Walking in the Land of the Philistines
Introduction: Today we get to look at an exciting story about Abraham which, on the surface, seems to mirror a previous story when he went down to Egypt. Until I started typing this sermon, I’d never noticed the differences, but there are a lot.
In fact, the entire story – from beginning to end, is different and serves a different purpose in our understanding of why things are the way they are – even in the world today, such as with the modern nation of Israel. I’m glad to have learned this.
Text Verse: Psalm 34:15, 16 – The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. 1The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. “Because God’s eyes are on the righteous and because His ears are open to their cry we should give Him all the glory, honor, and praise He is due and so … May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. That Which Has Been
1 And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar.
In Chapter 18, Abraham petitioned the Lord for the people living in Sodom. He asked the Him to spare the city if 50 righteous could be found, but he eventually reduced his request to 10. However, as we saw in the next sermon, Sodom was destroyed, but Lot and his family escaped. Right afterwards, we read this in Chapter 19 –
And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace. 29 And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt.
This, for all intents and purposes, is where we pick up today in Chapter 20. We know this because our first verse today says, “And Abraham journeyed from there to the South…” In other words, it’s implied that we’re to go back to before the account of Lot in Chapter 19, as it was an interlude in the life of Abraham.
The narrative thus jumps over Lot completely in its terminology. Let me remind you about the interlude. Lot and his two daughters moved to the mountains where the daughters got him drunk. They became pregnant with sons who would lead to Jesus.
One came through Ruth the Moabitiss and the other through Rehoboam the son of Solomom. His mother was from Ammon. Now the narrative returns to Abraham where we’re told that he journeyed from where he had been staying in Mamre to the South.
God inserted Lot’s account, as He has done several times already in Genesis, for us to look deeper into it and understand that He is the God of the chosen line leading from Seth to Noah to Abraham and later to Isaac, Israel, and the twelve tribes, leading to Jesus.
But He is also the God of those outside this chosen line and He will use people from all groups and nations – not only to lead to Jesus, but to be used in the furtherance of the gospel now – a picture of the Church age. So much for racism! God is no respecter of persons and this is a lesson we’re to see here.
With today’s return to Abraham, we see him move from where he was off toward the South. Several reasons have been suggested for his move. One is that he couldn’t bear to look toward the place where Lot had lived and which is now destroyed.
Another is that the ties he had to Hebron were weakened by the destruction of Sodom. Another is because of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters would actually weaken his righteous testimony.
These don’t make any sense – especially the last one since we just noted that the story about Lot and his daughters is only an interlude and that the narrative about Abraham actually skips over it. So there are two more possibilities.
The first is that his move will take him to a place of better pastures and living for his tribe, or secondly that Divine Providence is leading him there. Actually, these combined make the most sense. In Genesis 12, Abraham moved toward the South and eventually to Egypt because of a famine.
But famines come by the Divine Hand. This move, like the last, is God directing His chosen servant, Abraham, to teach us more about what He Himself is doing in human history.
I believe this particular move is to set in motion events which will eventually lead to establish fixed markers of Israel’s rights to the land. Remember, it is the son of promise who will inherit the land and through him Israel’s rights to the land will be secured.
God is working through all people to secure rights as sons of Abraham through faith, but He is working through the chosen people to establish land and other rights of the people of Israel. This is why we see both a main story and then interludes as well.
The place where he moved to is called Gerar, and is said to be between Kadesh and Shur. Kadesh was mentioned in Genesis 14:7 and Shur was mentioned in Genesis 16:7. If you look at a map, it’s kind of between Gaza and Beersheba; a rich, well-watered land.
2 Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.”
This is the same thing he did in chapter 12 when he was in Egypt and it results in exactly the same thing happening. Pharaoh took Sarah, and now Abimelech the king takes her again.
I’m not going to repeat my thoughts on Abraham’s actions from that sermon, but if you want to watch it, I defend why this wasn’t – as almost all commentators claim, “sinful” and “lacking faith.” The Bible never rebukes Abraham for what he did, in either account, and therefore what God hasn’t called into question, we need to determine why and not call it into question as well.
Here is one commentary which reflects most scholarly sentiment –
“Fear of the people among whom he was, tempted him to equivocate. His conduct was highly culpable. It was deceit, deliberate and premeditated-there was no sudden pressure upon him-it was the second offense of the kind. It was a distrust of God every way surprising, and it was calculated to produce injurious effects on the heathen around. Its mischievous tendency was not long in being developed.” (Jamieson-Fawcett-Brown)
The shallowness of commentaries like this neglects to take into account two things. The first is that Abraham is never noted as anything but a man of faith throughout the entire Bible. Never, in any context, is he noted as lacking faith or being rebuked by God.
