************ Sermon on Genesis 20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 2, 2012
"Deja Vu - the Same Sin All Over Again"
I Abraham's Godless Example
A Compare Genesis 12 to Genesis 20. We see that this is now the second time that Abraham profited from saying lies about his wife. The first time Abraham told Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister and Pharaoh treated Abraham well for Sarah's sake. How well? Scripture tells us Abraham acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels (cf Gen 12:16). Abraham made compromises with the ways of the world and got riches because of it.
Abraham said the same lie to Abimelech. Again Abraham made compromises with the ways of the world and got riches because of it. This time Abraham was given sheep and cattle and male and female slaves as well as a thousand shekels of silver – which was two thousand times greater than the average monthly wage paid to workers at that time (cf Gen 20:14,16).
Perhaps there is someone sitting in the pew this evening who is thinking Abraham is simply following good business sense. Perhaps one of you thinks this kind of behavior is okay or even more than okay. Perhaps you think it is smart to tell little lies in order to get ahead and to stay ahead. Even pagans know better than you. Do you hear the reproach in the voices of the two pagan kings? Abraham, the friend of God, was admonished by Pharaoh, King of Egypt, and Abimelech, King of Gerar. They knew that what Abraham said and did was wrong (cf Gen 12:18-20; 20:8-10).
B Do you know who I feel sorry for when I read the two stories? I don't feel sorry for the two pagan kings. Though Abraham was in the wrong, they were not exactly innocent and pure either. Both got what was coming to them for assuming they could do what they wanted with Sarah.
The person I feel most sorry for is Lot. Lot, as you know, also made compromises with the ways of the world. Lot, as a result, lost everything – his wife, his sons-in-law, his home, his wealth, his position, his pride. But Abraham, he did the same thing and got richer and richer.
Let's go back to a sentence buried in the Pharaoh story. We are told that "Lot went with him" Gen 13:1). Lot went with Abraham into Egypt. Lot went with Abraham out of Egypt. "Lot went with him." Lot saw everything that happened. Lot heard everything that happened. From Abraham, Lot learned that liars and cheaters and sinners prosper. Lot, like Abraham, was merely making compromises with the world in exchange for comfort and security.
I want you to notice here how the Bible writers, under the inspiration of the Spirit, refuse to whitewash the saints. So far in Genesis we have been shown Adam and Eve, Noah, Lot, Abraham and Sarah in compromising situations. And, I want you to notice how often temptation comes through the ones they love and trust. The truth is, God's people have an enormous impact on those around them, for good or evil.
C Here is a reminder that the people of God are being watched and need to hold to a higher standard than the world. We need to be an example to the world. And, we should never give the man and woman of the world any reason to accuse us or complain against us.
What is our influence on unbelievers? Abraham had an opportunity to have an impact on the lives of those he met. It was his calling, remember, to be a blessing to those around him (cf Gen 12:3). Instead, he lied and acted in a self-protecting way. In acting this way Abraham damaged his testimony. Abraham compromised his ability to be God's witness in Gerar.
Congregation, we must always be conscious of the fact that we carry the name of Christ wherever we go, in every action we undertake, and in every word we speak. Whenever we give the world a just reason to admonish us for our behavior, we dishonor that Name.
We see in the story of Abraham that we are also being watched by fellow believers even as Lot watched Abraham. Your actions, my brothers and sisters, can lead a fellow believer into sin. Your actions, my brothers and sisters, can cause a fellow Christian to stumble.
Let me talk about the most impressionable among us – our children and grandchildren. Don't ever forget they are watching you and learning from you. Do they learn the right thing or the wrong thing from you? Do they learn what it means to follow Jesus or do they learn how to make compromises with the world?
You can make it easier for someone to live out their faith or you can make it harder. You can pass on to them an attitude of expectation and faith or an attitude of unbelief. Which of these describes you? Within the family circle, are you the one who guides others toward God? Are you a positive influence on your friends or do you go along to get along? Within the church, are you a spiritual leader or a millstone? We have a responsibility as friends, spouses, parents, and church members to see that our presence brings people closer to God and does not lead them away from God.
