Genesis 20:1-18

Genesis 20 records another difficult time in Abraham’s life when he and Sarah stumbled in their faith. The Scripture doesn’t tell us why Abraham left his home, but for some reason he went down to a city named Gerar, which was in the land of the Philistines. Abraham took up residence there and proceeded to tell the same lie that he did in Genesis 12:14-20, when he communicated to the king the half-truth that Sarah was his sister. This created many problems for Abraham and Sarah, and for Abimelech the king of Gerar. Scripture declares, And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But 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.’ But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, ‘Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? 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.’ And 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. Now 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.’ So 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. And 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.’ Then Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?’ And 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. But 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. And 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.’” Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, ‘See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.’ Then to Sarah he said, ‘Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.’ Thus she was rebuked. So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children;  for the LORD had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife” (Gen. 20:1-18).

Why do we repeatedly fall into the same sins?

There are several reasons why anyone, including a man of faith like Abraham, would fall into this same sin of lying after being rebuked by Pharaoh for doing the same thing in Genesis 12. This is an important question to answer for any believer. Even David prayed for wisdom and help when he questioned, Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Ps. 19:12-13). Therefore, understanding why you fall into the same sins is essential if you don’t want your sins to have dominion in your life. To conquer these errors, you must understand why these weaknesses seem to come up again and again. Let’s consider some of these reasons.

1. First, sometimes you fall into the same sin because of fear and unbelief just as Abraham did. When Abraham was questioned by the king about why he had lied to him about Sarah, he said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.” For Abraham to allow this fear to rule him meant that Sarah must have been an exceptionally beautiful woman at 90 years of age. Abraham allowed this fear of being killed, to motivate him to lie. This was simply the fear of man, and fear of the possible consequences that might happen. This is why Abraham fell into this sin in Egypt years before.

But, where did this fear come from? In this circumstance, fear resulted from Abraham not trusting God to fulfill His promises to bless his family. Fear and unbelief will always bring a snare and trouble to anyone who yields to it. Solomon declared in Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.” Notice that Solomon contrasts the fear of man and trusting God in this one verse. Abraham just needed to trust the Lord instead of fearing man. This again proves that a man of faith, or any believer is not without flaws in their character. All of us have the same potential of making this same mistake. But I think you would agree with me, that we don’t want to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. How can you keep yourself from this dilemma? You need to ask yourself the why question. Jesus asked the why question quite often during His ministry (Mark 8:17; Mark 10:18; Mark 12:15; Matt. 21:25; Matt. 9:4). One example is when Jesus asked His disciples in Mark 4:40, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? Why does Jesus ask them to explain to Him why they lacked faith? He did this so the disciples would do some self-examination concerning their own hearts. If you don’t understand why you do what you do, then you will not know what to do to change this failure into success. Here is one of the central reasons why you keep falling in the same areas again and again. Therefore, ask God to give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him and of yourself (Eph. 1:17). When you understand why you are failing in any given area of your life, you are halfway to a solution. Then take this understanding that you have gained, and go to the Word of God, and see what the Scriptures tell you to do about this problem. Apply these truths to your life, and obey whatever the Scriptures tell you to do. This will keep you from repeating the same sin again and again.

2. The second reason why believers fall into the same sins over and over again is a lack of knowledge of how to get free from the power of their sin nature. The Apostle Paul admitted at one point in his own life that he didn’t know how to get free from the power of sin. He said in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” In other words, Paul wanted to do what was right, but he didn’t understand how to perform what he knew was right. Note the emphasis on the words, how to perform what is good.” How do you overcome the power of your own sinful nature so you can be free from its dominion in your life? This is not an easy question to answer in one or two paragraphs. So, let me give you the simple answer and also some resources where you can get a more in-depth understanding on this subject.

If you want to be free from your sin nature’s dominion in your life, you must first understand that your old man, or your sin nature, was conquered at the cross of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:6). Once you have grasped this truth, you must take a position of faith that this fact is indeed true, and reckon yourself dead to sin (Rom. 6:11). Then as you resist every temptation to yield to sin, present yourself to God and allow the Holy Spirit to fill you and set you free (Rom. 6:12-13). If you walk under the control of the Holy Spirit, you will not fulfill the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:16; Rom. 8:2). If you would like more resources to help you understand this issue, I have written an entire chapter on overcoming your flesh in my book, Winning Your Personal Battles, which you can find on Amazon. If you would rather listen to studies on this topic, here is a link to the first of thirteen audio studies I have done on Romans 6-8.

