Abraham was *last heard of in these pages* when he had his discussion with God about how many good men in Sodom it would take to dissuade God from destroying that city. Abraham had persuaded God to agree to conditions so stringent, that he was confident that God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Hence when Abraham learned that God had, in fact, gone ahead with His original plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, his belief in God’s ultimate goodness was, at least for a time, shattered.
This, along with a feeling that he was in a rut, was instrumental in Abraham deciding to leave his home among the terebinth trees of Mamre, and going elsewhere. Thinking that dry desert air might be the best medicine for him, Abraham, together with Sarah his wife, journeyed south to the Negeb desert and sojourned in Gerar, a town situated between Kadesh and Shur.
In the course of the journey to Gerar, Abraham had said to Sarah, “You are a beautiful woman to look upon – so beautiful that when the men of Gerar see you they are going to say, ‘She is his wife’. Then they will kill me, but let you live. Therefore I want you to tell everyone that you’re my sister, so that I won’t be killed because of you.”
“But Abraham” said Sarah, “this is the exact same thing that you told me to say when we were in Egypt. And what happened? You remember don’t you? *I was forcibly taken to the Pharaoh* who made me one of his wives. When God heard of this He set a plague upon the Pharaoh, who, in revenge, expelled us from Egypt. It was all most unpleasant.”
“It’ll be different this time” said Abraham, “if only because there’s no Pharaoh where we’re going. Nothing will happen. Trust me.”
On arriving in Gerar, Abraham let it be known to all and sundry – including the local king, Abimelech – that Sarah was his (Abraham’s) sister. King Abimelech, bored by lying only with his wife and with his slave-girls, and therefore looking for new women to lie with, sent for Sarah, and, seeing she was his type, took her into his home.
While Abraham appeared not to mind this, God definitely did mind. Hence one night when King Abimelech was sleeping, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “You are going to die, because this woman whom you’ve taken is another man’s wife.”
“This is news to me” said King Abimelech. “Who is Sarah the wife of?”
“Abraham?!! Why, Abraham specifically told me that Sarah is his sister. And Sarah specifically told me that Abraham is her brother. I acted in good conscience.”
“I’ve no doubt you did.”
“You probably won’t believe this” said King Abimelech, “but I haven’t yet lain with Sarah.”
“I know you haven’t” said God. “It is I who have caused you not to have those feelings which would impel you to lie with her. Here’s what you now need to do: send Sarah back to Abraham. Since he is a prophet he will pray for you, and you will live.”
“What if I don’t send her back?”
“You’ll die, and all your family will die too. Don’t trifle with Me, Abimelech, I mean what I say.”
The dream faded and King Abimelech awoke. He felt relieved that it was only a dream because, in it, he had felt most unhappy at the prospect of not having the desirable Sarah to lie with.
Abimelech lay in the dark and listened to the snores coming from the open saliva-dribbling mouth of his wife as she slept at his side. His thoughts turned to Sarah who was sleeping in the next room. He imagined her naked, and himself creeping into her bed to make love. However, he didn’t feel his body responding to these thoughts in the way he thought it would. But then, his body had been as unresponsive the previous times when he’d had these same thoughts about Sarah.
The king then remembered what God had said in the dream, that it was He, God, who had caused him not to have those feelings which would impel him to lie with Sarah. Could it really be that God had actually visited him in the dream, and that everything God had said in it was true? The dream had felt so real that, yes, it all had to be true. Sarah and Abraham really had deceived him.
An anger invaded Abimelech, so intense that he couldn’t return to sleep. He raged silently and impotently in his bed for the remainder of the night.
Still fuming when daybreak came, King Abimelech strode off to see Abraham. “What have you done to me?” yelled the king. “What did I do that you would bring all this upon me and upon my kingdom? Answer me that, you worthless cad. What possessed you to do this?”
“Let me explain” said Abraham. “When I came to this place I sensed strongly that no-one around here feared God, except of course you, O King. So I reasoned that men here would kill me for the sake of my wife. You see, Sarah is my wife, but she is also my sister because we have the same father, although we have different mothers. And please, O King, don’t blame Sarah for neglecting to tell you she’s my wife, because I ordered her to tell everyone here that she’s only my sister. So you shouldn’t take personally that she told you the same thing.”
When Abraham had got to the end of this, there was a silence as King Abimelech tried to compose himself. With a fixed smile, although through clenched teeth, the king said, “I know when I’m beaten. It seems that God is in your corner. What else can I now do but give you sheep, oxen, menservants and womanservants, and also give you back Sarah, your wife. And please, do look around at all my lands which lie before you. Settle wherever you want. Don’t mind me.”
Summoning Sarah, King Abimelech, wearing the same fixed smile, said, “I have given your husband a thousand pieces of silver, so that your own people will ignore all that you’ve done to me, and you will be held blameless.”
Abraham then knelt down and prayed to God that all be made good with King Abimelech. God, heeding Abraham’s prayer, restored Abimelech’s wife and the maidservants to a fertile condition, for, unbeknownst to Abimelech, God had made Abimelech’s wife and maidservants barren when he’d first learned of Abimelech’s taking Sarah into his household.
Source: Genesis 20