There was a man I know who grew up in the parsonage – a PK, a Preacher's Kid. He learned and observed as his dad always complained about merchants and store-keepers and how they ripped off their customers. It should not be surprising that when I met the pastor's son he was a convicted felon who had spent time in prison for shop-lifting. The pastor's complaints taught him the wrong lesson.
I had two conversations with fellow pastors this past week about church members who are forever complaining about the church, the consistory, and the pastors. Yet, these same members are surprised – even shocked – when their kids, as young adults, turn away from the church and want nothing to do with the Lord. Your complaints, my brothers and sisters, teach the wrong lessons to our impressionable children and grandchildren.
So, let me remind you that you are being watched: by the world, by fellow believers, by your children and grandchildren.
D There is one more group that was watching as the events of Genesis 20 unfolded. Do you know whom I am talking about? I am talking about the children of Israel listening to Moses as he read to them the Genesis account. They, too, watched Abraham prosper in Egypt and Gerar. They, too, watched as Lot lost everything. Can you hear their cry, their murmurs, their complaints? "That's not fair! Why should Abraham gain wealth and riches while Lot loses everything?"
Don't forget that these same Israelites were tempted, over and over again, to make compromises with the world. They would have loved to hear the message that a little compromise is okay. They would have loved to hear that a little bit of adultery is okay as the daughters of Moab seduced them. They would have loved to hear that a little bit of idolatry is okay as they danced before the golden calf. They would have loved to hear that a little bit of theft is okay as Achan hid the Lord's gold and silver from Jericho under his tent. They would love to learn from the stories of Abraham that it is okay to make accommodations with the world.
Genesis makes clear that compromise is never right and that accommodation is always wrong. Genesis makes clear that God's people must always hold to a higher standard because they are being watched.
E How do we explain the difference, then, between what happened to Abraham and what happened to Lot? We need to look at the heart. Lot believed in God, yet he wanted security and prosperity more than he wanted God and ended up with nothing. Abraham wanted God more than anything else, trusted in God and His promises, and ended up with wealth and covenant blessing.
Which of the them are you most like? Are you like Lot, believing in God, yet compromised and compromising for something you want more than God? Or, are you like Abraham, living by faith in God's promises, looking to God for salvation, and trusting in Him to bring you to the city that is yet to come?
II Abraham's Continued Sin
A A few textual critics argue that Genesis 12 and 20 describe the same event. The reasoning behind this argument is that Abraham would not make the same mistake twice.
Yet, as anyone of us can testify, it is more than possible for any of us to not only fall into sin but to fall into the same sin, through the surprise and strength of temptation and the weakness of the flesh. In fact, don't we keep stumbling over the same things again and again? Don't we keep committing the same sins over and over again? Aren't there sins about which you have made a promise to God to never commit again – only to find yourself returning to the Lord to confess it again?
Maybe your struggle is with anger and an out-of-control temper
Maybe it is drug and alcohol abuse
Maybe it is gluttony
Maybe it is lust, greed, and covetousness
Maybe it has to do with money and possessions
Maybe it is impatience
Maybe you are rude and self-seeking
Whatever it is you constantly struggle with, you should be able to identify with Abraham.
B When we look at Genesis 12 and Genesis 20 as two separate events, then we come to realize that the postcovenant Abraham is as sinful, fallen, and infirm as the precovenant Abraham.
The entire Old Testament shows us person after person whose postcovenant behavior is too much like their precovenant behavior. Or, to put it another away, the entire Old Testament is full of examples of people who act much the same after being saved as they did before being saved. Abraham is not alone in illustrating moments of greatness intermingled with moments of disobedience and shortsightedness. Think of Jacob, Judah, Moses, Samson, David, and Solomon – to name only a few. If we look ahead to the New Testament we see the same inconsistency in the Church of Corinth. Here is a congregation of believers, people "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1:1), that is involved in all sorts of unsanctified behavior: like dissension, disunity, law-suits, immorality, and gluttony.