3. A third reason a believer falls into the same sin, is not a question of knowing that something is wrong, or how to get free from that sin, but a question of whether you really want to get free. Some believers simply have a rebellious heart, take God’s grace for granted, and thus go back to these sins over and over again. This is a serious issue. In the book of Hebrews, God spoke to this issue concerning the Children of Israel when He said, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb. 3:15). Probably every one of you who are reading these words right now has been in this place at some time in your life. You got angry with God, or were caught by some addiction and said in your heart, I don’t care! I’m going to do what I want to do. This attitude will cause you to stumble over and over again into those same areas of sin that you know are wrong, but you just have a rebellious heart. Paul warned the believers in 2 Corinthians 12:21 about this rebellion when he said, “When I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.” The only answer to this kind of a rebellious heart is to repent before God, and ask His forgiveness. Then you must pursue God for the power of the Holy Spirit to keep your heart in that place of surrender.

4. Another reason believers can keep falling into the same sins is because of half-hearted repentance. This attitude of the heart is because there is little brokenness and sorrow for the sin. The Lord wants a whole-hearted turning to Him, and a whole-hearted turning from sin. This is why Jesus commanded us all to, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). However, to love the Lord in this manner you must love what He loves, and hate what He hates (Ps. 97:10). This results from a brokenness within your heart over your sin. When King David was convicted and repentant before God, he declared in Psalm 51:17, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart-- These, O God, You will not despise.” Many times, this brokenness and contrition simply are not there, just as they were not in King David heart before God confronted him over his sin. When this is the case, a person is forcing God to bring chastisement and corrective measures in their lives to humble them. This is why it is much easier for us to humble ourselves and not force God to take these steps (James 4:10). To be contrite is to have a deep sorrow for our sin. This again is what the Corinthian church did not have concerning the immorality that was in their church. This is why Paul wrote to them and said, Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Therefore, to have a whole-hearted love for the Lord, there must be a whole-hearted hatred for sin. Do you have this attitude toward your sin? If not, ask God to give you a hatred for whatever sin plagues you. Ask Him for a passionate hatred, just as God hates it. This hatred for sin produces the sorrow that brings a whole-hearted repentance and thus a freedom from that sin. Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given” (Matt. 7:7).

5. Last, when you stumble with a specific sin over and over again, you will always find an idol in the heart as another root cause. An idol is anything that you love and worship more than you love the Lord. It is easy to see an idol as loving material things or worldly success or power, but loving the praise of men or loving pleasure is harder for some believers to recognize. I have even seen pastor friends of mine who make their ministry an idol, when they forget that the Lord is the One who wants their highest love. They see ministry as where they receive life, find their identity, but they forget that their life comes from the Giver of Life. Jesus made this very clear in His teaching, that if we loved anything or anyone more than Him, He said that we are not worthy of Him. Jesus said, He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39). Why was Jesus so adamant about this issue? Because whatever we love more than Jesus will always end up stumbling us from taking up our cross and following Him.

In the Old Testament the same truth is taught about not just physical idols, but idols in the heart. God warned the Jews through Ezekiel when He said to him, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them?” (Eze. 14:3). Note that God is the One who declared that an idol in the heart will cause us to stumble into iniquity. If that idol is not repented of and turned from, it will cause a person to continue stumbling into the same iniquity over and over again. This is the fundamental reason addictions are so difficult for a person to get free from in their lives. Yes, there is a physiological component to addiction, but there will always be an idol in the heart of this person that drives them back to their addiction over and over again. Therefore, cast down the idols that are in your heart, so you can truly go forward in your spiritual walk with Jesus. Put Jesus first in your life; this is where He belongs!

What are the lessons we can learn from Abraham’s failure?

1. The first lesson you can learn from Abraham’s failure was that he thought it would be better for him if he lied than to trust the Lord. This equation is made in people’s minds every day. But it is a wrong equation. You will always be better off telling the truth and trusting God, even if there are consequences in the short term. Let me illustrate why this is true. What happens when you catch someone in a lie? You immediately think to yourself, This person is not trustworthy. What else are they lying to me about? This person could care less about the truth, or about me. These are the thoughts that go through your mind. In addition, the sin of lying destroys this person’s personal relationship with God. Lying is sin, and sin separates a person from fellowship with God. So, clearly nothing will be better when you lie. Look at the complete disbelief in Abimelech’s words as he spoke to Abraham. When He realized that Abraham had lied to him, the king said, 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.”

