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Genesis Chapter Twenty


Genesis 20

Chapter Contents

Abraham's sojourn at Gerar, Sarah is taken by Abimelech. (1-8) Abimelech's rebuke to Abraham. (9-13) Abimelech restores Sarah. (14-18)

Commentary on Genesis 20:1-8

Crooked policy will not prosper: it brings ourselves and others into danger. God gives Abimelech notice of his danger of sin, and his danger of death for his sin. Every wilful sinner is a dead man, but Abimelech pleads ignorance. If our consciences witness, that, however we may have been cheated into a snare, we have not knowingly sinned against God, it will be our rejoicing in the day of evil. It is matter of comfort to those who are honest, that God knows their honesty, and will acknowledge it. It is a great mercy to be hindered from committing sin; of this God must have the glory. But if we have ignorantly done wrong, that will not excuse us, if we knowingly persist in it. He that does wrong, whoever he is, prince or peasant, shall certainly receive for the wrong which he has done, unless he repent, and, if possible, make restitution.

Commentary on Genesis 20:9-13

See here much to blame, even in the father of the faithful. Mark his distrust of God, his undue care about life, his intent to deceive. He also threw temptation in the way of others, caused affliction to them, exposed himself and Sarah to just rebukes, and yet attempted an excuse. These things are written for our warning, not for us to imitate. Even Abraham hath not whereof to glory. He cannot be justified by his works, but must be indebted for justification, to that righteousness which is upon all and unto all them that believe. We must not condemn all as hypocrites who fall into sin, if they do not continue in it. But let the unhumbled and impenitent take heed that they do not sin on, thinking that grace may abound. Abimelech, being warned of God, takes the warning; and being truly afraid of sin and its consequences, he rose early to pursue the directions given him.

Commentary on Genesis 20:14-18

We often trouble ourselves, and even are led into temptation and sin, by groundless suspicions; and find the fear of God where we expected it not. Agreements to deceive generally end in shame and sorrow; and restraints from sin, though by suffering, should be thankfully acknowledged. Though the Lord rebuke, yet he will pardon and deliver his people, and he will give them favour in the sight of those with whom they sojourn; and overrule their infirmities, when they are humbled for them, so that they shall prove useful to themselves and others.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Genesis


Genesis 20

Verse 1

[1] And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.

And Abraham sojourned in Gerar — We are not told upon what occasion he removed, whether terrified by the destruction of Sodom, or, as some of the Jewish writers say, because he was grieved at Lot's incest with his daughters, and the reproach which the Canaanites cast upon him for his kinsman's sake.

The king of Gerar sent and took her — To his house, in order to the taking of her to his bed.

Verse 3

[3] But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

But God came to Abimelech in a dream — It appears by this that God revealed himself by dreams, which evidenced themselves to be divine and supernatural, not only to his servants the prophets, but even to those that were out of the pale of the church; but then usually it was with some regard to God's own people.

Verse 4

[4] But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?

Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation — Not such a nation as Sodom.

Verse 6

[6] And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.

I withheld thee from sinning against me — It is God that restrains men from doing the ill they would do; it is not from him that there is sin, but it is from him that there is not more sin, either by his influence on mens minds checking their inclination to sin, or by his providence taking away the opportunity. It is a great mercy to be hindered from committing sin, which God must have the glory of whoever is the instrument.

Verse 9

[9] Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.

Thou hast done deeds that ought not to be done — Equivocation and dissimulation, however they may be palliated, are very ill things, and by no means to be admitted in any case. He takes it as a very great injury to himself and his family, that Abraham had thus exposed them to sin, What have I offended thee? - If I had been thy worst enemy, thou couldst not have done me a worse turn, nor taken a more effectual course to be avenged on me. Note, We ought to reckon, that those do us the greatest dislikedness in the world, that any way tempt us or expose us to sin, though they may pretend friendship, and offer that which is grateful enough to the corrupt nature. He challenges him to assign any just cause he had to suspect them as a dangerous people for an honest man to live among.

Verse 10

[10] And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?

What sawest thou that thou hast done this thing — What reason hadst thou to think, that if we had known her to be thy wife, thou wouldst have been exposed to any danger by it?

Verse 11

[11] And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

I thought surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they will slay me — There are many places and persons that have more of the fear of God in them than we think they have; perhaps they are not called by our name, they do not wear our badges, they do not tie themselves to that which we have an opinion of; and therefore we conclude they have not the fear of God in their hearts!

Verse 13

[13] And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.

