CHOOSE YOUR BIBLE VERSION

Genesis chapter 20

New International Version

1 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, 'You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.'
4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, 'Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, 'He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.'
6 Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.'
8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, 'What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.' 10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, 'What was your reason for doing this?'
11 Abraham replied, 'I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.' 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, 'He is my brother.'''
14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelek said, 'My land is before you; live wherever you like.'
16 To Sarah he said, 'I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.'
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the LORD had kept all the women in Abimelek's household from conceiving because of Abraham's wife Sarah.
English Standard Version

1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?” 11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13 And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 16 To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.” 17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. 18 For the LORD had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
King James Version

1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.
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. 4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? 5 Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this. 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. 7 Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.
8 Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid. 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. 10 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing? 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. 12 And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. 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.
14 And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife. 15 And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee. 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. 17 So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children. 18 For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife.
New American Standard Bible

1 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he lived for a time in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' So Abimelech king of Gerar sent men and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, 'Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.' 4 Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, 'Lord, will You kill a nation, even though blameless? 5 Did he himself not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.' 6 Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, know that you will certainly die, you and all who are yours.'
8 So Abimelech got up early in the morning and called all his servants, and told all these things in their presence; and the people were greatly frightened. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, 'What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.' 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?' 11 Abraham said, 'Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. 12 Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife; 13 and it came about, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is the kindness which you will show to me: everywhere we go, say of me, 'He is my brother.'?’?' 14 Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned his wife Sarah to him. 15 Abimelech said, 'Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.' 16 To Sarah he said, 'Look, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is your vindication before all who are with you, and before everyone you are cleared.' 17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his female slaves, so that they gave birth to children. 18 For the LORD had completely closed all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
New Living Translation

1 Abraham moved south to the Negev and lived for a while between Kadesh and Shur, and then he moved on to Gerar. While living there as a foreigner, 2 Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, 'She is my sister.' So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace.
3 But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, 'You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!'
4 But Abimelech had not slept with her yet, so he said, 'Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Didn't Abraham tell me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'Yes, he is my brother.' I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.'
6 In the dream God responded, 'Yes, I know you are innocent. That's why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don't return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.'
8 Abimelech got up early the next morning and quickly called all his servants together. When he told them what had happened, his men were terrified. 9 Then Abimelech called for Abraham. 'What have you done to us?' he demanded. 'What crime have I committed that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? No one should ever do what you have done! 10 Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?'
11 Abraham replied, 'I thought, 'This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.' 12 And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. 13 When God called me to leave my father's home and to travel from place to place, I told her, 'Do me a favor. Wherever we go, tell the people that I am your brother.''
14 Then Abimelech took some of his sheep and goats, cattle, and male and female servants, and he presented them to Abraham. He also returned his wife, Sarah, to him. 15 Then Abimelech said, 'Look over my land and choose any place where you would like to live.' 16 And he said to Sarah, 'Look, I am giving your 'brother' 1,000 pieces of silver in the presence of all these witnesses. This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you. This will settle any claim against me, and your reputation is cleared.'
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants, so they could have children. 18 For the LORD had caused all the women to be infertile because of what happened with Abraham's wife, Sarah.
Christian Standard Bible

1 From there Abraham traveled to the region of the Negev and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While he was staying in Gerar, 2 Abraham said about his wife Sarah, "She is my sister." So King Abimelech of Gerar had Sarah brought to him.
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, "You are about to die because of the woman you have taken, for she is a married woman."
4 Now Abimelech had not approached her, so he said, "Lord, would you destroy a nation even though it is innocent? 5 Didn't he himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' I did this with a clear conscience and clean hands."
6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that you did this with a clear conscience. I have also kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I have not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, know that you will certainly die, you and all who are yours."
8 Early in the morning Abimelech got up, called all his servants together, and personally told them all these things, and the men were terrified.
9 Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said to him, "What have you done to us? How did I sin against you that you have brought such enormous guilt on me and on my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done." 10 Abimelech also asked Abraham, "What made you do this?"
11 Abraham replied, "I thought, 'There is absolutely no fear of God in this place. They will kill me because of my wife.' 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 13 So when God had me wander from my father's house, I said to her: Show your loyalty to me wherever we go and say about me: 'He's my brother.'"
14 Then Abimelech took flocks and herds and male and female slaves, gave them to Abraham, and returned his wife Sarah to him. 15 Abimelech said, "Look, my land is before you. Settle wherever you want." 16 And he said to Sarah, "Look, I am giving your brother one thousand pieces of silver. It is a verification of your honor to all who are with you. You are fully vindicated."
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female slaves so that they could bear children, 18 for the LORD had completely closed all the wombs in Abimelech's household on account of Sarah, Abraham's wife.

What does Genesis chapter 20 mean?

Genesis chapter 20 should be familiar to anyone who has read Genesis chapter 12. In the prior account, Abraham and his household moved to Egypt to escape a devastating famine (Genesis 12:10). Worried that the people would see how beautiful his wife was and kill him to get her, Abraham asked her to lie and say she was his sister (Genesis 12:13). This was a half-truth: they shared the same father, but different mothers (Genesis 20:12).

Perhaps Abraham imagined that, as her brother, any proposals would be brought to him and he could simply refuse them. That didn't work. A Pharaoh in Egypt took Sarah for one of his wives (Genesis 12:15). In that first series of incidents, God intervened. Sarah was returned (Genesis 12:19). Abraham and his household left Egypt with far more than they had brought in. God blessed Abraham in spite of his fear and faithlessness (Genesis 12:16; 12:20).

Here in chapter 20, a similar pattern emerges. Abraham and company pull up stakes at Mamre and move to a place called Gerar, south of Gaza. Once again, Abraham and Sarah lie: claiming they are brother and sister (Genesis 20:13). The intent is to disguise the fact that they are married. Again, the most powerful man in the region, King Abimelech, takes this supposedly unattached woman for one of his wives (Genesis 20:2).

God's promise to Abraham and Sarah, to provide them a natural-born child, is now at risk. God's actions demonstrate both His faithfulness and His mercy. God afflicts Abimelech with an illness and "closes the wombs" of all the women in his household (Genesis 20:18). Then God appears to Abimelech in a dream, announcing that Abimelech will die for taking a married woman as his wife (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech responds truthfully that he has not yet approached Sarah and that he acted with full integrity, believing her to be Abraham's sister (Genesis 20:4–5). The Lord agrees. If Abimelech will return Sarah, Abraham will pray for them, and Abimelech and all of his household will live. If not, they will all die (Genesis 20:7).

Abimelech confronts Abraham about his lie and demands to know why he did it (Genesis 20:9). Abraham's excuse is his fear of being killed by someone who would take Sarah as a wife. He explains that she is, in fact, his half-sister, though also his wife (Genesis 20:12). The answer reveals, once more, Abraham's lack of confidence in God to protect him and Sarah, in spite of all of the ways God has shown Himself faithful.

Abimelech returns Sarah, along with gifts of animals, servants, choice land, and a large sum of silver to show Sarah's innocence and protect her reputation (Genesis 20:14–16). Abraham prays to God. Abimelech is healed. His wife and the women of his household are once again able to bear children.

Soon, just as promised (Genesis 17:15–16), Sarah will bear a child of her own (Genesis 21:1–2).