Genesis 20


Abraham leaves Mamre, and, after having sojourned at Kadesh and

Shur, settles in Gerar, 1.

Abimelech takes Sarah, Abraham having acknowledged her only as

his sister, 2.

Abimelech is warned by God in a dream to restore Sarah, 3.

He asserts his innocence, 4, 5.

He is farther warned, 6, 7.

Expostulates with Abraham, 8-10.

Abraham vindicates his conduct, 11-13.

Abimelech restores Sarah, makes Abraham a present of sheep,

oxen, and male and female slaves, 14;

offers him a residence in any part of the land, 15;

and reproves Sarah, 16.

At the intercession of Abraham, the curse of barrenness is removed

from Abimelech and his household, 17, 18.


Verse 1. And Abraham journeyed] It is very likely that this

holy man was so deeply affected with the melancholy prospect of

the ruined cities, and not knowing what was become of his nephew

Lot and his family, that he could no longer bear to dwell within

sight of the place. Having, therefore, struck his tents, and

sojourned for a short time at Kadesh and Shur, he fixed his

habitation in Gerar, which was a city of Arabia Petraea, under a

king of the Philistines called Abimelech, my father king, who

appears to have been not only the father of his people, but also a

righteous man.

Verse 2. She is my sister] See the parallel account,

Ge 12:11-20, and the notes there. Sarah was now about ninety years

of age, and probably pregnant with Isaac. Her beauty, therefore,

must have been considerably impaired since the time she was taken

in a similar manner by Pharaoh, king of Egypt; but she was

probably now chosen by Abimelech more on the account of forming an

alliance with Abraham, who was very rich, than on account of any

personal accomplishments. A petty king, such as Abimelech, would

naturally be glad to form an alliance with such a powerful chief

as Abraham was: we cannot but recollect his late defeat of the

four confederate Canannitish kings. See Clarke on Ge 14:14,

&c. This circumstance was sufficient to establish his credit, and

cause his friendship to be courted; and what more effectual means

could Abimelech use in reference to this than the taking of Sarah,

who he understood was Abraham's sister, to be his concubine or

second wife, which in those times had no kind of disgrace attached

to it?

Verse 3. But God came to Abimelech] Thus we find that persons

who were not of the family of Abraham had the knowledge of the

true God. Indeed, all the Gerarites are termed goi

tsaddik, a righteous nation, Ge 20:4.

Verse 5. In the integrity of my heart, &c.] Had Abimelech any

other than honourable views in taking Sarah, he could not have

justified himself thus to his Maker; and that these views were of

the most honourable kind, God himself, to whom the appeal was

made, asserts in the most direct manner, Yea, I know that thou

didst this in the integrity of thy heart.

Verse 7. He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee] The word

prophet, which we have from the Greek προφητες, and which is

compounded of προ, before, and φημι, I speak, means, in its

general acceptation, one who speaks of things before they happen,

i.e., one who foretells future events. But that this was not the

original notion of the word, its use in this place sufficiently

proves. Abraham certainly was not a prophet in the present general

acceptation of the term, and for the Hebrew nabi, we must

seek some other meaning. I have, in a discourse entitled "The

Christian Prophet and his Work," proved that the proper ideal

meaning of the original word is to pray, entreat, make

supplication, &c., and this meaning of it I have justified at

large both from its application in this place, and from its

pointed use in the case of Saul, mentioned 1Sa 10:9-13, and from the

case of the priests of Baal, 1Ki 18:29, where prophesying

most undoubtedly means making prayer and supplication. As those

who were in habits of intimacy with God by prayer and faith were

found the most proper persons to communicate his mind to man, both

with respect to the present and the future, hence, nabi,

the intercessor, became in process of time the public instructer

or preacher, and also the predicter of future events, because to

such faithful praying men God revealed the secret of his will.

Hence St. Paul, 1Co 14:3, seems to restrain the word wholly to

the interpreting the mind of God to the people, and their

instruction in Divine things, for, says he, he that prophesieth

speaketh unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort.

