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Genesis 20

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Abraham at Gerar.#Abraham again passes off his wife Sarah as his sister to escape trouble in a foreign land (cf. 12:10–13:1, the J source). The story appears to be from a different source (according to some, E) and deals with the ethical questions of the incident. Gn 26:6–11 is yet another retelling of the story, but with Isaac and Rebekah as characters instead of Abraham and Sarah. 1From there Abraham journeyed on to the region of the Negeb, where he settled between Kadesh and Shur.#Kadesh and Shur: Kadesh-barnea was a major oasis on the southernmost border of Canaan, and Shur was probably the “way to Shur,” the road to Egypt. Gerar was a royal city in the area, but has not been identified with certainty. While he resided in Gerar as an alien, 2Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent and took Sarah. 3But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him: You are about to die because of the woman you have taken, for she has a husband. 4Abimelech, who had not approached her, said: “O Lord, would you kill an innocent man? 5Was he not the one who told me, ‘She is my sister’? She herself also stated, ‘He is my brother.’ I acted with pure heart and with clean hands.” 6#Abimelech is exonerated of blame, but by that fact not cleared of the consequences of his act. He is still under the sentence of death for abducting another man’s wife; the consequences result from the deed not the intention. God answered him in the dream: Yes, I know you did it with a pure heart. In fact, it was I who kept you from sinning against me; that is why I did not let you touch her. 7So now, return the man’s wife so that he may intercede for you, since he is a prophet,#Prophet: only here is Abraham explicitly called “prophet,” Hebrew nabi (cf. Ps 105:15). that you may live. If you do not return her, you can be sure that you and all who are yours will die.
8Early the next morning Abimelech called all his servants and informed them of everything that had happened, and the men were filled with fear. 9Then Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him: “What have you done to us! What wrong did I do to you that you would have brought such great guilt on me and my kingdom? You have treated me in an intolerable way. 10What did you have in mind,” Abimelech asked him, “that you would do such a thing?” 11Abraham answered, “I thought there would be no fear of God#Fear of God is the traditional though unsatisfactory rendering of Hebrew yir’at YHWH, literally, “revering Yahweh.” The phrase refers neither to the emotion of fear nor to religious reverence of a general kind. Rather it refers to adherence to a single deity (in a polytheistic culture), honoring that deity with prayers, rituals, and obedience. The phrase occurs again in 26:24; 43:23; and 50:19. It is very common in the wisdom literature of the Bible. in this place, and so they would kill me on account of my wife. 12Besides, she really is my sister,#My sister: marrying one’s half sister was prohibited later in Israel’s history. but only my father’s daughter, not my mother’s; and so she became my wife. 13When God sent me wandering from my father’s house, I asked her: ‘Would you do me this favor? In whatever place we come to, say: He is my brother.’”#Gn 12:13.
14Then Abimelech took flocks and herds and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham; and he restored his wife Sarah to him. 15Then Abimelech said, “Here, my land is at your disposal; settle wherever you please.” 16To Sarah he said: “I hereby give your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This will preserve your honor before all who are with you and will exonerate you before everyone.” 17Abraham then interceded with God, and God restored health to Abimelech, to his wife, and his maidservants, so that they bore children; 18for the Lord had closed every womb in Abimelech’s household on account of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
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Abraham and Abimelech
1 Abraham journeyed from there to the Negev#tn Or “the South [country]”; Heb “the land of the Negev.”sn Negev is the name for the southern desert region in the land of Canaan. region and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While he lived as a temporary resident#tn Heb “and he sojourned.” in Gerar, 2 Abraham said about his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech, king of Gerar, sent for Sarah and took her.
3 But God appeared#tn Heb “came.” to Abimelech in a dream at night and said to him, “You are as good as dead#tn Heb “Look, you [are] dead.” The Hebrew construction uses the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) with a second person pronominal particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) with by the participle. It is a highly rhetorical expression. because of the woman you have taken, for she is someone else’s wife.”#tn Heb “and she is owned by an owner.” The disjunctive clause is causal or explanatory in this case.
4 Now Abimelech had not gone near her. He said, “Lord,#tn The Hebrew term translated “Lord” here is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay). would you really slaughter an innocent nation?#tn Apparently Abimelech assumes that God’s judgment will fall on his entire nation. Some, finding the reference to a nation problematic, prefer to emend the text and read, “Would you really kill someone who is innocent?” See E. A. Speiser, Genesis (AB), 149. 5 Did Abraham#tn Heb “he”; the referent has been specified in the translation for clarity. not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said,#tn Heb “and she, even she.” ‘He is my brother.’ I have done this with a clear conscience#tn Heb “with the integrity of my heart.” and with innocent hands!”
