20 Abraham traveled from there toward the land of the arid southern plain, and he settled as an immigrant in Gerar, between Kadesh and Shur. 2 Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She’s my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar took her into his household.
3 But God appeared to Abimelech that night in a dream and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of this woman you have taken. She is a married woman.”
4 Now Abimelech hadn’t gone near her, and he said, “Lord, will you really put an innocent nation to death? 5 Didn’t he say to me, ‘She’s my sister,’ and didn’t she—even she—say, ‘He’s my brother’? My intentions were pure, and I acted innocently when I did this.”
6 God said to him in the dream, “I know that your intentions were pure when you did this. In fact, I kept you from sinning against me. That’s why I didn’t allow you to touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife. He’s a prophet; he will pray for you so you may live. But if you don’t return her, know that you and everyone with you will die!”
8 Abimelech got up early in the morning and summoned all of his servants. When he told them everything that had happened, the men were terrified. 9 Then Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? What sin did I commit against you that you have brought this terrible sin to me and my kingdom, by doing to me something that simply isn’t done?” 10 Abimelech said to Abraham, “What were you thinking when you did this thing?”
11 Abraham said, “I thought to myself, No one reveres God here and they will kill me to get my wife. 12 She is, truthfully, my sister—my father’s daughter but not my mother’s daughter—and she’s now my wife.13 When God led me away from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is the loyalty I expect from you: in each place we visit, tell them, “He is my brother.”’”
14 Abimelech took flocks, cattle, male servants, and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and Abimelech returned his wife Sarah.15 Abimelech said, “My land is here available to you. Live wherever you wish.” 16 To Sarah, he said, “I’ve given your brother one thousand pieces of silver. It means that neither you nor anyone with you has done anything wrong. Everything has been set right.” 17 Abraham prayed to God; and God restored Abimelech, his wife, and his women servants to health, and they were able to have children. 18 Because of the incident with Abraham’s wife Sarah, the Lord had kept all of the women in Abimelech’s household from having children (Genesis 20:1-18, Common English Bible).
This verse, “Because of the incident with Abraham’s wife Sarah, the Lord had kept all of the women in Abimelech’s household from having children” the last verse of the chapter really bothers me. Why is Abimelech being punished when clearly Abraham is the one who did wrong?
Abraham is afraid that he Abimelech is going to kill him because he will want Sarah. So, he convinces Sarah to say she is his sister rather than his wife. For his part, Abimelech thinks Sarah is beautiful and wants to have her as one of his wives and brings her into his household. So, for his trouble, Abraham might be alive but he is losing this wife.
God doesn’t want that to happen so God speaks to Abimelech in a dream and informs him that Sarah is married and he will die if he keeps Sarah. He has a chat with Abraham. He isn’t really happy with Abraham’s actions but in the end, Abraham and Sarah go on their way.
Here is my problem. The last verse says again, “Because of the incident with Abraham’s wife Sarah, the Lord had kept all of the women in Abimelech’s household from having children.” Abraham quite clearly is the guilty party (and to make matters worse he would do this again) and Abimelech is the one receiving the punishment. He really did nothing wrong. And, when he found out Sarah was married, be backed away far and fast.
There are more of the non-guilty. In the biblical era, women gained their identity, first through their fathers, then through their husbands, but most importantly through their children. A woman without children was treated as a non-person. The women of Abimelech’s household were also victims in this story.
I am not sure why God would allow Abimelech and his women to suffer when they had done nothing wrong.
Before I entered the ministry I was teaching a junior high Sunday school class. We were studying Genesis and one morning one of the kids asked a question. I don’t remember what it was now (that was about 30 years ago, after all). What I do remember is, I had no clue how to give her an answer. I told her I would ask the pastor and give her an answer the next Sunday. After worship, I asked my pastor about her question. He looked at me with a serious expression on his face, not a hint of laughter or even a smile. “Keith,” he said. “Just tell her there are somethings we are not supposed to understand.” As I walked away I knew that was all the answer I would get.
Today as I write this on a passage I don’t understand, I think of my old pastor’s words. “Somethings we are not supposed to understand.”
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
With Joy and Thankfulness,
Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved