Tag Archives: Sarah

Genesis 20: The Protector of the Covenant

Genesis 20 presents us with a familiar pattern:  Abraham lies about Sarah’s identity as his wife.   In doing so, he jeopardizes two covenants at once.

First, Abraham jeopardizes his marriage covenant.  To save his own skin from a perceived, not an actual threat, he lies: “She is my sister” (v.2).  In the process, he leaves his bride utterly exposed to exploitation by Abimelech.  The only reason she isn’t ultimately violated is that the Lord Himself personally intervenes through Abimelech’s dream (vv.3–7).  It would be one thing, I suppose, for Abraham to have lied about Sarah’s identity to make her safer:  to expose himself to danger so that he might insulate her.  But in fact he does precisely the opposite:  he lies about Sarah to make himself safer, and by so doing exposes her to great moral and physical danger.

By comparison to his greatest son, Abraham is a poor specimen of a husband indeed:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies….” (Ephesians 5:25-28).  Abraham gave Sarah up for himself, and did not guard her purity.

The second covenant Abraham puts into jeopardy is the Lord’s covenant with him.  The Lord had promised that Abraham & Sarah would be given a son (Chs.17-18).  Abraham’s deception in Ch.20 raises the possibility that, if Sarah becomes pregnant, it would appear that Abimelech, rather than Abraham, was the father, thus casting a shadow of uncertainty over the heart of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham.

But the Lord intervenes to protect, not merely Sarah’s purity, but the integrity of His covenant with Abraham.  Again and again throughout Genesis, the treasure of the covenant is placed into hands that are not sufficiently faithful to guard it well.  The only hope is always that the Lord’s own zeal to uphold the covenant exceeds man’s that it be upheld.

This is the plotline of the entire Bible.  This the plotline of history.  This is the story of the Christian life:  it is He who began a good work in us, who will also be the One to bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).


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Genesis 16: The False Logic of Unbelief

This chapter stuns me every time I read it.  Correction:  stuns my self-righteousness every time I read it.  How, my interior monologue wonders, can Abram and Sarai be the only ones in the universe unable to see that the Hagar plan is not going to end well?  I think we’re meant to have that reaction to the folly of their unbelief precisely so that our own foolish unbelief can come into view.

I need to be honest:  the logic of unbelief often presents itself as the most sensible of alternatives.  Just as it did for Sarai and Abram.  If Genesis 15 recorded Abram’s struggle with the gap between the massive promises of God he had been given and the reality he was living, Genesis 16 gives us a window into Sarai’s side of the same struggle.

They were in a difficult position.  Holding the promise of God in one hand while finding themselves in what looked like–to the naked eye, anyway–like a dead end with no possibility of fulfillment in the other.  So, as time goes by, not only do impatience and anxious longing rise, but also, perhaps, some significant measure of self-doubt:  “Did we hear or understand that correctly?”

The irony of their plan is that it appears to be pursuing fulfillment of the promise.  They rationalize their decision as walking toward the promise of God, not away from it.  I might know someone who’s done that once or twice.

They’ve forgotten (as Maria and I often remind one another) that efficiency is not one of the Lord’s core values.  Not because He can’t be, but because process often proves one of His preferred methods for bringing glory to Himself and good to His people.  I’ve read about people like Abram and Sarai.

In effect, Abram and Sarai measure the promise of God according to the realities” of their situation.  They act in a way that amputates the most dramatic aspects of God’s promise to them.  I might know someone quite well who repeats this same mistake over and over again.

I recently came across the following quote regarding unbelief that summarizes well the “logic” of Abram and Sarai’s unbelief in this chapter:

“All unbelief is foolishness, for 
it takes such wisdom as its own finite perception can attain, and measuring infinity by that petty scale,
 concludes that what it cannot understand must be impossible.
  Unbelief is the result of incapacity engaged in argument.”

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315—67)

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