Sort-of Sister

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One of the things I like about the Bible, and one of the things that people criticize about it, is the honesty with which the Scriptures deal with people. I’m sure we don’t have all their “wrinkles” recorded for us, but there are enough to make us realize that even the saints weren’t always so saintly. That’s an encouragement for us because we then know the extent to which God showed them mercy and grace, and can be assured that the same will extended to us in our weakness. To those who criticize this “revelation,” I can only suppose it is because it robs them of the excuse, “Well, they were perfect and I’m not, so since my case is different I don’t have to pay attention to what the Bible teaches.”

Anyway, in Genesis 20, we have an example of the unsaintly act of one of the prominent saints of the Bible. To add to the problem, Abraham is about to be caught doing the same thing that he got in trouble for doing before. It seems he had not learned the lesson. One more, fear for his own safety robbed him of his ability to trust God to look after him.

Abraham had moved his family and his possessions to Gerar. Sarah, though she was old by our standards, was still an attractive woman and Abraham feared that Abimelech, king of Gerar, would be happy to make her a widow so that he could add her to his harem. Sound familiar? Check out Genesis 12:10-20. So he instructed Sarah to say that she was his sister (20:11-13), It was a half truth—she was his half sister. But it was still a lie. When Sarah was added to Abimelech’s harem, Abraham did nothing to protect her. It was left to God to do that. He made sure that Abimelech didn’t touch her (20:4). He spoke to Abimelech directly to tell him the truth (20:3) and whatever the time frame of all this was, there apparently had been enough time for Abimelech to discover that his wife and slave girls were barren because Sarah was in his harem (20:15).

All of this comes after God has repeatedly confirmed His promise to Abraham to give him a son from whom a great nation will be formed, and that this son will come through Sarah. All this after Abraham and Sarah’s names have been changed to reflect the promise that God has made to them. “Abraham” means “father of many.” Surely God would protect him so that he could produce this son, right?

But it is God’s dealing with Abimelech that is amazing. Abraham believed that the people of Gerar, including their king, were pagans (20:11). Yet, when Sarah was taken God showed Abimelech some pretty extreme mercy. He spoke to the king in a dream and one of the things he said was this: “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience [taking Sarah, thinking she was a single woman] and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (20:6).

Is God at work in the lives of those who do not believe? Does He give them opportunity to NOT commit sin? It appears so. We often divorce God from the unbelieving world, restricting His activities to believers as though He was incapable, or disinterested, in dealing with those who don’t acknowledge Him.

Abimelech did the wise thing, listened to God, (the warning in Genesis 20:7 about God destroying him and his might have had something to do with that) and he returned Sarah to Abraham. In many way the pagan was more saintly than the saint! That’s a nasty thought.

Fear should never dictate whether or not we trust and obey.

A half-truth is still a lie.

Listening and responding correctly to God’s voice is an extremely wise thing to do.

Remembering that our actions as believers have an impact, either positivity or negatively, on the spiritual journeys of those who don’t yet believe, is crucial.

Understanding the grace and mercy that God showed Abraham, Sarah and Abimelech despite their failings, is of huge encouragement to us in the midst of ours.


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