GENESIS - CHAPTER 20
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
20:1. “And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.”
As God weaves the tapestry of history, every man’s life contributes its part to the masterpiece. The dark thread of Lot’s life is now cut off, its part in the pattern complete, and the divine Weaver again takes up the brilliant thread of Abraham’s life.
”And Abraham journeyed from thence....” In order to pick up the connection we must go back to chapter nineteen, verses 27-28, “And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord ....” It was from that place that Abraham journeyed toward the south country. Scripture is silent as to the reason for his leaving that place to go into the land of the Philistines, but these two verses in chapter nineteen may perhaps provide a clue. In chapter eighteen he had prayed earnestly for God to spare the city, presenting his supplication six times; but that morning as he surveyed the smoking desolation that had been Sodom, it must have seemed that God had refused his request. Was this still-burning ruin the answer to his prayer? Was this the response of the God Who had promised so much; Who had dined with him under the tree? There may be no record of Abraham’s thoughts that morning, but surely our own experience suggests what they may have been. Have we ever prayed earnestly for something, presenting our request to the God Who has, “... given unto us exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pe 1:4), but instead of the anticipated answer has come a flood of circumstances that seemed to unite in saying that God has mocked us? How small our faith is! “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Ro 8:32).
It is evident that Abraham had a very tender regard for Lot, and now everything seemed to confirm that Lot had perished with the wicked Sodomites. What emotions sprang to life in Abraham’s heart that morning? Anger, sorrow, frustration, bitterness? The answer, perhaps, may be suggested in our own hearts. What thoughts have we entertained when circumstances have seemed to say, “God doesn’t care. He didn’t answer my prayer”?
What Abraham didn’t know, however, was that God had heard his prayer. Lot lived, and it would seem that his preservation was in response to Abraham’s prayer, for we read, “And it came to pass when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the overthrow....” (Ge 19:29).
God sometimes orders circumstances to test our faith. Our prayer should be for faith like that of Job, who bereft of children, wealth, and health, still said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).
Whether for the reason suggested, or for some other cause, “Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country.” It may have been that the south country was first the Negeb, and eventually Egypt. If so, something - perhaps the memory of his previous experience there - caused him to abandon that plan and go instead into the land of the Philistines.
Just as Egypt represents the world of business and pleasure living in defiant independence of God; and Babylon, the world of false religion, living, in spite of its outward religious pretense, in equally defiant independence of God, so does the land of the Philistines also represent an aspect of the world. It is, in fact, the picture of apostate Christendom. As the Philistines have imposed their name on the land of Israel (Palestine is derived from Philistine), so does apostate Christianity pass in the world for the true Church. As it was with Israel in Canaan, so is it with Christ’s Church. Israel lived in the place where, for the most part, the Philistine ruled supreme, giving his name to the land that rightly belonged to God’s people; and so does the true Church exist today in the world where the great apostate system rules, her power so great that she has usurped the place of the true Church in the minds of men, and provides them with a worldly religion that accommodates every fleshly lust.
The lessons Abraham had learned in connection with Egypt appear to have been so well impressed that he didn’t return to that land; nor did he ever return to Babylon; but he had yet to learn that the child of God has no more place in the world represented by Philistia than he has in the world represented by Egypt or Babylon.
In teaching Abraham, however, God would also teach us, and the lesson will be more easily comprehended if we remember that Abraham, going to dwell in the Philistines’ land, is a picture of the believer, who in anger, sorrow, frustration, bitterness, etc., leaves the local church where Scriptural order is observed, to join himself to one where the standards of the “Philistine” are the only rule recognized.
That lesson was never more needed than today. The permissiveness of the world has invaded the church, to the sorrow and frustration of many of God’s people. This is spiritual Philistinism. The godly discipline enjoined by the Word of God, and practiced in the early Church, is now conspicuously absent. The same condition, however, marked the Corinthian assembly, yet it should be noted that God’s instructions were not that the godly should withdraw themselves, but rather, that the offender should be expelled. That order hasn’t changed. Nothing should be permitted to induce the believer to quit the place where Scriptural order is maintained, even though there may be much there to discourage, e.g., small numbers, little gift, etc.