God is very clear in His Word about how important truth is for our relationship with Him and with others. In Zechariah 8:16-17, God told His people, “‘These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ Says the LORD.” When God declares specific things we should do, we should listen closely. God hates it when people take an oath in His name and then lie to their neighbor. Paul picked up on this Old Testament passage and quoted it to the Ephesian church when he wrote, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25). Paul takes this command given by Zechariah and directly applies this truth to each of us. Then notice, he gave the reason to speak the truth with our neighbor, “For we are members of one another.” You are members one of another in the body of Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of truth, because He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). If you are a part of Him, then speak the truth with your neighbor.

Quite often when I discuss this topic of lying people ask me, “What is a lie?” To answer this question from our text, the half-truth that Abraham told to King Abimelech about his wife Sarah was obviously a lie, and the king counted it as a lie. When you add or subtract from the facts of any circumstance or situation, which then does not give the full truth, that is a lie. When you embellish or exaggerate facts to make yourself look good or to make someone else to look bad, this is also a lie. When you say nothing and keep silent when you know the truth about any given circumstance, that is a lie. When you mislead someone who is inquiring about the truth of a story that they have heard, this is also a lie. When you promise to do something for another person knowing that you are not going to actually do it, this is a lie. When you plagiarize and steal someone else’s words, you are also lying. In other words, there are many different ways you can lie to others. The important thing to remember is, don’t do it. If you do lie, go back and humble yourself and tell the truth to that person, and ask their forgiveness.

2. The second lesson you can learn from Abraham’s failure is, that when you stumble in your faith, your behavior affects so many other people. Your sin doesn’t just affect you; it affects everyone around you. These effects can have devastating consequences that can last for a generation. Your failures will affect your spouse, your children, and your friendships. Abraham’s sin of lying brought a plague upon the entire household of Abimelech (Gen. 20:17-18). Think of the effects Jonah’s sin of rebellion had on everyone in the ship he was on (Jonah 1). When Achan sinned by taking from the accursed things of Jericho, he and his family all died, because they helped to cover up his sin. In addition, 36 men died trying to conquer the city of Ai (Joshua 7). When King David sinned with Bathsheba, her husband died, and David’s entire family paid the price for his lust. Sin is like a cancer in your body; don’t let it grow. Stop the lying, rebellion, or disobedience. Paul warned the church in Rome that, “None of us lives to himself,” because we all affect and influence each other (Rom. 14:7). So, I can guarantee you, that your sin is going to affect other people around you. I believe this is one of the reasons that God does not hide Abraham’s sin in this chapter, and is the same reason why He doesn’t hide anyone’s sin in the Bible. These recorded accounts are a warning to us, so that we won’t follow the same path.

Now you may think, Oh I would never have done what Abraham did. But this attitude will only ensure that you will do something just as foolish as what Abraham did. Paul warned of this thinking when he wrote, Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). You should never have a higher opinion of yourself than you ought. If you read the context of this verse, Paul gave us many examples of how the Israelites failed and sinned by disobeying God. When you read these examples of all of their failures, you may think, I couldn’t do that! But by Paul giving us these examples, and warning us not to think arrogantly, Scripture is in reality actually confirming to us that we can behave in the same ways. Any human being is capable of any evil known to man. If you think I’m overstating this, you don’t know yourself or the corruption of your own heart. Just listen to the thoughts that go through your mind at different times. The glorious thing is the promise Paul states in the very next verse when he declared that there is, No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). (NKJV). So even though you are capable of any sin, God is faithful and equally capable to always provide a way of escape, so that you can overcome it. What incredible grace this is!

3. The third lesson we can learn from this account is God’s graciousness to both Abimelech and Abraham. Both of these men experienced tremendous grace from God, when in reality He could have chastened both of them severely. God’s grace to Abimelech was that He came to this man in a dream and warned him not to take Sarah as his wife. Dreams are one of the ways that God spoke to people in those days, and He still uses dreams today. But, think about this encounter with God for a moment. If you went to sleep tonight and had a dream where God said to you as He did to Abimelech, “You are a dead man,” would that not get your attention? This is exactly what happened to Abimelech. When God told him that he was a dead man, this is how severe the Lord could have dealt with him if he didn’t listen and obey. He could have just killed the man, but He didn’t. Why didn’t God kill him? God told him that it was because, 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” (Gen. 20:6). God graciously intervened in this man’s life and kept him from sinning against God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah. Abimelech listened to God and obeyed Him, and allowed Sarah to go back to Abraham. This is why each of us needs to keep our hearts and ears tuned into what God is saying to each of us. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me” (John 10:27). This is also why you should have a daily devotional time studying the Word of God, praying about your needs, and waiting upon God to hear His voice so He can encourage and warn you. Jesus said in Matthew 11:15, “He who has ears to hear let him hear!” Do you have ears to hear what He is saying to you?

