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When Thinking Hurts: Genesis 20 (ESV)

We are thankful for those leading us in worship this morning.  Michael is in Tennessee celebrating the birth of his first born grandchild. 

Thinking and education are very important to us.  We want to be known as thinking people.  Can thinking be a problem?  Can thinking too much be a problem?  Sometimes we can think too much and overthink things.  Abraham did this; this is helpful to us because we can do the same thing.  Our minds too can be our own worst enemy.  Abraham was convinced his plan was the best way forward.   He puts on a mask.  We’ve been talking about masks a lot lately!  We know what it’s like to put on a mask.  We do this as well.  Many people say there’s nobody who actually knows them.  In this passage today Abraham puts on a mask, a front, for people.  How do we get that mask off?  Abraham will have reasons for putting on a mask.  How do we get the mask off?  Who are we before God?  We can show ourselves before God without any fear and know we are loved by God.  We can reach a place where we believe we are "helping God."  We think God needs our help.

We deceive others because we think God needs help.

The obvious question is, does God need our help?  We are a thinking people.  We know God doesn’t need our help, so why do we try to help God?  Why do we think we have to help God? 

                        2And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3But God…

Abraham has arrived in a new place.  Verse one tells us he is a sojourner.  He’s temporarily in a new place.  All of us know what it’s like to go to a new school, a new job or somewhere different.  Abraham moves to a new place and he has to decide how people will view him there.  He says Sarah is his sister, but she is his wife.  Abraham has fallen back into an old habit.  When he went to Egypt, he did the same thing there.  He begins with deception.  King Abimelech is seeking an economic relationship with Abraham.  Everyone wants to be on good terms with Abraham.  In those days, you’d marry someone in the other person’s family to be on good terms with them.  This was normal in those times, but Sarah is Abraham’s wife and now King Abimelech has taken Sarah as his wife.

We’ve all done this exact same thing.  We’ve rationalized in our minds; we’ve made excuses in our minds to make something sound right that isn’t.  Remember God has spoken promises over Abraham’s life.  Abraham has taken the plan and thrown a curve ball.  God intervenes for His glory.  God steps in. 

Deception hurts more people than we think.

King Abimelech had a dream.  God visits him in verses 3-7 and tells him Sarah is already married.  God also told him he is as good as dead.  Abimelech wakes up in a panic and sees God is speaking to him, so he assembles his cabinet:

                        8So Abimelech rose early in the morning and called all his servants and told them all these things. And the men were very much afraid. 

How do we handle the response here in verse 8?  The whole city is thrown into chaos because the leader is about to die.  God has spoken.  In the ancient Near East, God spoke in dreams and visions.  God often spoke this way in the Bible.  God shows up in the middle of the night.  Later in Genesis we will look at Jacob wrestling with God.  Abimelech’s whole city is in an uproar.  There’s fear.  They’re listening to what God is saying.  This reminds us of Jonah; he was to deliver a message to the people of Nineveh.  God spoke to Jonah in a dream too.  He didn’t want to go.  Jonah decides not to follow God and while he’s on a ship in Jonah 1:10 those on the ship realize Jonah is the reason what’s happening. 

“This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.)”  Jonah 1:10

Not following God can bring great consequences to everyone.  King Abimelech's whole nation is in mourning and in chaos over this.

Deception damages our relationship with people.

King Abimelech knows he needs to talk to Abraham, to ask a series of questions.  Why ask questions?  The first thought is the feeling of guilt.  All of us have deceived another.  We’ve all worn a mask.  The first feeling is guilt.  From the beginning we've all known we all do this.  Why do we take matters in our own hands?  Why do we deceive? 

                        9Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “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 to be done.” 

One of the things I love about the questions King Abimelech asks is he says, “me and my people.”  He is concerned for his people.  King Abimelech was told he’d die and his concern isn’t just for himself but for his people.  In verse 9 he asks Abraham, “What have you done?”  We’ve seen this question before in Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve are in the garden of Eden.  God was walking through the garden and God asks this same question.  Why would God ask this?  Was God not paying attention?  Of course He was!  Why do we ask this question?   We want the person to acknowledge what they’ve done.

Jesus went to the cross for us.  We have full forgiveness but there’s an obstacle: the acknowledgement that we’ve sinned against God.  What separates me from God?  What have I done?  King Abimelech asks this same question.  Our deception leads to broken relationships with God and with the people around us.  Deception is so ingrained in our culture and in us.  Sometimes we even like it.  For example, who doesn’t like a good magic trick?  We generally ask at the end of the trick, “How did you do that?”  Nobody likes being deceived, even with a magic trick.  We do not like to be in a place where we cannot know the truth.  Abraham will tell us why he did this.  We are all capable of this.

When we don’t know people, we make false assumptions.

                        11Abraham 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. 

Abraham tells them what he was thinking.  He’s at least honest with them.  He didn’t think they were good people.  Why would he make such assumptions?  Abraham is one of our heroes.  If we are honest with ourselves, how many times have we judged someone without knowing them?  He assumed they had poor ethics.  He made a judgment about them.  He assumed they had poor ethics.  In chapter 20, who looks more ethical?  The people of Gerar!  Abraham is deceptive and cunning.  There’s a power in King Abimelech who comes for restoration, to be known.  One of the key problems of our society is we don’t know one another.  We hide behind stereotypes and social media.  As a church, if we want to break down barriers, there's a  unity walk this afternoon. As churches, we will have a prayer time in Eastside Park.  You will be challenged to get to know people.  I’ll wear a mask because we are still in a pandemic.  As long as we don’t know people and we continue keeping a distance from people we will continue causing problems.  Abraham is guilty of this but:

Truth leads to healthy relationships.

As we get to this response, as we get to Abraham’s explanation, Sarah was actually his half-sister.  I’ll let your Sunday School teachers deal with the details of that one!  It’s a half truth.  Not telling everything leads to deception.  Look how King Abimelech brings them to full restoration:

                        15And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 16To 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.” 

When Abraham did this same thing in Genesis 12 the Pharaoh of Egypt told him to get away.  In verse 16, King Abimelech goes above and beyond to mend the relationship and restore integrity.  He gives Abraham 1000 pieces of silver.  This was a huge gift!  This was worth many years of wages. King Abimelech invited Abraham to make his home there and to trust one another.  The reason for a mask is that if someone really knew us we think they wouldn’t accept us or love us.  The first part of truth is to be honest with ourselves.  God has spoken truth over Abraham.  God says he will be a father of nations.  God changed his name to Abraham.  This wasn’t Abraham’s first time to strike out on a journey.  In a vulnerable situation Abraham didn’t trust God.  He thought he knew the best course of action.  We too are prone to fall back into old habits.  This is a place of healing for Abraham.  Can we be honest with ourselves?  Can we say, “God, I know what I’ve done.”?  Can you find hope and restoration in God? 

Sermon notes are taken, transcribed and posted by Jeni Martin Johnson.


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