Genesis 20:1-18 – Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech


Genesis 20:1-18


This story provides a second look at Abraham’s betrayal of his wife Sarah (see 12:10-20). Once again he falls short. Even with all the positive things that have happened between him and God, including promises in great number (see chaps. 12-20), his relationship with God seems stuck in neutral (at best!). This time, an outsider (a Canaanite!) named Abimelech calls him to account: “You have done things that ought not be done…What were you thinking of, that you did this thing?” (20:9-10). As often, actions of outsiders may be more in tune with God’s will than those of insiders.


When Abimelech takes Sarah with Abraham’s permission, God abruptly enters into the situation to protect her, speaking to Abimelech in a dream (20:6-7). After God informs him that Sarah is really Abraham’s wife, Abimelech confronts Abraham (20:9-10). In response, Abraham seeks to justify his actions, with an elaborate series of reasons, which may or may not be true (20:11-13). He even blames God (20:13)! But, even given Abraham’s intricate rationalization of his behavior, Abimelech refuses to respond in kind. He maximizes Sarah’s welfare, restores her honor, and loads them up with gifts.

Perhaps uncomfortably to us, this text shows that God is present and active among such outsiders to the faith. God engages “non-Christians” in dialogue and uses them to be teachers of the community of faith. We are invited to see that many of the good things in our daily life have been generated by the wisdom and common sense of the Abimelechs of this world. They can even become our confessors, speaking a sharp prophetic word to us.

We pray for ears to hear God’s word to us spoken through unchosen people. Such individuals may gift us with much wisdom and insight for our life’s way and model for us what it means to live a life of courage. We may learn to be compassionate from those people among us for whom Jesus is a stranger. As we ponder our sins against our neighbor—not least the outsiders among us—and ponder our massive attempts to justify our behaviors, we need to listen to how God may be speaking to us through them, including words such as these: “You have done things that ought not be done; what were you thinking of that you did these things?”