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Genesis chapter 20

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

8So 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. 9Then 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.' 10And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?' 11Abraham said, 'Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. 12Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife; 13and 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.'?’?' 14Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned his wife Sarah to him. 15Abimelech said, 'Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.' 16To 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.' 17Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his female slaves, so that they gave birth to children. 18For the Lord had completely closed all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

New King James Version

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).
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