My Dad loves Westerns. I know that he loves Westerns because I have sat and watched Shane with him. The best moment in this film is right near the end. Shane makes his way into the local saloon and calmly stands against the bar counter. All innocent bystanders, including a dog, know what is coming next and each decide its best to head on home. But there, alone, stands the man in the black hat who says, “My fight ain’t with you.” And then Shane speaks. “So you’re Jack Wilson.” “What’s that mean to you, Shane?” Shane, again so calm, says, “I’ve heard about you.” “What have you heard, Shane?” There is an eleven second pause before Shane responds. “I’ve heard that you’re a low-down Yankee liar.”
I’ve Heard About You, Abraham
Genesis 20:1-18 is all about Abraham. And as it begins, you feel like you can say, “I’ve heard about you, Abraham.”
It all begins with Genesis 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.” Notice the words journeyed and Negeb. Those two words only occur together in the same sentence three times in Genesis. And each time it is always the same person making a journey toward the Negeb (the south). It is always Abraham (Genesis 12:9; 13:3; 20:1).
But listen to the first time that Abraham made this journey to the Negeb. It is Genesis 12:9. “And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.” What is noticeably different in this verse? It is Abram not Abraham. This matters to Genesis 20:1 in one significant way. The last time that Abraham made the journey toward the Negeb was when he was only Abram…twenty-five years earlier. There are nearly twenty-five years between Genesis 12:9 and Genesis 20:1.
But there is more. The first time that Abraham journeyed toward the Negeb he sojourned [a temporary stay] (12:10). Notice how Genesis 20:1 concludes. The last time Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned. The first time that Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned in a little place called Egypt. And when he did, he told a lie. The last time Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned in a really little place called Gerar. And when he did, he told a lie. And there are nearly twenty-five years between the first lie and the last lie.
But there is more. The first time that Abraham journeyed toward the Negeb he sojourned and told a lie. It is in Genesis 12:11-13. “When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, ‘I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.’” And the last time Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb he sojourned and told a lie. It is in Genesis 20:2. “And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister.’”
The point is this: it is the same lie. In nearly twenty-five years, Abraham tells the same, familiar lie twice.
Where is There?
Look carefully again at Genesis 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar.” Notice just two words: from there. Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb from there. And there is just one question. Where is there? Where is Abraham when he decides to journey toward the Negeb, one last time?
For nearly twenty-five years, Abraham has made his home by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 13:18). And this is where he had stayed in Genesis 14 and in Genesis 15 and in Genesis 16 and in Genesis 17 and in Genesis 18. But I do not think this is the place that the words “from there” are referring to, specifically. Listen to Genesis 18:1. “And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” From this exact spot, Abraham walks with God and together they stand at a place looking down toward to Sodom (18:16). Listen to verse twenty-two. “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.” Mark that verse and turn to Genesis 19:27-28. “And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.”
Now read again Genesis 20:1. “From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb…” Where is there? Where is Abraham when he decides to journey toward the Negeb, one last time? It is the spot where Abraham looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and saw only smoke like the smoke of a furnace. And from there Abraham will tell a lie, an old and familiar lie.
Why does this matter so much? I believe that the words “from there” do more than just connect for us a location of departure. Abraham was looking at Sodom and Gomorrah. And what do we know about Sodom and Gomorrah? Be reminded of Genesis 18:20. “Their sin is very grave.” And from there Abraham will tell a lie, an old and familiar lie. A lie that will be called “a great sin” (Genesis 20:9). From Genesis 19 we move from a very grave sin to Genesis 20 and a great sin.
The big question of Genesis 20 is simply, why did Abraham lie?
A Little Lie and Affected Lives
It was just a little lie. All it took was just four words. “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). But those four words affected lives.
