|HOW THE SOUTH WAS FUN... AGAIN
Series: Abraham - Part Seven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 19, 2017
This morning we are at Genesis 20 studying the life of… Abraham. Some back fill to get us all up to date with where we’ve been and where we are.
We’ve been following God at work in His creation. Genesis begins with God creating… creation. Out of nothing. Then forming the earth and Adam and Eve. God breathing life into them. The Fall and things going down hill since then. Sin and judgment. And yet hope. What is foundational for what comes next.
Which has brought us to Abraham. God calling out a person - a family - the beginnings of His people. God’s blessing them and extending through them His blessing to all peoples - even to us as we come to salvation in Jesus - Who is a descendant of Abraham.
Through Abraham God is a work in His creation - in our history as mankind. Through Abraham God has been showing us what that looks like in real time. What does it look like to live life with the living God? What does that look like for us to live life by faith in God and to experience God’s presence and blessing in our lives - even being used by God for His purposes and God’s glory.
We are at chapter 20. We’re skipping chapters 18 and 19. In part because chapters 18 and 19 focus on Lot and God judging Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins. All of which is important. But our focus is on Abraham and the lessons of faith he learned as he lived life with God and our following the main trail of God’s work through history.
Question: How many of you have ever done something really stupid? Just royally messed up? We’ve all done stupid. Right?
“Say, what’s a mountain goat doing way up here in a cloud bank?”
“Shh. Zog!... Here comes one now!” (Who’s capturing who?)
Look in the side view mirror and think about the direction the other cars are going on the freeway.
So, question: Have you ever done the same stupid thing more than once? That includes just about all of us. By the way, lying to the pastor - before God - in church - on Sunday - is included as stupid.
What we’re going to see - here in chapter 20 - is a time when Abraham really messed up - made a huge mistake in not trusting God - again. Abraham boldly going where all of us have been before.
Read with me verses 1 and 2: Abraham’s Mistake
From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
Verse 1 begins “From there…” From where?
Looking at the map. Abraham was up by the oaks of Mamre near Hebron. Mamre was an Amorite ally of Abraham. Apparently there were oak trees in the area that were associated with Mamre.
“Mamre” means “fatness” or “strength.” “Hebron” is a word that means “association” or “fellowship.”
What we’ve seen in previous chapters is that while Abraham is dwelling by those oaks and his ally Mamre Abraham has also been in fellowship with God. Abraham’s soul has been made fat - full - strengthened by God. Where Abraham is at is a place of spiritual supply and fellowship with God where Abraham comes and pitches his tent and builds an altar - worships God - dwells with God - experiences the strength and supply of God in his life.
For some reason Abraham decides to leave that place of blessing and journey down towards the Negeb - the great southern desert - where he settles in an area between Kadesh and the Wilderness of Shur. Could have been that Abraham - dwelling in tents - being a nomad who owned a lot of flocks - maybe he moved south looking for better grazing land.
Did God tell Abraham to move or did Abraham make that decision for himself? We don’t know. But it is interesting that usually we’re told, “Thus God spake unto Abraham…” Not here.
For whatever reason Abraham leaves this place of dwelling with God - the oaks of Mamre - heads south - then after a period of time heads back up to Gerar.
A place that looks like this today.
Then, verse 2 tells us that: Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.”
We saw back in chapter 12 - and we’re going to see a few verses farther down in this chapter that Abraham isn’t exactly lying. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister.
Terah’s first wife - Abraham’s mother - had died. Terah - Abraham’s father - had remarried and had Sarah - Abraham’s 1/2 sister - by his second wife. So Abraham isn’t exactly lying. But, he isn’t exactly telling the truth either. He’s straining the truth - just a little bit.
Happens all the time today. Right? Truth is only a matter of perspective. Get over it.
It seems like such a simple statement: “She’s my sister.” But, the consequences are huge. Consequence number one is that Abimelech - King of Gerar - takes Sarah to be his wife.
Which is déjà vu but different.
Back in Genesis 12 - in what was a very similar situation - Abraham trusting his own whit, wisdom, and working and not God - Abraham heading south to find food - Abraham ends up in Egypt and gets Sarah to say that she’s his sister. So Pharaoh - who thought Sarah was stunningly beautiful - Pharaoh takes Sarah to be his wife.
But that was about 20 to 25 years ago. Here in chapter 20, nothing is said about Sarah’s physical beauty. Sarah is pushing 90.
Let’s be careful. We’re not saying anything against senior citizens. I’ve recently become one myself. But, we have to ask - why would a king - who has the pick of all the young gorgeous babes in the kingdom - why would he choose an 89 year old - beyond the age of having children - senior citizen for his harem?
