Not long after Sarah and Abraham arrived in the Philistine territory of Gerar, the town was abuzz over the rich stranger and his beautiful sister. The palace had ears everywhere, and the king, Abimelech, wasted no time taking the new beauty into his harem. As before, Abraham had painted himself into a corner, and he could not protest without further endangering them.
Days passed, and unlike the last time, God did not come to their rescue. Abraham thought about the night when God had sealed his agreement with the blood of animals, and again confirmed his promise with the circumcision rite. God had said their son was to be born within the year. He even had a name, Isaac. Now he had lost not only his wife, but his son, as well.
In the harem, Sarah waited. With dread she waited to be called into Abimelech’s chambers. Or perhaps, by some miracle, someone — Abraham, God? — would come to her rescue. One day dragged into the next, and still nothing. God had said she and Abraham would have a child next year. And though she had not wanted to, she had begun to hope. Now Abraham had ruined everything. But why hadn’t God stopped him?
Abraham and Sarah continued to wait because they could think of nothing else to do. Though they tried to hold onto the words God had spoken, as the days passed they began to question what they had in fact heard.
Then one night, God spoke to Abimelech in a dream. “You’re a dead man,” he said. “The woman you’ve taken into your harem is married.”
“But, Lord, I haven’t even slept with her. Would you kill an innocent man? Besides, I had no idea she was married. The man, Abraham, told me she was his sister, and she even agreed. Surely, you will not kill an innocent man?”
“Yes, I know you were not aware, and I did not allow you to sleep with her. I kept you from sinning against me.”
King Abimelech thought how many times he had wanted to call Sarah into his chambers, but he had had distractions, obstacles. He shuddered in spite of himself.
“Now I want you to return Abraham’s wife,“ the Lord continued. “He is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live.”
Abimelech moaned in his sleep.
“Hear me now, Abimelech. If you do not give Sarah back to him, I promise you will die. And your whole family will die with you.”
The king could not wake up, but slept fitfully the rest of the night.
He summoned Abraham early the next morning. “Why have you done this to us?” he asked. “Why did you lie and say that she was your sister?” he asked, pointing at Sarah. Looking squarely at Abraham he said, “You have brought great trouble to my kingdom. Why did you do this to me? What were you afraid of?”
Sarah strained to hear what Abraham would say. “Yes, Abraham, tell us.” she thought. She might have been more afraid for Abraham, but though the king was clearly upset, he appeared restrained, as if choosing his words carefully.
“I thought no one in this place respected God,” Abraham explained. “I thought someone would kill me to get my wife.”
Sarah tried not to roll her eyes. Hadn’t they already seen the flaws in this thinking? Hadn’t they already decided this was not a good idea?
“When God called me away from my home, I told Sarah, ‘Wherever we go, do something for me. Tell everyone you’re my sister.’ You see, she is my wife, but also my sister — my half sister.”
“That lame justification, again,” Sarah thought. She was surprised to see Abimelech’s features relax.
“Fine then,” Abimelech said. “I’m giving you sheep, cattle, and slaves for your trouble.”
Abraham and Sarah glanced at each other. Deja vu all over again.
“You are welcome to live among us, anywhere you like.” He turned to Sarah, “In the presence of all these witnesses, I’m giving your brother 1,000 pieces of silver. This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you and settles any claim against me. Your reputation is officially cleared.”
Sarah was escorted to Abraham’s side. As they turned to leave, Abimelech stopped them. “One more thing,” he said. “Pray for us. Because of Sarah, your wife, your God has made all of the women infertile.” So Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household, and God healed them.
Sarah no longer felt vengeful and sarcastic. It wasn’t the silver that changed her perspective. It wasn’t the overwhelming number of livestock and servants, making them richer than they already were, or that they were invited to stay wherever they wanted. None of that could make up for what had happened. None of it could erase from her mind Abraham’s hiding behind her, putting her in harm’s way to save his own skin.
Sarah did not like being at the mercy of a powerful man like Abimelech, or for that matter, a powerless one like Abraham. She did not like being helpless, and yet she was. But now she realized, in a way they were all helpless. Even Abimelech could not protect his family from everything. But God’s hand reached every where, and he would have his way. God had said she would have a child this time next year, and nothing would change that, not Abimelech’s desires, Abraham’s cowardice, or even her own aging body.
When they left Gerar, Sarah found out she was pregnant.
What came before:
Abraham and Sarah | Deja Vu All Over Again: Part 1
What came after:
Hagar and Ishmael | Collateral Damage
Note: Though I try to remain faithful to the events and characters as described in the Bible, I take some liberties where the Bible is silent, especially regarding what the characters might have thought or felt. I encourage you to read the original story to separate fact from fiction.