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The Faith of Abimelech

Updated: Jun 3

Blog title card; topic is Gentile believers in the Old Testament
The Faith of Abimelech

Only a few years after Israel conquered the Promised Land, the Philistines became their recurring rival. Philistia featured prominently in the reigns of the first two kings, Saul and David. Many centuries before during the life of Abraham, however, the Hebrews and the Philistines were on more civil terms. Genesis 20 records how, as Abraham and his family traveled the land, Philistia was one of their stops. To place this account chronologically, the events in Genesis 20 occur between the first departure of Hagar in Genesis 16 and her second and last departure in Genesis 21. Lot had been reluctantly rescued from Sodom in chapter 19 in a story that ended horribly. As history would eventually unfold hundreds of years later, a female descent of Lot, Ruth, would meet a man, Boaz, whose mother, Rahab, was also a Gentile, and both of these women would become ancestors of Messiah. Ruth is the only Gentile (and only one of two women) with a book of the Bible named after her.

After the incident in Genesis 12 when Abraham tried to conceal that Sarah was his wife, we are tempted to question his sense. Pretending Sarah was his wife did not work on the Pharaoh. And indeed, if Abraham believed what God’s promise at the beginning of chapter 12, he would have understood that he would not be killed just because Sarah was beautiful. Regardless of the first instance, Abraham tried the same tactic on Abimelech, king of Gerar, a city in Philistine territory. Genesis 20:2-11 provides the story:

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, "Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.” But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, “Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Said he not unto me, ‘She is my sister’? and she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother’: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.” And God said unto him in a dream, “Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.”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. Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, “What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said unto Abraham, “What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?” And Abraham said, “Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.”

Abraham was wrong; surely, the fear of God was in that place. Contrast Pharaoh and Abimelech. God had a complete dialogue with Abimelech, who, when provided an opportunity to do right, took it. It is also worthy to mention that, since both Abraham and Sarah cooperated in the lie, Abimelech rightly deserves very little blame. Any guilt he bears might be because he hesitated to return Sarah. In the passage we read that “God came to Abimelech in a dream” and later that “God said unto him in a dream.” It is possible God communicated to Abimelech twice because he did not immediately restore Sarah to Abraham. In the end, whether God communicated to the king in one dream or two, Abimelech did what was right. We all know the story of another king who did not do right when he discovered that the woman he wanted was married. Surely David had access to the story of Abraham, yet he sinned anyway. There is no excuse for the child of God, just as there was no excuse for David or Abraham, and no excuse for Abimelech had he chosen differently. Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham, and also gave him considerable gifts, including a thousand pieces of silver. And unlike the first time Abraham was caught in his lie, the king allowed him to stay in the land. We don’t know for sure if this was last time Abraham tried to pass Sarah off as only his sister, but it is at least the last recorded attempt. Perhaps this incident was part of Abraham learning to trust his survival and safety on Jehovah, and not on the schemes he could invent.

We can learn from Abraham and Abimelech. If we fully trust on God’s provision and protection, we will not desire to rely on ourselves. From Abimelech we learn what Hebrews 11:6 makes clear: that theism—or general belief in a god—is insufficient. No doubt Abraham (and many today) believe that God exists. However, if a man will manifest the faith that God desires, he must also believe that God is who He says He is, and that God will do what He says He will do. For Abraham, those promises included that He would give his elderly wife a baby, and that He would cause Abraham’s descendants to inherit a promised land. For us, those promises include that He will take care of our needs, that He will secure us a place in heaven, and that He loves us and knows us by name. When God says these things, we do well to believe Him. He loves you more than you can imagine.


The above article was written by Ben Reed. He is member of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at

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