Abraham and Abimelek: Lies of omission and half-lies are still lies

Abimelech rebuking Abraham by Wenceslaus Hollar
After Abraham was personally visited by angels and by Jesus, (Genesis 18:1-3, 14), and after Abraham personally asked for the LORD to protect his nephew Lot from destruction in Sodom, (Genesis 18:22-23), and after Abraham personally witnessed the destruction of four of the five Cities of the Plain (Genesis 19:28), despite having had another reassurance by God of His chosen plan involving Abraham (Genesis 15:6), thus knowing his God's sovereign power, holiness, and mercy, in the next chapter Abraham lied. And why? To help God out.

In Genesis 20:1, Abraham is journeying in King Abimelek's lands. ("toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar." Gen 20:1). Abraham thought to himself that since the people in that area are not God-fearing, I am going to need to lie about my beautiful wife Sarah.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. (Genesis 20:2).

Twenty-five years earlier, Abraham said that of his wife when he feared Pharaoh. Pulpit Commentary said of Abraham's lie then and in this chapter, that lying was "an ignoble expedient."

Did Abraham think God didn't know that the lands in the Negev were filled with pagans who did not fear God? Did Abraham think God needed to be helped out? Did Abraham not want to bother God with a prayer-petition for safety for his wife and himself? Or did Abraham just not trust God enough?

Let's look at what Abraham's lie did to himself and others. Then I'll look at the sovereignty of God and how He worked through Abraham's sinful lie.

Now, Sarah really was his sister, or half-sister to be specific. "she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife." (Genesis 20:12). So Abraham's lie was a half-truth. Alternately it can be called a lie of omission. It is still a lie. Lies we tell have effects upon the people who hear them. In this case, Abimelek went forward with an action that was based on faulty information, and he took Sarah. Then night God came to him in a dream with a message. And the message was not good.

"Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife." (Genesis 20:3b)

Thanks a lot, Abraham.

Now the King did plead with the LORD earnestly. I mean, Abimelek was told that she was not a wife. Here is where God's sovereignty over ALL FLESH comes in.

"Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her." (Genesis 20:6)

God is sovereign and can and does control ALL that happens on earth and even within the hearts of men and allows or prevents certain actions. Example: God would not let Abimelek touch Sarah. Did God put a wall around Sarah or consign her to a room in chains far away from Abimelek? No. He invisibly ordained that Sarah would remain untouched and in His power He made that come to pass, even though the King, Sarah, and the entire household was not aware of His workings. This is Providence.

God told the King to release Sarah and not to touch her or the King would certainly die. Abimelek called all the servants together and told them all that had happened, and followed God's commands immediately. (So much for NOT being God-fearing, eh? Not that the King was a believer, but the king did recognize God's authority and His power, and submitted to it in this instance.)

Then the King severely rebuked 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 to be done." (Genesis 20:9b-10).

That is the problem with lying. Not only did Abraham sin, not only did Abraham lead his wife into sin, but it caused the King to sin also, albeit unknowingly. He had a right to be angry. As did Pharaoh 25 years prior. Pulpit Commentary says of Abraham's current lie and the 25 year old lie,
Abraham should a second time have resorted to this ignoble expedient after the hazardous experience of Egypt and the richly-merited rebuke of Pharaoh, but more especially after the assurance he had lately received of his own acceptance before God (Genesis 15:6), and of Sarah's destiny to be the mother of the promised seed (Genesis 17:16), is well nigh unaccountable, and almost irreconcilable with any degree of faith and piety.
Of course we know Abraham was faithful and pious. (Hebrews 11:11). Our Bible is so great to show us the successes and the foibles and fumbles of the great men and women who are recounted in this record. We are all sinners, tending toward doing wrong most of the time, yet our God uses us again and again in His plan to move history forward to the end goal of displaying His glory to an unspotted Bride. Abraham was no different. But more gloriously, God is no different. He is totally sovereign over all that happens. After Abimelek gave Abraham 1000 pieces of silver, animals, and free passage through the land, he said you have been vindicated and this matter is concluded.

Just as God had promised Abimelek, (Genesis 20:7) Abraham then prayed to God on the King's behalf (Genesis 20:17). God opened the wombs of all the women in the house of Abimelek because he had closed them on behalf of Sarah. God is sovereign over wombs, minds, flesh, and events. He is also merciful, in sparing Abimelek, in not punishing Abraham, in protecting Sarah, and in allowing the females of the house of Abimelek to conceive babies once again.