Secondly, in chapter 14, he had overthrown the 4 kings of the east. With his military prowess and noted name in the region, it was those around him who would fear, not him.
2 (con’t) And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
Sarah is now about 89 years old and Isaac is expected to be born within the next year. With her in the king’s household this could be problematic. We have to note here though that it doesn’t say she was beautiful like it did in Genesis 12 at Pharaoh’s house.
Because it doesn’t, the reason for Abimelech taking her is probably to align himself with Abraham, not because he wanted a beautiful wife. He may have even taken her without telling Abraham as the terminology seems to indicate later.
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”
It is God, or elohim, the Creator mentioned in Genesis 1:1, who comes to Abimelech, and He does it in a dream. He is expressing himself as the eternal power which is prior to the creation and He who formed man. In this expression of himself and in the next 3 verses, we’ll learn a bit about how God deals with men.
Coming in a dream is something that happens throughout the Bible and when it happens, there is no doubt who controls the dream or who is speaking. When God speaks we should have no doubt who is communicating with us. Remember that as you read your Bible.
4 But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also?
This verse and one to come are put here specifically to let us know that the child to be born to Sarah in the future came from Abraham and not from anyone involved in her time away from his camp. He hasn’t come near her since she was brought into his harem.
In his response he says, “Lord” using the term “Adonai.” In other words, he has knowledge of the true God. Not just one of many gods, but rather the One true Creator who is also active in the world since the creation.
“Adonai, will you slay a righteous nation also?” Why would he say this? Anyone? He said this because Sodom had just been destroyed. The sulfur was still stinking in the air and the smoke was still billowing out of the furnace.
He is making a contrast between Sodom and his own city and he is basing it on having an assumption that they had done nothing deserving of God’s wrath like the people of Sodom had, including in this matter as we now see…
5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”
At some point after his arrival in the area, Abraham must have met with Abimelech and introduced his “sister” to him. It was probably right then – and for the purposes of an alignment with Abraham – that Abimelech decided to take Sarah.
To this point there wasn’t any fault because they both spoke the truth and Abimelech took Sarah, as he says, “In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands.” He tells God that he is guiltless.
II. The Lord’s Eyes are upon the Righteous
6 And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.
In this verse, God, through the Bible, calls Himself Ha-Elohim, or “the God.” Verse 3 simply said Elohim, verse 4 Abimelech called him Adonai – the word used when speaking to God in a personal manner, and now it says, “And the God said to him in a dream…”
Only after Abimelech calls Him as Adonai does it say, “the God.” This then is noted in distinction to any other false god. There is one God and Abimelech understands this. This verse, like so many others in the Bible says, “So much for all religions being true.”
There is one God and there is one way to acknowledge Him. He isn’t Krishna, He isn’t Buddha, and He isn’t Allah. He is “the God” and He kept Abimelech from sinning against Him by keeping him from touching Sarah.
In other words, God’s plans and God’s purposes are being carried out and nothing can thwart them. When we sin against God, it is because of our free-will choices which He has factored into His plan, but if a sin would interfere with that plan, then He keeps it from happening, either actively or passively, the result is the same.
7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
This the first time a person is called a prophet in the Bible, but it’s not the first person in the Bible to be said to hold the gift of prophecy. That would be Abel as Jesus says in Luke 11. In other words, Abimelech would already understand what a prophet is and how he would operate.
God uses a prophet several ways. Two include – 1) He may use a prophet to speak of the future concerning what He intends, or 2) He may use him like a car. The driver of a car is in control of where and how it moves. Ultimately, God is in control of what happens, and Abraham is the vehicle through which He will act.
In this case, the first recorded use of his prophetic office is not going to be of him speaking to men about God, but rather to God for men. He will pray to God for Abimelech. Abraham’s offices of priest and prophet are joined together here – a foreshadowing of the work of the great Priest and Prophet, Jesus.
8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid.
Abimelech “rose early in the morning.” I hope you see the destruction of Sodom being referred to here. It was destroyed as the sun rose and Abraham had gone “early in the morning” to watch. It is as if Abimelech knew what was coming if he didn’t do something immediately.
