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Genesis Chapter Twenty


I. Content of the Chapter


Abraham Sojourned in Gerar

A.  Abraham called his wife sister (v.1-2);

B.  God kept Sarah (v.3-7);

C.  Abraham was rebuked by Abimelech (v.8-16);

D.  Abraham prayed for Abimelech (v.17-18);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


Gen. 20:1And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar.

YLT: “And Abraham journeyeth from thence toward the land of the south, and dwelleth between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourneth in Gerar;”

Meaning of Words: Kadesh”: holy, separated; “Shur”: wall, bulwark; “Gerar”: a stopping place, a sojourning place, ponder again and again, be pulled out away;

Literal Meaning: journeyed from there to the South”, the South was close to Egypt. In other words, he journeyed to the land of Egypt gradually.

Spiritual Meaning: in the Scriptures, “Egypt” typifies the physical world, and “the land of Canaan” typifies Christ or the spiritual realm. And “Gerar” was located between Egypt and the land of Canaan, which typifies the realm of conscience. When God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, He did not lead them through the land of the Philistines (namely, Gerar) but led them about the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea (Ex. 13:17-18), which indicated that man could not enter into the kingdom of God through the struggle of conscience and flesh and only those who were born of water and the Spirit could enter (John 3:5).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Even “the Father of faith” Abraham may sometimes be drawn by the world. How should we “who are of little faith” not be more careful?

  2) Believers should turn their backs toward the world (“Shur”) and lead a separated life (“Kadesh”). We should not walk in a vague way ---- love both God and the world and be dragged away by Satan (“Gerar”).

3) If believers walk by conscience (sojourn in Gerar), not by faith, they will be dragged away from God.


Gen. 20:2Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

YLT: “and Abraham saith concerning Sarah his wife, `She is my sister;' and Abimelech king of Gerar sendeth and taketh Sarah.”

Literal Meaning: Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” He repeated his former mistake and still called his wife sister (Gen. 12:13). Therefore, lies with half-truth are difficult to be rooted out of the mouth of believers.

Spiritual Meaning: Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” Abraham typifies faith, and Sarah typifies the promise of God, namely, grace. Faith and grace are like a couple that cannot be separated. Here it indicates that when believers are weak, they may turn the relation of faith and grace to that of brother and sister, thinking that they can be separated.

  Abimelech king of Gerar”, Gerar typifies the realm of conscience and Abimelech typifies man’s conscience. In the realm of conscience, everyone honors conscience as the king and everyone is governed by conscience in walking.

Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah”, it typifies that some who has fine conscience thinks falsely that one can obtain the grace of God through good works only.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) That Abraham repeated the old mistake again indicates us that if man’s mistake has not been utterly rooted out, he may still make the same mistake when he falls into environmental temptations.

  2) Where there is the union of faith and grace, there is Christ. And believers will thus be enabled to manifest Christ and bear witness to God.

3) Man’s faith cannot be without God’s grace. And God’s grace cannot be without man’s faith.

4) Whenever our faith is weak, the grace that we can partake of God will suffer loss.

5) Let believers walk in life, not in the knowledge of good and evil.

6) Satan likes to draw men away from God and become independent of God by the knowledge of good and evil.

7) Everyone desires to obtain the grace of God. However, the grace of God can be only appropriated by faith, not by the knowledge of good and evil. 


Gen. 20:3But 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.”

YLT: “And God cometh in unto Abimelech in a dream of the night, and saith to him, `Lo, thou a dead man, because of the woman whom thou hast taken -- and she married to a husband.'”

Spiritual Meaning: it shows that God withholds His grace, and He never allows men to obtain grace without faith.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) When man falls into severe darkness (“by night”), “God will come” keep the one who is of Him. Though man may change, God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness will never change.

  2) God not only guides His people evidently but also keeps those who are of Him in secret.

  3) He who is senseless to his faults is a dead man in the sight of God. 