Genesis 20 is a tremendous chapter on the sinfulness of man, of what lies do to people (even lies of omission). Imagine what Abimelek might have been thinking. 'Why would God pick THAT guy, he's a liar.' Do you want your witness on behalf of Holy God to be polluted by a legacy of lies?

The chapter is also a wonderful example of God's sovereignty and Providential outworking, and His mercies.

Gill's Exposition on Genesis 20:2-
And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, she is my sister,.... This he gave out in all conversation he came into, and said it to every one that asked who she was, which was little better than a lie; it at least was an equivocation and deception, and not at all justifiable, and tended to expose his wife's chastity, and discovered a distrust of divine Providence; the same infirmity be had given way to, and the same evil he had fallen into in Egypt, Genesis 12:11, and therefore was the more inexcusable now; good men not only fall into sin, but have their relapses:
BibleGateway's All the Men of the Bible explains of Abimelek:

Abimelech would have taken Sarah, Abraham’s wife, into his harem, but learning that she was the wife of another, returned her uninjured. Abraham appears here in a bad light. He deceived Abimelech, but when found out was justly rebuked by the God-restrained Abimelech. Certainly the righteous should rebuke the ungodly (1 Tim. 5:20), but how sad it is when the ungodly have just reason for rebuking the righteous. What a degradation it was for Abraham, then, to be rebuked by a heathen king!

Abraham sought to palliate his deception by claiming that Sarah was actually his half sister, daughter of the same father but not the same mother (Gen. 20:12, 16).

A lie if half a truth Is ever the worst of lies.

Abraham was the more blameworthy because he had done the same thing before (Gen. 12) and had suffered much in the same way as upon this occasion. How grateful Abimelech was for the dream warning him of his danger! The covenant made with Abraham is somewhat significant—

I. It was proposed by Abimelech who, although knowing how Abraham had failed God, yet saw how favored he was of God (Gen. 21:22).

II. It revealed certain distrust of Abraham. Abimelech requested Abraham not to be tempted to sin in such a direction again (Gen. 21:23).
Wow, a pagan praying for the righteous!

We faithful Christians sure do have relapses. We are redeemed by, governed by, supported by, sustained by, and provided for by a gracious and loving God. He knows all the details, He is calmly in control of all that happens. He even forgives our sins (like when we lie). We don't need to "help" God in His plans but we do need to submit to them. We need to remember that our actions and words affect other people. We need to have integrity in all that we do for Jesus (Colossians 3:17).

PS: trivia- did you know that Genesis 20 is the first time we read the word "prophet"? God said Abraham was His prophet. (Genesis 20:7). The Bible is so wonderful to read!


  1. "how sad it is when the ungodly have just reason for rebuking the righteous". So true that we often fall short of the command to live according to our calling. Thank you for another thought provoking article!

  2. He even forgives our sins (like when we lie). We don't need to "help" God in His plans but we do need to submit to them. We need to remember that our actions and words affect other people. We need to have integrity in all that we do for Jesus.

    Amen - beautifully put.


  3. Idk sometimes misleading ppl can be a good thing.

    1. Anonymous, how so? Can you be a bit more forthcoming?

    2. Lying to the Germans as a Jew in Hitler's Nazi Germany to save hundreds is one. Or lying to racist slaveowners in early in American history as a blk man who was viewed as only property and not even being fully human to escape from being killed and constantly raped via the underground railroad is another, how many hundreds were saved from such cruelty even death by lying. There are MANY other examples throughout history but I think you understand my point from the 2 I presented. Thoughts?

  4. Rahab lied for a good reason but the Lord never said Okey dokey. The scenarios you propose and the biblical example I just offered in Rahab is called "situational ethics." Situational ethics is defined:

    "Situational ethics, or situation ethics, takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards."

    This is polar opposite to God who is THE absolute moral standard and gave us a command to follow his absolute moral standard, this is particularly clear in the case of lying, which is expressly forbidden in the 9th Commandment. (Exodus 20:16)

    Here is a page of bible verses which record the stance on liars:

    Here is a web page with further thoughts on whether God condones lying for a good reason. AKA situational ethics, and explores Rahab


    1. Fantastic answer to an important question raised by anonymous.

      PS anonymous, why are you anonymous?

  5. I dont use Facebook and dont really have a social media presence at all so it hard to log in but my name is Chris. Hi Liz & Alec :)

    Thanks for your answer. I appreciate you taking out the time to reply. But arent some ethics situational? What about when Moses sent Caleb & Joshua to spy in a foreign land? I'm pretty sure one of the main rules of being a spy is to be deceptive and lie even.