God was also very gracious to Abraham and Sarah. Because of God’s sovereign intervention, He stopped Sarah from being taken from Abraham to become Abimelech’s wife. If God did not intervene by His grace, how could have Abraham and Sarah have ever had the promised child of Isaac? Without Isaac being born to Abraham and Sarah, how could the Abrahamic linage to the Messiah been preserved? God also used an unbeliever to reprove both Abraham and Sarah for their failure with the truth. This is a sad commentary, but it was still God’s grace in action. Have you ever had a non-Christian reprove you? I had this happen to me when I was a brand-new Christian, and it wasn’t fun. I thought to myself, What a terrible witness I was to that person. I was embarrassed, but humbled in a good way. God’s grace to you, is His ability to use anyone to speak to you, and help you walk in righteousness. When you have one of these kinds of experiences, you will never forget it. I’m sure Abraham and Sarah never forgot Abimelech’s rebuke to them. 

4. The fourth lesson you should take away from this account is that God took into account Abimelech’s knowledge, sincerity, and his motive in taking Sarah for his wife. Notice what God said to King Abimelech, Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.’ But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, ‘Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? 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.’ And 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. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. Note that God acknowledged that He knew Abimelech had taken this action in the integrity of his heart. But what the king was about to do was still a sin before God. The important point here is that Abimelech didn’t know that he was about to commit a sin. God gave the king an opportunity to correct his error, and be spared the judgment of God. If Abimelech would not have corrected his mistake, and not given Sarah back to Abraham, what would have happened? He would have become a dead man. God took into account that this man had taken these actions in the innocence of his heart. God knows and understands when men do things like this, because He can see the hearts of all men (1 Kings 8:39). God knew that Abimelech had not intentionally desired to sin by taking another man’s wife. This is important, because all through the Old Testament you will see this principle taught of unintentional and intentional sin. These are clear categories of sin revealed in Scripture. Unintentional sin is taught in Numbers 15:25 where God declared, “The priest shall make atonement for the whole congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, for it was unintentional; they shall bring their offering, an offering made by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their unintended sin.” Notice that last little phrase that it was their unintended sin. In addition, the Bible teaches that a transgression is an intentional sin. This is when you know that God has drawn a line in the sand, and you choose to knowingly cross over that line. The first transgression was in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve knowingly chose to transgress God’s direct command to them (Gen. 3). One of the most powerful and important truths taught in the Bible is that, God will forgive unintentional sin, and even intentional transgressions against Him. David declared, Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2). But whether it is unintentional or intentional sin, the sin still needs to be repented of, and forgiven by God. In one of my favorite promises in Scripture, Micah the Prophet declared, Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18). Thank God that He delights in showing mercy, because we all need a lot of it!

5. The fifth and last thing you should take away from this chapter is the fact that God heard Abraham’s prayer and healed Abimelech and his wives. It appears from this account that an additional way God got Abimelech’s attention, was that God had closed the wombs of all of his household and his servants so they could not bear children. In Genesis 20:17 it declared that, “Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, and his wife and his female servants. Then they bore children.” This healing only took place as a result of God hearing Abraham’s prayer. For God to hear Abraham’s prayer meant that he must have repented of his lie and turned to God for His forgiveness. In addition, in the next chapter Abraham worships the Lord and calls on His name, which obviously proves that his relationship was restored with God (Gen. 21:33). Why do I bring this point up? It is so important to remember that, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). God heard Abraham’s prayer, not because he was a perfect man that never did anything wrong, but because he returned to bow before the Lord, and to get his heart right before Him. God promised in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is why God wants us to daily confess our sins, so He can forgive us our sins, because He wants us to have right hearts before Him. If you sense that distance between you and God, this is where you need to begin to restore your fellowship with Him. You need His cleansing work upon your heart every day of your life. All you have to do is ask. The Greek word ask in this passage in first John is in the present tense, which means that God wants you to continually ask. He wants you to continually ask Him so He can continually forgive you. Don’t allow your sin to harden your heart before Him! Confess your transgressions, and He will forgive you. He is always faithful to forgive, because He delights in mercy!