This little lie affected the king. When Abraham told his lie – Sarah is my sister – the king took her as his wife. And when he did, he ended up having the worst night sleep of his life. God appeared to him in a dream and announced, “Behold, you are a dead man” (Genesis 20:3). God exposed the lie to the king. God exposed the lie to the king because he was a man of integrity and innocence (Genesis 20:5).
This little lie affected the king and all the king’s house. In that very same dream, God commanded the king to return Sarah to Abraham. Listen to verse seven. “For he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live.” The very next morning the king gets up as early as possible and exposes this lie and what God said to all his servants. “And the men were very much afraid” (20:8). There is fear in this house because of this lie. And not only that, but the king and his house needed someone to pray for them. Listen to verse seventeen. “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, and also healed his wife and female slaves so that they bore children.” And then verse eighteen. “For the Lord had closed all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.” This lie affected the physical health of this entire house.
This little lie affected Sarah. After God exposed the lie to the king, the king exposed Abraham to be a liar to Abraham (cf. Genesis 20:9-10). And you can feel the king’s frustration with Abraham. What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not be done. What did you see, that you did this thing? Abraham was exposed to be a liar and in so doing Abraham was exposed as to only be thinking about Abraham. He did not think about this king. He did not think about the king’s house. And most importantly he did not think about his wife.
But the king thought about Abraham’s wife. Listen to Genesis 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.’”
Why Did Abraham Lie?
All I want to stress from this one chapter is that it sounds so similar. Abraham lied, and it is the same lie from nearly twenty-five years ago. And like nearly twenty-five years ago, Abraham lied because he was afraid. It was his wife’s fault. She was beautiful, too beautiful and once men took a look at her, they would kill him and take her (Genesis 12:11-15; Genesis 20:11). So, Abraham lied…twice. And each time Abraham lied, men still took his wife. And each time Abraham lied, it was a king who took his wife. And each time Abraham lied and a king took his wife, the king and his house were afflicted with misery (Genesis 12:17; 20:17-18). And each time Abraham lied, he got caught. And each time Abraham got caught, he got his wife back (Genesis 12:17-19; 20:16). And each time Abraham got his wife back, kings gave him stuff to go away (Genesis 12:20; 20:14).
The big question remains. Why did Abraham lie? He lied in Genesis 12. Nearly twenty-five years later, he told the same lie in Genesis 20. In Genesis 20:13, Abraham admitted that he relied upon this lie. This lie was his safety net. Why did Abraham lie?
Abraham was a low-down liar. And he may have told numerous lies, but it is this one lie recorded twice for us in the Bible. Why? Why did Abraham lie? Listen to Hebrews 12:1. “Therefore,” and pause right there. Whenever we read a therefore we are to ask what it is therefore. This word tells us that the following several words are an application based on what was previously said. And previously said was Hebrews 11, a chapter famously called the hall of faith. And do you know who is talked about in that hall of faith more than anyone else? Abraham. He lived his life believing God. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham…” Hebrews 11:9, “By faith he…” Hebrews 11:17, “By faith Abraham…” And Abraham died believing God. “These all died in faith…” (Hebrews 11:13). And my favorite part, and it refers to Abraham, is Hebrews 11:16. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” But he was a liar.
And in reading about Abraham and others in Hebrews 11, but especially Abraham, there is this one application. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” I want us to notice the word sin. It is singular; one particular sin. And notice what the writer says about this one particular sin. It “clings so closely.” This can be literally translated, “the easily entangling sin.
Abraham lied. He told the same lie in Genesis 12 and then again in Genesis 20. And according to Abraham, it was a lie he relied upon (Genesis 20:13). Why did he lie or why did he tell this particular lie? It was an easily entangling sin for him. And the Bible says to lay it aside. I think that is the big idea of reading about this same sin of Abraham twice. Lay it aside. Colossians 3:5, 9 commands to put it to death, kill it.
Each of us has one particular sin we are especially susceptible to. Lay it aside. Kill it. Say no to it. Give it a God-glorifying “No!” And press on.