Therefore Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears: and the men were sore afraid.
Our folly and God's grace; if you see one, can the other be far behind? Frequent are the occasions when God's children foolishly mire themselves in difficulty only to have God graciously dig them out. Even the venerable Abraham found himself in this situation more than once.
After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham departed from the groves of Mamre and journeyed south to the Negev. Here he dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, pitching his tent in Gerar. Upon arriving in the south country Abraham hatched a plan which he had tried unsuccessfully in Egypt some twenty years earlier. He instructed his wife, Sarah, to claim that she was his sister.
Because of the disastrous consequences which it previously had brought on the pharaoh of Egypt, it is almost inconceivable that Abraham would try this scheme again. Apparently the stern rebuke Abraham received from Pharaoh had by this time faded from his memory. Still, Abraham had only recently received God's assurance that Sarah was destined to be the mother of the promised seed. By spreading the half truth that she was his sister and therefore eligible for marriage, Abraham placed Sarah's virtue in serious jeopardy. This constituted a foolish lapse in Abraham's usually stellar performance as the friend of God.
The arrival of Abraham and Sarah brought a greeting from Abimelech, the warlike king of Gerar. Having heard that Sarah was unmarried, Abimelech immediately sent and brought her into his harem. This likely was done to ally himself with the rich nomad prince, Abraham. Sarah was by this time ninety years old and probably not the beautiful maid she used to be. Suddenly Abraham's lie had come back to haunt him once again.
The whole course of human history could have been different if it were not for God's intervention. Genesis 20:3 begins, "But God," words which usually indicate the turning point between man's foolishness and God's grace. Abraham had lied about his wife and she was now part of Abimelech's harem. Her virtue would undoubtedly be violated. But God warned the Philistine king in a dream that Sarah was already a man's wife. He also caused Abimelech to be afflicted with an illness which prevented him from coming near Sarah. Thus, miraculously and graciously, the mother of the chosen nation was kept from impurity, not because of the wisdom of Abraham, but because of the grace of God.
In the dream God revealed to Abimelech that, although he had done no wrong, nevertheless he must restore Sarah to her husband. If the king refused, his death and that of all his kingdom would ensue. This was enough to convince Abimelech. The king "rose early in the morning, and called all his servants," relaying the message to them (Genesis 20:8). Respecting the authority of the living God, Abimelech was anxious to heed the divine directives. The Philistine wasted no time in returning Sarah to her husband but not without a sharp rebuke to Abraham. Happy to have his wife back safe and sound, Abraham received the reprimand with a sigh of relief. In return he prayed to God and Abimelech was healed along with his wife and maidservants. The kingdom returned to normal.
Once again God's grace had prevailed over man's folly. The results could have been drastically different, however, had not God's providence overruled man's foolishness. Yet, how much anguish could have been spared both Abraham and Abimelech, both Sarah and the Philistine's wife, if there had not been that one lapse from righteousness. The knowledge that God's grace is waiting in the wings is insufficient grounds for contemplating foolish action. As Abraham finally learned, every friend of God must carefully guard against even slight lapses into the folly of sin (Romans 6:1-4).
MORNING HYMN Sinners Jesus will receive; Sound this word of grace to all Who the heav'nly pathway leave, All who linger, all who fall.
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