Two probable reasons.
One - Abimelech chooses Sarah because - first off - she’s part of a really really wealthy family: Abraham’s.
And second - because Abraham and his clan are the new clan in town. A relatively large and powerful clan. So this is a marriage of political and financial alliance. An opportunity to share wealth and strategic advantage with the new neighbors.
Point being: While Abraham should have been trusting God Abraham is trusting himself - which is always a mistake. Abraham leaves a place of God’s blessing and presence and provision to end up in Gerar where he’s wheeling and dealing with his wife in order to better position himself with Abimelech. As a result - Sarah ends up in Abimelech’s harem.
Verses 3 to 7 bring us to God’s Warning.
Let’s read together at verse 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.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 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.” 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. 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.”
Notice 2 things. First: Abimelech’s integrity.
In verse 4 - Abimelech says, “Are you going to wipe out our whole nation even though we’re innocent?” The word here in Hebrew for “innocent” means being “righteous” - meaning being right before God. Meaning: “Before God, we’ve done nothing wrong.”
In verse 5 Abimelech lays the blame squarely on Abraham. “He lied. I had no idea she was his wife.” “In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”
The word “integrity” has the idea of having a pure conscience - no hidden motives. What you see is what there is.
“Innocent” here is a different word Hebrew. Here it means without guilt. The word in Hebrew has the idea of having clean teeth.
With Abimelech there is no hidden motivation - no guilt - no sin waiting to be found out and punished.
When God confronts Abimelech with the reality that Sarah is Abraham’s wife - Abimelech flat out tells God, “I’m innocent. There’s nothing here that you can punish me for.” How many of us could say that?
That response takes either stupidity, lunacy, or guts coming from an pure heart. ‘Cause God knows the heart.
Grab this: When Abimelech says “I’m innocent.” God agrees.
Abimelech is one righteous king - living in integrity before God. Abimelech is a God fearing man trying to live in obedience - in righteousness - before God.
Second - notice God’s grace.
“You’re a dead man” is generally not something we want to hear coming from God.
But God doesn’t wipe out Abimelech. “You sinned.” POOF! No more Abimelech. Instead God intervenes before Abimelech “approaches” Sarah. That’s God graciously stepping into Abimelech’s life and keeping Him back from sin.
If Abimelech had had sexual relations with Sarah we would never have been certain who Isaac’s father really was. God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham becomes questionable. The very lineage of the Messiah comes into question.
God prevents all that. Abimelech never lays a hand on Sarah. God tells Abimelech how to get out of the situation and get things back on track. “Restore her to her husband.”
Which is God’s grace towards us who are undeserving recipients of God’s fulfilled promise in Jesus.
God keeps innocent Abimelech from sinning by warning Abimelech about something he had no clue he was involved with - a situation brought about by Abraham’s mistake. God’s warning and grace in the midst of the potential disaster of Abraham’s sin.
Verses 8 to 10 are Abimelech’s Response to God’s warning.
Verse 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. 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.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you see, that you did this thing?”
Notice 2 things about how Abimelech responded. First: Abimelech’s response is immediate.
“Early in the morning” meaning first thing in the morning - before the coffee and hummus. Abimelech gets all the servants together. Tells them what’s going on. Gets everyone on the same page - the same plan of action. “What we’re going through is a God thing. This is what God wants done.”
Must have been convincing. The men are not just afraid. They’re “very much afraid.” We are so toast if we don’t do what’s right here.
Then Abimelech summons Abraham and chews out his hide. What have you done? What did we ever do to you to deserve this? Look at how we’re suffering. This disaster is because of you. Even God is ticked at us. You’ve done things to me - my servants - my kingdom - that no one should ever do to anyone else.
Grab this: Abraham - the great man of faith - the example to us - the patriarch - the recipient of God’s covenant promises - the one through whom God is to bless nations - who is called by God to lead his family in righteousness - Abraham is called out by this king from Gerar - who is more obedient - at this point more faithful - to God than Abraham.
Second - notice Abimelech’s question - verse 10: “What made you do this? What could you have possibly been thinking?” Ever asked yourself that question? “What was I thinking?”
Imagine Abraham standing there - in front of Abimelech the king - in front of this crowd of the king’s servants. The men who are potentially impotent - the women who are miscarrying - or at least barren. All of them aware of what Abraham did to his wife - very much afraid knowing that - because of Abraham - the wrath of God hangs over them. People who are not too pleased with Abraham at the moment. Abraham standing there in front of his family - his servants - Hagar - Ishmael - his wife Sarah. Before God.
Can you hear the crickets chirping? A little rustle of a breeze stirring up the dust?
