Bible Study Guide for Genesis - Chapter 20 (2023)

An incredible man of faith (IX)


vv.1-7 Repeated plot

verses 8-13 Dispute settled

verses 14-18 Name restored

Summary of the text

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham traveled to Gerar, where in self-protection he again told the half-truth about Sarah's identity, after which the matriarch took King Abimelech to his harem. However, God prevented Abimelech from approaching Sarah and vindicated his innocence and honesty. Abimelech then rebuked Abraham, restored Sarah to the patriarch, and restored her reputation by giving them a rich reward.

Interpretational challenges

Why did Abimelech take the old woman into his harem?
Sarah must have been still a beautiful and attractive woman at the age of 90, probably no less than when she was 65 (Genesis 12:14). However, the real reason was probably something else, not that Abimelech suddenly "loved" Sarah the moment he saw her.

In ancient times, the existence of many wives signified the power and wealth of the king on the one hand, and on the other hand it dried up diplomatic ties with other kings and powerful people (through political marriages). Although Abraham was new to the Gerar region, his wealth and influence would quickly become known to the locals (by the size of his family, the amount of his possessions, etc.). Perhaps this is why Abimelech was motivated to marry his sister in order to establish mutual relations with him.

Was Abimelech faithful? If not, how could he communicate with God? And was he to blame for that?
This passage does not mention Abimelech's personal faith or religious practice. Therefore, it is relatively safe to conclude that Abimelech was nothing more than a pagan king, although he had limited knowledge of Yahweh. He didn't really "communicate" with God the way a believer (like Abraham) prayed to God. In fact, it was God who appeared to him (v. 3). In the Bible, apart from Abimilek, God also appeared to other pagan rulers such as Pharaoh (Gen 41:1) and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:1).

From a mere worldly point of view, Abimelech was a righteous man. He took Sara into his harem out of ignorance: his conscience was clear. "In the purity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I did this" (v. 5), was his defense, which God justified by answering him: "Yes, I know that in the purity of your heart you did this, and I also prevented you from You are wrong. therefore I did not suffer thee to touch her" (verse 6). Matthew Henry commented: "If our consciences testify that, however much we have been led astray, we have not sinned knowingly against God, it will be our joy in the day of evil. For those who are honest are comforted that God knows their honesty and will recognize it. It is a great grace to be kept from sin. to this God must have the glory. But if we have erred in ignorance, it will not excuse us, if we persist in it knowingly. He who commits injustice, whoever he may be, prince or peasant, will surely receive for the injustice he has done, unless he repents and, if possible, makes amends.'

Another interesting footnote: the name Abimelech means "my father is the king", and Abimelech in Gen. XX was probably the father (or grandfather) of the second Abimelech he metIsaacin Genesis XXVI (Genesis 26:1). Or it could be a title for the king of the Philistines (Ps. 34).

What is a prophet (v. 7)?
"... he is a prophet, he will pray for you and you will live" (Genesis 20:7). This is the first time the Hebrew word for "prophet" is used in Scripture. Quoting from MacArthur's Study Bible, “Here he recognized Abraham as recognized by God to speak to him in Abimelech's name. It is usually used to describe not one who speaks to God in someone's name, but one who speaks to someone in God's name." Very different from the ministry of a prophet (see extract from Easton's Bible Dictionary in the appendix), the ministry of one who intercedes with God on behalf of man primarily belongs to the priest.

One of the hallmarks of the charismatic movement is the brash doctrine and strange practice of prophecy/prophets. In fact, many within charismatic circles claim to be contemporary "prophets" (eg, Kansas City Prophets, Benny Hinn, etc.). And after multiple failures to make accurate predictions, they came up with the idea of ​​"false prophecies/prophets". Therefore, it is wise for Christians to know what the Bible says about true prophets and to develop the necessary discernment on this matter.

Compelling arguments against the charismatic practice of prophecy/prophecy have already been presented in one of the keynote seminars at the recent Strange Fire Conference (A Word from the Lord? – Evaluating the Modern Gift of Prophecy by Nathan Busenitz) and in Chapter 6 of MacArthur's new book of the same title Strange fire.

Here are some quick notes I took from Busenitz's seminar:

Prophet, in the original Greek term, means "to speak for him." Therefore, God's prophet is God's representative. Prophecy, then, means a new and fresh revelation from God, and is different from preaching, which is the exposition of what God has already revealed.

