Review of Genesis 20

by Victor Fawole


Welcome to chapter 20, another dramatic chapter in Abraham’s life. We have followed his journey of faith. We have seen him rise to great heights – like winning a great battle, interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah. But we have also seen him drop low in his dependence on God – like lying about Sarah and having sex with Hagar. We see a repeat of one of his low moments again in this chapter. We shall review under two subheadings:

  • The sin that easily besets
  • The God that never betrays

Let us begin:

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham moved. In Chapter 12, he moved because of famine, but this time around, no specific reason is given. In his first movement, he went to Egypt – outside of God’s promised land, but this time, he went down south to Gerar – but still within God’s promised land. But as he moved, he repeated the sin he had committed in chapter 12.

Gen. 20:2 And Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent men and took Sarah.

He lied about his wife, again! This is what the bible calls “besetting sins”…

Heb. 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us…

Besetting sins are sinful habits that we continually struggle with, naturally inclined to, and have a weakness toward. Here are some biblical examples:

  • Both Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives to protect themselves (Gen. 12:10–13; Gen. 20:1–2; Gen. 26:7–9).
  • Samson struggled with lust for women throughout his life (Judg. 14, 16).
  • David and Solomon both had a weakness in regard to women (2Sam. 11:2–27; 1 Kgs. 11:1–4).
  • Peter struggled with fear of men (Matt. 26:69–75, Gal. 2:11–14)
  • Judas was a greedy person who had lust for money (John 12:6)

It is easy to slip back into besetting sins. Abraham stumbled in a place that he had stumbled before. Instead of trusting God to protect his family, he devised his own plan to do it. Abraham’s besetting sins are “fear” and “falsehood”. Just like every other sin, the problems with fear and falsehood far outweigh whatever we can gain through them:

  • Both are conspicuous. They are obvious easy escape routes in difficult situations.
  • Both are contagious. They affect and influence others around us.
  • Both are continuous. They produce other sins.
  • Both are contemptuous. They bring a reproach to the name of God

Before I move on from here, I’ll like to mention five more things to note about besetting sins:

  • They are always dangerous.
  • They are rooted in self-centeredness.
  • They always hurt others.
  • They always dishonour God.
  • They are easily excusable.

Yes, besetting sins are easily excusable. Rather than forsake them and be accountable, we tend to find excuses for them. For example, Abraham had three excuses for his besetting sin here:

  • “…because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place; and they will kill me because of my wife.” (v. 11) That’s situational ethics – making it a necessity to tell lie, assuming that God cannot protect him from the ungodly people.
  • “Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” (v. 12) That’s semantics over truth. That’s lying, even if it is technically true. The motive is what matters.
  • “…when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.’” (v. 13) That’s scheming in place of faith. More like “…don’t take it personally, Abimelech! This is just what we’ve always done.”

“…when God caused me to wander from my father’s house…” Wait… Was Abraham actually blaming God for his “wandering”? Really? Wander? God makes no man a wanderer without purpose or destination! Even Cain that sinned and was made a wanderer received God’s promise of protection and built a city. What God made Abraham into was a “sojourner”, not a “wanderer”. He was supposed to be a “wonder” to the world, God did not send him to “wander” in the world. God never told Abraham to move to Gerar. Abraham did this on his own. Apparently, Abraham wasn’t willing to take responsibility for his own mistakes.

Below are the steps that I recommend for you to overcome temptations and besetting sins. I’ve attached links to sermons by Pastor Dammy on each step.

God is faithful, even when we are not. God struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai (Gen. 12:17). He also used a dream to prevent Laban from hurting Jacob after Rachel stole his idol (Gen. 31:24). He gave Pilate’s wife a dream to warn Pilate against harming Jesus (Matt. 27:9). Again, here, God warned Abimelech against defiling Sarah. Through these many examples, God showed that He is faithful even when His people were not (2Tim. 2:13). God’s grace is greater than our weakness (2Cor. 12:9-10).

God called Abraham a “prophet” (v. 7) – the very first mention in the bible. This was an honour that he did not deserve after his deception. Even in our failure, we have the assurance that God is at work in our lives because we belong to Him. He will continue the work of saving us from the power of sin just as He has delivered us from the penalty of sin. So, we cannot, and should not, give up! When we fall, we have to get up again. The Lord is at work in our lives and we trust Him.

Gen. 20:3-5 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.” Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You kill a nation, even though blameless? Did he himself not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”

“Integrity of heart… innocence of hands…” Wow! Abimelech’s defense before God was two-fold. He was misled and misinformed, and he acted in good conscience. God saw his integrity and kept him from sinning. Why should believers uphold integrity? The Bible gives at least four reasons:

  • Integrity protects us from sin (Gen. 20:6)
  • Integrity profits our children (Prov. 20:7)
  • Integrity promotes stability (Jam. 1:8)
  • Integrity provides guidance and direction (Prov. 11:3)

Abraham’s prophetic role is revealed in different ways. He was a spokesman for God, he was an intercessor for God, and God gave him knowledge of future events. Even though he had committed sin, he was still a prophet and man of prayer. God settled everything with a three-part solution:

A. Restitution for Abraham (v. 7, 14)
God commanded Abimelech to give Sarah back to Abraham. Now that he knows the truth, he must restore Sarah to Abraham. He arose early in the morning, wasted no time in carrying out God’s instruction. He gave Abraham his royal license to live anywhere he pleased in the land. He also gave him royal gifts in properties and cash.

B. Intercession for Abimelech (v. 7, 17)
Abraham’s role as a prophet was to intercede for Abimelech. God healed Abimelech of the disease that came upon him and his family and caused them to be barren. In Abraham, Abimelech had an imperfect intercessor. In Christ, we have a perfect intercessor! (Rom. 8:34, 1 John 2:1, Heb. 7:25)

C. Vindication for Sarah (v. 16)
Abimelech gave Abraham 1000 pieces of silver as a compensation for whatever emotional trouble the whole situation might have caused Sarah. NLT says: “This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you.…”

It was also for her vindication. ESV says: “It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.”

We thank God for He doesn’t deal with us according to our sins! Because Jesus Christ bore the penalty we deserved, God now freely deals with us in grace. Just like Abraham, God chose us and blesses us in spite of our sins. This good news should not make us become nonchalant about sin. Rather, it should make us desire to live holy and please the God who loved us and gave Himself for us!


Grace to you, Church!

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