Although Abraham is the father of our faith, we see in Chapter 20 through his dealings with Abimelech that he was beset by the same worries and fears we all have.
First, his faith in God was limited because obviously from his words of “surely, I thought there is no fear of God in this place”, he was assuming that God’s sovereignty was in someway confined to certain regions.
Second, even though it was the truth Sarah was his sister through having a common father, it was still a lie.
The Rambam has noted that even if Sarah really was Abraham’s half-sister, Abraham was still in the wrong for not mentioning the much more important point that she was his wife.
The ancient sages have called this scene a “comic inversion of common expectations” as here we have a Gentile king righteously scolding an Israelite prophet for his failures.
The following are also two interesting differences between Abraham’s earlier encounter with Pharaoh and his encounter with Abimelech.
1) When God confronts the Pharaoh in Egypt, he only speaks to him through plagues whereas Abimelech is given direct address from God in a dream.
2) After finding out that Abraham lied to him, Pharaoh kicks Abraham out of Egypt (for those of you who know the story of Exodus, notice a pattern here?). However, in contrast, Abimelech allows Abraham to settle wherever he wants.
Finally, there is an interesting linguistic point that I would like to show you.
Let’s read verse 13 from both the King James version and the New International version.
“And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.” Genesis 20:13 from the King James version
“And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me,”He is my brother.”- Genesis 20:13 from the New International Version
First, the original Hebrew here is ELOHIM.
Remember, ELOHIM can have two meanings.
When used as a “PLURAL OF MAJESTY” form, it is referring to the one and only true God of Israel.
However, it can also mean “gods” with a small “g” when referring to the pagan gods of the heathen nations.
So which one is it here?
First, the word “Elohim”, although normally taking a singular verb (even though it has a plural suffix) when it refers to God in this episode IS LINKED WITH A PLURAL VERB.
Second, in a world where monotheism was practically nonexistent, Abraham wouldn’t have been speaking to a pagan like Abimelech using the word god in such a way as to imply that there is only one God.
So a correct translation should read “when the gods caused me to wander“.
I believe conventional translations are wrong when they render ELOHIM here as “God” or “Heaven“.
The whole world was polytheistic at this time and Abraham’s speech would have reflected this.
It also interesting to note that Abraham in his speech, far from suggesting that God has directed him to a promised land, stresses to Abimelech that the gods have imposed upon him a destiny of wandering.
NEXT TIME WE BEGIN GENESIS CHAPTER 21