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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 20

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. Abraham journeyed from thence Not impelled by fear, as Lot (Genesis 19:30) when he went up out of Zoar, but probably impressed by the destruction of Sodom that he must not sojourn too long with any one heathen people .

The south country Hebrews, the Negeb . See on Genesis 13:1.

Kadesh On Trumbull’s identification of this place, see on Genesis 14:7.

Shur See on Genesis 16:7. The name Shur means a wall, and was, perhaps, first given to the high ridge or wall of rock extending north and south through the western portion of the desert et-Tih . This whole north-western part of the peninsula of Sinai thus came to be called the wilderness of Shur . See on Exodus 15:22.

Gerar Rowlands discovered a valley and ruins, some three hours journey south of Gaza, bearing the name of Gerar, but the identification has not been sufficiently confirmed . He merely sojourned in Gerar as a stranger and pilgrim, while his more permanent dwelling (the abode of his great household and the place where his vast herds remained) was the open pasture lands between Kadesh and Shur .

Verse 2

2. She is my sister Here Abraham repeats the folly he had shown in Egypt . Comp . Genesis 12:11-17. Abimelech means, my father king, or fathers of the king, and seems to have been the common title of the Philistine kings, as Pharaoh was of Egyptian kings .

Verse 3

3. God came to Abimelech in a dream It is interesting to note the use in this chapter of the divine names . Here it is God ( Elohim without the article) who comes to him in a dream, and in Genesis 20:4 he calls him Lord ( Adonai .) Then in Genesis 20:6, it is the God ( Elohim with the article) who continues to speak with the Philistine king . In Genesis 20:11 Abraham speaks timidly of the fear of God, ( Elohim without the article,) and uses the same indefinite name again in Genesis 20:13, as if accommodating himself to the notions of a heathen king . But in Genesis 20:17 it is said that Abraham prayed unto the God, ( Elohim with the article,) and God (Elohim without the article) healed Abimelech, etc . ; and then, in Genesis 20:18, it is finally declared that it was Jehovah, the covenant God of Abraham, who had interposed to preserve and honour the mother of the promised seed .

Behold, thou art but a dead man Hebrews, behold thee dead! Probably first of all an allusion to the deadness of the “wombs of the house of Abimelech,” (Genesis 20:18, note,) and also prospective of the certain death before him if he restored not the wife of Abraham, Genesis 20:7.

For she is a man’s wife Hebrews, and she mistress of a lord. Kalisch calls it “a pleonastic expression, the wife of a husband.”

Verse 4

4. Had not come near her He and his house had apparently been smitten with some judgment (Genesis 20:6; Genesis 20:18) which restrained him from Sarah, and hindered his wife and maidservants from conception . From which it would seem that Sarah was removed some time from Abraham .

Also a righteous nation There seems to be in these words an allusion to the destruction of the Sodomites. The fame of that fearful judgment had probably spread through all the adjacent lands, and made a profound impression; and now, when God speaks in a dream to this king, Abimelech asks, in amazement, if his people are in danger of a judgment like those wicked sinners. In his emotion his language rises almost to a poetic strain:

O Lord, a nation also righteous wilt thou slay?

Did not he say to me,

My sister is she?

And she, she also, said,

My brother is he .

In the integrity of my heart,

And in the innocency of my hands,

Have I done this .

In this king we may recognise an exceptional example of heathen uprightness. His ideas of righteousness, integrity, and innocence do not forbid polygamy, so that he has no compunction in adding Sarah to his harem. But he pleads sincerity and personal honour. Though lamentably low, he is far above the moral level of the Sodomites; and yet he needs the prayers and help of Abraham, who himself is far from the highest idea of innocence. Behold here the necessity of divine revelation. Without the word of the Lord, how could simple man come to know righteousness, or integrity, or purity?

Verse 6

6. In a dream Repeated again from Genesis 20:3. It would seem as if the dream had been broken by the emotion of Abimelech, and after a period of wakefulness he dreamed again, and God again revealed himself . “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 acts, not in a single one. See chaps. 37 and 41, and Matthew 2:0.” Lange.

Yea, I know Or, I have known. Abimelech has not been without the knowledge and care of the true God, ( האלהים , the Elohim,) who now accepts his plea, and adds:

I also withheld thee from sinning against me God had overruled the whole matter . Comp . Genesis 20:3-4; Genesis 20:17-18, notes .

Verse 7

7. He is a prophet Here the word prophet first occurs, but the spirit of prophecy had been abroad long before, speaking though Enoch and Noah . A prophet, נביא , is one who announces a divine message . The message itself may refer to things past, present, or future, so that prediction, or foretelling of events, is only incidental to prophecy, not its leading idea . On the distinction between the names prophet and seer, see note on 1 Samuel 9:9. Abraham was a prophet to Abimelech, and sent to pray for him; for prayer and praise were elements of prophesying. In the offering of sacrifices and in his intercession for Sodom, he appeared as priest. In his battles with the eastern kings, and in his disposal of the spoil, he appeared as king; so that in the father of the faithful we may see these several offices combined.

Verse 8

8. Rose early The visions of the night had made a profound impression, stirring the depths of his soul, and he hastened with the dawn to inquire into the matter . Compare Daniel 6:19.

Called all his servants His courtiers and counsellors.

Told all these things This procedure is another evidence of the integrity and uprightness of this king. He has nothing to conceal, though much to excite and trouble him.

The men were sore afraid Their king had also become a prophet, and revealed to them the word of God, and the revelation filled them with deepest reverence and awe.