Abraham stands in front of this crowd and is suppose to give a justifiable reason. To say the least it is a tough - embarrassing - called on the carpet - moment of truth.
Ever been there? In that moment when we’re brought face to face with our sin?
Going on - verses 11 to 13 are Abraham’s answer.
Verse 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.’ Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. 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.”’”
Walk with me through this. Verse 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.’
Abraham - you’ve just been chewed out by the king you thought had no fear of God - because Abimelech and his people have a great respect for God - a great righteousness motivating fear of God. And even if they didn’t fear God what about you? God is still God - even in places where they don’t fear Him. God is still sovereign. For 9 chapters that’s what God has been showing you - and us. Abraham where was your trust in God?
Verse 12: “Well, she actually is my sister…”
Oh, that clears it up. No problem…. “Liar, liar, toga’s on fire.” No matter how much rationalizing we do. A lie is a lie is a lie is a lie. Technicalities don’t count. Call it what we want. Sin is still sin.
Verse 13: “Well, it was God who caused me to want wander from my father’s house…”
Genesis 3: Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. They’re hiding in the bushes because the know they’re naked. God asks Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?”
Adam’s response? “If You hadn’t given me that woman this never would have happened!” So much for God blessing Adam with the bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh helpmeet. (Genesis 2:23; 3:1-12)
“God - if You hadn’t called me out of Ur and led me down here to Canaan - if You hadn’t rescued me from Egypt and dwelt with me at Mamre - if You hadn’t helped me to rescue Lot and royally blessed me and offered so much to me and been so gracious and faithful to me - if You hadn’t totally royally blessed my sandals off - none of this would have ever happened!”
None of us would ever do that. Right? Blame God for our sin.
If God is a god of love then what about all the crud that goes on? The only reason there’s evil in the world is because of God. All these horrible things that keep happening to me are because of God. “I had to lie to you because God blessed me.” Does that sound a little weak?
All of us are collection of atoms created by God out of nothing and held together by God’s will. God who breathes life into us and calls us to a forever relationship with Him and makes the very means of that relationship possible through Jesus - God Himself giving His life in place of ours. God Who chooses to use us for His glory. God Who is longsuffering and patient and forgiving and keeps pouring out His grace and mercy and love on us even in the midst of the horrendous self-destructive situations we get ourselves into because of our sin.
In the places we do life - never take responsibility for your own actions - unless it’s to your benefit to do so. Always blame others when something goes wrong.
Which is reality when we step out from under God’s blessing - when we’re going it alone - it becomes so easy to blame everyone else for our problems - even God. Truth being a matter of perspective. So easy to rationalize away our own guilt and responsibility. So easy to rationalize sin. Regardless of the cost to others.
Verse 13: ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’
As nomads - wandering from place to place - Abraham and Sarah are going to encounter all kinds of new circumstances - new customs - new people - some of them very hostile. Having an eligible for marriage woman along would have made Abraham welcome - at the least he had a bargaining chip.
Probably - maybe as far back as Ur - then as Abraham and Sarah headed south to Canaan - they’d worked out an arrangement where they would lie about Sarah’s marital relationship with Abraham. A strategy - the ultimate end of which was to preserve Abraham’s neck.
Same strategy they used on Pharaoh in Egypt - trusting themselves and not God - lied to Pharaoh in Egypt with disastrous results. And, even after all that Abraham had learned about trusting God - same strategy - trusting themselves and not God - same strategy they used on Abimelech - who took Sarah because of her wealth and the potential alliance with Abraham.
Bottom line: Abraham’s answer is about Abraham explaining why he did what he did not about his trying to hide what he did. It is the ugly and the bad on display in 3D Imax before everyone. To his credit Abraham comes clean.
Abraham - what was the reason you did this to us? Answer: Because - once again - “I though” verses “I trusted.”
Mistake being not that Abraham used his brains. It wasn’t that he thought. But that his thoughts were focused on himself and not God.
Result being I was willing to lie and deceive people - to cause harm to others - to put my wife and God’s plan in jeopardy - to blame others even God - in order to take care of myself.
Verses 14 to 16 focus on Abimelech’s generosity.
Verse 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. And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 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.”
That cuts. Doesn’t it? “Behold, I have given your brother” - just a tad sarcastic. A thousand pieces of silver. “Your brother may not be concerned about your innocence - your reputation. But I am.”
The sinfulness of Abraham - the man through whom God’s blessing was to come to the nations - the sinfulness of Abraham is outdone by the generosity of Abimelech.