Even a great man like the Apostle Paul experienced the inconsistent Christian life. I think of his words in Romans 7. You know what he wrote:
(Rom 7:18-25) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. (20) Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (21) So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (22) For in my inner being I delight in God's law; (23) but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (24) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (25) Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.I don't know how these verses strike you, but they certainly hit a bulls-eye with me. These words describe exactly my experience in trying to live the Christian life. I want to live for the Lord in all that I do. I want to honor Him in all of life. Yet, so many times I stumble and fall. I want to act like a follower of Christ but far too often I act like a follower of Satan. Just like Paul – and Abraham – I have two natures at war within me. And, too often it is the sinful nature that wins.
III The Grace of God
A I want to end this sermon with the grace of God. Genesis 20 gives us an awesome display of God's most wonderful grace. We see God's grace at work in both Abimelech and Abraham.
First, we see God's grace evident in the life of Abimelech, a pagan king. We notice that God made Abimelech aware of who Sarah really was by means of a revelation, a dream. We see here that God's people do not have a monopoly on revelation from God (see also 2 Chron 35:22). God, out of grace, does reveal Himself to pagans too. Think of what this says to the children of Israel – who tended to think that they alone had a corner on the truth. Our passage lets the children of Israel know that God speaks to pagans too and even through pagans.
Furthermore, why was it that Abimelech did not have marital relations with Sarah? Was Abimelech an innocent and righteous man caught up in the lies of Abraham and Sarah? Was he a God-fearer whose commitment to God prevented him from the sin of adultery? That is not what the Bible says. Did you hear what God said to Abimelech? God said, "I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her" (vs 6). I want you to notice that God identifies adultery here as a sin against God, not against Abraham (see Gen 26:10; 39:9). It was God's restraining grace which kept Abimelech from that sin.
Isn't that same grace to be seen today? Why is it that there are so many "good" pagans who live by the golden rule? Why is it that evil, though it is bad, rarely gets to be totally out of control? Why is it that we are able to enjoy the benefits of a civilized society? It is God's grace – the same grace He showed to Abimelech – that restrains sin and evil and encourages a common decency.
Abimelech, because he took Sarah, was under the judgment of God. He and his household were afflicted with some kind of disease that "closed up every womb" so that they were not able to have children. Out of grace, God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls so that they could have children again. In other words, in withdrawing His punishment God was showing that Abimelech was forgiven the sin of taking Sarah.
We too lie under the judgment of God. And, as with Abimelech, God withdraws from us the punishment we so richly deserve.
B In our Scripture reading we see God's grace not only in the life of Abimelech but also and especially in the life of Abraham.
In spite of Abraham's godless example and continued sin, we see that God does not reject him. Abraham might let go of God but God – out of grace – does not let go of Abraham.
Here is the assurance and the comfort that when we fail and fall – as we all do from day to day – God does not reject us as well. Rather, out of grace, He keeps hold of us.
Not only does God not reject Abraham, but He continues to have a use for him as His servant, as His friend, as His covenant partner. We've looked at Abraham's many failings. But the passage in front of us does not "preach" about them. Rather, it speaks of Abraham as a prophet and intercessor. That is what God calls Abraham: a prophet. As a prophet, Abraham's role is intercessory prayer. And that is exactly what Abraham does. As God's covenant partner, Abraham prays that barren Philistine women be able to conceive. And God opens their wombs.
God also has use for us as His covenant partners despite our many failings. Like Abraham, we are called to intercessory prayer. Like Abraham, we are called to be prophets. Out of grace, like Abraham we are called to represent God before men.
God also intervenes to save the marriage that Abraham was so quick to dissolve. God has a job to finish, a promise to keep. There needs to be born to Abraham and Sarah a promised child, a son. It is through the seed of this son that Abraham will become a great nation that will possess the land of Canaan. And, it is through the seed of this son that God will bring forth a Savior and Abraham will be a blessing to the nations of earth.
We see here that God will accomplish salvation in spite of the sins and failings of His people. And, we can be confident that He, out of grace, will also bring to completion the great work He has begun in us (Phil 1:6).
I am always encouraged when I read Genesis 20. Because I see in Abraham a person just like you and me: a fallen example, a repeated sinner, but still a recipient of God's grace and a tool in God's Kingdom.
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