Genesis 20
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister. Notice how imperfectly the obligation of truth recognized in Old Testament times. Not only among heathen, or those who knew little of God (Joshua 2:5; 2 Kings 10:18), but godly men among God's own people (Genesis 26:7; 1 Samuel 27:10). Yet the excellence of truth was known, and its connection with the fear of God (Exodus 18:21; Psalm 15:2). Not until manifested in Christ does truth seem to be fully understood (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). This gives force to "I am the truth." Some see in text an act of faith; trust that God would make the plan (Ver. 13) successful. But faith must rest on God's word. Trust in what God gives no warrant for believing is not faith but fancy, e.g. to attempt what we have no reason to believe we can accomplish, or to incur liabilities without reasonable prospect of meeting them. More natural and better to look on it as a breach of truth under temptation; the failure Of a godly man under trial. His words were true in letter (Ver. 12), but were spoken to deceive, and did deceive.

I. ROOT OF HIS FAULT - UNBELIEF; want of all-embracing trust. His faith was real and vigorous (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12), but partial (cf. Genesis 27:19; Matthew 14:28). Shrank from trusting God fully. Turned to human devices, and thus turned out of the way (Proverbs 3:5). Partial distrust may be found even where real faith. A very common instance is trusting in God for spiritual blessings only. A large part of our actions, especially in little things, springs not from conscious decision, but from habitual modes of thought and feeling. We act instinctively, according to what is the natural drift of thought. Abraham had so dwelt on the danger that he forgot the help at hand (Psalm 34:7; Romans 8:28). Bold in action, his faith failed when danger threatened. To endure is a greater trial of faith than to do. To stand firm amid secularizing influences, ridicule, misconstruction is harder than to do some great thing. St. Peter was ready to fight for his Master, but failed to endure (Mark 14:50-71; Galatians 2:12). So to St. Paul's "What wilt thou have me to do?" the Lord's word was, "I will show him how great things he must suffer."

II. FORM OF HIS FAULT - UNTRUTH. Contrary to the mind of Christ. May be without direct statement of untruth. May be by true words so used as to convey a wrong idea; by pretences, e. g. taking credit unduly for any possession or power; by being ashamed to admit our motives; or by untruth in the spiritual life, making unreal professions in prayer, or self-deceiving. Every day brings numberless trials. These can be resisted only by the habit of truthfulness, gained by cultivating "truth in the inward parts," aiming at entire truthfulness. Nothing unpractical in this. May be said, Mast I tell all my thoughts to every one? Not so. Many things we have no right to speak; e.g. things told in confidence, or what would give unnecessary pain. Concealment when it is right is not untruth. No doubt questions of difficulty may arise. Hence rules of casuistry. But a Christian should be guided by principles rather than by rules (Galatians 5:1); and wisdom to apply these rightly is to be gained by studying the character of Christ, and prayer for the Holy Spirit's guidance (Luke 11:13; John 16:14). - M.

I. THE UNIVERSALITY OF DIVINE GRACE. The varieties in moral state of nations a testimony to God's forbearing mercy. There was evidently a great contrast between such people as dwelt under Abimelech's rule and the cities of the plain, which helps us to see the extreme wickedness of the latter. It was probably no vain boast which the king-uttered when he spoke of "the integrity of his heart and innocency of his hands." Moreover, God appeared to him by dreams, and it is implied that he would have the greatest reverence for Jehovah's prophet. Abraham testified the same; although he declared that the fear of God was not in the place, still he sojourned in Gerar, and after Lot's experience he would not have done so unless he had believed it to be very different from Sodom.

II. THE CHARACTER OF GOD'S CHILDREN IS NOT THE GROUND OF THEIR ACCEPTANCE WITH HIM. It is strange that the Egyptian experience should not have taught the patriarch simply to trust in God. But the imperfect faith justifies; the grace of God alone sanctifies. The conduct of Abimelech is throughout honorable and straightforward. Abraham's equivocation is not excusable. It sprang from fear, and it was no sudden error, but a deliberate policy which betokened weakness, to say the least.

III. THE LORD BRINGS GOOD OUT OF EVIL. Abimelech's character is a bright spot in the terrible picture of evil and its consequences. By the discipline of Providence the errors and follies of men are made the opportunities for learning God's purposes and character. The contact of the less enlightened with the more enlightened, though it may humble both, gives room for Divine teaching and gracious bestowments. Again we are reminded "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much" not because he is himself righteous, but because he is the 'channel of blessing to others, chosen of God's free grace. - R.

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