Genesis 20


Back in Genesis 15 Abraham was complaining to God that he didn’t have any children and that there was no heir to carry on the family line in spite of God’s promise that he would indeed have offspring. And so, God — do you remember? — took Abraham outside and told him to look up at the stars. And as Abraham gazed up at the night sky and saw all the stars spread out before him, God promised:

So shall your offspring be. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I really will. You will have so many descendants it will be impossible to count them all.

And in verse 6 of chapter 15 we read these words:

Abraham believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Now that’s a very important verse in the Bible. We didn’t spend much time thinking about it when we were studying chapter 15, but it’s a vitally important verse for the whole of the Bible, because it’s a verse that answers a vital question which we must all be able to answer. The question is this:

How can I, a sinner, who has repeatedly broken God’s law, become right with God?

Think of a husband and wife. One day the wife discovers that her husband has been having an affair. What a betrayal! The wife’s world has been turned upside down because of this news and their marriage is rocked. It’s shaken. And what’s happened? Well, their relationship has been spoiled. It’s gone wrong. He has betrayed her and she’s been hurt and she no longer knows whether she can trust him any more and whether she can continue to love someone who has hurt her so badly. Because of what he has done, their relationship is no longer right and his betrayal has come between them. And that’s what the Bible says about humanity and our relationship with God. We only have to turn back a few pages in our Bibles to Genesis 1 and 2 and 3. There we read how God made this world and, having surveyed all that he had made, he pronounced it ‘very good’. And Adam and Eve lived happily in the Garden of Eden and all was well until that day when they were tempted to disobey his clear command and to take the forbidden fruit. And whenever God came into the Garden that evening, what did Adam and Eve do? Did they run up to him with joy and delight, because they were delighted to see the Lord who loved them and cared for them? No, because of what they had done, their relationship was now spoiled. And so when they heard the Lord’s voice, they ran off and hid from him. Their relationship was ruined. They had betrayed him and now they could not face him.

Do you see? A husband is unfaithful to his wife and their relationship is ruined. It’s no longer right. And when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their relationship to God was ruined. And every person who was ever been born in the normal way is born into the same state that Adam and Eve fell into whenever they disobeyed the Lord, one of separation from God, because we’re born as sinners, and our sin provokes his wrath and our relationship to him is ruined.

And so the question we all have to answer is this:

How can I, a sinner, who has repeatedly broken God’s law, become right with God? How can I be reconciled to God, who is my Maker and to whom I must give an account of my life? How can all that is not right in my relationship to him be put right?

This is why Genesis 15:6 is so important, because it tells us how Abraham became right with God. And what does it say? It says that God made Abraham a promise and Abraham believed God’s promise. In other words, he believed the Lord and trusted in him to keep his word. And the Lord — from that time on — considered Abraham as righteous. From that time on, Abraham was regarded as right with God. And he was regarded as right with God because he believed the Lord.


Now, you’re maybe wondering:

What has that got to do with Genesis 20? Aren’t we meant to be studying Genesis 20 today?

Well, we’re getting there. In Genesis 20 Abraham is doing the same thing that he did way back in chapter 12. Back in chapter 12, Abraham and Sarah went down to Egypt because of a famine in the land of Canaan. And when they reached Egypt, Abraham was worried that the Egyptian Pharaoh would have him killed in order to take Sarah as his wife. So Abraham told Sarah to pretend that they were just brother and sister, so that Abraham’s life would be spared. In other words, they told a lie and they tried to deceive the Pharaoh. And by their lie, the Pharaoh nearly committed adultery by sleeping with another man’s wife. He nearly suffered God’s wrath. And God’s judgment nearly fell on Pharaoh for no other reason than that Abraham had lied to him. That was back in chapter 12 when Abraham was something like 75 years old. Now, after all these years — and 25 years have passed — after all these years, you’d have thought that Abraham would have known better. That he would be a better man. That he would be stronger. And wiser. And more likely to tell the truth and to protect his wife’s purity.

But what do we find? That he does exactly what he had done before. Look at verse 2 of chapter 20: Abraham tells the people of the land he has now come to that Sarah is his sister. And so the king of that land (Abimelech) took Sarah to be his wife.