He called them in order to make sure that nobody, and I mean nobody, touched her and probably because some of them told him to take her in the first place. Otherwise, there would be no reason to even consult with them. Let’s go on to verse 9…
9 And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.”
Some scholars look at this as a rebuke of Abraham because of the wrong thing he did. But the Bible doesn’t even imply this and after the previous verse, we can see how stupid that would be. God has just threatened them and protected Abraham. Only a fool or a knucklehead would turn around a rebuke Abraham.
The plural “us” is used – “what have you done to us” because, as the Bible shows time and time again, the wicked actions of the king brings wrath and judgment on the whole kingdom. That’s a good lesson to remember in the upcoming elections. If we continue electing the same wicked party that aborts babies and condones the sins of Sodom, we will be asking the same question pretty soon.
This is no rebuke but a plea of innocence done in a very pious way. They’re are terrified and want to know what they’ve done to have Abraham set them up like this. They’re speaking to him in a manner similar to how Jeremiah spoke to the Lord once.
“O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. (20:7)
Jeremiah wasn’t rebuking the Lord and Abimelech wasn’t rebuking Abraham.
10 Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”
Because of the supposed deception, Abimelech really wants to know why. Just imagine yourself, standing on the precipice of a piece of property that a friend sold you. He never said anything about a cliff that was in the process of collapsing and you wonder what you did to deserve him treating you like this.
Abimelech is standing at his own precipice. He’s seen the giant pit in the ground which was once Sodom and he doesn’t want this to happen to him too. “Abraham, why did you do this thing?”
III. Thus She Was Rebuked
11 And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.
I said earlier that the people of the land would fear Abraham and not the other way around. This seems to make that sound wrong, but if you think it through, there is a difference between raiding someone unexpectedly instead of when they’re prepared for battle.
If they knew Sarah was his wife, they might abduct her or kill him and take her as a symbol of the victory over him, and by doing this his clan would be subject to them. This is going to be proven correct in a few verses.
As far as why he told them she was his sister, Abraham is as direct as an arrow in the heart, “…surely the fear of God is not in this place.” He’s been in Canaan long enough to know that polytheism, and idolatry were the norm. When this is true, there is no fear of the true God because there is a reliance on the false ones. Abraham knew this and spoke accordingly.
12 But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.
It is astonishing to see how much confusion and misrepresentation there is on this single verse. Let me read it to you again… This is very clear. Sarah is the daughter of Terah, Abraham’s father, but she had a different mother.
Nothing could be clearer. But in order to try to alleviate a supposed wrongdoing by marrying his sister, Jewish, and later Christian commentators have said that Sarah is actually Abraham’s niece, not sister. This is because the law forbids marrying a sibling.
There are two problems with this – first, this is prior to the Law and so that doesn’t apply. It’s putting the cart in front of the horse. Secondly, it’s not at all what the Bible says. Sarah is Abraham’s sister – the daughter of his father, but of a different mother.
A second major problem that people find here is directly with Abraham. They find both fault and sin in him by only telling that she is his sister and not his wife. This elevates intent above reality and it also requires disclosing something that could cost him his life. Keeping the knowledge hidden is more important.
There are many examples of outright lies being told in the Bible in order to preserve life, but they’re condoned and noted favorably. I’ll give you one of many examples from the book of Joshua –
Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” 6 (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) (2:4-6)
Despite the lies, the Bible commends her for what she did, just as it does on numerous occasions. “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.” Hebrews 11:31
There is a priority in everything we do and there is a hierarchy of standards which we must submit to. The saving of life is more important than the telling of a lie in order to save that life. In the case of Abraham, he didn’t even lie; He merely hid something.
There is a good life application here and one that we should stop and note. Faithful people have, in the past, lied and committed acts against oppressive governments and yet they were in the right. Think of those who hid Jews during the Nazi regime. Think of our own founders when they rebelled against the tyranny of England.
We need to contemplate and evaluate these things against the Bible so that we know how to act. If you don’t think we need to know and be ready for these things in our lifetime, you haven’t opened your eyes to where this nation is heading. If the left gets their way in the next four years strong moral choices will have to be made and unless you know the Bible, you won’t know what to do.
13 And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
I’m going to give you an interesting note about this verse, which you may or may not care diddly about, but which to me is one of the great joys of going through the Bible in detail. This is one of only a handful of times in the entire Bible where the term “elohim” meaning “God” is used in connection with a plural verb.
