God has just destroyed Sodom, whether by miracle or providence. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, has escaped to Zoar. Abraham has witnessed Sodom’s destruction after talking with Jesus about sparing the city. With the absence of anyone righteous, Jesus justly destroys the city. Abraham’s heart and mind were filled with compassion. Jesus did something that seemed mean to Abraham.
Many people in modern society take the same issues with the Sodom account that Abraham did in Genesis 18:17ff. We say that God is love, yet we see plainly that He does mean things. While we have the benefit of hindsight, knowing that God acts justly in order to preserve the earth and increase peace, righteousness, and justice upon His earth, Abraham does not have this benefit. When we don’t understand why God sometimes does mean things, we are quick to lose our faith–some for a time before understanding and returning, and some forever. This is one reason I am glad that our salvation depends not on our faith but on the faithfulness of the one who saves. I am glad Jesus leaves the 99 faithful sheep to find the 1 who is lost and return him to the fold. In today’s text, we see both Lot and Abraham lose their faith in the wake of seeing their God do something mean–just and right, but mean.
Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters. Then the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. On the following day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day (Genesis 19:30-38).
Moses records the origin of the Moabites and Ammonites, Israel’s longstanding enemies—types of the seed of the serpent. We can trace this motif all the way back to Genesis 3 by the genealogies and birth records kept in the Genesis account. This does not bear out yet with Moab and Ammon, but it will. This information will be good for us to keep in mind as we continue through the narrative.
Notice Lot’s reaction to the destruction of Sodom once he makes his flight to Zoar. He was afraid to stay in Zoar. The text does not tell us what he was afraid of in Zoar. Still, Lot has practically forgotten that God was faithful to deliver him from the destruction of Sodom, a fate much more fearful than his living condition near Sodom and the very wrath of God being poured out on Sodom. Lot has lost his faith. When he flees to the mountains, he isolates his daughters from potential suiters and they plot their own incestual sin with him by inebriating him so that he can’t refuse their actions. His lack of faith plummets the whole family into sin, and sinful nations result from their action in these mountains.
I think we have enough information to say that when we lose faith or live faithless lives, we are quickened toward sin. Our sin affects others in unjust ways, as made evident later in the histories of Moab and Ammon (cf. Numbers 25:1-3; Deuteronomy 23:3-4).
Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the Negev, and settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar. Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married.” Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? 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 in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also akept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened. 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 on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. “Besides, she actually is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife; and 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.” ’ ” Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.” To Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared.” Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. For the Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20:1-18).
There are some who claim that this is a retelling of the account in Genesis 12 or compiled into the Genesis account from different source material than the story in Genesis 12. It is similar with some different details. I don’t think it is a mere retelling of Genesis 12 because it was Abraham’s regular custom to introduce Sarah as his sister (Genesis 20:13). Many people will present a difficulty because Sarah is supposedly elderly at this point in the narrative, but Abimelech finds her attractive enough to take her and marry her. I have no problem imagining that the story is out of order. Chronology wasn’t exactly the goal in ancient histories. I am inclined, however, to believe this event does transpire after Sodom. First, the pericope begins with a ו–a Hebrew conjunction necessarily connecting this part of the narrative to the previous pericope. It can be translated as “now, then, and, so, and but.” It either connects this pericope with Lot’s flight from Zoar or the destruction of Sodom, most likely placing this event after the Sodom sequence. Second, Abimelech asks Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” (Genesis 20:10)—indicating some travesty directly preceding Abraham’s deception. It is clear from Genesis 12:4, 11 that Sarah is beautiful even in her old age. Hebrew Rabbi’s remark that in her 20s, her face looked like that of a seven-year-old. In her 90s, it looked like that of a twenty-year old. I find no basis to make such a claim factually, except to say that Sarah is a beautiful woman even in her old age—even desirable for younger men.
Abraham and Sarah are elderly, yet still able-bodied and good-looking. Abimeleh desires Sarah and takes her because he believes she is Abraham’s sister. God reveals the truth to him in a dream, and he returns her to Abraham so as no to incur God’s wrath because of His elect. Here, we discover that Sarah is born of a different woman than Abraham, but they share a biological father. They are half-siblings.
God is blessing an incestuous relationship. It also occurs to me that Adam’s and Eve’s children must have had incestuous relationships in order to multiply. Until it is written in the Law more than 400 years after Abraham, incest is not unlawful like is sodomy—or breaking the institution and covenant of marriage prescribed in Genesis 1-2. God hasn’t yet given the Law. In Leviticus 18:1ff, we see that the laws against incest are later given in order to distinguish Israel as holy—unlike Egypt or Canaan. The people of God have always practiced their sexuality unlike the world around them because we are holy, distinguished from the world, set apart for God and recognizable as such. As time progresses, it seems God’s people are to be more holy and not less—more distinguished from the world and not less. We are not to forsake the world or separate ourselves out from the world. The more we are of Christ, the less we are of the world—especially concerning its trivial elevation of its sexuality in many worldly forms. An argument can be made that incest was still morally wrong for Abraham, but God does not judge him on the basis of his sin.
Because of what he saw in Sodom, Abraham deceived Abimelech. He did not lie, but he had deception in his heart. We often think we are just fine if we do not lie, but we understand that audibly lying is not the base sin. Intention to unjustly deceive is. It is about the motivation of the heart, not the outward action. What we say always overflows from our inner person. It reveals who we really are deep down.
Abimelech was a man of integrity. Because of Sodom, Abraham assumed there was no fear of God as he went. Because he made a wrong assumption, he acted in a way that negatively affected others. There are reaching effects when we make assumptions about others and sin against them because of our assumptions. We don’t know how much time transpires over the course of this event, but we do know that God acted to keep Abimelech from sinning by closing wombs of his proper wife and maids and keeping him from ‘coming near’ Sarah. Upon Sarah’s return, God opened the wombs of Abimelech’s wife and maids again.
You hear often that we probably sin much without even knowing it. I have heard some well-meaning preachers even suggest that we ought to ask forgiveness for the unknown sins in our lives. While this practice doesn’t hurt, I also don’t think it helps. We repent of the sins we know about, and that is enough. As for our ignorance, we see that God is the one keeps people from sin according to His own providential care of His creation. He defends Abraham. He restores Sarah. He guards Abimelech.
Even when we are faithless. God is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13). That is our takeaway. If we are truly His people, He will guard us in our times of faithlessness. He will keep us. He will bring us into understanding. He will hold us fast. Even when we see God do just, but mean things and react against that, He keeps His people secure in His hands. He does not sweep away the righteous with the wicked. Hallelujah.