3 Things We Can Learn about Sin from Abimelech’s Story
- Aaron D'Anthony Brown Contributing Author
- 2021 5 Nov
There’s plenty to learn from the Bible and all of its characters, big or small, prominent or obscure. While believers spend a great deal of time in Bible study or church discussing heroes like David or Jesus, there are lessons to learn from other characters too. Sometimes people like Pharaoh and King Nebuchadnezzar offer their own bits of wisdom through the unfortunate lives they lived. Aside from villains, sometimes people who only played minor roles also give us ideas to talk about, like Job’s friends, or Noah’s sons.
The same is true about a man named Abimelech. Now, there are at least three Abimelech’s mentioned in the Bible. Sometimes four or more depending on the translation. Most of the Abimelech’s came from royalty, as is the case with the Abimelech who interacted with both Abraham and Sarah during their stay in Gerar.
At first glance, his story does not sound too different from other characters in the Bible, or even our own. That summation may change with a closer examination of the test. So let’s consider the question, who is Abimelech and what should we know about him?
Who Is Abimelech?
The first Abimelech, the subject of this article, makes an appearance in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Genesis. We read about him just as we are given details about Abraham’s continued journey with Sarah. In this chapter, the couple travels to Gerar. Abimelech is the king of the area and presides over the Philistines. His run-in with Abraham can only be described as divine fate. Beginning in Genesis 12, God called Abraham, whose name was Abram at the time, along with Sarai, her previous name, to journey. Their destination - the promised land where God would make Abraham into a great many nations.
Much like other stories in the Bible, God appointed people with a specific purpose. That purpose would then take them to a particular place., All the while, God would be overseeing the entire process. The twelfth chapter of Genesis also sets the foundation for a conflict that occurs in chapter 20. We read about a fear Abraham has regarding his wife.
“When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife, Sarai, ‘Look, I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ They will kill me but let you live.’” (Genesis 12:11-12)
Abraham did not lack confidence in his marriage, but he seemingly lacked confidence in God’s plan, and in God’s protection. If Abraham died, on account of his wife or for another reason, God would not fulfill His promise. Therefore, Abraham took matters into his own hands. Instead of having complete trust in God, he opted for self-preservation.
After their chat, Abraham and Sarah went through Egypt and ultimately went to Gerar by chapter 20. That is where the two met Abimelech. Abraham had clung to his lie during the entire trip and had no reason to depart from the falsehood now.
Being the person that he is, Abimelech sees Sarah as an opportunity to be with a woman, a beautiful woman at that, which would fit with his regal position. And due to his power, Abimelech did not simply inquire whether or not Sarah was single, he had the married woman brought to him to become a concubine (Genesis 20:2). What happened next was a complete shock to the king.
What Did Abimelech Do with God in the Bible?
After Abimelech exercised his political rights as king and took Sarah for himself, he received a terrifying dream from God.
“But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘You are about to die because of the woman you have taken, for she is a married woman.” (Genesis 20:3)
The king feared the Lord, but also felt some confusion about his apparent offense. He advocated for himself by speaking to God about his innocence (Genesis 20:4). From his perspective, he did nothing wrong. Abimelech told God what Abraham told him, Sarah was a sister. Sarah too, added to the lie, reaffirming that she was only a sister. If both the man and woman are saying the same thing, Abimelech had no reason to suspect a lie.
Since God is all-knowing, He was already aware of the lie and aware of Abimelech’s innocence. Thus, God tells the king that he has been kept from sinning by the Lord’s will. He then tells Abimelech to return Sarah to her rightful husband. Abimelech obliges.
Interestingly, at the end of the chapter, readers learn that God had already vexed those in Abimelech’s household. God closed all of the women’s wombs as a result of the king taking Sarah for himself. Only after she was returned did this curse get removed. Abimelech prayed to God and all the women were subsequently healed.
His relationship with God is similar and different in ways from our own. That being said, Abimelech is a human, a sinner, much as we are, and that makes his story great for us to learn from.
What Should We Learn from Abimelech?
1. Sin Has Consequences
Abimelech’s propensity for having concubines was not in alignment with God’s definition of marriage. As he acted outside of God’s ideal, he set himself up to reap consequences. Sin often presents itself as helpful for the sinner, but sin also leads us away from God. If we want to avoid consequences we have to keep in step with God. Abimelech corrected his behavior, this time, and was able to seek forgiveness for his would-be consequences.
2. Sin Affects Others
Abimelech’s actions were going to have an impact on every woman within his household. The consequences for sin were therefore not limited to him. Furthermore, Abimelech was being led to sin because of Abraham and Sarah’s sin of lying. One action had a cascading effect.
Today, thanks to Jesus, we are held to account for our sins only, but our choices, good or bad, still impact those around us. A drunk mother has an effect on her children. A corrupt teacher has an effect on his students. This realization adds all the more importance to our daily decisions.
3. Sin Without Knowing
Can we sin without knowing? This text seems to suggest that the answer is yes. Abimelech was acting out against God and not realizing what he was doing by taking Sarah for himself. In what ways are we behaving and not realizing the sin in our own lives? We can read about Abimelech and place clear blame on him for having concubines, but as a king he was acting in line with his culture. What sins are we committing by acting in line with our own?
From beginning to end, Abimelech is not a major character within the Bible. Anyone who does not study Scripture is far less likely to remember his name and appearance. They aren’t likely to remember any of the other Abimelech’s that appear either. Despite playing a minor role, this single chapter featuring Abimelech offers enough content to give readers lessons to learn. Valuable lessons, ones that sometimes we don't get from the major character stories. This proves that there is much to learn from the Bible and while we will never know everything, we build our knowledge by continuously engaging and reading. God has much to teach. We just need to be like Abimelech, willing to learn, willing to change.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tomertu
Aaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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