When God caused me to wander from my father's house — Then we settled this matter. It may be, that God denied Abraham and Sarah the blessing of children so long to punish them for this sinful compact they had made to deny one another: if they will not own their marriage, why should God own it? But we may suppose, that alter this reproof they agreed never to do so again, and then presently we read, Genesis 21:1,2, that Sarah conceived.

Verse 16

[16] And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes, unto all that are with thee, and with all other: thus she was reproved.

Thy brother is to thee a covering of the eyes — Thou must look at no other, nor desire to be looked at by any other. Yoke-fellows must be to each other for a covering of the eyes. The marriage-covenant is a covenant with the eyes, like Job's, Job 31:1.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Genesis



20 Chapter 20


Verses 1-7

Genesis 20:1-7

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister

Abraham’s repetition of his old fault; the power of former temptations

THEIR POWER MAY SLUMBER LONG. In this instance, twenty-four years. Never safe from invasion of temptations once yielded to.


1. Reaction after great spiritual excitement.

2. Experience of social corruption.


1. The distress of anxiety.

2. Possible loss to ourselves.

3. The shame of reproof from worldly men.


1. The infirmities of believers appeal to the Divine compassion.

2. GOD is concerned to maintain the promises made to faith. (T. H.Leale.)

A bit of the old nature

I. His CONDUCT WAS VERY COWARDLY. He risked Sarah’s virtue, and the purity of the promised seed.



1. We are never safe, so long as we are in this world.

2. We have no right to throw ourselves into the way of temptation which has often mastered us.

3. We may be encouraged by God’s treatment of Abraham’s sin. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

Abraham’s artifice with Abimelech

I. THE ATROCIOUS NATURE OF THE SIN OF ADULTERY, WHICH CONSISTS IN VIOLATING CONNUBIAL RIGHTS, IS HERE REPRESENTED IN A VERY STRIKING MANNER. Though Abraham supposed that there was no sense of GOD and religion among the people of Gerar, yet he seems not to have entertained the least suspicion that they would insult the honour of his family, either by rape or seduction. His apprehension was that they would kill him for his wife’s sake. His whole conduct, in this and the former instance, is grounded on the supposition that a ruffian, who is bloody enough to assassinate an innocent man, yet may not be so brutal as to violate a married woman. This crime has been held in detestation by almost all nations, in all ages of the world. By the ancient laws of Draco and Solon, the husband of an adulteress, if he detected her in her guilt, might immediately kill both the criminals, or stigmatise them, or put out their eyes, or might exact of the adulterer a heavy fine. But, by the law of Moses, they were both to be put to death with public infamy; and, in ordinary cases, there was no dispensation.

II. THAT A SENSE OF VIRTUE AND RELIGION IS SOMETIMES FOUND WHERE WE LEAST EXPECT IT. How different was the true character of the people in Gerar, from that which Abraham’s jealousy had drawn for them! There was much of the fear of God among them, though he had imagined there was none at all.

III. THAT THE INDULGENCE OF TOO BAD AN OPINION OF MANKIND IS OF DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCE TO OURSELVES AND OTHERS. Had Abraham entertained a just opinion of the prince and people of Gerar, or taken pains to become acquainted with them, before he listened to the secret whispers of jealousy, he would have shunned so dangerous an artifice as to disguise his relation to his wife, and would have prevented the mischiefs which ensued, and the still greater mischiefs which threatened his own family and the house of Abimelech. It was a special Divine interposition which averted consequences of the most serious nature.

IV. THAT IN THE BEST MEN THERE MAY BE GREAT INFIRMITIES AND FAILINGS. Even they whose faith is strong must guard against the prevailing influence of fear, and call into exercise that confidence in God which is the best security against the terrors of the world. In times of apparent danger, and threatening temptation, they have need to be peculiarly watchful. We are never so safe as when we invariably follow the path of virtue and integrity. He who walks uprightly, walks surely; but he who perverts his way, shall fall. Duplicity and artifice, to avoid an evil, will but embarrass us the more. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Abraham’s sin repeated

His sin in so speaking seems to be much greater than it was before. For--

1. He had narrowly escaped the first time. The repetition of the same fault looked like presuming upon Providence.

2. Sarah was now with child, and that of a son of promise; he might, therefore, surely have trusted God to preserve their lives in the straight-forward path of duty. (A. Fuller.)

Abimelech’s plea accepted

The answer of God admits his plea of ignorance, and suggests that he was not charged with having yet sinned, but threatened with death in case he persisted now that he was informed of the truth. It is intimated, however, that if he had come near her he should in so doing have sinned against God, whether he had signed against Abraham or not; and this perhaps owing to her being in a state of pregnancy, of which, in that case, he could not have been ignorant. We see in this account--

1. That absolute ignorance excuses from guilt; but this does not prove that all ignorance does so, or that it is in itself excusable. Where the powers and means of knowledge are possessed, and ignorance arises from neglecting to make use of them, or from aversion to the truth, it so far from excusing that it is in itself sinful.

