Although Abraham’s home was in Hebron, he would sometimes move from place to place in search of pasture for his herds. In today’s reading, Abraham is in Gerar, a Philistine city some 40 miles west of Hebron and near to the Mediterranean Sea.
Abraham was afraid that someone in Gerar would take his wife, and so he said that Sarah was his sister. This was exactly the same mistake that Abraham made years earlier in Egypt, and just as there were serious consequences then, so it would be the same in Gerar. Abimelech took Sarah because he believed Abraham’s lie, and Sarah was complicit in this wrongdoing by telling Abimelech that Abraham was her brother. God is very patient and did not disown Abraham, even though he was in the wrong, and had made the same mistake twice. God is gentle with us in just the same way that He was with Abraham.
Instead of rebuking Abraham, God spoke to Abimelech and warned him of the consequences if he did not restore Sarah to Abraham. It was God who had kept Abimelech from sinning, and told him that Abraham was a prophet [verses 6-7]. God actually used Abimelech to rebuke both Abraham and Sarah. The way that Abimelech confronted Abraham [verse 10], and the way in which Abraham responded is a remarkable picture of conflict resolution and the diffusing a potentially explosive situation. Abraham confessed his mistake and his motive for the mistake [verse 11-13]. Abimelech blessed Abraham with gifts, generously offered his land to Abraham as pasture for his cattle, and restored Sarah to him [verses 14-16].
Even though he had taken Sarah in innocence, nevertheless a curse had come upon Abimelech and his household. God kept all the women in his household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah [verse 18]. Having admitted his mistake Abraham, then prayed for Abimelech and his household, and God healed Abimelech, and also his wife and female servants, so that they bore children [verse 17].
What are the lessons that we can learn from the story of Abraham and Abimelech about conflict resolution?
In what way was God especially gracious to Abraham? Would you be equally gracious if someone had made the same mistake twice?
Why do you think it was that God did not directly rebuke Abraham?
Read Genesis 21:22-34. In what way did Abraham’s honesty, confession and prayer bless Abimelech and become the basis for the covenant that they later made together?