Genesis 20:11
And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) Surely the fear of God . . . —Abraham’s general condemnation of the people had some excuse in the widespread depravity of the nations in Canaan, but was nevertheless unjust. Even as regards these nations, they were not utterly corrupt (Genesis 15:16), and both in Egypt and in Gerar the standard of morality was higher than Abraham supposed. His difficulty was the result of his own imperfect faith; but the fact that this artifice was arranged between man and wife when starting on their long wanderings, proves that they rather over-rated than under-rated the risks that lay before them. The expedient was indeed a sorry one, and shows that Abraham’s faith was not yet that of a martyr; but it also shows that both of them felt that Abraham might have to save his life by a means almost as bad as death. And thus, after all, it was no common-place faith, but one as firm at root as it was sorely tried and exercised.

Genesis 20:11. I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they will slay me — There are many places and persons that have more of the fear of God in them than we think they have; perhaps they are not called by our name, they do not wear our badges, they do not tie themselves to that which we have an opinion of; and therefore we conclude they have not the fear of God in their hearts!20:9-13 See here much to blame, even in the father of the faithful. Mark his distrust of God, his undue care about life, his intent to deceive. He also threw temptation in the way of others, caused affliction to them, exposed himself and Sarah to just rebukes, and yet attempted an excuse. These things are written for our warning, not for us to imitate. Even Abraham hath not whereof to glory. He cannot be justified by his works, but must be indebted for justification, to that righteousness which is upon all and unto all them that believe. We must not condemn all as hypocrites who fall into sin, if they do not continue in it. But let the unhumbled and impenitent take heed that they do not sin on, thinking that grace may abound. Abimelech, being warned of God, takes the warning; and being truly afraid of sin and its consequences, he rose early to pursue the directions given him.Abimelek retraces his steps, and rectifies his conduct. He makes known his dream to his assembled court, who are filled with astonishment and apprehension. He then calls Abraham, and in bold and manly style remonstrates with him for leading him into error and sin. Abraham is apparently silent from confusion and self-condemnation. Abimelek, after a pause, demands of him his reason for so doing. Abraham now replies with great simplicity and candor. He had said within himself, "The fear of God is not in this place." This is another indication that polytheism was setting in. He concluded that his life would be in danger on account of his wife, and resorted to his wonted expedient for safety. He had learned to trust in the Lord in all things; but he did not think this inconsistent with using all lawful means for personal security, and he was not yet fully alive to the unlawfulness of his usual pretence. He pleads also in extenuation that she is in reality his sister (see Genesis 12:19-20). "Caused me to wander." The verb here is not necessarily plural. But if it be, it is only an instance of the literal, meaning of אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, the Eternal Supernatural Powers, coming into view. "Thy kindness." The old compact of Abraham with Sarah tended to palliate his conduct in the eyes of Abimelek, as he would see that it had no special reference to himself.11. And Abraham said … I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place—From the horrible vices of Sodom he seems to have taken up the impression that all other cities of Canaan were equally corrupt. There might have been few or none who feared God, but what a sad thing when men of the world show a higher sense of honor and a greater abhorrence of crimes than a true worshipper! The fear of God is not in this place, i.e. true piety, or the knowledge of the true God, which is the only effectual restraint from the grossest wickedness. And Abraham said,.... In defence of himself, as well as he could:

because I thought; within himself, concluding from the general depravity of the Canaanites, that this was the case of the inhabitants of Gerar:

surely the fear of God is not in this place; this is a certain truth, which he thought might be depended upon, and taken for granted, since so it was everywhere: or "only" (e), as the word used signifies; this was the only thing he had to plead, that he verily thought with himself that there was no true religion and godliness in Gerar: that the inhabitants of it were without any fear of God before their eyes, or in their hearts; and he knew, where this is the case, there is nothing to restrain from the commission of the grossest sins:

and they will slay me for my wife's sake; that they might marry her, see Genesis 12:12.

(e) "tantum", Montanus; so Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius; so the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, and Ben Melech.

And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the {l} fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

(l) He shows that no honesty can be hoped for, where there is no fear of God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. Because I thought] Lit. “I said”: see note on Genesis 18:17.

Surely the fear of God] Abraham’s defence is that he assumed a heathen people did not fear God; and, therefore, would not be afraid of any Divine retribution, if they took the life of a stranger (gêr). The stranger had no rights; his God would not be known. He would have no “avenger of blood.” See note on Genesis 4:15.

See the same idea underlying Joseph’s words, “for I fear God”(Genesis 42:18).

they will slay me] He does not explain, why he feared that he would be slain for his wife’s sake. Obviously it is for the reason mentioned in Genesis 12:12. Sarah’s youth and beauty are assumed: the murder of the stranger would enable the inhabitants of Gerar to seize her. For this murder there would be no redress; and, therefore, there would be little compunction.Verse 11. - And Abraham said (offering as his first apology for his sinful behavior the fear which he entertained of the depravity of the people), Because I thought, - literally, said (sc. in my heart) - Surely the fear of God is not in this place; - otherwise, there is not any fear of God, רק having usually a confirming sense with reference to what follows (cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; 1 Kings 14:8; vide Gesenius, p. 779) - and they will slay me for my wife's sake. Abimelech, who had not yet come near her, because God had hindered him by illness (Genesis 20:6 and Genesis 20:17), excused himself on the ground that he had done no wrong, since he had supposed Sarah to be Abraham's sister, according to both her husband's statement and her own. This plea was admitted by God, who told him that He had kept him from sinning through touching Sarah, and commanded him to restore the woman immediately to her husband, who was a prophet, that he might pray for him and save his life, and threatened him with certain death to himself and all belonging to him in case he should refuse. That Abimelech, when taking the supposed sister of Abraham into his harem, should have thought that he was acting "in innocence of heart and purity of hands," i.e., in perfect innocence, is to be fully accounted for, from his undeveloped moral and religious standpoint, by considering the customs of that day. But that God should have admitted that he had acted "in innocence of heart," and yet should have proceeded at once to tell him that he could only remain alive through the intercession of Abraham, that is to say, through his obtaining forgiveness of a sin that was deserving of death, is a proof that God treated him as capable of deeper moral discernment and piety. The history itself indicates this in the very characteristic variation in the names of God. First of all (Genesis 20:3), Elohim (without the article, i.e., Deity generally) appears to him in a dream; but Abimelech recognises the Lord, Adonai, i.e., God (Genesis 20:4); whereupon the historian represents האלהים (Elohim with the article), the personal and true God, as speaking to him. The address of God, too, also shows his susceptibility of divine truth. Without further pointing out to him the wrong which he had done in simplicity of heart, in taking the sister of the stranger who had come into his land, for the purpose of increasing his own harem, since he must have been conscious of this himself, God described Abraham as a prophet, whose intercession alone could remove his guilt, to show him the way of salvation. A prophet: lit., the God-addressed or inspired, since the "inward speaking" (Ein-sprache) or inspiration of God constitutes the essence of prophecy. Abraham was προφήτης as the recipient of divine revelation, and was thereby placed in so confidential a relation to God, that he could intercede for sinners, and atone for sins of infirmity through his intercession.
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