Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
20 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself 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.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
Negeb = נֶגֶב negeb, neh’-gheb; from an unused root meaning to be parched; the south (from its drought); specifically, the Negeb or southern district of Judah, occasionally, Egypt (as south to Palestine):—south (country, side, -ward).
Kadesh = קָדֵשׁ Qâdêsh, kaw-dashe’; the same as H6945; sanctuary; Kadesh, a place in the Desert:—Kadesh. Compare H6947.
Shur = שׁוּר Shûwr, shoor; the same as H7791; Shur, a region of the Desert:—Shur.
Gerar = גְּרָר Gᵉrâr, gher-awr’; probably from H1641; a rolling country; Gerar, a Philistine city:—Gerar.
Abraham moves to the south country (the Negeb) from Mamre where he has been living until recently. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(1) Abraham journeyed from thence.—That is, from Mamre, where he had so long halted, and which seems to have continued to be one of his homes. As he had been commanded to traverse the whole land (), we need seek no reasons for his removal. It was the rule of his life to move from place to place, both on account of his cattle, and also because by so doing he was taking possession of the country. There were, nevertheless, certain places which were his head-quarters, such as Bethel, Mamre, and Beer-sheba.
The south country.—It is a proper name, the Negeb; see Note on Genesis 12:9. For Kadesh, see Genesis 16:14; for Shur, Genesis 16:7; and for Gerar, Genesis 10:19.
In verse 2, we see Abraham revert to a familiar ploy. More from Ellicott:
(2) She is my sister.—Twenty years before, Abraham had acted in the same way in Egypt, and Pharaoh had rebuked him, but sent him away with large presents. We learn from this chapter, Genesis 20:13, that the false representation which twice brought them into trouble was habitual with the two; nor does Abraham ever seem conscious that he was acting in it wrongfully. To us it seems cowardly, in one who had so many men trained to battle, thus to expose his wife to danger; and to have recourse to deceit, at the very time when such abundant revelations were being made to him, also shows an apparent want of faith in God. But Holy Scripture neither represents its heroes as perfect, nor does it raise them disproportionately above the level of their own times. Its distinguishing feature rather is that it ever insists upon a perpetual progress upwards, and urges men onward to be better and holier than those that went before. Abraham was not on the same high spiritual level as a Christian ought to be who has the perfect example of Christ as his pattern, and the gift of the Holy Ghost for his aid; and the fact that God rescued him and Sarah from all danger in Egypt may have seemed to him a warrant that in future difficulties he would have the same Divine protection. Human conduct is ever strangely chequered, but we have a wholesome lesson in the fact, that it was Abraham’s politic device which twice entangled him in actual danger.
Abimelech (called in Genesis 26:1, king of the Philistines, where see Note) . . . took Sarah.—She was now ninety years of age, and naturally her beauty must have faded. Some, however, think that with the promise of a son her youth had been renewed, while others suppose that the purpose uppermost in the mind of Abimelech was political, and that what he really desired was an alliance with the powerful sheik who had entered his territories.
The note here raises a couple of interesting questions:
- Did God authorize this political tactic or did God rescue Abraham both times it was used?
- Was Sarah’s beauty restored in her pregnancy? She was said to be unusually beautiful at the age of seventy when she travel with Abraham to Egypt.
