In the Form for the Confirmation of Marriage used in our churches there is a clause that states that our Lord Jesus Christ “will aid and protect married persons even when they are least deserving of it.” And this truth comes to mind when one reads the twentieth chapter of the book of Genesis where we have the account of Abraham and Sarah in the land of Gerar.
We might be tempted to state that Abraham fell back again into a sin from which God had saved him once before. When there was a famine in the land of Canaan shortly after Abraham and his wife, Sarah, came there from Haran, he urged her to tell all the people’ that she was his sister, and thus to hide the fact that she was his wife. God saved him, and her, from the hand of Pharaoh, and Abraham returned to Canaan wealthier than he was when he left. For Pharaoh gave him gifts before he sent him away to his own land. But there is a verse in this chapter, verse 13, which declares that even before that famine, and when Abraham left his father’s house, he and Sarah had agreed to tell this half-truth wherever they went. It was a trick devised to protect Abraham among those who did not fear God. It was falling back into the same sin, in the sense that another occasion arose for them to practice this deception. But actually all during the intervening years between these two incidents they could be said to be walking in that sin. The point is that Abraham and Sarah did not condemn and root out of their souls that sin after God saved them from the hand of Pharaoh; and they are therefore ready to resort to that lie again because the occasion has risen. It all goes to show that we do not get rid of our corrupt nature in this life. It also clearly indicates that we have a constant fight to put down the sin that resides in our flesh. We have a daily battle to fight. We have not one moment of lull in the battle. And when we think that there is a lull, the moment we think that it is safe to rest and take off that heavy, cumbersome amour of God that cramps our style and takes the pleasantness out of life for us, we are in our most dangerous moment. For that lulling into complacency and that sense of absence of danger is also a tool of the enemy.
Admittedly, Sarah was still a beautiful woman. Abraham saw that Abimelech, king of Gerar, saw that. And we may be sure that Sarah herself was aware of it. Without our modern, highly polished, flawless mirrors she had seen her own reflection in the still waters of a pool. And hers was not a beauty that comes out of a jar and comes in various hues and shades that must be applied regularly. Hers was a true beauty given to her of God. And having a wife like that, Abraham knows also the dangers in a society such as the one in the world at that time. Abraham himself describes it as being a society wherein there is no fear of God.
Even as his grandson, Jacob, some years later was constantly seeking to “help” God—was this trait in Jacob inherited from his grandfather, and do we see sins of the fathers carried down through to the grandchildren?—and this by a lie. Jacob’s lie to his father that he was Esau is a more glaring lie, a blatant lie; and Abraham’s is what man would call a half-truth. But to speak correctly we must call both of them sin before the face of God. Both were a bearing of false witness against the neighbor. Sarah was his sister. Abraham was her brother. But very plainly the meaning in both instances was the implied lie: He is not my husband but my brother, and, she is not my wife but only my sister. Abraham admits this when later on he told Abimelech that he was afraid that “they will slay me for my wife’s sake.” Genesis 20:11. “He is my brother” means, “Do not kill him as though he were my husband. He is only my brother, and nothing more.”
Quite plainly they were not being loyal to each other in their marriage relationship. O, they still loved each other, and there was no thought of divorce or desire for it. But, as the incident unfolds, it becomes clear that they—not simply Abraham—were walking in a way that could and did separate them as husband and wife. In our sinfulness we may make careful plans which deceive men, but the God in heaven cannot be tricked into miscalculations, or for that matter be caused to be unfaithful to His covenant promises, as we shall see. Sarah is taken into Abimelech’s house. Husband and wife are not living together any more. Husband and wife are not confessing each other to be one flesh till death parts them. They are denying that God has joined them together so that no man may put them asunder and treat them as brother and sister.
Things have gotten out of hand. Abraham and Sarah have lost control of the situation. Their “help” devisedfor God has brought them where they now are desperately in need of help from God. It must not be assumed that, when they through the years had planned this little trick of deception, they would ever allow anything to come between them as husband and wife. Abraham would not idly stand by and let someone else take his wife away. Sarah would not agree to any man’s taking Abraham’s place in her life as her husband. No, when the men of a city or land would show their interest in Sarah, “the sister of Abraham,” he would demand so great a dowry that no one could afford to take her from him to be his wife. Or Sarah herself would make such demands that all would be discouraged from seeking to take her as wife. And then soon enough they, Abraham and Sarah, would, when matters got too hot, move away again. They did not—though they had experiences along this line in Egypt—reckon with the king, who simply took Sarah after hearing their half-truth lie.