2. That great as the wickedness of men is upon the face of the earth, it would be much greater, were it not that God by His providence in innumerable instances “withholds “ them from it. The conduct of intelligent beings is influenced by motives; and all motives which are presented to the mind are subject to His disposal. (A. Fuller.)

Abraham’s reaction after his high spiritual experiences

Consider this repetition of his old fault with regard to--

I. Its causes.

1. Recent experience of the corruption of the world.

2. False prudence.

3. Exaggerated confidence.

4. The brotherly relation to Sarah.

5. The probable issue of the case in Egypt.

II. Its natural results.

1. Anxiety and danger.

2. Shame before a heathen’s princely court.

III. Its gracious issue through the interference of God. (Lange.)

Abraham reproved for denying his wife


I. The offence which he committed. A very grievous sin. Look at--

1. The principle from which it sprang--loss of faith.

2. Its natural and necessary tendencies.

3. The fact of its having been before practised by him, and reproved.

II. The rebuke given him on account of it. In this we observe much that was--

1. Disgraceful to Abraham.

2. Honourable to Abimelech:

(a) Shun every species of deception.

(b) Guard against relapses into sin.

(c) Be thankful to God for His protecting grace.

(d) Strive to the uttermost to cancel the effects of your transgressions. (C. Simeon, M. A.)

Abraham and Abimelech

The thing that is most remarkable in the whole story is that God should apparently have taken Abraham’s part instead of humbling and punishing him in the sight of the heathen.

1. Observe, first of all, that if the Divine purpose was to be turned aside by the fault or blemish found in individual character, the Divine government of man is at an end, and human progress is an impossibility. Adam failed, so did Noah, so Abraham, so did Lot. It was not Adam that sinned, or Noah, or Abraham, it was human nature that sinned. Pharaoh seemed to be a better man than Abraham, but he was not so in reality. You say that Abimelech was better than Abraham; now let me ask you what you know about Abimelech? Nothing but what is stated in this chapter. Very well Yea are so far right. You have seen Abimelech at his best and you have seen Abraham at his worst, and then you have rushed to a conclusion! This is not the right way to read history; certainly it is not the right way to read the Bible. We are not to set act against act, but life against life. This, then, is the point at which I find rest when I am disturbed by the evident painful immortality of illustrious Bible characters, viz., human nature has never been perfect in all its qualities, energies, and services; the perfection of human nature can be wrought out only by longcontinued and severe probation; in choosing instruments for the representation of His will and the execution of His purposes, God has always chosen men who were best fitted on the whole for such ministry, though in some particulars they have disastrously and pitiably failed. When I think I could have improved God’s plan, the mistake is mine, because my vision is dim and I never can see more than a very limited section of any human character.

2. In the next place consider, knowing human nature as we do, how beneficial a thing it was to the great men themselves to be shown now and again that they were imperfect, and that they were only great and strong as they were good--as they were true to God. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The exact truth

Two young masons were building a brick wall--the front wall of a high house. One of them, in placing a brick, discovered that it was a little thicker on one side than the other. “It will make your wall untrue, Ben,” the other said. “Pooh!” answered Ben; “what difference will such a trifle as that make? you’re too particular.” “My mother,” replied he, “taught me that ‘truth is truth,’ and ever so little an untruth is a lie, and a lie is no trifle.” “Oh,” said Ben, “:hat’s all very well; but I’m not lying, and have no intention of lying.” “Very true; but you make your wall tell a lie, and I have read that a lie in one’s work is like a lie in his character--it will show itself sooner or later, and bring harm, if not ruin.” “I’ll risk it in this case,” answered Ben, and he worked away, laying more brick, carrying the wall up higher, till the close of the day, when they gave up work and went home. The next morning they went to resume their work, when, behold, the lie had wrought out the result of all lies. The wall, getting a little slant from the untrue brick, had got more and more untrue as it got higher, and at last, in the night, had toppled over. Just so with ever so little an untruth in your character; it grows more and more untrue if you permit it to remain, till it brings sorrow and ruin. Tell, act, and live the truth.