Now, you’re maybe wondering why Abimelech wanted Sarah for his wife. After all, she’s now in her 90s. But since the Lord had promised that very soon she would have a child, then perhaps the Lord has rejuvenated her. Perhaps he’s worked miraculously in her life so that he youth and beauty has returned. We don’t really know, of course, but we do know that Abimelech took her for himself. And he felt able to do so because Abraham had said that Sarah was only his sister and not his wife.

In other words, Abraham lied about her just as he had done 25 years before in chapter 12. And then look at verse 13 of chapter 20: this was his normal practice so that everywhere they went, Abraham and Sarah lied about their true relationship. And look at verse 12: when Abimelech confronted him over the lie, he used weasel words to try to justify himself. He said to the king:

But you know, she really is my sister. She’s my step-sister. I wasn’t really deceiving you, I was only being economical with the truth and telling you half the truth.

So, he deceived someone, just as happened before. And because of their lie, the king nearly committed adultery, just as happened before. And the king nearly suffered God’s wrath, just as happened before. What happened in chapter 20 is an almost carbon-copy of what happened before in chapter 12.


So what’s the connection with verse 6 of chapter 15? What connection do the events of chapter 20 have with what we read in chapter 15 about how Abraham believed God and God considered Abraham righteous in his sight? Well it’s this: Abraham’s faith in chapter 15 and his behaviour in chapter 20 remind us that we become right with God not because of anything we might do, but only through faith. If our acceptance with God was based on what we do and if it depended on the goodness of our lives and our good deeds, then Abraham wouldn’t have stood a chance of ever becoming right with God. Twenty-five years have passed between chapters 12 and 20 and Abraham’s still repeating the same sins. He’s still a sinner. He’s still disobedient. So if acceptance with God was down to the goodness of his life and his obedience to God’s commands, then Abraham wouldn’t have stood a chance of ever becoming right with God.

But verse 6 of chapter 15 teaches us that we are not made right with God because of what we do. We are made right with God through faith, through believing in God and believing his word and believing what he promises to do for us. That’s the good news of the gospel. We’re sinners. All of us. That’s the way we’re born. That’s what we continue to be throughout our lives. Again and again we break God’s laws and we disobey his commands. Some of us break his commands a lot. Others break his commands only a little. But nevertheless, every one of us is a lawbreaker. And if acceptance with God was based on how well we kept God’s laws, not one of us would stand a chance. We would all be eternally condemned.

But our acceptance with God is not based on how well we do. Back in Genesis 15, Abraham was regarded as right with God through faith in God and in God’s promise that he would make Abraham into a great nation, and that through one of his offspring God would bring blessing upon the world. And what God was really promising to do for the world through Abraham and his offspring is made clear in the New Testament, because in the New Testament we see Jesus Christ, who was Abraham’s offspring, and who alone has perfectly obeyed all of God’s laws and commandments, but who exchanged the blessing he deserved for his obedience for the curse we deserve for our sins. And the curse we deserve for our sins fell on Christ on the cross and the blessing he deserved for his obedience comes to us and to all who believe in him. You see, God wasn’t merely promising to give Abraham a big family. He was promising that through Abraham’s family Jesus Christ would come into the world and in Jesus Christ God’s blessing would come to the world, and not his curse. Instead of condemnation, there would be forgiveness. Instead of judgment, there would be aquittal. Instead of eternal death, there would be eternal life. Instead of a curse on us for our sin and our guilt and our failure, there would be blessing and everlasting salvation and great joy in the presence of God for ever and ever. That’s what God was promising Abraham in Genesis 15.

And the wonder of the gospel, the wonderful message of the Bible, is that the moment anyone gives up trying to get right with God by ourselves and by what we do, the moment we stop trying to climb up to God by our own hard work and effort, the moment we stop relying on our own good deeds and our devotion and our zeal and our commitment, and instead rely on what Jesus Christ has done for us, then at that moment, we are declared right with God for ever.

