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From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” – Genesis 20:1-7
One commentator writes about this incident:
Abraham’s concern was probably not because Sarah looked like a young beauty at 90 years of age. We can surmise that she was reasonably attractive at that age, but more importantly she was connected to one of the richest and most influential men of the region. In that day, a harem was sometimes more of a political statement than a romantic statement.
At the same time, we should not ignore the idea of Sarah’s continued attractiveness even in old age. “She had in some measure been physically rejuvenated, in order to conceive, bear, and nurse Isaac, and possibly this manifested itself in renewed beauty as well” (Morris).
Abraham and Sarah succumb to the same temptation that is recorded in Genesis 12:10-13. Now more than 25 years later, they try the same scheme. Abraham’s and Sarah’s fear and forgetfulness conspire to take this path of deceit. Thankfully that path is cut short by God. His intervention takes the form of the dream of Abimelech, and the stern warning to him. Why not Abraham? Why not Sarah? It is not clear. What is clear, however, is that the intervention works and Sarah is restored to Abraham, and this episode passes. Another chapter in the long saga of a fallen man of faith.
There are certain temptations that seem more aligned with certain years of life. In our younger years, we may be tempted more toward impatience, self-indulgence, or excessive partying. In our middle years, we may be tempted toward self-sufficiency, smugness, or blindness to others’ needs. In our older years temptations of self-righteousness, laziness (“I’ve put in my time…”), or resentment can beset us. But all these sins and temptations can visit us at any time.
Age is no guarantee of spiritual maturity or of godly behavior. Nor does it exempt us from temptations of the flesh. It may not be quite the same as in our younger years, but temptations still come. Thankfully by the power of the Holy Spirit we can resist temptation. And in the rich grace of God, we find forgiveness and restoration.
I take great comfort in seeing how God does not abandon Abraham, nor disqualify him because of this sin. For if sin would disqualify any of us, we would have no hope. As it is, we repent daily, and rejoice in God’s faithfulness and love, and get back on the path he has for us as his servants.