You see, your translation reads, “…God caused me to wander…” but the Hebrew says, “…the god’s caused me to wander.” It is plural, not singular. There are now two questions – “Why did he say ‘the gods,’ and why did your Bible translator say ‘God?’”
The premise of the Bible, from the first sentence to the last is that there is one God. This is unmistakable. And so either Abraham is speaking about the Trinity, or your Bible translator thought he was, or this verse isn’t speaking about God at all. I prefer the latter.
Abraham, just two verses ago, spoke of God with a singular verb –
“I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place,” meaning there is one God and He is the true God. And so what he is saying here is that “the gods” meaning “the false gods” of Mesopotamia, caused him to move from his father’s house.
God, the true God, in order to establish Abraham called him away from the false gods. Abraham is the material cause; Abraham’s faith is the formal cause; getting Abraham away from the false gods was the efficient cause; and a relationship with the true God for him and his generations is the final cause.
And so, based on that premise, he explains why he said that Sarah was his sister. The true God has actively called him to wander away from the false gods, but the false gods passively necessitated this. In order to preserve his life, he asks Sarah to say that she is his sister because there are false gods all over Canaan too.
14 Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him.
Seeing that God, the true God, is on Abraham’s side he gave Abraham these gifts. Exactly the opposite of what happened in Egypt happens here. When the same thing happened there, the gifts came first as a payment for Sarah.
But here, they come afterwards. Why? In order to establish an alliance with him, which is exactly what he thought he would get when he took Sarah into his home in the first place. The proof of these things is found in the next verse…
15 And Abimelech said, “See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.”
When Abraham was in Egypt and similar events occurred, Pharaoh sent Abraham away from them – back to Canaan. But here he offers him not only to stay, but to choose any place he wishes.
These two accounts seem the same when you read them, but when you study them closely, they are exactly the opposite from beginning to end.
The contrasts are to show the providential hand of God in his dealing with Abraham and how He is setting up the borders of the land now and establishing a permanent marker in the Land of Israel which exists to this day, 4000 years later.
Just for a moment, I’d like you to consider this. God is using these real events, full of real people, to ensure that His chosen people will rightfully have access to the land of Israel – that He has given it to them. And this didn’t just happen the day they crossed Jordan with Joshua, nor did it just arbitrarily happen again in 1948.
Instead, God has worked, since the first man on earth to secure this line of people and to bring them to this land. If He has done this for people He knew would reject Him, not once, not twice, but continuously for thousands of years, don’t you think His plan for we who have accepted Jesus is just as marvelous and binding?
I know I get long winded in sermons and often I pass on details that some people might find tedious, but in the end, every word which is here is given to us by God to show us how absolutely in control He is of all things. And thus, His promises to you are stronger than if they were set in concrete. Remember this as you struggle through your pains, sorrows, and losses.
In the end, they are a part of what He is doing and are intended, whether you realize it or not, for your good and His glory. Stand fast in this and be secure in your faith in Him and His word.
16 Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.”
There are a certain number of words and sentences scattered throughout the Bible which are extremely hard to interpret, much less translate. If you read 10 Bibles, you will get 10 different translations here, unless one copies another. But there are a few things easy to note.
The first is that Abimelech said to Sarah, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver…” He calls him her brother, not her husband. In other words, he is saying that it was incumbent upon her to tell the truth once she was taken by him. Abimelech is placing the blame on her, not on Abraham.
And he gives the money to Abraham, not her. This payment is kesut enayim – a covering of the eyes. It is a way of having everyone involved overlook the entire situation. This is not a vindication of her actions as the Bible translates here. Abimelech is basically saying “The matter is over; let’ forget about it.”
16 (con’t) Thus she was rebuked.
It is Sarah who was rebuked. Abimelech disapproved of what she had done, but in order to get the matter resolved and forgotten, the money was paid. This is certain, because the money is brought in when speaking to Sarah about the situation. Abraham was given sheep, oxen, and male and female servants and his choice of place to live to cover Abimelech’s sin of having Sarah in his harem.
Once she was taken, it was her obligation to tell the truth about Abraham – that he was not only her brother, but also her husband. Instead of her doing it, God intervened. According to the Bible, the wrong appears to fall on Sarah, not on Abraham.
17 So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children; 18 for the Lord had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Once again, the term ha-elohim or “the God” is used. Abraham prayed to “the God.” This was his job as “a prophet” mentioned back up in verse 7 – “…he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live.”
This explains what that means. He would die literally, but probably also in the sense that no children would be born to him if he didn’t restore her to Abraham. Once he prayed for them, they were able to bear children and his name would live on.
