What does Genesis 20 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Genesis 20:1–18 describes what happens when Abraham once again moves to a new place and insists on lying that Sarah is merely his sister and not his wife. Abimelech, the king of Gerar, takes Sarah as one of his wives. He is soon struck with an illness and visited in a dream with a warning from God that he will die if he doesn't return Sarah to Abraham and if Abraham doesn't pray for him. Sarah is returned untouched, Abraham prays, and all are healed.
Chapter Summary:
Here, Abraham practically duplicates one of the oddest episodes in his earlier life. As he did with the Egyptians in Genesis chapter 12, Abraham moves through a new area and claims that Sarah is his sister. The king of Gerar, Abimelech, takes Sarah for one of his wives, but he is soon struck ill. God appears and tells Abimelech he will die for taking a married woman. Abimelech insists he did not know and has not slept with Sarah. The Lord says that if he returns her, and if Abraham prays for them, all will be healed.
Chapter Context:
After the dramatic events of the previous chapters, Abraham moves south of Gaza to Gerar. As he did in Egypt, he claims that his wife is his sister. The king of Gerar, Abimelech, takes Sarah as his wife, but is soon struck ill and never approaches her. The Lord offers to spare Abimelech and his household if he will return Sarah and if Abraham will pray for them. Sarah is returned. All are healed, including all the women who have been unable to bear children. In the following chapter, Sarah herself will finally bear Abraham a son—an outcome God safeguards through His actions in this chapter.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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