Something - perhaps the apparent rejection of his prayer - had interrupted Abraham’s walk with God, and sent him into the land of the Philistines. We do well to learn that outward circumstances should never be the basis of our walk with God. Circumstances are not always as they appear. Our walk with God is to be founded on implicit faith that will trust in spite of circumstances. When that obedient, trusting walk stops, the believer’s happiness stops, and fellowship in a local company where the “Philistine” rules can never take its place. Nothing ever justifies our “going to sojourn in Gerar.”
With this by way of a brief introduction, we’ll now examine the chapter verse by verse.
Having left the place where “he stood before the Lord,” Abraham went to dwell “between Kadesh and Shur.” Kadesh means apartness (set apart for a purpose); and Shur, beheld: rampart (as a point of observation).
At least two thoughts present themselves in connection with Kadesh. Even in disobedience, the believer never ceases to be one who is sanctified, that is set apart as one who belongs to God. The second lesson is that we, by disobedience, may set ourselves apart from God and from other believers, just as Abraham was doing in this present instance.
Shur would remind us that even in departure from Him, we never cease to be seen by God. We may fail to look to Him, but His eye never ceases to behold us, waiting for the moment, when like the prodigal son, we “come to ourselves” and return to Him. Whether it be as a sinner coming for pardon, or as a son coming for restoration, His attitude towards us never changes: He sees us while we are yet a long way off, and runs to welcome us.
It seems that Abraham’s intention was to dwell (remain permanently) in the area between Kadesh and Shur, sojourning (living only temporarily) in Gerar; but Gerar means dragging away: ruminating: sojourning. Any departure from God is a dangerous thing, always producing the same result: it tends to “drag us away” completely and permanently. The believer never goes spiritually to Gerar with the intention of remaining there permanently, but Satan is a subtle foe, and the intended “sojourn” can all too easily become a permanent dwelling away from God.
The second meaning ruminating would remind us that as the believer finds himself “sojourning” away from God, finding himself being dragged daily farther away, he must inevitably be made to “ruminate” (think upon) the difference between his present unhappy state and his former condition when he “stood before God,” and walked in the enjoyment of the peace that is inseparable from obedience.
Happy is the man whose ruminating results in his returning to God.
The third meaning of Gerar sojourning ought to remind us that our time on earth is merely a brief sojourn, at the end of which we must stand in the presence of God. Those who have trusted Christ as Savior, anticipate that meeting with joy. Those who die without having trusted Christ will have the awful experience of standing condemned in the presence of the One Who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and (Who) canst not look on iniquity” (Hab 1:13) - condemned, not for their sins, but for having refused the Remedy provided by God in the Person of His Son, “... he that believeth not is condemned already (not for murder, adultery, etc., but) because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn 3:18), and “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (Jn 3:36).
20:2. “And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.”
Abimelech, meaning my father is king, appears to have been a title rather than a name, similar to the title of Pharaoh used of the Egyptian kings. As king of the Philistines he seems to represent that successional authority that characterizes the apostate “Christian” system of which the Philistine is the representative.
As it was in chapter 12 when Abraham went down into Egypt, so it is again as he goes down to Philistia. Sarah his wife is presented as his sister, with the result that she is taken from him into Abimelech’s house. It is the same old story repeated so frequently in our own lives. When we deliberately take ourselves out of the path of faith by leaving the place where we “stood before the Lord” we find ourselves cut off from grace.
Were it not that we have so often been guilty of the same mistake it would be difficult to believe that this great man of faith could be found making the same mistake twice. One very obvious lesson is that failure in some particular testing does not guarantee us immunity from repeating the failure. Contrary to popular opinion, lightening can strike twice in the same place. Satan can and will present the same temptation as often as he thinks it will serve his purpose. Failure in some particular testing has a tendency to beget a false confidence in two ways. We are often led to reason wrongly, “It’s unlikely that I’ll ever be tested that way again,” or to conclude, “I wouldn’t fail in that test again.” Had Abraham been asked as he returned from Egypt, “Would you ever again deny that Sarah is your wife?” his reply undoubtedly would have been, “No, I wouldn’t; but it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have the chance to vindicate myself through the same test.” But he was confronted with the same test again, and with the same result - failure. Satan simply took the temptation that had been successful in Egypt and used it again, successfully, in Gerar.
