Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Abimelech’s Dream

Scripture: Genesis 20

Background: Following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham wandered to the south and the east, eventually coming to the land of Gerar, ruled by Abimelech. There Abraham once more told the people that Sarah was his sister. So Abimelech took Sarah into his home. As a result, God came to Abimelech in a dream to warn him of the wrong he was about to commit.

Observations: On the surface, this account of Abraham and Abimelech resembles Abraham’s visit to Egypt in Chapter 12. In both cases, Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah. In both cases, the king of the land brought Sarah into his home with the intent of making her a wife. In both cases, God inflicted harm on the household of the king due to Sarah’s presence, which wasn’t lifted until Sarah was returned to Abraham. With so many similarities, what more can this account add to our study?

Yet, despite the external parallels, God handled each situation differently. In Egypt God simply struck Pharaoh and his household with a plague, and somehow from that the Egyptians discerned the truth. Here, God approaches Abimelech in a dream, warning him of impending destruction if he held onto Sarah.

This passage is also significant because we find our first reference to a prophet here. First references are significant because they create the baseline definition or perception of what a term means. In this case, we read, “‘[Abraham] is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.’” (20:7)

We often think of prophets as those who predict the future, usually with much gloom and doom. But Genesis 20 paints a vastly different portrait of the prophet’s role. Here Abraham was to pray for Abimelech; he was to intercede on behalf of the king in order that he might live.

So a prophet’s first job is not to foretell what will be, but to pray over what is. Nor is a prophet’s primary motive condemnation and destruction. Rather, he is to bring life and restoration. And if he does utter the dire, it is out of the hope that the listener will turn from wrong and do what is right so that he may live. In short, the job of a prophet is the job of interceding mediator between God and man.

Significance: God is so gracious.

Abimelech had unknowingly committed a great wrong in taking Sarah. One which could have had long-term implications now that the birth of Isaac was less than a year away. After all, Isaac was the promised son upon whom the covenant rested. God, therefore, would brook no ambiguity concerning the origins of Isaac. So from one point of view, God would have been completely justified in instantly killing Abimelech so that there could be no dispute.

Moreover, God doesn’t ignore sin just because it is a sin committed out of ignorance. Deal with it more gently, yes, but ignore it—no. Sin is sin and carries consequences, even when done out of ignorance or innocence.

But God does not kill Abimelech instantly. Rather, He approached Abimelech in a dream, and though God’s opening words sound harsh (“you are a dead man!”), the fact that God bothered to approach at all, clearly laying out Abimelech’s precarious position and the reason why, reveals God’s gracious nature. God didn’t have to do that or explain what was going on. Yet He did.

Nor does God stop there. God, being omniscient, knew that Abimelech acted in the integrity of heart. So God gave Abimelech a chance to correct the situation before He meted out all the consequences. In fact, God went so far as to prevent Abimelech from taking the next irreversible step (20:6) until Abimelech had the chance to make an informed decision. Moreover, God doesn’t leave Abimelech in the dark about what to do now. Rather, God makes it clear what he must do as well as the consequences of failure.

So in Genesis 20 we see how even in the midst of judgment and harshness, God is gracious. Indeed, the graciousness permeates the story so thoroughly, that it echoes the Gospel that was to come: Like with Abimelech, God tells us the truth about our standing before Him (dead and under judgment) as well as explains why we are in that position (sin). But not wanting any to perish, God has informed us how to make the situation right through an interceding mediator (Jesus Christ), even as He warns us of the consequences of ignoring His instructions (eternal death).

Which leaves only one question: how will we respond?

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