Changing the Rules (Gen. 20)

God appears to Abimelek in a dream and threatens him with death because he has taken Sarah, a married woman. Abimelek protests that he is innocent because he hadn’t gone near her and was unaware of her marital status because Abraham deceived him. God then says something quite astonishing:

6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.” (Gen. 20:6-7)

This passage creates quite a bit of cognitive dissonance with regards to free will versus predestination as well as the problem of evil, but I’ll leave that for a later essay. For now, what’s important is that God, somehow, kept Abimelek from sinning and let events progress far enough that he had to intervene with a revelation.

If God is able to shape the future, he could have prevented this awkward exchange from happening in the first place. Maybe God intentionally let this meeting happen because it fulfills some larger purpose. That purpose, however, remains unclear. As I noted in an earlier post, God clearly wasn’t teaching Abraham a lesson about honesty. If anything he was building Abraham’s national treasury.

Abraham’s encounter with Abimelek happens sometime during his 99th or 100th year, right before Isaac was born. It’s possible this story was included to preserve Abraham’s paternal integrity. That makes sense, but it still doesn’t explain why the event couldn’t have been avoided all together. Could God not foresee this encounter and was forced to intervene to protect his covenant with Abraham? Maybe there was a political purpose?

Or, more cynically, these events happened and Abraham’s descendants needed a story to protect their lineage to justify their status as God’s chosen people.

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