The basic question to ask is, when a person claims to have received a new revelation from God, what criteria can we use to discern whether he is really talking about God? Or, simply put, how can we recognize a false prophet?

There are three biblical criteria for distinguishing a true prophet from a false one:

Doctrinal Orthodoxy - true prophets of God proclaim doctrines that are right and true. (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 2 Pet 2:1)
Moral integrity – True prophets of God are characterized by personal holiness. (cf. Jr 23,14-16, Mt 7,20; 2 Pt 2,2-3)
Predictive Accuracy - True prophets of God predict future events with 100% accuracy. (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Ezekiel 13:3-9)

How long was Sarah in Abimelech's harem?
The Bible doesn't say exactly how long, but it must have been enough for Abimelech to notice the unusual phenomenon of widespread barrenness that engulfed his house after Sarah was taken into his harem. (By the way, this is one of many places in Scripture that shows us God's sovereignty regarding His sovereignty over the fertility/sterility of humans). But we also know that no more than a year passed between Genesis XVIII (when God promised Abraham that a son would be born through Sarah the following year) and Genesis XXI (where Isaac was born). Therefore, we could conclude that the short story in Gen. XX had to happen during this year.

What if Abimilech approached Sarah?
Although Abimelech put more for political than sexual reasonsBlindfoldin his harem, there was still a good chance that Abimelech had bedded Sarah. And that would nullify the faithfulness of God's covenant. Seed promise forAbrahamthrough Sarah, and finally the Messiah through Him, every nation was blessed, it was therefore brought into serious danger. As the ESV Study Bible comments, "Abimelech's action jeopardizes the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son." Perhaps in the unseen supernatural world beyond, the devil was "controlling" God, just as he used Haman, Herod, Judas, and Pilate as his pawns to thwart God's plan.

However, we believe that the God of the Bible is the sovereign ruler of the universe and that His plan can never be thwarted. InIsa. 14:24, says the Scripture, "The Lord of hosts has sworn, saying, 'Surely as I have purposed, so it has been, and as I have purposed, so shall it be.'" And also in Isa. 46:8-11 God said: “Remember this and be sure. remember that, criminals. Remember what was before, because I am God and there is no other. I am God, and there is none like Me, who declares the end from the beginning and from the old things that have not happened, saying, "My purpose will be established and I will fulfill all my pleasure." calling the bird of prey from the east, the man of my intention from a far country. I really spoke. I'm really going to make it happen. I planned it, I will definitely do it.''

The pastor says, "When the devil says 'check', God always says 'knock'." It is not spiritually beneficial to just look around. we have to search.

Why would Abimelech end up giving them generous gifts?
Strongly opposing Abraham's selfish deception, Abimelech showed commendable generosity toward Abraham. This was not done to atone for his guilt or as a gesture of sincere apology, but to honor Abraham's God, because Abimelech was innocent and therefore had no obligation to punish Abraham and Sarah. His generosity should be taken more as a tribute to God, who graciously prevented him from committing a sin without his knowledge and justified him in it.

Abimelech also sought to restore Sarah's honor ("behold, this is thy righteousness before all that are with thee, and before all men thou art clean," v. 16), which would probably have already suffered greatly. However, when Abimelech said to Sarah: "Behold, I have given you your brother..." (v. 16), he was addressing Abraham exactly according to Abraham's half-truth. Should this be a subtle rebuke, no less forceful than "What have you done?" (v.9) before?

JFB's commentary, in contrast to Abraham and Abimelech, said: "In what a humiliating position the patriarch now appears - he, the servant of the true God, is rebuked by a pagan prince. Who would not rather be in Abimelech's place than the honorable, but unfortunately abusive patriarch! How dignified is the demeanor of the king - he calmly and justly rebukes the patriarch's sin, but respects his face and piles coal on his head from the generous gifts they gave him."

Why did Abraham suddenly become such an unfaithful man?
It is not difficult for any diligent student of the Bible to understand that Gen. XX Gen. XII. It was the exact same lie that Abraham told two decades ago. Apparently a simple "She's my sister" wouldn't be enough to explain why an attractive 90-year-old is still childless. Abraham must have deliberately lied about her marital status in order to send her to Abimelech's harem. Perhaps Abraham said to Abimelech, “No, no, no, she is still free. That's why he had no children".

