nearer to them than you wot of, and has more to do with them than you dream. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Morality outside the Church


1. Belief in a moral standard of right and wrong.

2. Belief in the moral relations of human society.

3. A sense of injured moral feeling in the presence of wrong.

4. A readiness to make restitution for faults committed against others.


1. For their mean subterfuges.

2. Their distrust of Providence.

3. Their religious prejudices. (T. H. Leale.)


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.

2. The evils of it are great.

(1) It limits the power of the grace of God. He is not confined to one mode of making Himself known.

(2) It is a sin against charity.

(3) It issues in committing wrong against others.

Verses 17-18

Genesis 20:17-18

So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech

An efficacious interesting prayer

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.” But in the present instance we can see some reasons why it was likely that this prayer should be answered.

BECAUSE FAITH WAS MAINTAINED NOTWITHSTANDING PAST FAILURES. Persevering faith, which is superior to all discouragements, must be rewarded.

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. 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.

BECAUSE GOD DELIGHTS TO PUT HONOUR UPON HIS SERVANTS. God had entered into covenant with Abraham. He was God’s prophet and faithful friend. God will set His visible marks of approval upon His own appointed means of blessing. 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.

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. (T. H. Leate.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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