It is worth noting, that not only was this the second time that Abraham failed in exactly the same matter, but in chapter 26 we find his son Isaac, in exactly the same place, Gerar, resorting to the same expedient in regard to his wife Rebekah, and for exactly the same reason, and with the same result. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Co 10:11-12).
It behooves us then to examine the cause of this thrice-repeated failure in the lives of such outstanding saints as Abraham and Isaac. It was caused by fear - fear of man, in regard to which it is written, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Pr 29:25).
But as we go from the general to the specific, we find another reason for Abraham’s failure. As sins individually are simply the evidence of the existence of a fallen, corrupt nature, so any frequently-repeated sin points to a specific cause, and it was so with Abraham. In verse 13 he confessed, “... when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said unto her, This is the kindness which thou shalt show unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.” Here we learn when and where the plan was first conceived to use this deception. It was in Chaldea, and it was at the very beginning of his pilgrimage, and it was due just as much to lack of faith in God as it was to fear of man. In fact, fear of man is lack of faith in God.
Its having originated in Chaldea marks it as a worldly expedient, and worldly expedient has no place in the life of a believer.
God would show us that for all those years, marked by a unique faith, there had been, after all, lurking in Abraham’s heart one small germ of unbelief; and before he could enter into the fullness of God’s promised blessings, it must be exposed and dealt with. Apparently it was, for we never again read of his being guilty in this respect. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). “He (God) knoweth the secrets of the heart” (Ps 44:21). The wise man’s prayer will be that of the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24).
We would profit from remembering that on the two occasions when Abraham practiced this deception he was away from God, and both times it resulted in his losing Sarah, the representative of grace. Every step taken in disobedience brings the same result: it separates us from grace - and that is a greater loss than any man can afford.
The passage of time had not diminished Sarah’s beauty, for now, years after she had been taken into Pharaoh’s house, she was taken into the house of Abimelech, and as noted already, her physical beauty is but a type of the transcendent loveliness of the grace which she represents, see Ga 4:22-31. Time can’t mar the beauty of grace. It is eternal.
In chapter 12 we were shown the godless world of business and pleasure (represented by Egypt) seeing grace as a very beautiful thing, and desiring to have it. Here in chapter 20 we are shown the world of apostate Christianity (represented by Philistia) also seeing the beauty of grace, and desiring to possess it. But apostate Christianity can no more possess grace than can the godless world of business and pleasure.
20:3. “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.”
Abraham in his faithlessness had presented her as “my sister,” but grace belongs with faith in the far nearer relationship of wife, and God was careful to emphasize that relationship when He warned Abimelech against taking Sarah. He who would use grace, apart from faith, is “but a dead man.” The great apostate system of which the Philistine is the type, would lay claim to grace, but of that system, as of Abimelech, God says, “Thou art but a dead man.”
20:4. “But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?”
An incidental lesson to be learned from this protest of Abimelech, is that there are in the apostate system which Philistia represents, those who strive to live righteously, and who, in all innocence, though it be the innocence of ignorance, do possess integrity that would put many a Christian to shame. These sincere, untaught, misguided souls are found throughout apostate Christendom.
But to return to the more direct lesson - When a believer forsakes the place of separation, which he knows from God’s Word to be the only right place, and joins himself to some religious organization having the outward form of godliness, but not the power, he is doing spiritually what Abraham did literally when he went down to Gerar. And if, while there, he proceeds to deny by implication, even if not by word, that all his hopes for eternity are dependent on God’s grace, and not on his own works, he is doing spiritually what Abraham did literally when he presented Sarah as his sister instead of his wife.
As has been discussed already, a sister and a wife are similar in many respects, but the sister can never be one with the man as the wife can. While the wife represents the expression of the believer’s new life, a sister is simply the representative of something connected with the old nature: she is of the same parents as the man himself. The wife is from a different line altogether, just as are the new life and the new nature.