Verse 9

9. Abimelech called Abraham The king remonstrated with Abraham “publicly, in the presence of his servants, partly for his own justification in the sight of his dependents, and partly to put Abraham to shame . ” Keil . Mark again the poetic fervour of his words:

What hast thou done to us?

And what have I sinned against thee?

That thou bringest upon me and upon my kingdom

A great sin?

Deeds which should not be done

Hast thou done with me .

Abraham seems to have been stunned and confused by this sharp rebuke, and after some silence Abimelech asks again:

Verse 10

10. What sawest thou What didst thou observe in us or among us to lead thee to do this thing? What didst thou take us to be? Others take the question to mean, “What hadst thou in thine eye; or what object hadst thou in view?”

Verse 11

11. Abraham said Abraham’s answer has four points: 1) He thought the people of Gerar to be without the fear of God . 2) That they would therefore be likely to slay him, in order to obtain his wife . 3) She was, indeed, his sister . 4) They had both entered into an agreement at the beginning of their wanderings, that, for mutual safety, they would, among strange peoples, call each other brother and sister .

Fear of God The reverence and piety due before the Holy One . Abraham had, very probably, seen things in Gerar which were contrary to his ideas of uprightness, and he was prompted to his duplicity by the same motive of fear that actuated him in Egypt . Compare Genesis 12:12.

Verse 12

12. Daughter of my father “Sarah’s name does not occur in the genealogies, and we do not know anything of her birth but that which is here stated . Such marriages, though forbidden afterwards, (Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:11; Leviticus 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22,) may not have been esteemed unlawful in patriarchal times, and they were common among the heathen nations of antiquity . Many Jewish and Christian interpreters, however, think that daughter here means granddaughter, and that Sarah was the same as Iscah, the sister of Lot, (Genesis 11:29,) who is called the brother of Abraham in Genesis 14:16. ” Speaker’s Commentary .

Verse 14

14. Took sheep and oxen Compare the similar present of the king of Egypt, Genesis 12:16.

Verse 16

16. I have given thy brother The use of the word brother, in this connexion, must have had for Sarah a pungent significance .

A thousand pieces of silver Hebrews, a thousand of silver. Whether they were shekels, or other coin, is a matter of mere conjecture, and the exact value of “a thousand of silver” is, therefore, unknown. It is also uncertain whether the silver here spoken of was an additional gift, or merely a round estimate of the value of the gifts specified in Genesis 20:14.

Behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes These words have been understood in three different ways: 1) The pronoun he should be translated it, or this, (so Sept. and Vulg.,) referring to the gift of silver, which was presented to Abraham to purchase a veil to cover Sarah’s face. It is alleged that in the ancient East it was a custom for married women to go veiled, and unmarried women to go unveiled a custom which Sarah seems to have disregarded. 2) The silver was given as an expiation or atonement to make satisfaction for the wrong done to Sarah and all others connected with Abraham. The expression cover the eyes, is thus supposed to be equivalent with cover the face, in the Hebrews of Genesis 32:20, and there translated “appease . ” 3) Abraham himself is declared to be a veil unto Sarah; that is, an all-sufficient covering and protection from the eyes and hands of other men . For he was a prophet, and she a prophet’s wife, and God would not suffer them to come to harm . We believe this last to be the true interpretation . For the first would seem too much like trifling, and a thousand of silver would be an extravagant sum to name as the price of a veil . The second involves a notion too theological to be expressed by a heathen king; and the word for covering is כסות , (which is always used of a garment,) not כפר , which is used in Genesis 32:20, and is the common word for cover, in the sense of making atonement . The third follows the simple and natural meaning of the words, and gives a suitable turn to the narrative by reminding Sarah and all connected with her that her lord, whom she had called her brother, and whom God so signally honoured, was a sufficient covering and defence .

With all other As distinguished from all that are with thee. Happy all who may thus be covered with the garment of Abraham . Some critics construe the words ואת כל , and with all, with what follows, ונכחת , translated in our version, thus she was reproved, Keil renders: And with all so art thou justified; and observes: “ ונכחת can only be the second person, fem . sing . perf. Niphal, although the Daghesh lene is wanting in the ת ; for the rules of syntax will hardly allow us to regard this form as a participle . The literal meaning is, so thou art judged; that is, justice has been done thee . ”

Murphy renders: “And all this that thou mayest be righted.” But such a construction is contrary to the Masoretic pointing and accents, and is exceedingly awkward. It certainly has as much against it as for it, and we prefer the interpretation expressed in the common version. “thus she was reproved.” The words of Abimelech convicted her, set her right, ( נוכח ,) and thereafter we read no more of her resorting to such duplicity .

Verse 17

17. Prayed unto God He prayed unto האלהים , the true God; as one who felt the responsibility of being a prophet .

Healed Abimelech From this it is clear that Abimelech and his wife and concubines had been plagued with some malady, as a curse for his taking Sarah .

They bare ילדו in pause for ילדו . The grammatical reference being to the three nouns of the preceding sentence, in which Abimelech stands first, the verb is put in the masculine plural .

Verse 18

18. The Lord It was JEHOVAH, the covenant God, who had thus interposed .

Fast closed up all the wombs So as to prevent conception . Compare 1 Samuel 1:5-6.

Because of Sarah The malady, which is said to have been healed, Genesis 20:17, was sent for Sarah’s sake, and, therefore, we naturally suppose that Sarah was kept apart from Abraham some months at least . Compare Genesis 20:3-4, notes .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-20.html. 1874-1909.
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