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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 20

- Abraham in Gerar

2. אבימלך .2 'ǎbı̂ymelek, Abimelekh, "father of the king."

7. נביא nābı̂y' "prophet," he who speaks by God, of God, and to God, who declares to people not merely things future, but also things past and present, that are not obvious to the sense or the reason; related: "flow, go forth."

13. התעוּ hı̂t‛û is plural in punctuation, agreeing grammatically with אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym. ו(w), however, may be regarded as the third radical, and the verb may thus really be singular.

16. נכהת nokachat an unusual form, either for נכחת nokaḥat the second person singular feminine perfect or נכחה nokeḥâh the third person singular feminine perfect, from a verb signifying in hiphil, "make straight, right."

17. אמה 'āmâh "hand-maid," free or bond. שׁפחה shı̂pchâh "bond-maid" Sa1 25:41.

The concealment of his relation to Sarah calls to our mind a similar act of Abraham recorded not many pages back. We are to remember, however, that an interval of twenty-four years has elapsed since that event. From the present passage we learn that this was an old agreement between him and his wife, while they were wandering among strangers. It appears that Abraham was not yet conscious of anything wrong or even imprudent in this piece of policy. He therefore practises it without any hesitation. On this occasion he appears for the first time as a prophet. He is the first of this order introduced to our notice in the Old Testament, though Henok had prophesied at an earlier period Jde 1:14, and Noah's benediction was, at the same time, a prediction.

Gen 20:1-7

Abimelek takes Sarah. Abraham had been dwelling near Hebron. But the total separation between him and Lot, and the awful overthrow of Sodom and Amorah in the vicinity, may have loosened his tie to Hebron, and rendered it for the present not an agreeable place of residence. He therefore travels southward and takes up his abode at Gerar (see note on Gen 10:19). Sarah, though now eighty-nine years of age, was as youthful in look as a person of forty would now be. She had, moreover, had no family, was remarkable for her good looks, and was at present, no doubt, renewed in health and vigor Gen 12:11-16.

Gen 20:3-7

The Supreme Being here appears as God אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, and therefore in his eternal power and independence, as he was antecedent to the creation of man. He communicates with Abimelek in a dream. This prince addresses him as אדני 'ǎdonāy, "Lord." We have already seen that the knowledge of the true God had not yet disappeared from the Gentile world, who were under the Noachic covenant. "Thou wilt die." Thou art dying or at the point of death if thou persist. A deadly plague was already in the body of Abimelek, on account of Sarah. "Wilt thou slay a righteous nation also?" Abimelek associates his nation with himself, and expects that the fatal stroke will not be confined to his own person. He pleads his integrity in the matter, which the Lord acknowledges. Gentiles sometimes act according to the dictates of conscience, which still lives in them, though it be obscured by sin. Abimelek was innocent in regard to the "great sin" of seizing another man's wife, of which God acquitted him. He was wrong in appropriating a woman to himself by mere stretch of power, and in adding wife to wife. But these were common customs of the time, for which his conscience did not upbraid him in his pleading with God. "And the God." The presence of the definite article seems to intimate a contrast of the true God with the false gods to which the Gentiles were fast turning. Abimelek was at least in the doubtful ground on the borders of polytheism.

Gen 20:7

Abraham is here designated by the Lord a prophet. This constituted at once the gravity of Abimelek's offence Psa 105:15, and the ground of his hope of pardon. It is at the same time a step in advance of all the previous spiritual attainments of Abraham. A prophet is God's spokesman, who utters with authority certain of the things of God Exo 7:1; Exo 4:15. This implies two things: first, the things of God are known only to him, and therefore must be communicated by him; secondly, the prophet must be enabled of God to announce in correct terms the things made known to him. These things refer not only to the future, but in general to all such matters as fall within the purpose and procedure of God. They may even include things otherwise known or knowable by man, so far as these are necessary to the exposition of the divine will. Now Abraham has heretofore received many communications from God. But this did not constitute him a prophet. It is the divinely-authorized utterance of new truth which raises him to this rank. And Abraham's first exercise in prophecy is not in speaking to men of God, but to God for men. "He shall pray for thee." The prophetic and the priestly offices go together in the father of the faithful. These dignities belong to him, not from any absolute merit, for this he has not, but from his call to be the holder of the promise, and the father of that seed to whom the promises were made.

Gen 20:8-13

Abimelek retraces his steps, and rectifies his conduct. He makes known his dream to his assembled court, who are filled with astonishment and apprehension. He then calls Abraham, and in bold and manly style remonstrates with him for leading him into error and sin. Abraham is apparently silent from confusion and self-condemnation. Abimelek, after a pause, demands of him his reason for so doing. Abraham now replies with great simplicity and candor. He had said within himself, "The fear of God is not in this place." This is another indication that polytheism was setting in. He concluded that his life would be in danger on account of his wife, and resorted to his wonted expedient for safety. He had learned to trust in the Lord in all things; but he did not think this inconsistent with using all lawful means for personal security, and he was not yet fully alive to the unlawfulness of his usual pretence. He pleads also in extenuation that she is in reality his sister (see Gen 12:19-20). "Caused me to wander." The verb here is not necessarily plural. But if it be, it is only an instance of the literal, meaning of אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, the Eternal Supernatural Powers, coming into view. "Thy kindness." The old compact of Abraham with Sarah tended to palliate his conduct in the eyes of Abimelek, as he would see that it had no special reference to himself.

Gen 20:14-18

Abimelek seems to have accepted his apology, as he probably felt that there was truth in the character Abraham gave of his people, and was precluded from resenting it by the salutary impression of his dream; while at the same time Abraham's mode of avoiding danger appeared warrantable according to his own and the common code of morals. He therefore hastens to make honorable amends for his conduct. He makes Abraham a valuable present, restores his wife, and makes him free to dwell in any part of his dominions. He then accosts Sarah in respectful terms, informing her that he had presented her brother with one thousand silver pieces, probably shekels, on her account. He does not offer this directly to herself, that it may be distinctly understood that her honor was unstained. This may refer either to Abraham or to the sum of money. The latter is more natural, as the sentence then affords a reason for addressing Sarah, and mentioning this particular gift. "A covering of the eyes" does not mean a veil, the proper word for which is צעיף tsā‛ı̂yp, but is a figurative phrase for a recompense or pacificatory offering, in consideration of which an offence is overlooked. "Unto all that are with thee." All her family were concerned in this public vindication of her character. "And all this that thou mayest be righted." The original of this is most naturally taken as a part of Abimelek's speech, and then it is to be translated as above. All this has been done or given that the injury to Sarah may be redressed. If the original be regarded as a part of the narrative, it must be rendered, "And all this (was done) that she might be righted." The sense is the same in substance. In the former case the verb is in the second person, in the latter in the third.

Gen 20:17-18

These verses record the fact of Abraham's intercession for Abimelek, and explain in what sense he was on the point of dying (Gen 20:3). "They bare" means that they were again rendered capable of procreating children, and in the natural course of things did so. The verb is in the masculine form, because both males and females were involved in this judicial malady. The name Yahweh is employed at the end of the chapter, because the relation of the Creator and Preserver to Sarah is there prominent.

Next: Genesis Chapter 21