Then Abimelech called for Abraham and asked him, “What have you done to us? How have I sinned against you that you would bring such a serious sin on me and my kingdom? You shouldn’t have done this to me.” Genesis 20:9 (GW)
For the last few weeks, we have looked at some of the words of unbelievers and what lessons they teach us. Genesis 20 records one of Abraham’s not-so-great moments in his encounter with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. Abraham had already received the promises from God, including the assurance that he would have a son and that his innumerable descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. This episode falls between the promise and its fulfillment. Incidentally, it’s not far from Kadesh, a place where the entire nation would fail to embrace the promise of land God made to Abraham.
In this account, Sarah has been taken from Abraham and added to Abimelech’s harem. (It’s worth remembering that she was likely in her eighties. She must have been amazingly beautiful.) But God reveals Sarah’s true relationship to Abraham. So where did Abraham go wrong in his dealings with the king of Gerar?
Abraham assumed the worst about Abimelech. In verse 11, he explains, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.” The people in Gerar did not worship Yahweh, but Abimelech immediately acted on the things God revealed to him and displayed some degree of honor. He was deeply offended by the lies and made good, generous overtures to Abraham to ensure things were settled between them.
Granted, there is real evil in the world, and there are truly wicked people out there. However, most of the unbelievers we encounter are a lot like us. They have jobs and families. They worry about paying their bills and what the future may be like. They have hopes and dreams. However, they don’t have Jesus. When we assume we know them, and in turn, assume the worst, we make it difficult to connect with them and reach the place where we can share our faith with them.
Abraham told a wishy-washy half-truth out of fear. In verse 2, he introduced Sarah as his sister. She was his half-sister. But she was his wife. That was a very significant detail to leave out. This is a man who had spoken with God. But when fear overshadowed faith, Abraham said and did a stupid thing. And we are the same way.
When unbelievers ask questions, don’t waver or waffle. Give true, honest answers. That credibility will be crucial to building a foundation of faith.
Abraham led Sarah to be wishy-washy too. In verse 13, Abraham reveals that he had arranged with Sarah to keep the full truth about their relationship a secret. The legal term there is conspiracy, and it is not to be overlooked. We have an awesome responsibility to lead, to be examples, to disciple other believers. What a serious failure it is when instead we lead them to dishonor God and damage their witness before unbelievers.
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. There is no question Abraham learned from his mistakes. By Genesis 22, he proves he has an amazing faith in God. But I love the fact that God includes stories like this one in His word. It reminds me that Abraham was human. If he can learn and grow and be a man of unshakeable faith … so can we.