    Ok if still not sure what about Jesus? Yes he never lied but he was VERY deceptive was he not? He even said the point of his parables were so that many WOULD NOT understand. So he talked in riddles so ppl couldnt understand him, to confuse them. We know this bc his disciples asked him why dont u speak plainly to the people and he replied bc he didnt want everyone to receive its msg. So to tell a story KNOWING the majority of ur audience wont understand it isnt being kinda deceptive?

    Or, as my last example, what about when Jesus when asked by his brothers if he was going to Passover he said no not now but as soon as they left he went via sneaking around as to not be seen. Is that not deceptive? Thats like me asking you if you were going to the store so I can ride w you and you said knaw not right now and AS SOON as I left u jump in ur car and drive there via backroads so I wouldnt see u. That's not sneaky and being deceptive?

  6. Ok I just read the 2nd link you sent it was really good and answered most of my previous post I just sent about Caleb & Joshua.

    Ok but what about if someone has a job as a spy today like the FBI or CIA. A part of their job description is to lie to "keep cover". Same w some "undercover" cops today. Is lying in those situations acceptable for a Christian?

    Also pls answer my Jesus questions bc I thought those were good :)


    1. well you've gone from "I can lie if it's for the good" to "Jesus is deceptive." And here the conversation ends. If you are trying to make a case that Jesus was a liar or deceptive in any way, then you will, if that is what you want. Jesus haters can always find things in the bible to support their false notion about Jesus, whatever it may be.

      if you believe Jesus is holy and is God, then you believe there is no lie in His mouth. (Numbers 23:19). Hebrews 6:18 says, God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie,"

      You either believe that or you don't. If you to HONESTLY seek an answer to the Jerusalem Passover incident you spoke of, I suggest you go to gty.org, find the sermon explaining John 7:2-9, listen and listen HARD.

    2. mat.13.10-13.nlt His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

      mrk.4.10-12.nlt Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’ ”

      So is this saying Jesus DIDN'T want them to understand DIDN'T want them to find salvation?

      This is a legit question I am asking not trying to prove any points. Thx in advance.


    3. Hello Chris,

      I have 2 legit questions for you, first:

      What do *you* think? DID Jesus come to earth so that He could hide His message and people would NOT come to salvation?

      Second legit question: what credible sources, including parallel verses to the ones you shared, commentaries, sermons, and other essays, have you looked up already to help yourself try and determine the answer to your question?

    4. http://news.sbts.edu/2014/10/29/parables-are-salvation-stories-says-macarthur-in-southern-seminarys-mullins-lectures/



      So it appears Jesus DID hide the truth & salvation away from many but only as a JIDGEMENT on them for already rejecting his message for 2 years. Hmmmm... interesting indeed. I know Jesus didn't come to bring peace but to turn family and friends against one another. Looking at it from that perspective it makes sense.

      So yes Jesus didn't want them to gain salvation but apparently only after they already rejected him.

      So now my question is this, many are called but few are CHOOSEN so does God call EVERYONE and those who accept he saves or does he only pick out who he wants and the others were made as Paul puts it to be objects of wrath? Do we choose/accept Christ or does he choose/select us?

      Thanks for helping me.


    5. I also just read this from CRI a gold standard in Christian apologetics: In the interest of truth, I should first disclose the fact that Christian theologians are divided on this subject. Some—like Saint Augustine—believed that it is never permissible to lie. Others—like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had ample time to contemplate this issue from the perspective of a Nazi prison cell—held that under certain circumstances lying was not only morally permissible but morally mandated. Thus, Bonhoeffer advocated deceiving the enemy in circumstances of war, and he had no compunction about lying in order to facilitate escape for Jews facing extermination.

      Furthermore, while the Bible never condones lying qua lying (lying for the sake of lying), it does condone lying in order to preserve a higher moral imperative. For example, Rahab purposed to deceive (the lesser moral law) in order to preserve the lives of two Jewish spies (the higher moral law). Likewise, a Christian father today should not hesitate to lie in order to protect his wife and daughters from the imminent threat of rape or murder.

      Finally, there is a difference between lying and not telling the truth. This is not merely a matter of semantics; it is a matter of substance. By way of analogy, there is a difference between unjustified and justified homicide. Murder is unjustified homicide and is always wrong. Not every instance of killing a person, however, is murder. Capital punishment and self-defense occasion justified homicide. Similarly, in the case of a lie (Annanias and Sapphira, Acts 5) there is an unjustified discrepancy between what you believe and what you say, and so lying is always wrong. But not telling the truth in order to preserve a higher moral law (Rahab, Joshua 2) may well be the right thing to do and thus is not actually a lie.