Abraham is giving sheep and oxen and servants - oh my. He’s given the pick of the land - whatever land he chooses is his. He’s given a thousand pieces of silver was to let everyone know that Sarah hadn’t been touched. Abraham is her only husband. Isaac is Abraham’s son. Something we need to know even today.
Point being: God uses Abimelech to bless Abraham and to restore Sarah.
Then in verse 17 is God’s Restoration of Abraham.
Verse 17: Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children. For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife.
What we see here is God’s forgiveness. God’s grace. God again using Abraham according to His purposes. Abraham still regarded as a prophet. Abraham still someone who walks and talks with God. Abraham to whom God’s promises have been given.
Processing all that…
That all should be an encouragement to us. Something to take home with us today. God isn’t focused on our failures. He’s focused on our restoration - on moving us forward in our relationship with Him.
Try that with me: “God isn’t focused on my failure. He’s focused on my restoration. He’s focused on my relationship with Him.”
How would you answer the question? Same question given to Abraham: “How could you do such a thing?”
Abraham learning so much about God and then ending up sinning in the same way he did 20 plus years earlier. Abraham heading south to Egypt - lying about Sarah to Pharaoh - and because God is gracious being restored - heading south to the Negev and Gerar - lying about Sarah to Abimelech - and because God is gracious being restored… again.
We can learn so much about God - how incredibly faithful He is - see His hand of healing and restoration and blessing and provision - His mercy and grace and love - poured out into our lives.
And then we fall back into the same patterns of sin - exposing ourselves to the same trash - clicking on the same sites - eating or drinking or smoking what’s killing us - we indulge ourselves with thoughts and attitudes that are ungodly and self-destructive - use the same foul language - treat our spouses horribly - our children cruelty - let our ego and pride rule our actions and attitudes.
Add your own favorite failure. We all know the disaster and destruction and death of that failure.
It’s a cycle of sin we head into. Familiar circumstances - attitudes and actions - temptations and anxieties - times of the year - cycles of life - the default response is sin. Failure and guilt. Again. Then a crying out for forgiveness and healing and restoration.
How could we do such a thing?
Years ago I read story about some scientists who decided to genetically engineer a fish that could live outside water.
Maybe you’ve heard this?
They selected some healthy herring. They bred and crossbred - and did all the genetic manipulations needed - until they produced a fish that could exist outside of water.
But, the project director wasn’t satisfied. He suspected that though the fish had learned to live on dry land, it still had a secret desire for water.
“Re-educate it,” he said. “Change its very desires.”
So again they went to work - this time retraining even the strongest reflexes. The result was a fish that would rather die than get wet. Even humidity filled this new fish with dread.
The director - proud of his triumph - took the fish on tour. During that tour - accidentally - the fish fell into a lake. It sank to the bottom - eyes and gills clamped shut - afraid to move - lest it become wetter. Of course it dared not breathe - every instinct said “NO!” And yet, it had to breathe.
The fish drew a tentative gill-full. Its eyes bulged. It breathed again and flicked a fin. It breathed a third time and wriggled with delight. Then it darted away. The fish had discovered water. Proving that you can take a fish out of water but you can’t take the water out of the fish.
How can we do this to ourselves over and over again? Answer: Because we’re still human beings - living in a fallen world - well adapted to sin. Which isn’t an excuse. It’s a reality. You can take the sinner out of the pattern of sin but how do we take the pattern of sin out of the sinner?
How do we get free of all that?
Paul writes about his own struggles with sin - familiar verse - read it with me: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)
We’ve all been there. Yes?
Answer - verse 25: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The answer isn’t to work harder to avoid falling off the cliff of sin. When we’re trying to avoid the cliff we’re focusing on the cliff and we’re going to fall off it every time. We can’t avoid the cliff by our own will, wisdom, and working. We’re humanity living in fallen humanity.
The answer isn’t to work at avoiding the cliff. It’s to keep moving closer to the mountain - to Jesus.
Abraham would have been all right if he’d just kept his focus on God.
We need to run to Jesus now before we’re on the edge and wondering how we fell off. To do whatever it takes to stay focused on Him. The disciplines of Bible study and prayer and godly fellowship and accountability and worship. What we listen to and read and who we hang with. What we expose ourselves to. Commitment to Christ and the Body of Christ. The choices we make - do those keep us moving toward Jesus or the cliff of sin?
We need to be crying out to God to seize control of our lives and keep us moving towards Him. To take from us anything that would keep us from Him. Crying out to God because - in a humanity under the control of Satan and focused on sin - the power to stay focused on God can only come from God.
One last take home. For the next time we fall off the cliff. God did restore Abraham... again. Hang on to that.
God isn’t focused on our failures. He’s focused on our restoration - on moving us forward in our relationship with Him.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.