Good morning. Today’s sermon is the 9th installment of this year’s extended series, “The Chosen Church”, which covers the patriarchs of Israel. We are now officially a quarter of the way through this series, and in the next few weeks we will gradually transition from the life of Abraham to that of his son Issac. That said, this particular message focuses on an occurrence in Abraham’s life that is quite reminiscent of a previous occasion. As we discuss it, you might even get the sense of deja vu...
I. ABIMELECH'S UNWITTING SIN (v1-7)
In the days immediately following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and Sarah departed from their home near Hebron (where they had lived in Canaan for some 25 years) and ventured southward toward the Negev desert. They turned aside to the west and came to the Philistine city of Gerar. The king there was a man named Abimelech.
As they had done years earlier during their journey to Egypt, Abraham and Sarah again lied about the true nature of their relationship. Rather than telling the Philistine monarch Abimelech that they were married, they instead said that they were merely brother and sister. So in keeping with the custom of the day, Abimelech took Sarah into his royal household.
Before he made any physical advances toward Sarah, the LORD appeared to Abimelech in a dream at night. He admonished Abimelech for sinning by taking a married woman for himself. The king was shocked to hear that Abraham and Sarah were married. He asserted that he had been deceived and would have left Sarah alone had he known that she was a married woman. God agreed that Abimelech did not sin intentionally, but still instructed him to return Sarah to her husband at once and to have Abraham pray for his restoration. Otherwise, the punishment against the king and his house would be severe.
This incident demonstrates that ignorance of sin is not an acceptable excuse for sin. Abimelech was charged with unrighteous behavior even though it was done without intent. Had he not taken steps to rectify his standing before the LORD, punishment would have followed. This is an underlying Biblical principle. Those who sin against God cannot escape judgement by claiming that they didn’t know any better (Romans 1:20).
Another lesson here is that one sin does not justify another. Abraham and Sarah had lied, and their deception laid the groundwork for Abimelech’s misconduct. He argued that if they hadn’t sinned to begin with, he wouldn’t have sinned either. In essence, he was saying that his misstep was ultimately their fault. While this may have been true to some degree, it didn’t matter. Their sin did not absolve him from his own.
II. ABRAHAM’S UNFOUNDED JUSTIFICATION (v8-13)
Having learned the truth, Abimelech arose early the next morning and shared the news with his servants. Then he confronted Abraham. He asked Abraham why he and Sarah had lied about their relationship. The king was deeply upset because God’s judgment had come upon him and his kingdom. He asked Abraham to explain the reason for his deceit.
Abraham tried to vindicate himself in 2 ways. First he claimed that the lie was merely an attempt to protect himself (and his wife). Abraham feared that if Abimelech knew the truth, he might be killed which would leave Sarah a grieving widow. Second, he explained that Sarah actually was, in fact, his half-sister. Though this was true, it wasn’t the full truth. More importantly, she was his wife - a fact that had been purposely concealed.
This isn’t the first time that Abraham and Sarah had hidden their marriage. It was wrong for them to do it then back in Egypt, and it was wrong for them to do it now in Philistia. Their willingness to duplicate this same deceitful strategy again shows how easy it is to repeat sinful behaviors. Some people have “pet sins” or favorite sins that they tend to commit over and over again, such as - in this case - lying about one’s true identity. It seems that certain sins are more attractive to some people than others.
III. GOD’S UNMERITED FORGIVENESS (v14-18)
Abimelech returned Sarah to her husband Abraham. Furthermore, he gave Abraham several sheep, oxen, and human servants. He also granted Abraham permission to settle anywhere within the country. In order to vindicate Sarah, Abimelech paid Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver. Notice that the king sarcastically referred to Abraham as Sarah’s brother, though he now knew that they were wedded to one another.
As instructed, Abimelech had Abraham pray for him and his household. As a punishment for his sin, the LORD had previously closed the womb of Abimelech’s wife and maids. But upon hearing this prayer for forgiveness, God healed the king and his family so that they’d once again be able to bear children.
Though both men had sinned, Abraham was called as a minister of God and held religious authority over Abimelech. This position did not make him blameless or without fault. Every prophet named in Scripture made mistakes and committed sins. Every pastor, myself included, has faltered at times and sinned before God. Please don’t expect your preacher to be perfect. He is a person just like you, and faces the same temptations and trials that you do. Do not hold him to a higher standard than you do for yourself.
One of the questions that comes to the forefront of my mind as we discuss this story is this… is lying always a sin, under any circumstance? This story is now the second time in which Abraham and Sarah hide the truth about their marriage, and in neither passage do they apologize for doing so. In both cases they are blessed with gifts of animals, servants, and money by the very person they lied to! Apparently, neither one of them feels guilty enough in either scenario to repent of their deception.
It is important to note that the Bible never condoned their behavior, and though it led to some positive material outcomes, these results were never expressly attributed to the blessing of God. In fact, there is no instance in God’s Word that ever justifies lying. One might argue that in some situations it is the best option to prevent some greater tragedy or to avoid some other more consequential sin. Perhaps so in rare cases, but that still doesn't make it an ideal alternative. As they say, the lesser of 2 evils is still evil. As Christians, we should aspire to be honest and trustworthy people who are known for telling the truth.
Are you guilty of lying? I am. If I said that I wasn’t… well, I’d be lying. Whether it be a big lie, a small lie, or somewhere in between, it’s still a sin. Perhaps during the invitation this morning you and I need to come clean. This is an opportunity to confess our sins and have them forgiven. Only then can we, like Abimelech, receive healing and restoration.