      For further study, see Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), chapter 7.


      Again, as a rule I believe lying is wrong but for mostly every rule there are exceptions to the rule and I think NEVER lying has a few. Just my 2 cents.


    6. Ok that was my last one but I felt like I had to share bc its from John Piper someone I truly respect. He also believes in extreme cases lying can be ok. He wrote the following:

      The rest of the chapter tells how she believes in God and is delivered when Jericho is attacked. So the biblical interpretation of her action is that it was done from a heart of faith—even though she lied.

      I conclude from these two stories that it is possible to be a person who fears the Lord (like the Hebrew midwives) and who acts in faith (like Rahab) and yet feels constrained in extreme situations to oppose evil by lying.

      Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/21429-is-lying-ever-okay#VlQkRicMVEk4p3TL.99

    7. Chris, Jesus did not came to purposely "turn friends and family against each other" as you phrased it. What He was saying is that His message is one that some in a family might believe while others in a family would reject, causing strife. Hebrews 4:12 says the word is so precise it splits not just families, but is

      "is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, ..."

      As for Jesus choosing us, yes He chooses some for salvation. We do not choose Christ. We cannot. We could never choose Jesus on our own, because our minds are blinded. (2 Cor 4:4).

      We are ALL destined for hell. It is a glory to God that He chooses anyone at all.

      Ephesians 1:4 - Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

      We are chosen. So the Spirit draws the ones He has chosen to Him. (John 6:44). He calls them (Rom 8:30). And so on is the order of salvation.

      if you are familiar with John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan also drew a map called the Order and Causes of Salvation and Condemnation, you can see it here


    8. That is a difficult thing to accept that maybe someone WASN'T choosen by God and they are going to hell bc of that but his best friend was choosen and he is going to Heaven instead. Like why are some choosen and some aren't even BEFORE we were even born? How does that fit w justice and morality? Ik we are ALL condemed all going to hell until Jesus steps in but WHY does he save one but not another especially if its him CHOOSING us and us nvr choosing him? On a humanistic level it just doesn't seem fair. For those choosen I'm sure they aren't complaining but what about those NOT choosen, what if any kind of reasoning or logic can u give that person that they were DESTINED to hell before they were even born smh... SERIOUSLY? !?!?!?


      Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.


    9. BTW - That map/link is AWESOME!!!

    10. At the end of the Bunyan map of the Order of Salvation, you read in a little box, God's glory is shown on BOTH the salvation side and the condemnation side. He is just, He punishes sin. If He saved EVERYONE, where would be the justice? Grace, yes, but no justice. If He condemned everyone, where would the grace be? Justice yes, but not grace.

      Secondly, I am glad you used the phrase 'on a humanistic level' because God is good, he is ALL good, and everything He does is good, even if it does not seem so to us with our puny minds.

      As for giving reason or logic to the person who is condemned to hell, we have two examples from the bible about that situation. The Thief on the Cross knew he was a sinner and expected his punishment. Secondly, in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man in hell appealed to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so they would not come to this terrible place, he also asked for a drink of water to cool his tongue because he was in torment. He complained about the place and the heat, but he never complained that it was unjust that he ended up there. Not once.

      Here is a webpage that explains predestination very well, biblically


  7. http://www.gotquestions.org/right-to-lie.html

    That website which I truly believe is credible also says that lying perhaps in EXTREME situations is ok a lesser evil to protect a greater good. They gave a Nazi example. I have to say I agree.

    I'm a father of 2 boys and if someone broke into my house and said I'm killing you and anyone else in here and then ask if anyone else is in there... I'm pretty sure I would say no to PROTECT my kids. While understanding lying is wrong and as you say God doesn't need help, I don't think it's wrong to PROTECT ppl even if you might have to lie to someone evil to do it.

    Just figured I'd share. I respect your stance and while theologically I would agree I can see where practically it could become problematic. With this I think of the spirit of the rule rather than the letter of the law. While the letter might say don't lie I think it might be acceptable in certain cases bc your intentions are pure and holy to save and protect. It's like Jesus working on the Sabbath the legalist wanted his head for that but via mercy and LOVE he healed ppl on that day of rest anyway. So although one might lie to save ppl and protect them if its for mercy and good moral intentions then I think God honors that he lets it slide.

    But I don't k ow for sure just sharing.




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