From The Pulpit Commentary:
Verse 2. – And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister. As formerly he had done on descending into Egypt (Genesis 12:13). That Abraham should a second time have resorted to this ignoble expedient after the hazardous experience of Egypt and the richly-merited rebuke of Pharaoh, but more especially after the assurance he had lately received of his own acceptance before God (Genesis 15:6), and of Sarah’s destiny to be the mother of the promised seed (Genesis 17:16), is well nigh unaccountable, and almost irreconcilable with any degree of faith and piety. Yet the lapse of upwards of twenty years since that former mistake may have deadened the impression of sinfulness which Pharaoh’s rebuke must have left upon his conscience; while altogether the result of that experiment may, through a common misinterpretation of Divine providence, have encouraged him to think that God would watch over the purity of his house as he had done before. Thus, though in reality a tempting of God, the patriarch’s repetition of his early venture may have had a secret connection with his deeply-grounded faith in the Divine promise (cf. Kalisch in loco). And Abimelech – i.e. Father-king, a title of the Philistine kings (Genesis 21:22; Genesis 26:1; Psalm 34:1), as Pharaoh was of the Egyptian (Genesis 12:15), and Hamor of the Shechemite (Genesis 34:4) monarchs; cf. Padishah (father-king), a title of the Persian kings, and Atalik (father, properly paternity), of the Khans of Bokhara (Gesenius, p. 6) – king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. I.e. into his harem, as Pharaoh previously had done (Genesis 12:15), either having been fascinated by her beauty, which, although she was twenty years older than when she entered Egypt, need not have been much faded (vide Genesis 12:11; Calvin), or may have been miraculously rejuvenated when she received strength to conceive seed (Kurtz); or, what is as probable, having sought through her an alliance with the rich and powerful nomad prince who had entered his dominions (Delitzsch).
This note provides much of the same commentary as Ellicott, however, it also adds the possibility that Abraham’s decision-making was bolstered by his great faith in the promises of God to deliver him and deliver on promises already made.
Continuing on with verse 3 and Ellicott’s Commentary:
(3) God (Elohim) came . . . —From the use of this title of the Deity it has been said that this narrative is an Elohistic form of the Jehovistic narrative in·. But we have seen that even in the History of the Fall, where the writer in so remarkable a manner styles the Deity Jehovah-Elohim, he nevertheless restricts Eve and the serpent in their conversation to the name Elohim. With the same care in the application of the names, it is necessarily Elohim who appears to a heathen king; and had the title Jehovah been used it would have been a violation of the narrator’s rule. Moreover, the sole reason for calling that narrative Jehovistic is that in Genesis 12:17 it is Jehovah who plagues Pharaoh for Sarah’s sake. But equally here, Genesis 20:18, it is Jehovah who protects Sarah from Abimelech; in both cases it being the covenant- God, who saves his people from injury.
Thou art but a dead man.—Heb., thou diest, or art dying. Abimelech was already suffering from the malady spoken of in Genesis 20:17, when Elohim appeared to him and warned him that death would be the result of perseverance in retaining Sarah. It was this malady which was the cause of the abstention spoken of in Genesis 20:4; Genesis 20:6.
God = אֱלֹהִים ʼĕlôhîym, el-o-heem’; plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative:—angels, × exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), × (very) great, judges, × mighty.
As we have mentioned in previous sections where this name for God is provided, the name itself is plural and might more accurately be translated as “the gods.” Abimalech addresses God in verse four as Adonai.
Adonai = אֲדֹנָי ʼĂdônây, ad-o-noy’; an emphatic form of H113; the Lord (used as a proper name of God only):—(my) Lord.
More from The Pulpit Commentary:
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.
Verse 3. – But God – Elohim; whence the present chapter, with the exception of Ver. 18, is assigned to the Elohist (Tuch, De Wette, Bleek, Davidson), and the incident at Gerar explained as the original legend, of which the story of Sarah’s abduction by Pharaoh is the Jehovistic imitation. But
(1) the use of Elohim throughout the present chapter is sufficiently accounted for by observing that it describes the intercourse of Deity with a heathen monarch, to whom the name of Jehovah was unknown, while the employment of the latter term in Ver. 18 may be ascribed to the fact that it is the covenant God of Sarah who there interposes for her protection; and
(2) the apparent resemblance between the two incidents is more than counterbalanced by the points of diversity which subsist between them – came to Abimelech in a dream – the usual mode of self-revelation employed by Elohim towards heathen. Cf. Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41:1) and Nebuchadnezzar’s (Daniel 4:5), as distinguished from the visions in which Jehovah manifests his presence to his people. Cf. the theophanies vouchsafed to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:1; Genesis 18:1) and to Jacob (Genesis 28:13; Genesis 32:24), and the visions granted to Daniel (Daniel 7:1-28; Daniel 10:5-9) and the prophets generally, which, though sometimes occurring in dreams, were yet a higher form of Divine manifestation than the dreams – by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, – literally, behold thyself dying, or about to die – σὺ ἀποθνήσκεις (LXX.). Abimelech, it is probable, was by this time suffering from the malady which had fallen on his house (vide Ver. 17) – for (i.e. on account of) the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife – literally, married to a husband, or under lordship to a lord (cf. Deuteronomy 22:22).