JFB's commentary says: “Fear of the people he was among made him suspicious. His behavior was very responsible. It was deceitful, deliberate, and premeditated—no sudden pressure was brought upon it—it was the second transgression of its kind (see Gen. 12:13)—it was unbelief in God in every way startling and calculated to produce an injurious effect on the heathen circle. It did not take long for his mischievous streak to develop." And Matthew Henry commented: "You see much to blame here, even for a father of faith. Note his distrust of God, his excessive concern for life, his intent to deceive. Also threw temptations in the way of others, caused them grief, exposed himself and Sarah to mere reproaches, and yet tried to justify himself. These things are written for our admonition, not for our imitation. Even Abraham has nowhere to glorify himself. He cannot justify by his works, but he must be subject to justification, that righteousness which is upon all and all who believe. We must not condemn as hypocrites all who fall into sin, if they do not continue in it. But let the humble and impenitent beware that they do not sin, thinking that grace is multiplied."

But perhaps there was another side to the significant decline in Abraham's faith. For someone who actively and proactively follows God, they will not wake up one morning and suddenly decide to turn away from God. The path to unbelief, rebellion and apostasy is more of a gradual process. a deviation that only at first glance seems subtle and harmless, which the writer to the Hebrews tries to warn us about: "Therefore we must pay much more attention to what we have heard, so that we do not depart from it" (Heb 2: 1) . So now the question is, after the Covenant was renewed, after the circumcision was performed, after the name was changed, and after the bold Great Deal, how did Abraham get here?

The reason, I suppose, is found in these two verses from the previous chapter, “Abraham got up early in the morning and went to the place where he stood before the Lord. and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land in the valley, and he saw, and behold, smoke rose from the earth like smoke from a furnace" (Genesis 19:27-28). Here Abraham watched Sodom and Gomorrah fall in flames. Scripture does not record any personal encounter after the Great Bargain, so we would assume that Abraham had no idea if Lot was among the victims of the Tribulation. I guess he thought so. Can you imagine how he felt?

"Sir, weren't there even 10 righteous people in the city? Oh, Lot, my poor nephew…”

Seeing only part of the picture and assuming the worst had happened, the patriarch's faith may have been seriously weakened. In a word, at that time he was an obvious cripple, not walking by faith. And every true Christian can testify to what this will bring to their walk with the Lord. Of course, I am not implying that what Abraham did in the next chapter was a direct consequence of this. But somehow I think this could be the starting point of his temporary "falling away" in the faith, leading to the events of Gen. XX. Spiritual application, therefore, is to be vigilant in guarding our hearts, so that the smallest circumstances in life do not dictate our faith (or lack thereof) in God.

Lessons and reflections

Failure can happen even after many victories.
As mentioned above, Gen XX is Gen XII all over again. Abraham went to a place full of heathens, was afraid they would kill him, told half the truth about his wife to send her to the harem of the most powerful man in town, and in the end his deception was exposed. The two shameful events were strikingly similar, if not identical, although much had happened in between to build Abraham's faith. One of the obvious lessons for us, then, is that failure can still happen after many victories.

The Bible is full of exhortations to always be on guard.

"Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing, let him be careful not to fall. No trial came to you, but what is common to man. And God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted more than you can, but with the temptation will also give a way out, so that you can bear it. (1 Cor 10:12-13)

"Be sober, be careful. Your opponent, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that your brothers in the world experience the same experiences of suffering. After you have endured a little, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will perfect you, establish you, strengthen you and establish you." (1 Pet. 5,8-10)

When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the elements of this model of prayer is "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Mt 6:13). But we must not forget the frequency of such a request, which was mentioned two verses earlier: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Mt 6:11, emphasis mine). In other words, just as we should ask God daily for provision, so we should ask God daily for protection, because there is really only one way to live: one day at a time. And no matter how many victories you have won in the past, you should arm yourself with the same caution every day.

Failure can happen even after many victories if we are not alive. And maybe it will never happen.

It is foolish to justify our sin by saying that the people around us do not fear God.
In Abraham's defense, he said: "For I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and that they will kill me because of my wife" (v. 11). Of course, we know that this is an unfounded and unnecessary assumption. But do we realize that this is perhaps the most convenient excuse a believer can come up with to justify his disobedience?

A believer who happens to be a businessman can say, "There is certainly no fear of God here" and continue to bribe government officials.

A believer who happens to be an accountant might say, "surely there's no fear of God here" and proceed to falsify financial information.

A believer who happens to be a doctor can say "surely there is no fear of God here" and continue to accept bribes and red envelopes.