God orders our journeys

A stage coach was passing through the interior of Massachusetts, on the way to Boston. It was a warm summer day, and the coach was filled with passengers, all impatient to arrive at the city at an early hour in the evening. The excessive heat rendered it necessary for the driver to spare his horses more than usual. Most of the passengers were fretting and complaining that he did not urge his horses along faster. But one gentleman sat in the corner of the stage calm and quiet. The irritation, which was destroying the happiness of all the others, seemed not to disturb his feelings in the least. At last the coach broke down as they were ascending a long steep hill, and the passengers were compelled to alight, and travel some distance on foot under the rays of the burning sun. This new interruption caused a general burst of vexatious feelings. All the party, with the exception of the gentleman alluded to, toiled up the hill, irritated and complaining. He walked along, good-humoured and happy, and endeavouring by occasional pleasantry of remark to restore good humour to the party. It was known that this gentleman, who was extensively engaged in mercantile concerns, had business which rendered it necessary that he should be in the city at an early hour. The delay was consequently to him a serious inconvenience. Yet, while all the rest of the party were ill-humoured and vexed, he alone was untroubled. At last one asked how it was that he retained his composure under such vexatious circumstances? The gentleman replied that he could have no control over the circumstances in which he was then placed; that he had commended himself and his business to the protection of the Lord, and that if it were the Lord’s will that he should not enter Boston at as early an hour as he desired, it was his duty patiently and pleasantly to submit. With these feelings he was patient and submissive, and cheerful. The day, which to the rest of the party was rendered disagreeable by vexation and complaint, was by him passed in gratitude and enjoyment. And when, late in the evening, he arrived in the city with a serene mind, he was prepared to engage in his duties.

Verse 11

Genesis 20:11

And Abraham said, Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place

On harsh and selfish judgments

The true fear of God was at that moment in Abimelech’s heart, and not in Abraham’s; it was Abimelech who was playing the Christian part, that of the child of the light and of the day; Abraham was for the moment the child of fear, darkness, night.


1. The first a heathen Roman can illustrate for us (Acts 22:27-28). The thing has cost us much; we feel it is hard to believe that it can be widely shared. Abraham had made a terrible sacrifice to assure his calling. As for those easy, jovial, prosperous heathen, surely the fear of God was not there.

2. A second source of this harshness of judgment is the predominance in all of us of the natural aristocratic principle over the Christian principle of communion. Men naturally believe in election. But, with tale exceptions, they naturally believe themselves to he the elect. It is hard indeed to believe that a private possession gains instead of loses by being shared by all mankind.

II. THE HISTORIES OF SCRIPTURE ARE A PERPETUAL WARNING AGAINST NARROW AND SELFISH JUDGMENTS OF MEN. It is as if the Spirit had resolved that the virtues of those outside the pale should be kept clearly before the eyes of men. God is no respecter of persons, and He keeps hold in ways, of which we little dream, of the most unlikely human hearts.


1. Let your personal fellowship be based on the clear explicit manifestation of that which is in tune with your higher life and Christ’s.

2. As for those who are without, believe that God is nearer to them than you wot of, and has more to do with them than you dream. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Morality outside the Church


1. Belief in a moral standard of right and wrong.

2. Belief in the moral relations of human society.

3. A sense of injured moral feeling in the presence of wrong.

4. A readiness to make restitution for faults committed against others.


1. For their mean subterfuges.

2. Their distrust of Providence.

3. Their religious prejudices. (T. H. Leale.)


1. It is often strong in those who enjoy high religious privileges. Abraham thought himself so highly favoured of God that he was unwilling to admit that any goodness could be found among those who were less favoured.

2. The evils of it are great.

Verse 17-18

Genesis 20:17-18

So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech

An efficacious interesting prayer

Abraham’s prayer for the doomed cities was not granted, but his prayer for Abimelech was answered in full.
“God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maid-servants.” But in the present instance we can see some reasons why it was likely that this prayer should be answered.

I. BECAUSE FAITH WAS MAINTAINED NOTWITHSTANDING PAST FAILURES. Persevering faith, which is superior to all discouragements, must be rewarded.

II. BECAUSE THE OBJECTS OF IT WERE DISPOSED TO RECEIVE THE BLESSING. The hindrances to the gracious effects of prayer lie in man’s rebellious heart. There must be a Godward direction imparted to souls which are to be blest. God meets those who are looking towards Him. Abimelech and his household had this receptivity.

III. BECAUSE GOD DELIGHTS TO PUT HONOUR UPON HIS SERVANTS. God had entered into covenant with Abraham. He was God’s prophet and faithful friend. God will set His visible marks of approval upon His own appointed means of blessing. Learn the importance of the prophet to mankind.

1. He makes known the will of God. He is a messenger who has received instructions from the Supreme Ruler of all mankind.

2. He is the human channel of spiritual blessings. He teaches men the way of righteousness, how they may find the chief good and reach true blessedness. (T. H. Leate.)

──The Biblical Illustrator