See the discourse on this text referred to above. The title was

also given to men eminent for eloquence and for literary

abilities; hence Aaron, because he was the spokesman of Moses to

the Egyptian king, was termed nabi, prophet; Ex 4:16; 7:1.

And Epimenides, a heathen poet, is expressly styled προφητης, a

prophet, by St. Paul, Tit 1:12, just as poets in general were

termed vates among the Romans, which properly signifies the

persons who professed to interpret the will of the gods to their

votaries, after prayers and sacrifices duly performed. In Arabic

the word [Arabic] naba has nearly the same meaning as in Hebrew,

but in the first conjugation it has a meaning which may cast light

upon the subject in general. It signifies to itinerate, move from

one place or country to another, compelled thereto either by

persecution or the command of God; exivit de una regione in

aliam.-[Arabic] migrans de loco in locum.-GOLIUS. Hence

Mohammed was called [Arabic] an nabi, because of his sudden

removeal from Mecca to Medina, when, pretending to a Divine

commission, his townsmen sought to take away his life: e Mecca

exiens Medinam, unde Muhammed suis [Arabic] Nabi Allah dictus

fuit.-GOLIUS. If this meaning belonged originally to the Hebrew

word, it will apply with great force to the case of Abraham, whose

migratory, itinerant kind of life, generally under the immediate

direction of God, might have given him the title nabi. However

this may be, the term was a title of the highest respectability

and honour, both among the He brews and Arabs, and continues so to

this day. And from the Hebrews the word, in all the importance

and dignity of its meaning, was introduced among the heathens in

the προφητης and vates of the Greeks and Romans.

See Clarke on Ge 15:1.

Verse 8. Abimelech rose early, &c.] God came to Abimelech in a

dream by night, and we find as the day broke he arose, assembled

his servants, (what we would call his courtiers,) and communicated

to them what he had received from God. They were all struck with

astonishment, and discerned the hand of God in this business.

Abraham is then called, and in a most respectful and pious manner

the king expostulates with him for bringing him and his people

under the Divine displeasure, by withholding from him the

information that Sarah was his wife; when, by taking her, he

sought only an honourable alliance with his family.

Verse 11. And Abraham said] The best excuse he could make for

his conduct, which in this instance is far from defensible.

Verse 12. She is my sister] I have not told a lie; I have

suppressed only a part of the truth. In this place it may be

proper to ask, What is a lie? It is any action done or word

spoken, whether true or false in itself, which the doer or speaker

wishes the observer or hearer to take in a contrary sense to that

which he knows to be true. It is, in a word, any action done or

speech delivered with the intention to deceive, though both may be

absolutely true and right in themselves. See Clarke on Ge 12:13.

The daughter of my father, but not-of my mother] Ebn Batrick, in

his annals, among other ancient traditions has preserved the

following: "Terah first married Yona, by whom he had Abraham;

afterwards he married Tehevita, by whom he had Sarah." Thus she

was the sister of Abraham, being the daughter of the same father

by a different mother.

Verse 13. When God caused me to wander] Here the word

Elohim is used with a plural verb, ( hithu, caused me to

wander,) which is not very usual in the Hebrew language, as this

plural noun is generally joined with verbs in the singular

number. Because there is a departure from the general mode in

this instance, some have contended that the word Elohim signifies

princes in this place, and suppose it to refer to those in

Chaldea, who expelled Abraham because he would not worship the

fire; but the best critics, and with them the Jews, allow that

Elohim here signifies the true God. Abraham probably refers to

his first call.

Verse 16. And unto Sarah he said] But what did he say? Here

there is scarcely any agreement among interpreters; the Hebrew is

exceedingly obscure, and every interpreter takes it in his own


A thousand pieces of silver] SHEKELS are very probably meant

here, and so the Targum understands it. The Septuagint has χιλια

διδραχμα, a thousand didrachma, no doubt meaning shekels; for in

Ge 23:15, 16, this translation uses διδραχμα

for the Hebrew shekel. As shakal signifies literally to

weigh, and the shekel was a coin of such a weight, Mr. Ainsworth

and others think this to be the origin of our word scale, the

instrument to weigh with.

