Adventures in Faith – Abraham 11. A Saint Who Acted Like a Pagan
Genesis 20 The Bible tells the truth about people. It shows the whole range of human activity—including the dark side. You will find stories of murder, theft, embezzlement, drunkenness, adultery, rage, moral perversion, rape, revenge, mass murder, corrupt officials, bribery, religious charlatans, to name only a few examples. Total depravity teaches us that sin has affected every part of the personality—body, mind, spirit, emotions, will, conscience, intellect and soul. All of us are tainted with sin and that tainting has reached to every part of your life. All of us have sinned and all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. This is true even of the best saints. This is the story of 2 people who appear to have switched roles. Abraham is the saint and Abimelech the pagan, but Abraham looks like a pagan and Abimelech like a saint – v. 1, 2. When Abraham and Sarah entered the area, word came to Abimelech the king that a beautiful woman had come to town. As was the custom, the king could take any unmarried woman and add her to his harem. Abraham, fearing that the king might have him murdered in order to obtain Sarah, lied about Sarah, calling her his sister instead of his wife. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is not the first time Abraham has told this particular lie.
1. Why Abraham Lied Again A. He feared for his life v. 11 Abraham made 2 mistakes. 1. He assumed that no one in Gerar feared God. But in this story Abimelech clearly respected the Lord. 2. He ascribed evil motives to Abimelech for no good reason. It’s true that they might have killed him because of his wife, but even so, that still would not have justified his sin.
B. He rationalised his lie v. 12 Sarah was his half-sister, so he could justify his lie by saying it is partly true. But in this case, a half-truth is really a whole lie since Abraham’s intention was to cover the truth, not to reveal it.
C. He talked Sarah into joining him v. 13 This reveals the low state of Abraham’s thinking. In a sense, he appears to be blaming God causing the problem by making him leave his father’s household. Then he uses a line that men have been using forever: “If you really love me, you will …” While Sarah may be faulted for going along with the lie, clearly the responsibility rests squarely on Abraham’s shoulders. We do not have to look far for the underlying cause of Abraham’s sin: Lack of faith in God! Because he doubted God could take care of him, he decided to lie in order to “help God out.” But God doesn’t need that kind of “help.”
2 kinds of theology: Big God & Little Me or Little God & Big Me When your God is big, your view of yourself will be small enough that you won’t stoop to foolish deception as a way of life. It is only when your God is too small that you are forced to compromise your standards. At this point, Abraham has a “Little God” and feels compelled to take matters in his own hands. Abraham’s sin was cowardly - It was deliberate - It was dishonest - It jeopardised Sarah’s purity - It misled an innocent man - It dishonored God - It destroyed Abraham’s testimony. God could have used Abraham as a witness in Gerar if only he had told the truth. But because he lied, he not only lost his testimony, he lost any opportunity to witness for the Lord. “When good men do wrong they do worse harm than when bad men do wrong.” That’s because we expect bad men to act bad, we expect fools to be foolish and the ungodly to be ungodly. So when they do wrong, we are never surprised. In fact, we’re surprised when the ungodly do good. But the world expects Christians to have higher moral standards. They expect us to live differently than they do. When we don’t, we hurt the cause of Christ and drive men and women away from the kingdom of God. How much better it would have been if Abraham had told the truth - trusted God - accepted the consequences!
2. How God Judged Him v. 8, 9 Once again God allowed Abraham to be publicly exposed and humiliated in the eyes of pagans. Just as in Egypt, Abraham’s clever deception was shown in all its ugly reality. This, too, was the grace of God at work because unless we see our sins as they really are, we will be tempted to excuse ourselves and say of sin, “Well, that may be wrong but it’s not so bad.” Proverbs reminds us that he who covers his sin will not prosper. Because he can see in the darkness as well as in the light, God specialises in uncovering the hidden sins of his children, which is why the things whispered in secret will one day be shouted from the housetops. What happened to Abraham will happen sooner or later to anyone who attempts to sin secretly.
3. How God Protected Him Having said that, it may seem strange to speak of God “protecting” Abraham. Even though Abraham is clearly in the wrong, still God has his children and the devil has his, and never shall the 2 be confused. God still fixed his love on Abraham, and since he was God’s child and Abimelech was not, he would be supernaturally protected by God, whether he deserved it or not. We see God’s protection of Abraham in at least 4 ways:
A. By warning Abimelech in a dream v. 3 - 7 Abimelech had no idea who Sarah really was and he had no idea of Abraham’s importance in the plan of God. When he claims innocence before, it is the innocence of the man who unknowingly violated a law. But just as “innocence of the law is no excuse” in a human court, neither will that excuse suffice in the Courtroom of the Lord. Here God not only warns Abimelech, he also shows him the way of escape. He must return Sarah to Abraham and then ask the prophet to pray for him. If he does not, then he and all his household will die.
B. By striking Abimelech with physical sickness v. 17 Evidently God struck Abimelech with a disease (perhaps a sexually-transmitted disease) that prevented him from physically having a relationship with Sarah. As painful as it may have been, this was also God’s grace shown to a pagan because it kept him from committing adultery.