Gen. 20:4But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also?

YLT: “And Abimelech hath not drawn near unto her, and he saith, `Lord, also a righteous nation dost thou slay?”

Literal Meaning: Abimelech was a king, who represented the whole nation. Therefore, his activities were connected with the whole nation. The so-called “righteous nation” was judged according to the world, not God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) A good man often wants to be justified before God by his good works.

  2) The world has its own evil and good, and even Satan Himself transforms himself into an angel of light (2Cor. 11:14). Therefore, man cannot be justified by his good works.


Gen. 20:5 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.”

YLT: “hath not he himself said to me, She my sister! and she, even she herself, said, He my brother; in the integrity of my heart, and in the innocency of my hands, I have done this.'”

Literal Meaning: integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands”, it refers to the sound inner motivation and pure works.

Spiritual Meaning: in the so-called realm of conscience, as long as one’s reason is right, he will feel innocent in conscience and undefiled in works.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If believers are careless in words, it will give a handle of judgment to the world.

  2) Even though the husband and wife do not love the Lord or serve the Lord with one mind, they may sometimes lie or sin with one mind (Acts 5:9).

  3) The world can at best walk in conscience. However, since man is dead in spirit (see v.4), the good words done in conscience can still not please God.


Gen. 20:6And 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.

YLT: “And God saith unto him in the dream, `Yea, I -- I have known that in the integrity of thy heart thou hast done this, and I withhold thee, even I, from sinning against Me, therefore I have not suffered thee to come against her;”

Spiritual Meaning: God does not allow men to receive His grace by good works of integrity.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Though men walk in the integrity of heart, it is still impossible to avoid offence against God.

  2) Many times, we have not offended or sinned because God withholds us from sinning against Him.

  3) Grace is given to the one who has faith. Whatever is obtained by man’s works, it can never be grace.


Gen. 20:7Now 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.”

YLT: “and now send back the man's wife, for he inspired, and he doth pray for thee, and live thou; and if thou do not send back, know that dying thou dost die, thou, and all that thou hast.'”

Literal Meaning: “prophet” refers to the spokesman of God. Abraham was called a prophet for he often had fellowship with God and heard the word of God and knew the will of God. The function of “prophet” is on one hand to speak to men on behalf of God, commending himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2Cor. 4:2), and on the other hand to speak to God on behalf of men, bringing men to God and praying for them.

Spiritual Meaning: “restore…shall live; if you do not restore her…shall surely die”, God gives the eternal life to all those who believe in Jesus Christ by grace (Rom. 5:21). He who believes in the Son has everlasting life, and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life (John 3:36).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Let us not possess ourselves of things of others (Luke 19:1-9). We believers have to lead a new life after we are saved and return things back to the owners (apology and repayment, Luke 19:1-9). 

  2) Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's (Matt. 22:21).

  3) Whoever has the word of God, he is a prophet. The most important ministry of a prophet is to pray for men.

  4) Christians are supposed to speak for God and bear witness to God. However, if we fail or commit sins in the sight of the world, what a shame it is.

  5) When the dark world does not know we are the children of God, it will not be astounded by our sins. However, if we are known as evangelists (“prophet”), , it will be much shameful when we commit sins. 

  6) God cherishes those who are of Him so much that He speaks for Abraham even in such condition and gives credit to others.

  7) Knowledge and letter kill, and yet only the Spirit quickens (2Cor. 3:6).


Gen. 20:8So 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.

YLT: “And Abimelech riseth early in the morning, and calleth for all his servants, and speaketh all these words in their ears; and the men fear exceedingly;”

Spiritual Meaning: he who has truly walked in the conscience knows that there must be gods (Rom. 1:19) and fear them (Acts 17:22). However, they worship false gods.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The fear of God helps us to do less wrong things. If man does not fear God, he dares to do everything.

  2) Many Christians cover their faults, but they are unable to cheat God. And such motivation is even worse than the world.