Look at Abraham in Genesis 20. Once again he lied about his wife. Once again he put the king and his people in danger. Once again he compromised his wife’s purity. What a failure he was. Look how weak he is. Look at king Abimelech, by contrast. He’s appears upright in comparison to Abraham and is horrified to hear that he almost slept with another man’s wife. Look how Abimelech’s concerned for Sarah’s honour and gives this gift in verse 16 to make amends for the offence that has been done to her. The king appears so upright and honourable compared to Abraham! And yet Abraham is the one who is right with God, because he is the one who trusts in the Lord. And through faith in the Lord, all of his many sins were forgiven for ever.

Whenever someone trusts in Jesus Christ, when like Abraham, they believe God and his word and in his promises towards us in Christ Jesus, the absolute, perfect purity of Jesus Christ covers over every one of our sins. They’re covered over completely. From the moment we trust in the Lord Jesus, God accepts us for the sake of Jesus and his life and death on our behalf. Like Abraham, we remain sinners. And we still repeat the same sins just as Abraham repeated the same old sins. The same faults and failures appear in our lives today as were there years before. And though we have God’s Spirit to help us to resist our sins and though we fight against temptation with all of our might, nevertheless we remain sinners and we will continue to sin just as Abraham did. But now that we trust in Christ, our sins and faults and failures are covered up by the perfect purity of Jesus Christ. He is our righteousness and holiness and redemption, the one who reconciles sinners to God. And that means we can all rest in Christ and in all that he has done for us to bring us to God.

God’s work

And look at this. In Genesis 20 we see that God kept Abimelech from sleeping with Sarah. He made sure that this wouldn’t happen. Do you see that in verse 6? God said:

I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.

Why did God make sure that Abimelech did not sleep with Sarah? Well, of course, God was concerned for Sarah’s honour and purity. But there’s something more here. God’s plan for the world was for Abraham and Sarah to have a child of their own. And from that one child, a great nation would come. And from that great nation would come the Lord Jesus Christ. And through Jesus Christ, God’s blessing would come on all the nations, on everyone who believes in him. And so when Abraham lied about Sarah and when Abimelech took her to be his wife, Abraham was putting God’s plan in peril. Unless Abraham and Sarah remained together and remained faithful to one another, then their son would not be born. And without their son, there would be no great nation. And without that great nation, there would be no Jesus Christ. And without Jesus Christ there would be no salvation. So God stepped in to ensure that what he had planned would take place. And this reminds us that our salvation, is in God’s hands. When his plan was in jeopardy here in Genesis 20, God made sure that what he planned would happen. And he will make sure that his plan to save his people and to bring us into his presence will happen. Look: he’s brought you here today to ensure that you would hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he is the one who enables us to believe the gospel. And he is the one who enables us to persevere, and to keep believing the gospel, through troubles and uncertainties and temptations and sins and doubts and fears. And whenever one of his people stumbles and seems to fall away from Christ and his church, he’s able to cause his wayward children to repent and to return to him. If our salvation were down to us, then we would blunder about like Abraham and we would be lost. But our salvation is in God’s safe hands. And what he has planned for us, he will do.


Since our salvation depends, not on ourselves and the things we do, but since it depends on God and what he has done for us by his Son, then we have every reason in the world to give thanks to the Lord and to praise his name continually. What a sinner, Abraham was. What a failure, repeating the same sins, making the same mistakes, falling for the same temptations. What a failure. And yet, the Lord was watching over him, to protect him and to help him and to save him from this mess he’d got himself into. And even though he was repeating the same sins, the Lord did not give up on him or cast him away. The Lord still regarded him as righteous in his sight, and the Lord was still willing to pardon his sins, and the Lord was still prepared to work out his purposes for the world through Abraham. And so, whenever Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham, and whenever Abimelech gave him all of the gifts, there was only one person for Abraham to thank, and it was the Lord who pardoned his sins and who had rescued him from trouble. And whenever his son was born shortly after these events, there was only one person for Abraham to thank, and it was the Lord who was ensuring that his plan for the world would happen as planned.

And we ought to remember and believe and to give thanks to the Lord because he’s the one who pardons our sins and he’s the one who remains faithful to us even when we’re unfaithful to him. He’s the one who, despite our sins, promises to give us everlasting life. And so, we must remember to give thanks to him and to praise him because our salvation is entirely his work. He is the one who has worked it all out and he’s the one who works in our life so that we will come at last to our eternal home.


