The Problem With Our Justice System (Genesis 20)


Injustice is a terrible thing. But it is everywhere. It seems as if people are suffering from it now more than ever, but that isn’t true. We’ve always had it pretty bad. There has always been bias. There has always been selfishness. There has always been bribery and greed and outright evil. Yet without a choice, we weakly hold our hands to our symbolic Bibles and pledge to trust and obey the justice system we live under, even while it fails us consistently. Things were different in Abraham’s day. Disputes did not always go before a judge and a jury. There were no police. One can only wonder how our modern system would have adjudicated the case found in Genesis 20 had it existed back then.

Abraham and Abimelek, the king of Gerar, have a bit of a falling out. Abraham has lied to Abimelek, and this lie has caused the king not a little discomfort. Abimelek is understandably offended that Abraham would do this to him, especially given that the king was kind enough to give Abraham shelter (verse 1)! Yet despite this, Abraham had lied by omission, telling Abimelek that Sarah was his sister. Sarah indeed was Abraham’s half-sister (ew?), but Abraham chose not to reveal to the king that Sarah was also his wife, using the same reasoning he had when he did the same thing in Genesis 12.

The worst could have happened, but God stopped a potential sin in its tracks by informing King Abimelek in a dream that Sarah was a married woman and that touching her at this point would be at the cost of his life and the life of everyone in his house (verse 7). The king is terrified and takes the stress and shock of this revelation out on Abraham, shouting at him for deceiving him this way and thus threatening his life.

Thankfully, the situation doesn’t come to blows, because Abraham meekly explains himself and the two men seem to agree to let bygones be bygones. Abimelek even gives Abraham silver, cattle and servants when he returns Sarah (verse 14, 16). He doesn’t even kick Abraham out.  Abraham, in turn, prays and asks God to open the wombs of the women in the king’s household, which God had closed while Sarah was taken. God answers Abraham’s prayer. Disaster averted and case closed!

The Treasures Within:

X-Ray Vision

This case wasn’t heard before a jury, but it did come before a Judge, just not a human one. God was at work in this episode in Abraham’s life, perhaps interceding in the greatest way by preventing King Abimelek from sinning by sleeping with Abraham’s wife. It’s truly amazing. God stepped in to keep sin from happening. He did it because He could see what no one but Abimelek knew – that the king truly did not know that Sarah was already wed (verse 6). The king did not intend to sin, so God didn’t allow it to happen. I wonder how many times God has done that for us?

This decision reveals the deep love God had for Abimelek. He didn’t want him to suffer the consequences of sinning against God and Abraham by sleeping with Sarah. He saw Abimelek’s heart and moved to keep him from danger. Only a truly intimate, yet sovereign and just God would do something like that. If only we could allow that Judge to decide our cases today.

Never Held A Grudge

The God who prevented sin in this instance also seems to have withheld Abraham’s punishment. Abraham did something wrong. He lied, and in lying decided that a sin would protect him and his wife better than the Originator of the Universe. But just like last time, Abraham got off with only a verbal berating as consequence. In fact, God even blessed Abraham. He gave him the riches that Abimelek offered up as apology. He even called Abraham a “prophet” (verse 7) and answered his prayer to open the closed wombs in Abimelek’s household. Why did God treat Abraham so well?

This was my question until I realized that God isn’t like me. If I got my way, people would suffer good and long for the things they did wrong. But that isn’t always just. It obviously wasn’t in this case.

Abraham did experience the consequences of his sin – Abimelek was really upset and probably lost some trust for Abraham. And although we have no record of Abraham asking God’s forgiveness, perhaps he did! Or maybe his conscience was also clear when he told this lie – it is possible, after all, to sin in ignorance. The intimate details of Abraham’s heart, though, are left only to the knowledge of the God with x-ray vision. And He made his decision. He did not hold a grudge against Abraham for his stupid lie. He forgave him. And God and Abraham’s relationship went back to the way it was before. Obviously, when God says He will remember our sins no more, He is telling the truth. Our God is not at all like us. This is how we know we can trust Him.

God’s Message To Us:

“I will protect you”. Our justice system sucks because it’s based off of human logic and human decisions. Where there is humanity, there is gross imperfection. It’s a fact of life. So when the police or judges or whoever says that their mission is to protect and to serve, we can’t be sure that will always happen. But our God is different. He lives to protect us. He died to save us. He works all things together for our good. And when He says He will do something for us, it will absolutely happen. We can trust in the power and sovereignty of God.

God’s protection may not result in what we expect, as we will see in upcoming chapters. But it always results in what’s best and right. It always results in justice. It’s hard to have a problem with that.

There Are Always Questions

  1. From verses 17 and 18 we see that God had prevented everyone in the king’s household from conceiving a child because of what Abimelek had unintentionally done. But why? When God knew that Abimelek had not done anything wrong, why did He punish him and his household anyway?

What do you think? How would you answer this question? How does the assertion that God is always perfectly just make you feel? What do you think God wanted to say to you in this chapter of the Bible?

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Our Justice System (Genesis 20)

  1. An answer to the question: perhaps it was to show Abraham that there are consequences to lies like this. He got off pretty cleanly with the lie he told previously but I think God was trying to show him that there are real consequences to sin, even if it’s not directly affecting you. It affects others around you.


  2. I think that God did not actually punish Abimelech. He threatened to punish him God shut up the wombs, but this was only a temporary warning. Its like God had the gun cocked and loaded and pointed at Abimelect, but He didn’t pull the trigger.


    1. I do see what you mean about it being temporary – their wombs seem to have been shut for a short time? And it’s not like anyone died or anything. So I guess it does feel like less of a punishment and more like a warning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s