Genesis 20:3
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, you are but a dead man, for the woman which you have taken; for she is a man's wife.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) God (Elohim) came . . . —From the use of this title of the Deity it has been said that this narrative is an Elohistic form of the Jehovistic narrative in·Genesis 12:10-20. But we have seen that even in the History of the Fall, where the writer in so remarkable a manner styles the Deity Jehovah-Elohim, he nevertheless restricts Eve and the serpent in their conversation to the name Elohim. With the same care in the application of the names, it is necessarily Elohim who appears to a heathen king; and had the title Jehovah been used it would have been a violation of the narrator’s rule. Moreover, the sole reason for calling that narrative Jehovistic is that in Genesis 12:17 it is Jehovah who plagues Pharaoh for Sarah’s sake. But equally here, Genesis 20:18, it is Jehovah who protects Sarah from Abimelech; in both cases it being the covenant- God, who saves his people from injury.

Thou art but a dead man.—Heb., thou diest, or art dying. Abimelech was already suffering from the malady spoken of in Genesis 20:17, when Elohim appeared to him and warned him that death would be the result of perseverance in retaining Sarah. It was this malady which was the cause of the abstention spoken of in Genesis 20:4; Genesis 20:6.

Genesis 20:3. But God came to Abimelech in a dream — It appears by this that God revealed himself by dreams, which evidenced themselves to be divine and supernatural, not only to his servants the prophets, but even to those that were out of the pale of the church; but then usually it was with some regard to God’s own people.20:1-8 Crooked policy will not prosper: it brings ourselves and others into danger. God gives Abimelech notice of his danger of sin, and his danger of death for his sin. Every wilful sinner is a dead man, but Abimelech pleads ignorance. If our consciences witness, that, however we may have been cheated into a snare, we have not knowingly sinned against God, it will be our rejoicing in the day of evil. It is matter of comfort to those who are honest, that God knows their honesty, and will acknowledge it. It is a great mercy to be hindered from committing sin; of this God must have the glory. But if we have ignorantly done wrong, that will not excuse us, if we knowingly persist in it. He that does wrong, whoever he is, prince or peasant, shall certainly receive for the wrong which he has done, unless he repent, and, if possible, make restitution.The Supreme Being here appears as God אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, and therefore in his eternal power and independence, as he was antecedent to the creation of man. He communicates with Abimelek in a dream. This prince addresses him as אדני 'ǎdonāy, "Lord." We have already seen that the knowledge of the true God had not yet disappeared from the Gentile world, who were under the Noachic covenant. "Thou wilt die." Thou art dying or at the point of death if thou persist. A deadly plague was already in the body of Abimelek, on account of Sarah. "Wilt thou slay a righteous nation also?" Abimelek associates his nation with himself, and expects that the fatal stroke will not be confined to his own person. He pleads his integrity in the matter, which the Lord acknowledges. Gentiles sometimes act according to the dictates of conscience, which still lives in them, though it be obscured by sin. Abimelek was innocent in regard to the "great sin" of seizing another man's wife, of which God acquitted him. He was wrong in appropriating a woman to himself by mere stretch of power, and in adding wife to wife. But these were common customs of the time, for which his conscience did not upbraid him in his pleading with God. "And the God." The presence of the definite article seems to intimate a contrast of the true God with the false gods to which the Gentiles were fast turning. Abimelek was at least in the doubtful ground on the borders of polytheism.3. But God came to Abimelech in a dream—In early times a dream was often made the medium of communicating important truths; and this method was adopted for the preservation of Sarah. God then used to manifest his mind in dreams, not only to his people, but even to heathens for their sakes, or in things wherein they were concerned.