Gen. 20:9And 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.”

YLT: “and Abimelech calleth for Abraham, and saith to him, `What hast thou done to us? and what have I sinned against thee, that thou hast brought upon me, and upon my kingdom, a great sin? works which are not done thou hast done with me.'”

Literal Meaning: You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done”, here he rebuked the bad works of Abraham of invading the rights of others, for Abraham made him in sins without cause. The world pays much attention to “the right of man”.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Let Christians manifest the glorious witness in the sight of men in conversation (Phil. 2:14-15). If believers are rebuked by the world because of evil works, it will mostly humiliate God.

  2) Every time when we commit sins, we have owed not only God and individuals but also the whole group, for we make the group into sin. .

  3) Let us restrain from things that are unlawful in the sight of the unbelieving world.


Gen. 20:10Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?”

YLT: “Abimelech also saith unto Abraham, `What hast thou seen that thou hast done this thing?'”

Literal Meaning: What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?” ---- “what had you seen here, that you have done this thing?”

Enlightenment in the Word: we walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7).


Gen. 20:11And 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.

YLT: “And Abraham saith, `Because I said, `Surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they have slain me for the sake of my wife;”

Literal Meaning: this verse indicated that Abraham was not honest in words, for he foresaw danger.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) It is easy to rely upon the grace of God in peace and smoothness. However, it is easy to lose faith in the face of danger, for man may think God is not faithful.

  2) “I thought” ---- our thoughts are often untrustworthy, so problems often appear in our walking.

  3) It is the greatest root of interpersonal difficulty of misunderstanding others and measuring others by one’s narrow mind.

  4) It is easy for us to condemn and despise such a man who disregards the virginity of his wife to keep his own life. However, when we face the matter of life and death, how will we react on earth?


Gen. 20:12But 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.

YLT: “and also, truly she is my sister, daughter of my father, only not daughter of my mother, and she becometh my wife;”

The Background: it was allowed in the ancient time that man could marry the one who was the daughter of his father, but not the mother. However, it was later prohibited (Lev. 20:17);

Spiritual Meaning: both faith and grace are given by God (Eph. 2:8). We obtain the grace of God through the faith given by God.

Enlightenment in the Word: Sarah was both Abraham’s sister and wife, and both were true. However, it was still not true, for half of the fact was concealed. Indeed believers should not lie nor withhold half of the fact.


Gen. 20:13And 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.”’”

YLT: “and it cometh to pass, when God hath caused me to wander from my father's house, that I say to her, This thy kindness which thou dost with me: at every place whither we come, say of me, He my brother.'”

Literal Meaning: this verse reveals us that Abraham’s failure was not occasional, for he had planted the root of failure decades ago. Even though it had been done when he was in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20), it manifested again in proper environment without being dealt with thoroughly,

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) It is not occasional of committing sins. There is the root of sin hidden inside first, and then there will be sins in proper occasion.

  2) When believers deal with sins, we shall deal with both sins we have committed as well as sins that have not been exposed.

  3) The experience of this chapter is previous to the birth of Isaac in chapter twenty-one. Believers shall first deal with the deep-rooted wrong idea inside, and then experience the great power of God.


Gen. 20:14Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him.

YLT: “And Abimelech taketh sheep and oxen, and servants and handmaids, and giveth to Abraham, and sendeth back to him Sarah his wife;”

Spiritual Meaning: this verse shows us that when we truly realize that “the grace of God is given by faith only”, our conscience will strengthen faith and help faith a lot.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Believers are justified by faith first and then by works (Eph. 2:8-10) ---- once there is faith, there will be virtues and knowledge (2Pet. 1:5).

  2) Believers need conscience and good works. But both of them will be efficacious in the sight of God when they are in keeping with right faith.


Gen. 20:15And Abimelech said, “See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.”

