QUESTION: Did Abraham deceive the Egyptians by telling them that Sarah was his sister in Genesis 20:2?


ANSWER: Let’s read Genesis 20:1-2, “And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’ And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah” (NKJV). As you will see, this actually took place in “Gerar” (a land between Egypt and Canaan), but this account of Abraham “lying about Sarah being his sister to Abimelech” is almost the exact same experience he had in Egypt nearly 20 years earlier when he “lied about Sarah being his sister to Pharaoh.“ We read about that in Genesis 12:10-17. In both cases Abraham did indeed deceive the kings of those lands (Abimelech and Pharaoh are titles indicating they were rulers) for the same reason; he thought they would kill him because Sarah was beautiful. Genesis 12:11-13 says, “And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you’.” In our passage today Abraham told Abimelech when he questioned him about his lie, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and surely they will kill me on account of my wife” (verse 11).

Was Abraham justified in lying about his wife? Surely not! Perhaps Abraham thought that all of the promises that had God made to him (see Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; and 17:1-8) would fail to come to pass. This was truly a low point in Abraham’s life, for the only thing that “failed” was his faith! One would think that Abraham would have “learned his lesson” when God graciously preserved him in Egypt, but his “repeated failure” teaches us that he had NOT learned the lesson God was seeking to teach him. To add to his failure he continued to lie by telling Abimelech a “half-truth.” We see this in verse 12, “But indeed she is truly my sister, she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” Technically Abraham was RIGHT about Sarah being his sister (for she was his “half-sister”), but he was WRONG in not having disclosed to Abimelech earlier that she was also his wife. Let this be a lesson to us, dear fellow-believer, for a “half-lie” is really a “whole lie” in the eyes of God (and in the eyes of others also).

When we do lie and the world finds out about it, we not only dishonor the Lord who we are called to represent, but we can expect to be rebuked by the world. When Abimelech called Abraham to himself to question him he said, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? YOU HAVE DONE DEEDS TO ME THAT OUGHT NOT TO BE DONE” (verse 9). That must have stung Abraham’s conscience and rightly so! Yet as we have just seen he still tried to justify his actions by telling him that he feared for his life and by telling a half-lie. In other words, he tried to silence that still small voice of conscience by resorting to MORE DISHONESTY. The world is quick to discern failure on the part of a believer and thus Abraham’s words fell on deaf ears. This sad account in Abraham’s life serves to illustrate that even one of God’s most faithful servants can have a lapse of faith and fall into sin. May we take this to heart and learn to “distrust ourselves” and to “trust the Lord” when we are being tested.

I could end on that note, but I would draw your attention to Genesis 26:1-7. In this passage we see Abraham’s son Isaac in the same circumstances as his father had been. He is living in Gerar with his wife and the same fear that gripped Abraham’s heart took hold of Isaac’s heart. And thus we read these solemn words in verse 7, “And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, ‘She is my sister’; for he was afraid to say, ‘She is my wife,’ because he thought, ‘lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.” One has said, “It is the sad story of a father’s weakness being repeated in his son.” Let this be another lesson to those of us who are fathers. If we choose to give in to “the fear of man” instead of having “the fear of God,” our fear and the sins it leads to may very well be repeated by our children. (265.1) (DO)