The sister, being able to duplicate the wife in everything except the oneness of marriage, represents something closely akin to grace, but it is not grace. That something may be morality, charm, refinement, culture, kindness, etc., which the natural man can cultivate. It bears a deceptive resemblance to grace, but it has a very different “parent” - man himself produces it. God alone is the Source of grace.
When a believer displays grace in his speech and conduct, but fails to confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the reason, he is doing spiritually what Abraham did literally in Gerar. He is denying that “Sarah is his wife” - he is denying grace.
20:5. “Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.”
This response of Abimelech should surely teach us what a dangerous thing it is to be living a life of moral rectitude in the sight of the world, but without also explaining that the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of that morality. The unconverted will be led to believe that all they need to fit them for heaven is that same outward morality which man himself may produce without faith in Christ. But morality without that faith in Christ is a deadly thing. It seems to make grace available, but the attempt to possess grace apart from faith in Christ can never produce anything except the warning from God, “Thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.”
Grace is the exclusive possession of faith, and may not be held in any other relationship. Multitudes of deluded souls are on the way to hell, clinging to mere religion and morality as their only hope for heaven; many of them, like Abimelech, able to say, “In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.” We who know the truth will not be held guiltless for allowing them to remain deluded, and our guilt will be compounded if we, by morality divorced from the verbal confession of Christ as Savior, are the instruments of their delusion.
20:6. “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.”
God’s unfailing care of His own (however unworthy of that care they may prove themselves) is revealed in His words to Abimelech, “... therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” God would protect Sarah even though her predicament was the result of the dissimulation she and Abraham had practiced.
But this verse assures us that God has a care also even for those who do not belong to Him, “I also withheld thee from sinning against me.” Philistine though he was, Abimelech’s sin was not one of wilful defiance of God. His was a sin of ignorance, and for such sin pardon is available. In the great apostate system which the Philistine represents, there are some who with integrity of heart desire to please God, and from such God will not turn away when they respond repentantly to His warnings. Cornelius (Acts 10) was such a man. With a sincere heart he sought to please God according to the light he had, and though that light was nothing more than the faint glimmer shed by the smoky lamp of Judaism, God perceived the sincerity of his heart, and sent Peter to enlighten him further and lead him to salvation.
The sequel reveals that in God’s dealings with Abimelech, we are being presented symbolically with the salvation of one from out of the great apostate church.
20:7. “Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.”
Abraham may have departed from God, lied about Sarah, and may have been regarded by Abimelech as a deceiver, but God said, “He is a prophet.” God sees His own, neither as they see themselves, nor as the world sees them: He sees them in Christ, clothed in His perfect righteousness.
The addition of, “and he shall pray for thee” reminds us that God extended to His erring servant a privilege He withheld from this Philistine king: the privilege of intercession. We may be guilty of unfaithfulness, departure, weakness, fear, deception, and much more, but to us alone belongs the privilege, denied earth’s great ones, of coming to the throne of grace, having the assurance that God will do for us whatever we ask according to His will, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Jn 5:14-15.
This verse also sets forth the truth that pervades Scripture: disobedience brings death; obedience, and nothing else, brings life, “... restore the man his wife ... and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not ... thou shalt surely die.”
Sarah, the representative of grace, must be restored to Abraham, the representative of faith, for unbelief cannot possess grace.
20:8. “Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid.”
God’s message had impressed Abimelech with the urgency of the matter: he rose “early in the morning” to attend to it, for it was a matter of life and death. God’s message had produced fear in the heart of Abimelech, and in the hearts of all his servants. In spite of what is taught to the contrary today, there is no genuine salvation apart from the fear of God. Salvation comes only to those who are made “sore afraid” as God’s word presents the eternal alternatives connected with obedience or disobedience, and who are led by that fear to put their trust in Christ. The “gospel” that fails to produce fear in the hearts of the hearers is unlikely to produce eternal life. When Paul reasoned with Felix “of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled” (Ac 24:24-25). Before he was converted, the Philippian jailor “came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas ... and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16:29-30).
It is only when men become aware that sin is a matter of life or death that they will give to the salvation of their souls the priority it deserves. As with Abimelech, obedience was a matter of life or death, so with all men in regard to their souls: it is a matter of eternal life or eternal death!
