It says that Abraham feared for his life (Gen 12:12). Does this mean Abraham didn't trust God in spite of the NT view that Abraham was a man of faith (Heb 11:8-12, Gal 3:9)?

Why is the repeated mistake with Abimilech then recorded in Gen 20?

  • I think that it was only a half lie! He could have just said that "she is my wife" and either way God would have protected him. On the other hand they still had the same father but different mothers so yeah, just a half lie.
    – user1307
    Feb 13, 2012 at 21:40

4 Answers 4


Regardless of his faith, Abraham was still a man - he had not yet been perfected: he was still on his walk of progressive sanctification.

The same question could be asked as to why David sinned with Bathsheba, or why Samson fell for Delilah.

And any of countless more examples - the men and women portrayed in the Bible were not perfect (excepting Christ). Even Peter, who had been with Jesus since the earliest days of His ministry, denied him three times during the trial before the Sanhedrin.

Every instance is an opportunity to showcase God's faithfulness, mercy, and grace - even when his chosen ones fail Him.

Even those with the stoutest faith in God can forget or become fearful: while backsliding or temporarily turning from God to our own wisdom is never promoted, it is the entire life story that must be examined. When doing that with Abraham, it is obvious that though he was not perfect, he was following God.

  • 1
    would the repeat of the mistake show that Abraham has actually not progressed after everything that has happened since Gen 12?
    – stevenl
    Sep 30, 2011 at 7:11
  • 3
    "Every instance is an opportunity to showcase God's faithfulness, mercy, and grace - even when his chosen ones fail Him." - I suppose we could say that it highlights the one-sidedness of the covenant promises that God made to Abraham, since it looks like God is really the only one investing into this relationship. I think it makes it even more shocking that this incident happens immediately after God makes his promises and after God's display of power at Sodom and Gomorrah.
    – stevenl
    Sep 30, 2011 at 7:15
  • @warren you can add Job in the list when he came to doubt God's justice during his trial. anyway, these men of faith remainds me that God is still faithful. Jan 9, 2012 at 17:17
  • @OnesimusUnbound - and I'm sure countless others, but thanks for that reminder!
    – warren
    Jan 9, 2012 at 18:36

First of all, God did protect Abraham:

But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.
--Gen 12:17

For the rest of it, it was a matter of Faith on Abraham's part. His faith wavered, and he so he acted in this instance out of fear of man, rather than fear of God.

  • Please note that your answer had been migrated to a slightly different question. You might want to review it and see if it can be edited in light of the new question. Thanks.
    – Caleb
    Sep 28, 2011 at 5:36

Um... Abraham didn't lie. The word "sister" can also mean "kinswoman", and Sarah was, in fact, a kinswoman to Abraham (see Gen. 20:12) (this is an example of bearing false witness by telling the truth).

Now, why did he allow them to be deceived? Why didn't he say things outright? In addition to the fact that he was a human being flawed and struggling with sin, it was also the time of Sodom and Gomorrah (chapter 19 is right between the covenant of 17 and the repeat problem in 20). He could have rightly assumed that by wandering into an enemy camp he was signing his own death warrant. While we might enjoy condemning him for these failures in faith, we can't exactly say that we would have done better.


Let us re-look at the story from the narrator’s perspective and ask the following questions:

  • Why does Abraham repeat it twice? Did he not learn from the first time? He even passed the trick to Isaac?
  • Why did God not correct Abraham and Sarah and rebuke their lie and lack of faith?
  • How come God blesses Abraham and he walks away even richer both times.
  • Why did God warn both Pharaoh and Abimelech and protect Sarah?
  • How come God accepted Abraham’s prayer to heal Abimelech’s household?
  • Did not Abraham need prayers and repentance for his own short-comings before praying for others?

Psalms 105 bears the following testimony:

he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, "Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!" (Psalms 105:14-15 ESV)

**Important Background - A vagabond **

God had caused Abraham to wander with his super model wife:

Gen 12:1 The LORD said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.

So Abraham becomes a vagabond and travels the rest of his life in pursuit of the Promised Land. He would embark on a journey that would be marked with difficulties, yet meets kings, engage in battles, get tested but most importantly become the friend of God and carry eternal promises that would be fulfilled in Jesus:

Gal 3:7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." Gal 3:29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Gen 12:4 Abram was seventy-five years old when the LORD told him to leave the city of Haran. He obeyed and left with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and slaves they had gotten while in Haran.

But God would NOT give the land to Abraham: Act 7:5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.

So we see Abraham had a choice to give up the journey or continue in it. He came up with a strategy to move on. It is natural for men to fear for their life. Abraham was humbled in giving up Sarah at times because of the journey he had undertaken. He trusted that God would intervene as we will see.