The shekel of the sanctuary weighed twenty gerahs, Ex 30:13.

And according to the Jews, the gerah weighed sixteen grains of

barley. R. Maimon observes, that after the captivity the shekel

was increased to three hundred and eighty-four grains or

barley-corns. On the subject of ancient weights and measures,

very little that is satisfactory is known.

Behold, he is to thee a covering of the eyes] It-the one

thousand shekels, (not he-Abraham,) is to thee for a covering-to

procure thee a veil to conceal thy beauty (unto all that are with

thee, and with all other) from all thy own kindred and

acquaintance, and from all strangers, that none, seeing thou art

another mans wife; may covet thee on account of thy comeliness.

Thus she was reproved] The original is venochachath,

but the word is probably the second person preterite, used for the

imperative mood, from the root nachach, to make straight,

direct, right; or to speak rightly, correctly; and may, in

connection with the rest of the text, be thus paraphrased: Behold,

I have given thy BROTHER (Abraham, gently alluding to the

equivocation, Ge 20:2, 5)

a thousand shekels of silver; behold, IT is (that is, the silver

is, or may be, or let it be) to thee a covering of the eyes (to

procure a veil; see above) with regard to all those who are with

thee; and to all (or and in all) speak thou the truth. Correctly

translated by the Septuagint, καιπαντααληθευσον, and in all

things speak the truth-not only tell a part of the truth, but

tell the whole; say not merely he is my brother, but say also, he

is my husband too. Thus in ALL things speak the truth. I believe

the above to be the sense of this difficult passage, and shall not

puzzle my readers with criticisms. See Kennicott.

Verse 17. So Abraham prayed] This was the prime office of the

nabi; see Ge 20:7.

Verse 18. For the Lord had fast closed up all the wombs]

Probably by means of some disease with which he had smitten them,

hence it is said they were healed at Abraham's intercession; and

this seems necessarily to imply that they had been afflicted by

some disease that rendered it impossible for them to have children

till it was removed. And possibly this disease, as Dr. Dodd

conjectures, had afflicted Abimelech, and by this he was withheld,

Ge 20:6, from defiling Abraham's bed.

1. ON the prevarication of Abraham and Sarah, see the notes and

concluding observations on chap. xii.; See Clarke on Ge 12:20;

and while we pity this weakness, let us take it as a warning.

2. The cause why the patriarch did not acknowledge Sarah as his

wife, was a fear lest he should lose his life on her account, for

he said, Surely the fear, i.e., the true worship, of the true God

is not in this place. Such is the natural bigotry and narrowness

of the human heart, that we can scarcely allow that any besides

ourselves possess the true religion. To indulge a disposition of

this kind is highly blamable. The true religion is neither

confined to one spot nor to one people; it is spread in various

forms over the whole earth. He who fills immensity has left a

record of himself in every nation and among every people under

heaven. Beware of the spirit of intolerance! for bigotry produces

uncharitableness; and uncharitableness, harsh judging; and in such

a spirit a man may think he does God service when he tortures, or

makes a burnt-offering of the person whom his narrow mind and hard

heart have dishonoured with the name of heretic. Such a spirit is

not confined to any one community, though it has predominated in

some more than in others. But these things are highly displeasing

in the sight of God. HE, as the Father of the spirits of all

flesh, loves every branch of his vastly extended family; and as

far as we love one another, no matter of what sect of party, so

far we resemble HIM. Had Abraham possessed more charity for man

and confidence in God at this time, he had not fallen into that

snare from which he barely escaped. A hasty judgment is generally

both erroneous and harsh; and those who are the most apt to form

it are generally the most difficult to be convinced of the truth.

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