20:9. “Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.”
Abraham’s deception fully justified the rebuke. He had indeed done unto Abimelech deeds “that ought not to be done,” for he had almost caused him to die. When we who are believers practice the same deception in regard to grace we are guilty of a great sin against the men of the world. We endanger their souls by leading them to believe that morality is all they need to fit them for heaven. The old adage that says “actions speak louder than words” is not true when it comes to the matter of testimony. Satan’s advice is, “Let your life be your testimony,” but God’s command is, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness: and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Ro 10:9-10). God requires the twofold testimony of believing, obedient hearts, and confessing lips. An exemplary life, unaccompanied by the confession of the lips, will lead no one to trust in Christ for salvation. It will only lead him to believe that all he needs for heaven is morality; but a moral life without an oral confession is the spiritual counterpart of Abraham’s denial of Sarah as his wife, for it is the denial of grace (which Sarah represents). His being guilty of the same sin twice - first in Egypt, and now also in Philistia - should be a warning to us. The Lord’s commission is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). “Philistia,” the godless world of apostate Christianity needs that Gospel just as much as does “Egypt,” the godless world of business and pleasure.
The multitudes who believe that morality is all they need to fit them for heaven, are ample evidence of the success of Satan’s subtle strategy; and the multitudes of believers who are guilty spiritually of Abraham’s deception, are also ample evidence of Satan’s success in quenching an effective testimony for God through his slyly whispered advice, “Actions speak louder than words. Let your life be your testimony.” It requires more courage to confess Christ with the lips than it does to live a moral upright life.
20:10. “And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?”
Abimelech seems to have found it incredible that Abraham should have practiced such deception, and his very incredulity must surely have added to Abraham’s embarrassment. His interrogation of Abraham seems to have been in the morning after he had received the warning from God to restore Sarah. As has been noticed in earlier studies, the morning is frequently connected with judgment. God would remind us that, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Ro 14:10), and it is to be feared that many of us on that “morning” will suffer similar embarrassment as we are charged with the spiritual counterpart of Abraham’s deception. In the light of that “morning” when it will be too late to undo the mischief, it will seem incredible to us that we should have been guilty of practicing such deception upon men and women who needed to be warned, and who, because we failed to give them that warning, will have lost their souls.
20:11. “And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.”
His excuse evokes another question, What was a child of God doing in a place where there was no fear of God? His going to Gerar is a picture of a believer’s forsaking the place which is Scriptural, to affiliate himself with some system which may be religious, but which is unscriptural - which is, in fact, simply the counterpart of Gerar: a place where there is no fear of God.
We can see, then, how appropriate this lesson may be to our own lives in a day when there is much to discourage, and to impel departure from the Scriptural assembly, into a “fellowship” which may seem to have a lot more to offer in the way of programs and social activities, etc. We would be well advised to consider the character of what we are associated with spiritually. Is fear of God manifested in obedience to His Word? Is there Scriptural authority for the practices and beliefs of that fellowship? Or is it marked by that which prompts the thought, “The fear of God is not in this place”? If so, I should be asking myself, “Am I spiritually in “Canaan,” or have I gone down to “Gerar”?
The believer who finds himself in an unscriptural religious association might well have the same fear there as did Abraham in Gerar, “They will slay me for my wife’s sake.” To continue in such an association is indeed likely to result in his losing both grace, and his life, for when a believer tries to live apart from grace, he might as well be dead. As far as his testimony and usefulness are concerned, when grace is given up, he is “slain.”
20:12. “And yet indeed she is my sister: she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.”
Abraham attempted to justify the deception by declaring a half truth, but the only thing that mattered was his declaration of truth concerning the relationship between him and Sarah - “she became my wife.” The believer is on right ground only when he too, acknowledges the true relationship that exists between him and grace.
Sarah, as Abraham’s wife, represents the grace which he had appropriated as his own personal possession. As such she could never become wife to another man. My eternal life cannot be shared with another. Each man must receive it as his own personal possession. Sarah, as a sister, represents the grace that could become the possession of another man. Before she became Abraham’s wife, she could have become another man’s wife. As a sister, she represents the grace that is available to every man who will personally appropriate it, but as Abraham’s wife, she represents that part of grace, which as the possession of the individual believer, cannot become the possession of another.
