This week’s reading: Genesis 20:1-18
After the judgment of God on the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham continues his nomadic lifestyle, by moving to the southern part of Canaan. This account is very interesting because it displays that, sometimes we do not learn our lesson and end up repeating the same poor choices. Yet God is never taken by surprise and uses everything, even our fears and flawed decisions, to fulfill His greater plan. We are in Genesis chapter 20, reading it all, that’s verse 1 through18. Listen to God’s redemption of Sarah:
“To Sarah he said, ‘I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.’ Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.” Gen 20:16-18 NIV
Here we go again. If this chapter seems familiar, it is because, before God confirmed His covenant with Abraham, and before God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, these two Saints had made this same exact error. Recall Genesis chapter 12 and our talk titled “Only One Righteous”? Once again, we do not directly hear God commanding Abraham to move his whole caravan from where they had been staying for a good 15 years or so. Perhaps he was a bit shaken by what had happened in Sodom and wanted to distance himself from that devastation. Or maybe his heart was broken over the situation of incest between his nephew Lot and his daughters. That would have given God a poor representation among the surrounding pagan nations and maybe Abraham just wanted a change of scenery. Whatever the reasons the Bible does not say, but move Abraham did, and he displays some insecurity as he settles near a town called Gerar. We hear the fear of Abraham when they move next to these foreigners as he tells those he encounters the same half-truth about his wife Sarah as he had done before. This is the scheme they had come up with as they began this journey following God to wherever He was leading them. Abraham says, “And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” (Gen 20:13) Apparently, they did not think they were doing anything wrong by lying about their relationship, and had not learned any lesson from the last time this got them into trouble. And so here, once again, he claims that Sarah is his sister, and she agrees…but they never mention the tiny fact that she is his wife too! This event should actually be comforting to us. How? It proves that no one is perfect, not even great Saints like Abraham. Even after we become born again, after God changes our name from sinner to saint, we still are susceptible to falling into sin. This is how I see that name change from Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah. (Gen 17:5 & Gen 17:15) It was like they became born again, as God confirmed and established their mission. So to read here that they still were choosing to lie to those around them, to try to save themselves instead of trusting God to protect them, we can learn that our walk with God will probably have moments where we waver in our Faith. It is a process that we grow into as we engage with God in every situation of life. The key, of course, is to engage with God. Fear quickly takes over our hearts when we are not leaning on our Faith in God. When we are not seeking His Will, but doing what we think is best, we are opening ourselves up to doubt and self-provision. If I do not trust God to protect me, I am going to naturally come up with my own plan to protect myself. And this is what Abraham is still doing here. What he intended to keep him safe, actually opened up him and Sarah to trouble. But praise God, He is diligently watching.
God always gives us a choice. This time around Sarah is almost 90 years old, which again is impressive that she still retains her beauty, so this king of Gerar, King Abimelech, decides to take her into his household so she might become his wife. This was also an old custom of forming a peace treaty between peoples, they would intermarry, so this king thinks nothing unusual is happening. Yet one night, when he falls asleep, God Himself comes to this pagan king in a dream to warn him about Sarah’s true identity. By God’s Grace, though “Abimelech had not gone near her,” (Gen 20:4)…not yet, anyway. King Abimelech is shocked to find out that she is a married woman, and quickly tries to defend himself to God proclaiming his innocence. God replies, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.” (Gen 20:6-7) Note how God is presenting this king with a choice here. The king can certainly choose to dismiss this vision and take Sarah as his own OR he can trust God’s words and obey. What is lovely to see is that this was a pagan nation. They did not believe, much less follow the true God, so God uses the deception of Abraham and Sarah to introduce Himself to King Abimelech and his people. The king is filled with the Fear of the Lord and shares his dream with all his officials. They decide to question Abraham to see why he would have done such a thing. Abraham makes his excuses by saying he knew they were not a God fearing people and was afraid for his life. Let me stop there for a moment. If it was not for the power of God in this situation, this would be another poor witness of God to those that did not know Him. Imagine if you are talking to someone who does not yet know Jesus for himself, but he is aware you call yourself a Christian. Then you proceed to act in fear about a situation you are currently enduring. And furthermore, that person catches you lying about it! What kind of image of God would that give to that lost person? What would he think walking in Faith was all about? Why would he even want to know our Jesus if this is the way we are reacting to life’s challenges? My Friends, we are all given choices every day, with every decision we must make. Will we trust God, or will we lean on our own, limited understanding? Will we choose to point others to Faith or to a lack of it by reacting in fear? Will we lie and cheat and steal to get ahead or will we humbly receive whatever God brings our way, trusting that He is working it all together for our good? Remember, no one is perfect, so we might not get this right all the time. But we should desire to work with God, more and more, so that we can become better and better representatives of God to those around us. Yet on those occasions when we fail, it is God’s Mercy and Grace that becomes so precious.
Sarah’s vindication. It has been about 20 years since this “brilliant idea” of theirs caused Sarah to be taken into a foreign king’s harem. Last time it was Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, as Abraham and his caravan were trying to escape a famine. (see Gen 12:10-20) But now she is protected by God, and why? Because it seems to be God’s Plan to restore her virtue and take away any guilt and shame all the past events in her life may have placed upon her. King Abimelech does return Sarah to Abraham and makes restitution for his potential sin, as he pays to repair any damage to Sarah’s reputation, making it clear that nothing physical happened between her and the king. Let’s remember that the Lord had just appeared to Abraham to give them a date when the long awaited, promised child would come. Yet, the dishonor of being barren and having been taken by Pharaoh, must still have been weighing heavy on Sarah’s heart. I believe this whole narrative, why God allowed them to return to this awful idea, is about vindicating Sarah. Helping her to believe that she was forgiven by God and that any past hardships in her life were not a judgement on her, but were meant to bring her to this point in time, where she could bear this miracle child. In order to bring the promised child from Sarah’s womb, God had to cleanse her of any past shame so that she would be able to fully glory in what God was about to do. What seemed impossible, was finally coming to fruition, and Sarah was about to be filled to the overflow with wonder and joy. How exciting for her, for Abraham, and for us too! We know that from this line of their son, Isaac, eventually came our Lord and Savior. It is so good to never forget, as we read a couple of weeks ago, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14) Our lesson? Are there things that have happened in our past, either because we made some poor choices or others forced the difficulties upon us, that we are still holding on to guilt and shame about? We must trust that God knows our hearts and desires to remove the reproach. God wants us to be freed of the past pain and use the suffering in His good Plan for our lives, just like He is doing here for Sarah. God’s purpose for allowing those troubles was not to destroy her, but to draw her deeper into a relationship with Him. God longs to vindicate us as well. For this reason, the Father sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin. Now we are to believe Him and to work with the Holy Spirit as He takes our heartaches and works them together for our good. God clears Sarah’s shame and she is able to conceive the promised child. May God remove our guilt so we too can move forward in His Plan for us.
Now the promise can be fulfilled. Once we take God at His word, that in Christ we are no longer under condemnation, that we have been forgiven and can be in a right relationship with Him, we too can count on the promises of God being fulfilled in our lives. What kind of promises? That we can sense His Presence always because He promises to be with us always, to the very end of the age. (see Mt 28:20) That we can have, enjoy and share the Abundant Life because that is what Jesus came to grant us. (see Jn 10:10) That we can live by an ever increasing amount of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (see Gal 5:22-23) And that the very many other promises God gives us in Scripture are now ours in Christ. This continues to be my experience. Do you want that too? Then won’t you join me?
Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.
<>< Peace, Diane