Abimelech = אֲבִימֶלֶךְ ʼĂbîymelek, ab-ee-mel’-ek; from H1 and H4428; father of (the) king; Abimelek, the name of two Philistine kings and of two Israelites:—Abimelech.
I sometimes think that the fear felt by Abimelech and his people is undersold with a casual reading. Consider that the fate of Sodom and the other cities on the plain most likely spread to the Negeb soon after. Would it not be terrifying to anger the God that did *that*? Of course it would.
David Guzik’s Commentary addresses this seciton:
a. Indeed you are a dead man: This was a scary thing to hear from God, even in a dream. But the point had to be made to Abimelech, even though he could truly say he acted in the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands.
i. This may seem drastic, but something important was concerned. “Suppose Abimelech had taken Sarah and God had not intervened? Two seeds would have been at the door to Sarah’s womb, and to this day an element of doubt would cling to the ancestry of our Lord” (Barnhouse).
b. I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart: Because Abimelech’s heart was right in this regard, God kept him from worse sin. God’s protecting power can guide even a pagan king (Proverbs 21:1).
i. Despite Abraham’s failure to really trust God in the situation, God did not abandon him. He would not let Abimelech touch Sarah. Her womb was going to bring forth the son of promise, who would eventually bring forth God’s Messiah. God would not leave this matter up to man.
c. For he is a prophet, and he will pray for you: Even though Abraham was in sin, he was still a prophet and man of powerful prayer. God’s mercy did not leave Abraham, even though Abraham didn’t trust God the way he should.
prophet = נָבִיא nâbîyʼ, naw-bee’; from H5012; a prophet or (generally) inspired man:—prophecy, that prophesy, prophet.
pray = פָּלַל pâlal, paw-lal’; a primitive root; to judge (officially or mentally); by extension, to intercede, pray:—intreat, judge(-ment), (make) pray(-er, -ing), make supplication.
I will provide a link HERE to Parsha Vayeira, Part 6 (a video) covering this section of verses and some more detail from a non-textual / Jewish perspective. The video contains an explanation for why Abraham moved south as well as some additional detail regarding the situation with Sarah and Abimelech.
- Abraham – unlike their trip to Egypt – did not get Sarah’s permission when he told her to say she was his sister. Here he ordered her to do so.
- Sarah did not want to go along with this ruse.
- The Hebrew speaker in the video gives accurate pronunciations of the various names and words in this text… I just enjoy that.
For those who might not know, here is what Vayeira means:
Vayeira, Vayera, or Va-yera (Hebrew: וַיֵּרָא — Hebrew for “and He appeared,” the first word in the parashah) is the fourth weekly Torah portion (Hebrew: פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis 18:1–22:24. The parashah tells the stories of Abraham‘s three visitors, Abraham’s bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s two visitors, Lot’s bargaining with the Sodomites, the flight of Lot, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, how Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father, how Abraham once again passed off his wife Sarah as his sister, the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Hagar, disputes over wells, and the binding of Isaac (Hebrew: הָעֲקֵידָה, the Akedah).
Some additional information re: Abimelech from wiki:
Abimelech was most prominently the name of a polytheistic king of Gerar who is mentioned in two of the three wife-sister narratives in Genesis, in connection with both Abraham and Isaac.
King Abimelech of Gerar also appears in an extra-biblical tradition recounted in texts such as the Kitab al-Magall, the Cave of Treasures and the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, as one of 12 regional kings in Abraham’s time said to have built the city of Jerusalem for Melchizedek.
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