C. By closing the wombs in Abimelech’s household v. 17, 18 This was a warning to Abimelech of the terrible mistake he had made in taking another man’s wife into his harem. As the king, he had the right to have any unmarried woman he wanted, but he could not take a man’s wife, especially the wife of a prophet of God. By closing the wombs, the Lord would end Abimelech’s line and his throne would eventually be taken by someone else. God showed how far he was willing to go to protect his own children even in their disobedience.
D. By exposing his sin publicly This forced Abraham to deal with his own sinful behavior. It exposed a continuing a weakness in his own life. It prevented him from continuing on in sin and making even greater mistakes. It served as a warning to those watching that God hates adultery. It established the fact that God will not sit idly by while his children live in sin. It protected Sarah from the sin of adultery. It protected the promised “seed” from corruption at the hands of pagans. Spurgeon - “God will not allow His children to sin successfully.” We may sin, and sin repeatedly, and some sins we may indulge in for long periods of time, but the truth remains that God will intervene in the lives of his children to frustrate them when they desire to live in sin. We may go to the “Far Country,” intending to spend all that we have on riotous living, but in the end, like the Prodigal Son, we will end up in the pigsty. God sees to it that all his children must fail at sin eventually. This, too, is the grace of God, though it will not always seem so at the time.
4. What We May Learn From This Story
A. We may struggle in some areas of life till the day we die. In saying this, I realise that I am at odds with certain optimistic views of the Christian life currently in fashion. There are those people who insist that to speak of recurrent sins is to deny the reality of the new life given to us at the moment of salvation. Some people appear to believe in a watered-down form of sinlessness that downplays the reality of sin and the inner corruption that is ours by virtue of our union with Adam. “Isn’t that a discouraging message?” It may be but it is true. I have a pain in my ankles that makes walking difficult. The doctor tells me that I have a degenerative osteoarthritis that may be treated with medicine but never completely cured. With medication, the pain can be brought under control, but the condition will stay with me. How do I respond? I thank the doctor for telling the truth and not giving me false hope. The same must be true in the spiritual realm. Romans 7 means that we will struggle with sin till the day we die. The believer struggles daily with the inner desire to sin. No one in this life ever grows to the place where sin no longer tempts you. Having said that, I believe that through God’s grace, great victories are won in the struggle with sin. Some sins will be conquered, thank God. We can grow in the grace of God by putting to death the deeds of the flesh. It is certainly true that we will see some measure of spiritual victory as we day by day struggle against sin. Yet having won the victory against some particular sin, we must never say, “I’ll never do that again.” You simply don’t know what you might or might not do given the right circumstances. Let him who thinks he stands, take care lest he fall. I am not proud or happy that sin remains in me. Yet I cannot deny that I am both a saved person and “the chief of sinners” and this is true at the same time. We should not be surprised that we struggle with some areas of life for many years, that any “victory” over sin will be partial and temporary, and that sin itself will remain with us until the day we die.
B. No one ever arrives at a state where they are beyond temptation. 1 Corinthians 10 reveals that the temptation to sin, in many different forms and disguises, will be with us forever. The great danger against which Paul warns us is the danger of presumption. It is precisely when we think we have “arrived” spiritually that we are in the most danger. Temptation is “common to man” precisely because all of us face temptations every single day.
C. When we refuse to deal honestly with our weaknesses, God will allow us to be tested in those areas again and again If a child refuses to learn obedience to his parents, God will place that child under a tough coach in school, or a demanding teacher. If the child still doesn’t learn obedience to authority, God does the same thing later. If the child still rebels, God allows him to work under a harsh boss or may put him in the army where he will be forced to learn submission. Ultimately, if a child will not learn this lesson, he may end up in prison. The same principle applies to life: Sexual temptation, crude language, anger, lying, and so on. If we refuse to face our sins, we will simply be tested in those areas over and over again. Marriage is the ultimate testing ground. We may hide our faults from others, but sooner or later the sandpaper of married life will rub off all our hypocrisies. They say that “love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.” Marriage is one of God’s best tools to help us see ourselves as we really are. Marriage is a “means of grace” God uses not only to expose our faults, but also to motivate us to spiritual growth and maturity.
D. Honest pagans sometimes appear to be more righteous than backslidden Christians. Abimelech looks more righteous that Abraham. That shouldn’t surprise us because when the righteous sin, they may sink even lower than an unbeliever. That’s why Christians say, “I’d rather hire an honest unbeliever”/ “I don’t want to work for a Christian.”
E. God’s grace will most often be seen following our own personal failures. This is a word of hope. Abraham experienced God’s grace throughout and in spite of his own deception. The same is true for us. Grace is always at work in our lives, but we will appreciate it most after a personal failure. That’s when we need grace the most.
F. God does his best work with imperfect people!!! This story should lead to a time of honest self-examination. Are there hidden areas of your life where you have harboured sin in your heart? If we are not ruthless with ourselves, we stand in danger of doing exactly what Abraham did. This should drive us back to the Cross for the forgiveness we need. If you feel a failure because of the past, you need not despair. Grace abounds to those with the courage to confess their sins. God never turns away anyone who comes to him in the name of His Son. The only person who can never be saved is the person who thinks he doesn’t need salvation. For the rest of us, there is abundant grace and mercy to pardon all our sins.