This means God had taken away the ability for conception to occur, not prevent actual child-birth. When it says the Lord closed up all the wombs, it meant that they couldn’t even conceive. This could have been an affliction in Abimelech, or the women, or both.
For all we know, they may have developed some type of venereal disease, or tumors, or something else that kept them from being able to come together. And this is how God kept him from uniting with Sarah as it said way back up in verse 6. God kept him from touching her because he was physically unable to do so.
Finally today, we have to mention that the very last verse we just read says the Lord, Jehovah, is the one who took this action. For the first time in this chapter, the divine name is brought in to show that He is the God of the work of salvation of humanity.
This malady on the people came about to prevent any hindrance of the plan of salvation by having Isaac come from Abraham through Sarah. It was then healed by Him when it was resolved. Now His plan could go forward with Isaac’s birth from Sarah and Abraham.
Once again, let me give you something to think about with this. God did all of this, even keeping these people from the ability to procreate, to protect His plan to bring Isaac and thus Jesus into the world. Every detail is minutely handled by a loving and observant God so that the Savior of you and me would come – and without whom we would be eternally condemned.
You see, without Jesus, there is no hope – no hope at all. What happened to Sodom and what would have happened to Abimelech and his kingdom, is what would have happened to us as well. But in these two stories is a picture. The first is of the unrepentant life of sin – this is Sodom and its destruction – a picture of hell.
The other is of restoration and alliance with the people of God – this is Abimelech and the mercy he received – a picture of our restoration through Jesus. Let me explain how you too can receive escape from the first and find entrance into the second…
Genesis 21:1-8 – (He Brings Laughter and Laughter is His Name)
Walking in the Land of the Philistines
Abraham journeyed to the South
And dwelt between Kadesh and Shur
There he did speak with his mouth
That Sarah was his sister, so his safety he would procure
And so Abimelech king of Gerar
Came and took Sarah from her tent
But God said to him by night, “A dead man you are”
Because you took her as yours, and this I will prevent
You see she is a man’s wife
And now you’ve jeopardized your own life
But Abimelch hadn’t come near her
And he said, “Adonai will you slay the righteous nation too?
Did he not say, “She is my sister?”
And she “He is my brother,” otherwise, I would’ve said “adieu.”
In the integrity of my heart this has come to be
And in the innocence of my hands this has happened, you see
And God said to him at night in a dream
Yes, I know you did this in integrity of heart
For I have withheld you from sinning, thus I did deem
That you would not touch her, right from the start
Now therefore restore the man’s wife
You see he is a prophet who will pray for you to live
But if you don’t, it will be the end of your life
You and all who are yours, for her your life will give
So Abimelech rose early in the morning
And told all his servants of God’s stern warning
And the men were very much afraid
And they wanted the wrath of God to be stayed
Then Abimelech called Abraham and said right to him
What have you done to us, how have I offended you?
That you brought on me and my kingdom such a great sin
You have done something that you certainly shouldn’t do
What did you have in view that you have done this thing
It is enough to make my head hurt and my ears to ring
Abraham said, “I thought, surely the fear of God isn’t in this place
And they will kill me on account of my wife
But she truly is my sister, it wasn’t a lie from my face
She is the daughter of the father who also gave me life
She isn’t the daughter of my mother though
And she became my wife, yes this is so
And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander
From my father’s house to wherever I would go
That I said to her when we travel here or yonder
That in kindness to me she would say, this is my brother – it’s so
Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and servants too
And gave them to Abraham and restored to him his wife
And Abimelech said, “See my land is set before you
Dwell where you find comfort and happiness in your life
Then to Sarah he said, Behold I have given to your brother
A thousand pieces of silver, to him and not another
This is a covering for the eyes
Of all who are with you and before everybody
Because of this unhappy guise
Thus she was rebuked because of deeds kind of gaudy
So Abraham prayed to God and He healed the king
And his wife and female servants could once again bear
For the Lord had closed up all the wombs, yes He did this thing
Because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, in this matter He did care
And so the Lord watches over all His chosen people
His adopted children he cares for so tenderly
We can shout out His praise from every roof and every steeple
Oh Yes! My God cares so much… even for me.
Thank You for Your guiding touch upon my soul
Thank You for Your hand upon my brothers and sisters too
We can see that You are completely in control
And so we shout aloud our praise, O God, praises to You
Hallelujah and Amen…