“Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ‘” Genesis 20:11-13
Lately God has been schooling me in love. It’s something I asked Him for a while back and I’m blessed by the way He is answering. Earlier this week He opened up Genesis 20 to me in a deeper way. This is the story of Abraham’s travels into the Negev where he settled for a while in Gerar. At the time that Abraham and Sarah came to Gerar they had been on the move for close to 25 years. According to Genesis chapter 18 Sarah was old and past her childbearing years. But evidently she was still a knock-out and when Abimelech saw her and found out that she was sister to the man Abraham he sent for her and took her as his wife.
There is so much in this story that appalls me and so much that completely builds my faith. I’m appalled by what Abraham asked of Sarah. Abraham must have heard tales of men being killed by those who coveted their beautiful wives, because when God had him wander from his father’s household he asked Sarah to prove her love for him by telling everyone they met “He is my brother.” Do you realize what that must have meant to Sarah? This incident in Gerar happened 24 years after they left Abraham’s father’s home in Haran. For 24 years Sarah had been telling those she met that she was Abraham’s sister. This incident in Gerar is the second time Sarah is carried off to be someone’s wife. The first time was a few years earlier when they lived for a time in Egypt and Pharaoh took Sarah to his home. As with Abimelech in Gerar, it appears that Abraham just stood by and lets this happen. God however, comes to Sarah’s rescue assailing Pharaoh and his household with diseases for Sarah’s sake.
I’m imagining what this half truth meant to Sarah. At times Abraham and Sarah settled in a place for a while – as they did in Egypt. Sarah must have lived as Abraham’s sister so as not to arouse the suspicions of her neighbors. Her true identity, her true status as wife of this man of growing influence and wealth was denied her. And think of Sarah’s heart. Abraham knew her well and knew that she loved him deeply. It was that very love coupled with fear, both his own and Sarah’s, that he called upon to convince her to enter into this half truth with him. Twenty four years of being treated like a sister, twenty four years of half truths, twenty four years of no child, twenty four long, sad half filled years.
God’s intervention on Sarah’s behalf saves this story for me. God saw Abimelech’s heart and knew that he was acting in innocence when he took Sarah. He was acting from a pure heart in a culturally appropriate way assuming that Sarah was indeed Abraham’s sister – even she said so! But God couldn’t stand by and let this go. He spoke truth with great clarity and threatened death for Abimelech and his household if Sarah wasn’t returned to her home and husband. And Abimelech responded in obedience, a move that proves to me the righteousness of his heart. In fact, other than God, Abimelech is the one I most respect in this story. His response to God’s revelation is immediate and heartfelt. And I so appreciate the way he treats Sarah. He makes a great point of speaking to her face-to-face and telling her that he gave 1,000 shekels of silver to ‘her brother’ to cover the offense against her before all who were with her – he fully vindicated her.
Sarah is established in her true identity by the God who gave her that identity. Once all has been set right and Abraham and Sarah are reunited as man and wife, God opens the wombs of Pharaoh’s wife and of all his household, wombs that had been closed by God on Sarah’s behalf. And guess what else He does? The very next line of scripture says “Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised.” Twenty five years after leaving Haran Abraham and Sarah have a son … and a marriage.
There is SO much in this story. Abraham and Sarah are just like us – fearful and faithless, devising their own plans to maintain safety, prove love and cause the promise of God to come. Their plans are ridiculous in the clarity of a backward glance and caused many years of sorrow and living in the prison of a lie. But God saw Abraham and Sarah; He knew them and He acted toward them in light of their true identities. When God confronted Abimelech about Sarah He directed him to go to Abraham and Abraham would pray for him and he would live because “he is a prophet.” By this point in the story I’m so angry at Abraham that I can think of many things to call him and prophet would not be one of them. But God sees the truth and loves Abraham and the promise He’s given enough to be patient and encourage that true identity to emerge.
And God loves Sarah. He protects her and he makes known her status as a married woman, the woman married to the prophet. He shows how much he values her as through Abimelech He pours out gifts galore on Abraham because of Sarah, gives them permission to live safely anywhere in his land, and gives them 1,000 shekels of silver – kind of a backwards bride price!
I’m blessed with a great husband, but I see in this story that my primary love needs to be directed to the Lord! He is the One I can trust to know my true identity and my husband’s true identity. He’s the One I can trust to love me and my spouse into the persons He created us to be. He’s the one who calls us to marriage, establishes our household and then blesses others through us. All praise to the God of Abraham and Sarah — and of Steve and Claudia!