Monday, September 15, 2008

Genesis 20:1-3 "You're a dead man, Abimelech!"

Genesis 20:1-3: Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.”

Our Genesis story now shifts back to the main character. We read that Abraham and at least Sarah his wife travel toward the land of the Negev, settling somewhere between Kadesh and Shur. We had heard of Negev twice before up to this point. In both chapters 12 and 13, when Abraham was first called to leave his country, we read that he traveled toward Negev and then from there to Bethel.

Kadesh was also referred to in Genesis 14 in reference to the battles of the various kings that are recorded and in Genesis 16 helping us locate the vicinity of the well where Hagar had a visit from the angel of the Lord. Shur likewise was referred to in chapter 16, again in reference to that same well.

From there the Bible says Abraham and his family ‘sojourned’ to Gerar. Sojourning when used in this case refers to a person who is a stranger deciding to stay awhile or tarry or abide in a particular place. Gerar was first introduced to us in Genesis 10 as part of the description of the land belonging to the Canaanites. It is translated as a “lodging place” and was actually a Philistine town south of Gaza and more modernly referred to as ‘Umm’.

What we do not know exactly is why Abraham left the area of Mamre where he had lived for some time and where God had promised that very soon his wife would have a child. In fact, Sarah’s pregnancy was probably quite evident at this point. Did he leave because he was terrified by what had happened to Sodom? Or was it that he was being persecuted and ridiculed himself as a result of Lot’s sin of incest? After all, they both had the same religion. We do not know why Abraham moved on at this time and the accounts we are about to read are not the greatest ones for our main man.

For some reason when Abraham arrived in Gerar, he felt he had to lie and state that his wife Sarah was his sister. But why? Was he trying to protect Sarah or was he trying to protect himself? And if so, how exactly? Is it also possible that he knew exactly what he was doing (since he had a similar experience in Genesis 12:13) and he had hoped to gain from it? And if that were the case, why didn’t he learn his lesson the last time? It appears that man is prone to repeat his sins especially when thrown unexpectedly into a very tempting circumstance because of the weakness of the flesh. While we need to be very cautious of such an occurrence and be prepared to stem it off, we can also realize that all is not lost and God still has a job for us to accomplish as part of His plan for mankind.

Yet Abraham’s twice repeated sin now put Sarah in grave danger as King Abimelech decides to take Abraham’s wife as part of his household with the ability to sleep with her as he wished. Why Abimelech took Sarah we do not know. Was it because he just made a habit of taking the wife of any stranger that came by? Or, was it because Sarah, even at the advanced age she was in, was indeed still a very strikingly beautiful woman? Whatever the reason, Abraham’s wife is now part of a foreign king’s harem and about to be forced to sleep with him.

And then once again that incredible, most hope bringing phrase in the entire Bible appears – “But God”! God Himself takes part in an unbeliever’s dream and speaks to him. And what He has to say is not gentle talk. When God warns or chastises, He does it in a way that make His feelings clearly known and void of any misunderstanding. “Abimelech, your’re a dead man if you sleep with this married woman!” And somehow, I believe I could hear the immediacy of the undesirable threat in God’s voice.

Abimelech’s actions warranted a visit by God in his dreams not because heathen kings had a practice of taking many wives to their bed but because God hates adultery, especially when His own people are involved. And even if they cannot prevent themselves from falling prey to it, He will often take necessary action working through others to stop the sin continuing or recurring. I am aware of one adulterous situation where I believe God stepped in and worked through the unbelieving party to prevent the Christian involved from ruining a family and taking irreparable action with respect to marriage and divorce. God worked in the conscious of the unbeliever causing them to admit their sin to their own spouse and expose the relationship. That individual’s marriage ended in divorce but God saved the marriage of the believer just in time. Somehow God got into the mind of the unbeliever and said, “you’re dead if you continue with this – you’re dealing with a married person and I hate adultery.”

This is the first time in the text that the word ‘dream’ is used. We should be aware that God can and does come to us in dreams and not only to His own people, but to unbelievers as we will see later in our story. The difficulty of course is that we cannot always discern whether or not a dream we believed came from God was indeed so. In this case, we have accepted the word of Scripture that God went to Abimelech in a “dream of the night”. But what about us? Was our dream really a dream from God? And what about all those charlatans out there who claim to have had dreams from God and somehow they manage to make millions of dollars off those dreams? The tragedy is that oftentimes our cynicism may dismiss the very means God chooses to communicate with us. Thankfully, there are ways to help us discern whether or not it is God speaking, most important of which is the fact that God would never contradict Himself or what He has told us in Scripture. Secondly, He will provide us with several sources of “confirming” information – either in our own life’s experiences or in the confidence of trusted Christian men and women who pour themselves into our lives. When God wants to speak to us, He will be clear and unequivocal. He is not a God of confusion and enigmas.

Our difficulty is not understanding what God wants to say to us. It is more often that we don’t readily accept what He wants to say or what He wants us to do.

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