We ought to give thanks to the Lord because our salvation depends on him. But then, the events of this chapter and of what Abraham did should help to keep us humble before the Lord, because just like Abraham, we too are sinners and we are prone to repeat the same sins because of the corruption that remains in our hearts. Abraham has been serving the Lord for many years. And he had made so much progress, hadn’t he? After the disaster of what happened in Egypt in chapter 12, we had the occasion when he and Lot separated and we noticed how generous he was at that time, offering Lot the first choice of the land. And in chapter 14 we read how he was able to rescue Lot when Lot had been taken captive. And in chapter 15, the Lord had appeared to Abraham and established his covenant with him. And in chapter 17, the Lord commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and his household. And Abraham obeyed the Lord straightaway. Straightaway he did what the Lord commanded him to do. And in chapter 18, the Lord appeared to him again and revealed to him what he was about to do to Sodom. And do you remember how Abraham pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the people of Sodom? We look back on Abraham’s life and we can’t help but be impressed with him because of his progress and his faith and his obedience and the prayers he offered for sinners. He’s a man who seemed to have conquered sin and he seemed to be a strong and firm believer, totally committed to the Lord. And yet, even he fell into the same sin he had committed 25 years before. What Abraham did should help to keep us humble, because it reminds us that our hearts remain sinful throughout our lives, and we can still fall into serious sins even when we think we are strong and will not fall. That’s what happened to Peter, who boasted that, even though others may fall away, he would not. And yet, shortly after making that boast, he denied knowing the Lord. Well, we too are tempted to become proud and to think that we are stronger than we are. Like the boy racer in his father’s car, who thinks he’s a better driver than he really is, and who before long ends up in a ditch, so we think we’re stronger than we really are. But then temptation comes, and we stumble and fall and we dishonour our Lord by the things we have done, and we bring shame upon his church. Just as Abraham fell into the same serious sins as before, so we can fall into sin. And therefore, we ought to remain humble, and we ought to seek from the Lord the help we need to stand firm against temptation, and the strength we need to fight against our sinful desires. And we need to pray to our Heavenly Father every day, asking that he will keep us from temptation. And we need to let his word light up the path we follow every day. The events of this chapter and of what Abraham did should help to keep us humble before the Lord, because we, like Abraham, are liable to repeat the same sins.


But notice this one last thing before we finish this evening. When the Lord confronted Abimelech in a dream one night, he told the king to return Sarah to Abraham. And he then said, in verse 7, that Abraham will pray for the king and the king will live. And sure enough, Abimelech returned Sarah to Abraham. And look at verse 17: Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his slave girls so that they could have children again. It’s not clear what disease or illness God had inflicted upon them, but as a result of Abraham’s intercession, the Lord healed Abimelech and his household.

Well, Abraham’s intercession points us forward to the intercession of the Lord Jesus, because he is now at his Father’s side in heaven, where he is interceding for us and for all his people, pleading our cause so that God will not condemn us, which is what we deserve, but instead will forgive us. Abraham’s intercession for the king points us forward to the way the Lord Jesus intercedes for us.

But since the Lord commanded Abraham to pray for this unbelieving king, so we’re reminded of our duty to pray for those who don’t yet believe and who are under God’s wrath and curse until they repent and trust in Christ. We ought to pray for the salvation of those who don’t believe. So, think of Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, and saying to them in Romans 10 that

my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.

Just as Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and Paul prayed for the Jews, so we too must pray for the people around this church that they might be saved.

And isn’t it interesting? The Lord was clearly willing to pardon Abimelech. And he could easily have healed Abimelech and his household without waiting for Abraham to pray. But the Lord’s will was for Abraham to pray first; and then he would heal the king and his household. And the Lord could so easily save the people who live around this church. He could so easily convert them to faith in Christ without our prayers. But this is the way the Lord works, because when the Lord saves sinners after his people have prayed, he leaves us in no doubt that he’s the one who has done it and he’s the one who deserves all the praise and all the glory for having done it. Abraham could not heal Abimelech, and so he asked the Lord to do it. And we cannot save a single soul, and so we need to ask the Lord to do it. And if he is pleased to answer us, and to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ, then he deserves all the praise and the glory because he is the one who has done it.