20:13. “And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said unto her, This is the kindness which thou shalt shew unto me: at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.”
Since this verse has already been discussed in our study of verse two, there is no need to dwell on it further here.
20:14. “And Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife.”
Abraham’s confession, and acknowledgement of Sarah as his wife, brought enrichment; and the lesson God would teach us in this is that a fearless confession of our indebtedness to grace, cost what it may, will always make the confessor rich, not in temporal things, but in spiritual. (The literal riches bestowed upon believers of the OT era, are figures of the spiritual riches given believers of this present age of grace).
20:15. “And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.”
The results attending the discovery of Abraham’s deception in Gerar are very different from those that attended the same discovery years earlier in Egypt. Even though “the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house ... because of Sarai Abram’s wife” (12:17), there is no indication that Pharaoh’s heart was affected. There was no expression of concern that he might have been led, even in ignorance, to commit sin. There was only the haughty command, “Now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way” (12:19-20).
It was altogether different when Abimelech discovered the deception. He feared and trembled before God. He seems to represent one genuinely converted out of the midst of apostate Christendom. His gracious invitation to Abraham to dwell where he pleased in his (Abimelech’s) land, speaks of that desire which faith has to dwell together with other men of faith. Pharaoh, type of the unbeliever, was anxious to have Abraham as far away as possible. Faith and unbelief cannot dwell together. They have nothing in common.
The land over which Abimelech ruled is a figure of the life, so that his invitation to God’s prophet (God’s representative) to dwell in it where he pleased, becomes the symbolic demonstration of the truth that God Himself was welcome in that life, not just in certain areas of it, but in all of it. This should be true of every believer.
20:16. “And unto Sarah he said, Behold I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.”
The Amplified rendering of this verse is, “And to Sarah he said, Behold, I have given this brother of yours a thousand pieces of silver: see, it is to compensate you for all that has occurred, and to vindicate your honor before all who are with you. Before all men you are cleared and compensated.”
As Sarah’s husband, Abraham represents the believer, the man of faith in relation to grace as his own personal possession; but as her brother, he represents the principle of faith in relation to the principle of grace. Abimelech’s giving the thousand pieces of silver therefore to Abraham as Sarah’s brother rather than as her husband, becomes the symbolic declaration of his giving something to the principle of faith. But silver always represents redemption, and prior to this he had placed his redemption in the hands of his Philistine gods. Now his redemption is placed symbolically in the hands of faith. And grace is thereby vindicated or justified. It was because of his desire for Sarah (grace) that Abimelech had been made to hear God’s voice and learn the truth. In other words, it was through grace that he was brought to a saving knowledge of God, for in verse 17 it is written, “and God healed Abimelech,” and in Scripture, physical healing is almost invariably synonymous with spiritual healing. Wrong though his conception of grace had been, he had been willing to bow to the truth when it was set before him, and he was careful to absolve grace (Sarah) from any blame.
20:17. “So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.”
Fear gives place to confidence and trust; wrath, to blessing; barrenness, to fruitfulness. Translated into spiritual language, it is what results when those who once depended on morality and religion, are convinced of their error, and are led to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will the barrenness that must always accompany mere religious morality, give place to the spiritual fruitfulness of the new life in Christ.
Abimelech, prior to his revelation from God, represents the religious, but unconverted moralist; and his wife represents what such a man thinks is spiritual life. But she was barren, and in that state we see the deadness of mere morality. It was only when Abimelech became right with God that she became fruitful. It is only when the barren pretext of dead religion gives place to the living reality of eternal life in Christ, that there is fruitfulness. Now healed, she is the symbolic expression of true spiritual life; and the children born to Abimelech through her, are more than simply the perpetuation of his own natural line: they represent the eternal life that belongs only to the man of faith.
20:18. “For the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham’s wife.”
The literal barrenness (deadness) of the women of Abimelech’s household is simply a picture of the spiritual lifelessness that results from the attempt to possess grace on any other ground than faith.