The list goes on and on. There is another variation, which is more popular but conveys basically the same idea: "I have to do it because everyone else is doing it." It's like using these magic words we can literally live the way we want without any spiritual (and physical) consequences. Do you really have to?

But let us not remember that the call to the Christian life is a call not to conform to the world, acontra mundumkind lifestyle, and this is a point that can never be overestimated: "And do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, which is good, pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

How foolish it is to reject God's command to do what is right and to ignore God's power that strengthens us and supplies us with everything we need to do it! Such justification has at its core either contempt for God's justice, or distrust of God's faithfulness, or both. Is this temptation that overtakes you unusual for a human being? Is God unfaithful to allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear? And does not God provide a way out so that you can stand under it, whenever you are tempted?

Let's not fall into this trap in our thinking. We don't have to follow the pattern of the world, even if everyone else does. Let us have courage to walk the path of righteousness, even though there is no fear in this place.

Personal applications

Search my heart to see if there is any displeasure of the Lord or a complaint that would lead me away.
Don't make excuses when I acted earthly. Confess that sin instead of rationalizing it.
Learn to walk by faith, not by sight.


Excerpted from the Easton Bible Dictionary


(Heb. nabi, from a root meaning "to gush, as from a fountain", hence "to utter", comp. Ps. 45:1). This Hebrew word is the first and most frequently used for prophet. In Samuel's time, another word came into use, ro'eh, "seer" (1 Sam 9:9). It appears seven times in connection with Samuel. Then another word was used, hozeh, "seer" (2 Sam. 24:11). In 1 Ch. 29:29 all three of these words are used: "Samuel the seer (ro'eh), Nathan the prophet (nabi"), Gad the seer" (hozeh). Joshu. 13:22 Balaam is called (Heb.) kosem "the seer", a word used only for a false prophet.

The "prophet" preached the message given to him, as the "seer" saw God's vision. (See Numbers 12:6, 8.) So the prophet was God's representative. he spoke in God's name and with his authority (Ex. 7:1). It is the mouth through which God speaks to people (Jer 1:9; Is 51:16), and therefore what the prophet speaks is not from man but from God (2 Pt 1:20,21, comp. Heb. 3:7; Acts of the Apostles 4: 25; 28:25). Prophets were God's direct instruments for communicating his mind and will to people (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19). The whole Word of God in this general sense may be said to be prophetic, since it was written by men who received the revelation communicated by God, regardless of its nature. Foretelling future events was not necessary, but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among men was "to correct moral and religious abuses, to declare the great moral and religious truths connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government. "

Anyone who is God's representative to man could therefore be called a prophet. Thus Enoch, Abraham and the patriarchs, as bearers of God's message (Gen 20:7; Ex 7:1; Ps 105:15), as well as Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; 34:10 · Hos. 12:13), were classified are among the prophets. The seventy elders of Israel (Numbers 11:16-29), "when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied;" Asaph and Jeduthun "prophesy with the harp" (1 Chronicles 25:3). Miriam and Deborah were prophetesses (Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4). The title therefore has a general application to all who have messages from God to men.

But while the prophetic giftpracticed thus from the beginning, the prophetic order began with Samuel. Colleges, "schools of the prophets," were established for the training of prophets, who were constituted as a special class (1 Sam. 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2:3, 15; 4:38), which continued through the end of the Old Testament. . Such "schools" were established in Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah and Jericho. The "sons" or "disciples" of the prophets were young men (2 Kings 5:22; 9:1, 4) who lived together in these different "schools" (4:38-41). These young men were taught not only the rudiments of worldly knowledge, but were brought up to perform the ministry of prophets, "to preach pure morality and the hearty worship of Jehovah, and to act together and in concert with the priesthood and the monarchy for rightly leading the state and controlling all attempts at lawlessness and tyranny ."

In the New Testament era, the prophetic ministry continued. Our Lord is often called a prophet (Luke 13:33, 24:19). He was and is a great prophet of the Church. There was also a special class of prophets in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5), who brought new revelations from God. They differed from "teachers", whose duty it was to convey truths that had already been revealed.

Of the prophets of the Old Testament, there are sixteen whose prophecies are part of the inspired canon. They are divided into four groups:

(1.) The prophets of the northern kingdom (of Israel), i.e.I mean, Amos, Joel, Jonah.

(2.) The prophets of Judah, viz., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.

(3.)The prophets of captivity, that is, Ezekiel and Daniel.

(4.) The prophets of restoration, namely Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

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