Now the help of God is needed; and it is furnished without a prayer on the part of Sarah or of Abraham. When least deserving of this interference, and even without a prayer for it yet being presented to Him, God reaches down and touches the whole house of Abimelech and appeared to him in a dream. He who is our help in ages past and hope for years to come, Who needs no help from us, nor even requests for help from us, in covenant faithfulness rescued Abraham and Sarah, and the whole church, out of this bad situation into which sinners got themselves. We said, the whole church because we must not so quickly forget that God had just informed Abraham and Sarah that the covenant seed would come in the line of Abraham’s and Sarah’s seed. And not simply Isaac’s existence is at stake here (Was he already conceived and, in that house of Abimelech; and was Abimelech holding the covenant line captive in his house? And is that why God intervenes so quickly and releases Sarah from his house?) and the well being of Sarah and Abraham. Yea, there is more at stake here than Isaac as the covenant seed which had been promised. Christ, Who “took on Him the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16) is represented; there in Sarah, and for His birth she must be gotten out of Abimelech’s house and be reunited with Abraham with whom God had established His covenant. For your and my sake and for the whole church of God divine help is given to Abraham and Sarah. They lied and got into trouble: God never lies; and He keeps His covenant promises no matter how undeserving we are of them. Indeed, we are saved by grace and not by works. It does not depend on our covenant faithfulness, even though we have a calling to be faithful in that covenant. It does depend—and safely so—upon God’s covenant faithfulness.
Were this not the case we could have no hope in the midst of our own sins. We do not duplicate the sin of Abraham and Sarah, because we have little or no occasion to do it that way. But how often is it not that we by word and deed get ourselves into dangerous situations because we resort to similar deeds? We refer to the fact that we hide our relationship to Christ as His bride before the world in which there is no fear of God. We go Abraham and Sarah a step further and even deny that He is our brother! By word not always, but so often by deed we say with Peter, “I know not the man!”
At work we do that. We can work in a shop or office, a store or in the field, and months—and perhaps years—go by wherein those who do not fear God judge us to be one of them. We reveal no principles. We, as Queen Esther, hide our religion because it would cause us monetary loss. We join in the acts of rebellion of the worldly organizations, or silently condone their evil business practices and for another dollar stay in or join their organizations. Our young people do that and suddenly’ find themselves married to an unbeliever who is amazed to find that they were being courted by, or had courted, a member of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the whirlwind romance the things spiritual were not mentioned. Future mates were picked up and first met in places where the fear of God is not to be found. “I am a citizen of this world or of this nation” is confessed, but the fact that one is a member of the Church of Christ, though not denied, is not mentioned or made evident.
This same thing tragically happens even within the church world. O, membership in such a church is confessed. And they meet at church gatherings. Yes, it is made plain that they are “brothers and sisters in Christ.” But that is only half of the story; and the important part of the story is not made known until it is too late. There are wide doctrinal differences in the two churches involved. The same God actually is not confessed. In the one He is an almighty, sovereign, unchangeable God Who hates both sin and the sinner and eternally chose His people in Christ. He is the God of the Scriptures. In the other He is a being who in time, depending on circumstances, makes his way through this world, has enemies who can frustrate him, delay his actions; He is one who cannot save until man gives the “green light,” and can love Himself as an holy one, and at the same time love sinners whom he may ultimately put in hell if he cannot get them to accept his kind offers. He is not almighty but the mightiest, and therefore ultimately wins, but only after a long struggle—mind you, with the creature. And when these young people are so wrapped up emotionally (not spiritually) with each other, and the young man is ready to take the young woman into his house—or maybe he has already done so as Abimelech—the differences become manifest. Then it takes the grace of God, and divine help to salvage such a marriage and a life of faithful and peaceful training of the covenant seed in the way of the one true and only God.
It does please God at times to unite spiritually a family that is so divided on the most important aspect of life as husband and wife. But we ought to be aware of the dangers of such silence on matters spiritual, and not expect God to do that in every instance. He has given no such promise to us. If He does, it, is sovereign, unchangeable mercy and grace in Christ. And we are saved by grace, not by works.
Abraham and Sarah defected. They did not walk by faith. Their trust in God they failed to exercise. Their married life suffered a defect. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was in the house of Abimelech, the king of Gerar. But Abraham and Sarah were elect, covenant children of God; and he protected them even when they least deserved it, after a similar sin and experience in Egypt. For God never defects and never fails to protect His Church; and the bride of Christ will be kept for Christ, even when she fails to keep herself for Him. It is divine grace and faithfulness that explains and assures us of the wedding feast of the Lamb that soon will be realized, dark as the days may be that are before us.