6 Then in the dream God replied to him, “Yes, I know that you have done this with a clear conscience.#tn Heb “with the integrity of your heart.” That is why I have kept you#tn Heb “and I, even I, kept you.” from sinning against me and why#tn Heb “therefore.” I did not allow you to touch her. 7 But now give back the man’s wife. Indeed#tn Or “for,” if the particle is understood as causal (as many English translations do) rather than asseverative. he is a prophet#sn For a discussion of the term prophet see N. Walker, “What is a Nabhi?” ZAW 73 (1961): 99-100. and he will pray for you; thus you will live.#tn After the preceding jussive (or imperfect), the imperative with vav conjunctive here indicates result.sn He will pray for you that you may live. Abraham was known as a man of God whose prayer would be effectual. Ironically and sadly, he was also known as a liar. But if you don’t give her back,#tn Heb “if there is not you returning.” The suffix on the particle becomes the subject of the negated clause. know that you will surely die#tn The imperfect is preceded by the infinitive absolute to make the warning emphatic. along with all who belong to you.”
8 Early in the morning#tn Heb “And Abimelech rose early in the morning and he summoned.” Abimelech summoned#tn The verb קָרָא (qara’) followed by the preposition לְ (lamed) means “to summon.” all his servants. When he told them about all these things,#tn Heb “And he spoke all these things in their ears.” they#tn Heb “the men.” This has been replaced by the pronoun “they” in the translation for stylistic reasons. were terrified. 9 Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? What sin did I commit against you that would cause you to bring such great guilt on me and my kingdom?#tn Heb “How did I sin against you that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?” The expression “great sin” refers to adultery. For discussion of the cultural background of the passage, see J. J. Rabinowitz, “The Great Sin in Ancient Egyptian Marriage Contracts,” JNES 18 (1959): 73, and W. L. Moran, “The Scandal of the ‘Great Sin’ at Ugarit,” JNES 18 (1959): 280-81. You have done things to me that should not be done!”#tn Heb “Deeds which should not be done you have done to me.” The imperfect has an obligatory nuance here. 10 Then Abimelech asked#tn Heb “And Abimelech said to.” Abraham, “What prompted you to do this thing?”#tn Heb “What did you see that you did this thing?” The question implies that Abraham had some motive for deceiving Abimelech.
11 Abraham replied, “Because I thought,#tn Heb “Because I said.” ‘Surely no one fears God in this place. They will kill me because of#tn Heb “over the matter of.” my wife.’ 12 What’s more,#tn Heb “but also.” she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter, but not my mother’s daughter. She became my wife. 13 When God made me wander#tn The Hebrew verb is plural. This may be a case of grammatical agreement with the name for God, which is plural in form. However, when this plural name refers to the one true God, accompanying predicates are usually singular in form. Perhaps Abraham is accommodating his speech to Abimelech’s polytheistic perspective. (See GKC 463 §145.i.) If so, one should translate, “when the gods made me wander.” from my father’s house, I told her, ‘This is what you can do to show your loyalty to me:#tn Heb “This is your loyal deed which you can do for me.” Every place we go, say about me, “He is my brother.”’”
14 So Abimelech gave#tn Heb “took and gave.” sheep, cattle, and male and female servants to Abraham. He also gave his wife Sarah back to him. 15 Then Abimelech said, “Look, my land is before you; live wherever you please.”#tn Heb “In the [place that is] good in your eyes live!”
16 To Sarah he said, “Look, I have given a thousand pieces of silver#sn A thousand pieces [Heb “shekels”] of silver. The standards for weighing money varied considerably in the ancient Near East, but the generally accepted weight for the shekel is 11.5 grams (0.4 ounce). This makes the weight of silver here 11.5 kilograms, or 400 ounces (about 25 pounds). to your ‘brother.’#sn To your ‘brother.’ Note the way that the king refers to Abraham. Was he being sarcastic? It was surely a rebuke to Sarah. What is amazing is how patient this king was. It is proof that the fear of God was in that place, contrary to what Abraham believed (see v. 11). This is compensation for you so that you will stand vindicated before all who are with you.”#tn Heb “Look, it is for you a covering of the eyes, for all who are with you, and with all, and you are set right.” The exact meaning of the statement is unclear. Apparently it means that the gift of money somehow exonerates her in other people’s eyes. They will not look on her as compromised (see G. J. Wenham, Genesis [WBC], 2:74).
17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, as well as his wife and female slaves so that they were able to have children. 18 For the Lord#tn In the Hebrew text the clause begins with “because.” had caused infertility to strike every woman#tn Heb had completely closed up every womb.” In the Hebrew text infinitive absolute precedes the finite verb for emphasis.sn The Lord had closed up every womb. This fact indicates that Sarah was in Abimelech’s household for weeks or months before the dream revelation was given (20:6-7). No one in his household could have children after Sarah arrived on the scene. in the household of Abimelech because he took#tn Heb “because of.” The words “he took” are supplied in the translation for clarity. Sarah, Abraham’s wife.