Genesis 20:4
But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, LORD, will you slay also a righteous nation?
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(4) A righteous nation.—Knobel has pointed out that there is an allusion here to the fate of Sodom. Though the malady was confined to Abimelech and his household, yet he sees destruction threatening his whole people, who, compared with the inhabitants of the Ciccar cities, were righteous. There is indirect proof: of the truth of Abimelech’s assertion in the fact that death (see Genesis 20:3) is acquiesced in as the fitting punishment for adultery.

Genesis 20:4. Wilt thou also slay a righteous nation? — He probably referred to the late destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain, which, no doubt, must have caused great consternation, if not also some degree of reformation, in that neighbourhood. As Abimelech’s plea was not rejected by the Lord, there is reason to hope that both he and his subjects were not only free from the abominations of Sodom, and from the reigning idolatries of Canaan, but that the fear of God, and some remains of true religion, were found among them.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. Abimelech had not come near her, i.e. had not yet lain with her. A modest expression, like that of knowing a woman, Genesis 4:1, or going in to her, Genesis 6:4, or touching her, Proverbs 6:29 1 Corinthians 7:1, by which we are taught to use modesty in our speeches, and not, with the rude cynics, to express all things by their proper names. This clause and history was necessary to be added here for Sarah’s vindication, and especially for the demonstration of Isaac’s original from Abraham and Sarah, according to God’s promise.

Wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? i.e. innocent as to this matter. Compare 2 Samuel 4:11. He knew it was just and usual for God to punish a nation for their king’s sins; and therefore, as became a good prince, he is solicitous, and prays for the safety of his nation: or else by nation he may mean his family, for some of them were not involved in the guilt of this fact. But Abimelech had not come near her,.... Sarah had been put into an apartment in his palace, and not yet admitted into his company, not at least to his bed; he had not lain with her, which is the design of the expression: the Septuagint version is, "had not touched her", as in Genesis 20:6; which is another phrase expressive of the same thing:

and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? meaning either his family, the greater part of which were not accessory to this affair; or rather his kingdom, as Aben Ezra, see Genesis 20:9; which though not a nation of righteous men, in a strict sense, see Genesis 20:11; yet with regard to this business of Sarah were no ways criminal: either God had threatened to destroy his people, as well as himself, if he did not return Sarah to her husband, or committed iniquity with her; or he knew that this had been usual for people to suffer for the crimes of their governors, and like a true father of his country shows an affectionate concern for their welfare in the first place; for this may be the sense of the word "also", on which an emphasis is put; wilt thou not only slay me, but also a whole nation for my sake, a nation free from all fault and blame in this matter? though some think he has reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, a recent action, and fresh in his mind; as if he should say, thou hast justly destroyed a wicked people for their sins, and wilt thou also destroy a nation that at least, in comparison of them, is a just and righteous one?

But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also {d} a righteous nation?

(d) The infidels confessed that God would not punish but for just occasion: therefore, when he punishes, the occasion is just.

4. a righteous nation] Abimelech appeals to the instinct of justice, that God will not punish the innocent, as if they were guilty. Cf. Genesis 18:23.Verse 4. - But Abimelech had not come near her. Apparently withheld by the peculiar disease which had overtaken him. The statement of the present verse (a similar one to which is not made with reference to Pharaoh) was clearly rendered necessary by the approaching birth of Isaac, who might otherwise have been said to be the child not of Abraham, but of the Philistine king. And he said, Lord, - Adonai (vide Genesis 15:2) - wilt thou slay also a righteous nation? Anticipating that the stroke of Divine judgment was about to fall upon his people as well as on himself, with allusion to the fate of Sodom (Knobel), which he deprecates for his people at least on the ground that they are innocent of the offence charged against him (cf. 2 Samuel 24:17). That Abimelech and his people, like Melchisedeck and his subjects, had some knowledge of the true God, and that the Canaanites generally at this period had not reached the depth of moral degradation into which the cities of the Jordan circle had sunk before their overthrow, is apparent from the narrative. The comparative virtue, therefore, of these tribes was a proof that the hour had not arrived for the infliction on them of the doom of extermination. But Lot's daughters had so little feeling of shame in connection with their conduct, that they gave names to the sons they bore, which have immortalized their paternity. Moab, another form of מאב "from the father," as is indicated in the clause appended in the lxx: λέγουσα ἐκ τοῦ πατρός μου, and also rendered probable by the reiteration of the words "of our father" and "by their father" (Genesis 19:32, Genesis 19:34, and Genesis 19:36), as well as by the analogy of the name Ben-Ammi equals Ammon, Ἀμμάν, λέγουσα Υἱος γένους μου (lxx). For עמּון, the sprout of the nation, bears the same relation to עם, as אגמון, the rush or sprout of the marsh, to אגם Delitzsch). - This account was neither the invention of national hatred to the Moabites and Ammonites, nor was it placed here as a brand upon those tribes. These discoveries of a criticism imbued with hostility to the Bible are overthrown by the fact, that, according to Deuteronomy 2:9, Deuteronomy 2:19, Israel was ordered not to touch the territory of either of these tribes because of their descent from Lot; and it was their unbrotherly conduct towards Israel alone which first prevented their reception into the congregation of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:4-5. - Lot is never mentioned again. Separated both outwardly and inwardly from Abraham, he was of no further importance in relation to the history of salvation, so that even his death is not referred to. His descendants, however, frequently came into contact with the Israelites; and the history of their descent is given here to facilitate a correct appreciation of their conduct towards Israel.
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