This is the second time in Abraham’s life where he has lost his wife to another man. In the first instance Pharaoh took her when they failed to disclose the truth of their marriage (Genesis 12:10-20). This time Abraham is in the Negev near Gerar and the local King takes his wife. What is fascinating is the interaction that God has with Abimelech the King. Let’s read it,
“You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?…I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” (Genesis 20:3-5)
There are a few points of interest here. First, ignorance is not an excuse when dealing with the wrath of God. Sin is punished whether it is entered into willfully or unintentionally. Abimelech must answer for the sin he has committed and his family is bearing the consequences of this sin.
…the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah. (Genesis 20:18)
Second, Abimelech asks a question, “Is God unjust, will he punish the innocent?” Just a few chapters earlier in the book, we encountered Abraham asking this same question in regard to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33). There we learned that God will not punish the righteous with the wicked. The same answer is expected here. (Note: Abimelech uses the same word tzaddik, which is translated righteous in Genesis 18 and innocent in our passage in the NIV.)
God is never unjust, only the guilty must suffer, however guilt is not always easy to discern. Which brings us to our third point. God alone keeps people from acting on their sinful desires. Abimelech, though with a clear conscience in his mind, had every intention of having sexual relations with Sarah. That is why he brought her into his home. And Jesus taught “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Abimelech is guilty, though in a different arena than he proposed. But praises be to God, for he alone kept the king from sinning in deed, though his intentions were not so honorable (Genesis 20:6b).
God keeps men and women from acting on their sinful desires and thereby increasing their guilt. And that truth is still applicable today, if God were to completely remove his protective hand from the interactions of humanity, the decadence would be unimaginable. But this still leaves a question: How is this guilt of unintentionally taking Abraham’s wife to be atoned? What must occur for life to be made normal again?
That is our fourth point this morning and the place where we find Jesus. Abimelech was required to seek the prayers of Abraham on his behalf. The Bible tells us,
Abraham prayed to God and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again…(Genesis 20:17)
If the king had not sought the prayers of Abraham, a prophet of God, then his guilt and punishment would have remained, even though his sin was unintentional. Now fast forward a few thousand years to your life and mine. As we live life, how often do we make decisions and perform actions or say things which are sinful? How often do we offend people with words we never meant to say, or actions we never intended to perform? Where are we to turn for salvation from these deeds? Abimelech turned to the prayers of Abraham, but we can turn to the prayers of Christ. Jesus is greater than Abraham. He can pray for our unintentional and intentional sins. He can forgive all our violations. He can pray for our wholeness and restoration. He can because he lived and died perfectly.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin, and they also tell us that he intercedes for us day and night, seeking our spiritual healing and welfare.
Therefore he [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
Let us give thanks to God Almighty that we have an advocate in heaven who transcends the ministry that Abraham offered on behalf of Abimelech. Our Lord is righteous and he saves those who are not.