Thou art but a dead man, thou deservest a present and untimely death; and if thou proceedest in thy intended wickedness, it shall be inflicted upon thee, both for thy injustice in taking her away by force, and for thy intentions to abuse her, though not yet executed. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night,.... Put a dream into his mind, by which he cautioned him against taking Sarah to be his wife; so careful was the Lord that no wrong should be done to such a godly and virtuous person, to which she was exposed through the weakness of her husband. Aben Ezra wrongly interprets this of an angel, when it was God himself:

and said unto him, behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; that is, God would punish him with death, unless he restored the woman, whom he had taken, to her husband; not for any uncleanness he had committed with her, but for taking her without her free and full consent, and without inquiring more strictly into her relation to Abraham, and connection with him, and for his impure and unlawful desires after her, if persisted in:

for she is a man's wife, or "married to an husband" (c); and therefore it was unlawful in him to take her to be his wife.

(c) "maritata marito", Pagninus, Montanus, Piscator, Schmidt.

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, {c} thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

(c) So greatly God detests the breach of marriage.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. God came … in a dream] Scholars have noticed that E frequently describes Divine interposition by means of a dream. Cf. Genesis 20:6, Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:24, Genesis 37:5; Genesis 37:9, Genesis 40:5 ff., Genesis 41:1 ff., Genesis 46:2.

art but a dead man] i.e. “shalt die.” This sentence is not literally fulfilled. Cf. Genesis 2:17.Verse 3. - But God - Elohim; whence the present chapter, with the exception of Ver. 18, is assigned to the Elohist (Tuch, De Wette, Bleek, Davidson), and the incident at Gerar explained as the original legend, of which the story of Sarah's abduction by Pharaoh is the Jehovistic imitation. But

(1) the use of Elohim throughout the present chapter is sufficiently accounted for by observing that it describes the intercourse of Deity with a heathen monarch, to whom the name of Jehovah was unknown, while the employment of the latter term in Ver. 18 may be ascribed to the fact that it is the covenant God of Sarah who there interposes for her protection; and

(2) the apparent resemblance between the two incidents is more than counterbalanced by the points of diversity which subsist between them - came to Abimelech in a dream - the usual mode of self-revelation employed by Elohim towards heathen. Cf. Pharaoh's dreams (Genesis 41:1) and Nebuchadnezzar's (Daniel 4:5), as distinguished from the visions in which Jehovah manifests his presence to his people. Cf. the theophanies vouchsafed to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 15:1; Genesis 18:1) and to Jacob (Genesis 28:13; Genesis 32:24), and the visions granted to Daniel (Daniel 7:1-28; Daniel 10:5-9) and the prophets generally, which, though sometimes occurring in dreams, were yet a higher form of Divine manifestation than the dreams - by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, - literally, behold thyself dying, or about to die - σὺ ἀποθνήσκεις (LXX.). Abimelech, it is probable, was by this time suffering from the malady which had fallen on his house (vide Ver. 17) - for (i.e. on account of) the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife - literally, married to a husband, or under lordship to a lord (cf. Deuteronomy 22:22). From Zoar Lot removed with his two daughters to the (Moabitish) mountains, for fear that Zoar might after all be destroyed, and dwelt in one of the caves (מערה with the generic article), in which the limestone rocks abound (vid., Lynch), and so became a dweller in a cave. While there, his daughters resolved to procure children through their father; and to that end on two successive evenings they made him intoxicated with wine, and then lay with him in the might, one after the other, that they might conceive seed. To this accursed crime they were impelled by the desire to preserve their family, because they thought there was no man on the earth to come in unto them, i.e., to marry them, "after the manner of all the earth." Not that they imagined the whole human race to have perished in the destruction of the valley of Siddim, but because they were afraid that no man would link himself with them, the only survivors of a country smitten by the curse of God. If it was not lust, therefore, which impelled them to this shameful deed, their conduct was worthy of Sodom, and shows quite as much as their previous betrothal to men of Sodom, that they were deeply imbued with the sinful character of that city. The words of Genesis 19:33 and Genesis 19:35, "And he knew not of her lying down and of her rising up," do not affirm that he was in an unconscious state, as the Rabbins are said by Jerome to have indicated by the point over בּקוּמה: "quasi incredibile et quod natura rerum non capiat, coire quempiam nescientem." They merely mean, that in his intoxicated state, though not entirely unconscious, yet he lay with his daughters without clearly knowing what he was doing.
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