Genesis 20: God’s Mercy to Abraham and Abimelech

Genesis 20

God’s Mercy to Abraham and Abimelech

What do we observe from our passage today, and what does it mean?

Abraham is still learning to trust God. 20:1-2, 12-13

Right before Isaac’s birth, sin jeopardizes the fulfillment of God’s promise. Abraham is willing to trade the promise for a false sense of safety.

Abraham repeats his sin from Egypt in chapter 12.

Abraham reaches back to his past allegiances rather than “leaning into” trusting God to live presently under God’s rule, and this never works. Abraham is going to have to learn to kill his sin.

Isaac is going to repeat his father’s sin in Genesis 26 of saying Rebekah is his sister to Abimelech.

God intervenes on behalf of Abraham and Abimelech. 20:3-7

God preserves Abraham in spite of his faithlessness by speaking to Abimelech.

God preserves the holiness of the marriage relationship by restraining an Abimelech.

God is merciful to Abimelech because he truly was innocent of intentionally taking another man’s wife.

God was showing kindness to an unbeliever, and in so doing putting his grace and kindness on display for the world to see. God is teaching us doctrine right here!

Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…

God uses Abraham’s sin to teach kingdom lessons. 20:8-13

Abraham assumed “there was no fear of God at all in this place…”, and in fact, God

was at work. God was bearing witness to his name. God was able to restrain someone Abraham thought less of theologically from sinning further.

The gospel of the kingdom knows no boundaries to saving and/or restraining sin for the good of the world and particularly his people.

Whether for salvation or preservation of others, we don’t know, God revealed himself and his demands to Abimelech and Abimelech responded.

God uses Abraham’s sin to bring provision in spite of his sin. 20:14-16

“Iain Duguid’s study of Abraham, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality, makes this observation: ‘God’s ability to use even our sins for his own purposes shows that he doesn’t love us simply for the great things we can do for him. 4[1]

God’s love of his people is not dependent on performance. God preserves this situation and shows that he alone can and does keep the covenant.

God deals with his people in the glorious way of a Father to his children.

  • Sometimes God disciplines in response to our sins. Sometimes he gifts us in response to our sins.
  • All to display his grace and his justice so we worship him as right and gracious.

Abraham’s sin brought terrible affects to others yet God used it to bring blessing to Abimelech’s household. 20:17-18

Once again, we see that sin affects everyone.

Abraham is called a “prophet” in verse 7. A prophet speaks on behalf of God.

  1. Abraham: A “Bridge” and a “Dead End”.
  2. Bridge: Abraham’s prophetic life is pointing us to Jesus who would come and heal.
  3. Abraham’s prayer to heal this household points us to one whose sacrifice and eternal priesthood heals our sin and brings the order of the kingdom to the world’s chaos and will fully do so in time.
  4. Dead End: We also see in the prophet a dead end by showing us what Jesus won’ be like.
  5. Jesus won’t deceive, pass the buck, or lie. He will deal faithfully.

How do we apply the text today?

  1. Ingrained habits of sin will trouble us and show up when as we are growing up into Jesus.
  • The Lord often grows us through pressing us and squeezing out the old and dead so that the new and living will take root.
  • Proverbs 17:3 (ESV) The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.
  • Not killing our sin ensures we’ll pass it on to our kids or even those we influence.
  1. Therefore, killing sin is a primary co-labor of growth in Christ.
  • Romans 8:13 (ESV) For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit youput to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
  1. Trusting God to work out how he fulfills his word is better than our own ways of securing God’s promises. Abraham believed getting to God’s promises was all on him.
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
  • Do things God’s way. Its in the Manual!
  1. Believe that God keeping his promise has nothing to do with our performance.
  2. God was at work in Abimelech in spite of appearances. We must act like God is at work in spite of appearances in the world around us. The kingdom of God is working supernaturally even when we don’t see it.
  • Mark 4:26-29 (ESV) 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
  • We must not say foolish things like, “we kicked God out of _______.” God is the sovereign ruler of all things. He rules even unbelieving kings for his good ends.
  • We must recognize God at work in his kingdom rule, join him, and preach the good news of that rule and King Jesus who rules over his kingdom.
  1. Sin affects everyone, not just the sinner or the one sinned against. All of Abimelech’s household was affected by Abraham’s sin.
  • I can never justify my sin.
  • Sin often masquerades as self-justification. “I’m doing this because of ________.”
  • Remember that sin’s affects ripple way beyond ourselves and affects everyone.
  1. God is able to redeem our lousier moments.
  • God’s ability to overcome our sin and use it for good is never an excuse to sin.
  • Do know that even at our very worst, God is working for our good and his glory.
  • Romans 8:28 (ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
  • Repentance, not dwelling in sin, is the evidence that God is redeeming our lousier moments.
  1. Worship God for gracious passes and active discipline.
  • Worship him when he gives and when he takes away for our good.
  • This is well-rounded worship.


4Iain M. Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality(Phillipsburg, NJ:
P & R Publishing, 1999), p. 118.

[1]R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 290.

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