YLT: “and Abimelech saith, `Lo, my land before thee, where it is good in thine eyes, dwell;'”

Spiritual Meaning: it indicates that when the faith of believers and the grace of God are restored, their conversation does not run against conscience. Therefore, in the realm of conscience, they can walk freely.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Our God is the Lord of lords. The whole world is of Him. As long as believers keep right relationship with Him, all things will work for us (Rom. 8:28).

  2) It is better to let God choose the dwelling place for us than let us choose for ourselves, for the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places (Ps. 16:6).


Gen. 20:16Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you[a] before all who are with you and before everybody.” Thus she was rebuked.

YLT: “and to Sarah he hath said, `Lo, I have given a thousand silverlings to thy brother; lo, it is to thee a covering of eyes, to all who are with thee;' and by all this she is reasoned with.”

Spiritual Meaning: this verse shows us that when the gracious testimony of God (“Sarah”) is humiliated before the world for the sake of our weak faith, we have to pay the cost and learn to appropriate the achievements (silver) of the redemption of the Lord Jesus until our hearts are sprinkled from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:22).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Once believers have committed sins, we have to deal with sins (“cover the shame”) and appropriate the precious atoning blood of the Lord.

  2) Once our faith becomes weak, the gracious testimony of God will suffer loss.

  3) Our Lord is not being unable to sympathize with our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), so let us not dare not to life up our head for the sake of our weakness. Instead, what is most important is to learn a lesson from weakness and failures.

  4) Let believers often keep faith and a good conscience. If there is a breach in the conscience, it is just like shipwreck and faith will also leak away thereby (1Tim. 1:19). 


Gen. 20:17So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children;

YLT: “And Abraham prayeth unto God, and God healeth Abimelech and his wife, and his handmaids, and they bear:”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God’s work needs human cooperation. Prayer is working together with God.

  2) Believers shall pray for others in not only common days but also in the time when they are weak and stumble, for pray is not on the basis of one’s own works.

  3) Abraham’s wife was barren, but he could pray for the wife of others, which shows us that a believer does not pray for others on the basis of his own experience. 

  4) This prayer of Abraham has transcended his own infirmity and failure. Believers’ prayer in faith is never based on themselves. Only such prayer according to God instead of themselves will be granted by God.

  5) God will not hear selfish prayer. The more we pray for others, the more will we experience God’s power and faithfulness. 


Gen. 20:18for the Lord had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

YLT: “for Jehovah restraining had restrained every womb of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham's wife.”

Literal Meaning: Abraham might stay in Gerar for less than one year (see Gen. 18:14; 21:2). Therefore, the LORD closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech for the sake of “Sarah”. Therefore, God let Abraham learn to put aside his own difficulty of giving a son and pray for others first.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If a believer puts aside his own need and considers the need of others, when God satisfies others, He will also satisfy the need of his own. 

  2) God lets all things work together for us to learn to be established in faith (Rom. 8:28).

  3) Whether one is able to bear a son is not determined by himself, but God. Whether we are able to gain people in preaching the gospel does not depend on our own power, but God’s power (Rom. 1:16).



III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


Know the Worldly Conscience

A.  Confess to be righteous (v.4);

B.  Innocence of one’s hands (v.5);

C.  Be afraid of God (v.8);

D.  Dare not to offend men (v.9);

E.  Be willing to consider for others (v.14-16);

F.   Lack of life (v.18);


The Relations of Believers with the Worldly Conscience

A.  Believers may falsely think that faith and grace can be separated in the conscience-upheld environment (v.2);

B.  Once faith is separated from grace, testimony will be lost before the world (v.9);

C.  If there is something wrong with our testimony of being favored by faith, people will think the grace of God is obtained by good works only (v.2);

D.  Believers shall fulfill the ministry of prophecy before those who uphold conscience (v.7);

E.  Believers shall manifest the divine life to the world through prayer (v.17);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

Translated by Mary Zhou