Saturday, September 20, 2008

Genesis 20:4-7 Two-time liar called a prophet.

Genesis 20:4-7: Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, wilt Thou slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister?’ And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands have I done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

God was with Sarah and Abimelech fortunately had not yet touched her. Still, he questioned God’s rationale in destroying a nation even though he was, in his opinion, blameless. What is interesting is that while God had said, “you’re a dead man” to Abimelech, as king he interpreted that to equate to the fact that God would destroy his entrie nation. It’s possible that he still remembered what God did to Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s also possible that kings equated themselves with their country and vice-versa way back then, just as they seemed to have done in the more later centuries.

In his defense, Abimelech attempts to prove his innocence by blaming Abraham for telling him that Sarah was his sister, not his wife. He also implicates Sarah by indicating she had said Abraham was her brother. There is no reason not to believe him as we’ll see soon below. Once again Sarah participated in a lie in order to save herself and Abraham, and ended up in more trouble. We humans have an incredible way of making things worse for ourselves when we do not pursue God’s way.

God then continues His conversation with Abimelech and here the text says “in the dream”. Because of the specific article ‘the’ as compared to using ‘a’, we can assume that Abimelech’s defense was also part of that same dream. Now the next two phrases are most interesting. As far as we know, Abimelech was not a worshipper of the true God. It is most likely that he and his nation were idol worshippers. Yet God said, “I know you were operating with integrity when you did this wrong. That’s why I kept you from sinning against Me.” These phrases may well give us a glimpse as to how God may treat those that have not clearly heard the Gospel. Whether He is dealing with believers or unbelievers, God seems to be most interested in our intentions and the condition of our hearts. If the heart is pure, God may well keep a person from sinning against Him and thus keeping him from destruction. At least, He did in Abimelech’s case.

The text is written to indicate that it was because of Abimelech’s heart that God didn’t allow him to sin against Him, and because He wouldn’t allow that, God kept him from touching Sarah. Once again, we see a God who not only cares enough to keep us from sinning, but also makes it possible for us not to in specific difficult or overwhelming circumstances.

However, there’s still a part for us to play. God told Abimelech to restore Abraham’s wife. In other words, correct the wrong, repair the damage to the extent possible. Sometimes, the milk is spilled and there’s no getting it back into the pitcher. But there is much to be done to clean up the mess – including apologies, asking for forgiveness, and sincere regretting, not to mention taking action not to repeat the sin. God was saying, “Look, I’m giving you another chance to make this right because of your heart. But you can’t keep on doing what you’re doing. If you do, you will surely die [we heard similar words uttered by God to Adam and Eve and in the garden of Eden], you and all who are yours.” The choice is clear. There is no alternative. The impact can be on far more individuals than just us.

Finally, and it’s so easy to miss this, God tells Abimelech something about Abraham that we would not expect Him to say about a two-time liar. He tells Abimelech that Abraham is a prophet who will pray for him and he will live as a result. How weird is that? I find this most amazing but once again it proves that God’s ways are not our ways. Did God miss the lie? I don’t think so. Does God still use and have a mission for people who sin? I think so. God will deal with the sin of the person directly, but it does not mean that all will be lost. Lastly, let is not miss the point that although God implies that if Abimelech does not return Sarah to Abraham he will die, He also says that by allowing Abraham to pray for him, he will live. Isn’t that how God works even today? What He does for someone is between that person and God Himself. But He uses the prayers of others towards that end. That’s why we pray for others. That’s why we pray for healing.

The day after I wrote this section, the elders of our church prayed for me and anointed me with oil in keeping with what the New Testament tells us to do if we are sick. Whether or not I will be healed is up to God. But we are told to invite and solicit the prayers of others on our behalf. I believe this account here is the first such instruction in scripture. And the honor goes to Abraham, with all his faults, because God had chosen him. This is also the first time that the word ‘pray’ is used in the sense of a prayer as compared to “I beseech you” (or ‘I pray you’). Somehow, prayer was introduced to the way we worshipped or spoke to God, perhaps modeled after what the heathens did to their idols.

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