Abraham was the righteous man not Pharaoh nor Abimelech. Both Pharaoh and Abimelech would have killed Abraham and taken his wife as Abraham predicted. They were not men who feared God or had morals. Abraham was well prepared to wander around in spite of his life being in danger on account of traveling with an extremely beautiful woman in light of the expected customs of people of the time.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out into a place which he was afterward going to receive for an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he went.” – Heb 11:8

God’s testimony of Abraham:

“Abraham listened to My voice and heeded My charge, My commands, My statutes, and My laws.” – Gen 26:5

The Famine, Egypt and Pharaoh’s pimps – Case 1

“And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.” (Genesis 12:15 ESV)

On the journey, he encounters a famine. God does not cause manna to rain, neither Abraham was expecting that. Rather he bore witness to follow in God’s calling in spite of famine and risk his life or rape of his wife. When there was famine he did NOT fold his hand and sit in one place. That was NOT his calling - A life of luxury and security but one marked with challenges. We see the same thing happening later on with Jacob and sons. [Israel goes to Egypt to be called out of it. Jesus also was taken to Egypt.]

“And when Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, Why do you look upon one another?” - Gen 42:1

Abraham did what he thought he should do but left the rest to the God. God indeed did the rest i.e. God intervened:

Gen 12:17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. Gen 12:18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?

Pharaoh only said those words because God intercepted. He was not genuine. In the process Abraham would bear witness of his obedience to God. The LORD would also leave his testimony in Egypt, in that he appeared to the King of the mighty nation as the God of Abraham. So Abraham is a great and wandering prophet of the LORD! He will continue to wonder because he trusted God!

The Pharaohs always struggled with the Hebrews, but this time he did let Abraham and his wife ‘GO’! Abraham was wise, which was not a sin. Abraham was not a man to use false weights or one to do injustice; rather he was a man who loved his neighbors as himself. When three strangers came to him, he showed extreme hospitality: “He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, "O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,..” (Genesis 18:2-4 ESV)

Both Abraham and Rehab’s witness were not in this category: Pro 12:22 Lips that lie are disgusting to the LORD, but honest people are his delight.

Abimelech king of Gerar – Case 2 Again God intercepts:

Gen 20:3 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."

Gen 20:7 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."

Basically God is telling Kings 'Do not mess with Abraham my Prophet!'. At the same time he reveals himself to these kings leaving a testimony through Abraham for them to beleive. It very important to note, that Abimelech needed Abraham’s prayer to be healed. Behold how great a man Abraham was, He prays for his enemies!

Abraham’s view and explanation - 'she is indeed my sister'

Abimelech and Pharaoh were godless men. Abraham’s frequency was different when he tells Abimelech:

“Abraham said, "I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” (Genesis 20:11 ESV)

He used some facts to his advantage:

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” Gen 20:12

He had a frequency with Sarah. Abraham had requested Sarah to show him kindness and she did. After that the rest was left to God. Sarah trusted Abraham and his God and followed in the wandering. It would have been great for Sarah to settle and feel secure but they had to keep moving on the journey in spite of the perils as circumstances caused them to wander:

Gen 20:13 And when God caused me to wander from my father's house, I said to her, 'This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.'"

Even Abimelech vindicated Sarah thus:

Gen 20:16 To Sarah he said, "Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. It is a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated."

Abraham emerges victorious:

Gen 20:17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.

Would you pray for a man who abducted your wife?

Rehab and her lie of Faith

When Rehab hid the spies God did not condemn her for lying (Josh 2:5) but rather

Jam 2:25 The same is true of the prostitute Rahab who welcomed the spies and sent them away on another road. She received God's approval because of what she did.

Heb 11:31 She was not killed with those who refused to obey God. Rehab’s faith was exhibited by deceiving the ones after the spies! Lies have to be viewed in context and one’s own conscious.

Fear is real – but faith is greater. Even Jesus prayed:

Luk 22:42 saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me:

Appendix - From Josephus – The Jewish War Appealing to the Jewish rebels at the time of the fall of Jerusalem during Titus’ campaign ‘Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt at the the time, descended on this land with an immense army and seized Sarah the Princess, mother of our nation, And what did her husband, our forefather Abraham do? Did he avenge the insult by the force of arms? Yet he had 318 officers under him, with unlimited manpower at their disposal! Did he not regard them valueless without the help of god, and stretch out clean hands toward the place that you have desecrated, enlisting the almighty as his helper? Wasn't the queen sent back to her husband the very next evening, unsullied, while the Egyptians, reverencing the place stained by you with you countrymen’s blood and shaken by terrible dreams in the night, fled, showering silver and gold on God’s beloved Hebrew?’

Abraham did not lose his faith as the book of Hebrews testify:

Heb 11:15 “If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they could have found a way to go back. “

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out into a place which he was afterward going to receive for an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he went.” – Heb 11:8

Abraham's conscience was clean and of faith though he feared. Faith is to move on and do the right thing in spite of fear!

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