Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Genesis 20:14-18 Abraham Prays for Abimelech

Genesis 20:14-18: Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.” And to Sarah he said, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.” And Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

This passage seems very familiar and it is. We came across similar action in Genesis 12:14-16 when Abraham (then called Abram) and Sarah (then called Sarai) traveled to Egypt and Pharaoh took Sarai into his house. For taking her, he gave Abram sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. In the verses that preceded that account we learn that Abram asked Sarai to lie the same lie they utter in this current chapter. In the verses that followed the first account, God strikes Pharoah and his household with plagues and finally Abram and his family get escorted out of the area. You would have thought he had learned his lesson. Is it possible that the gifts that were bestowed upon him one way or another were so enticing that he didn’t mind lying again?

Abimelech acted even more generously than Pharoah did in the first account. He told Abraham he could live anywhere he wanted to in Abimelech’s kingdom. And then he went one step further and actually told Sarah that he gave Abraham (calling him her brother) a thousand pieces of silver. Undoubtedly, this was a very handsome sum for the day. Abimelech called this money “Sarah’s vindication”. Doing this, he was indicating that she was being cleared of any blame for what happened. Abimelech’s wisdom probably helped him to understand that as a wife, she had no real alternative in that culture to disobey her husband when Abraham asked her to lie for, and with, him.

By referring to Abraham as Sarah’s brother to her, he was either emphasizing the fact that whatever he did, he did so because he understood Abraham to be that, or he was simply trying to make Sarah feel less guilty about the fact that Abraham was also her husband, sticking with the half-brother explanation which was also true.

It is difficult to know exactly why Abimelech was showing such great kindness to Abraham and Sarah. It is possible it had to do with the fact that he wanted to somehow rid himself of any guilt associated with his actions or he wanted to make sure Abraham would pray for his healing and that of his household. There is no actual record of Abimelech asking Abraham to pray for him. In fact, in verse 7 of this chapter where God predicts what would happen, there is no instruction for Abimelech to ask for prayer. Abraham just did it.

Recently, I met with a friend of mine from my teen years. He now has a ministry in the Republic of South Africa providing training for non-government agencies as well as national church leaders. Chuck was visiting his children and grandchildren in the Toronto area and I was invited for lunch. During our visit, I shared that I had been diagnosed with colon cancer and that I was seeking God’s wisdom as to what type of treatment approach to pursue. When our visit was over, he asked if he could walk me to my car and I agreed. When we got there, he simply said, “Ken, let me pray for you as I sense my brother is struggling and wants God’s peace about his health.” We prayed together and said good-bye. Chuck is not an overly religious man by his own account, but he is a man of faith. Nobody asked him to pray for me that day except the Holy Spirit. That’s how God worked in Abraham to pray for Abimelech. And Abraham the liar, but still a man of God, obeyed God and showed Abimelech that kindness. And God answered that prayer. Abimelech and his wife and his maids all got healed and the women bore children.

This is the amazing story – Abraham sins, he gets showered with gifts and kindness, God uses him tremendously, and non-believers are blessed because of him. Abimelech was not free of the consequences of his sin simply because he righted the wrong. That was only step one. It took the prayers of a righteous man (regardless of his lie) to have God heal him and his household. What an amazing God we have. Do not let anyone tell you that you or anyone else is beyond the grace of God either to be saved by Him or to be used in His service once we have become His son or daughter.

Finally, we cannot ignore the last sentence in this passage. God had made Abimelech’s women barren “because of Sarah”. What are we to make of this? I believe the correct interpretation is that God had done this because of what Abimelech had planned to do with Sarah when he took her from Abraham. I prefer that interpretation to the one that may explain the reason for God’s actions being “for the sake of Sarah”. One thing we do know for sure is this – God did it. And He still has the ability to change circumstances beyond the possibilities we can think of in order to accomplish His plan for each of us. Do not dismay, God loves you and has a plan for your life that just may involve thwarting the plans of others.

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