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Unexpected Faith

On mountains, the tree line marks the point of elevation where lack of warmth and moisture make the growth of trees difficult. Yet even in this inhospitable location, it is possible to discover unexpected, beautiful flowers poking up through the rocks.

We find unexpected faith in today’s reading, but not in Abraham or Sarah. Abraham demonstrated his continued waffling between faith and doubt. Having moved south, and again fearing for his life, he told the king of Gerar that Sarah was his sister. Sarah also was complicit in this deceit. So Abimelek took Sarah for his wife, not realizing she was a married woman. Unlike the similar account in Genesis 12, this time God intervened directly, warning Abimelek of his danger and commanding him to return Sarah to her husband.

But do not miss the irony in the story: Abimelek was more righteous than Abraham! When God confronted the king, Abimelek pleaded ignorance and innocence. He had taken Sarah only after both Abraham and Sarah claimed to be siblings; the king had acted with a clear conscience. Remarkably, God agreed, and Abimelek immediately obeyed God by returning Sarah.

Abraham, on the other hand, had lied out of fear, and then, when confronted with his lie, offered a technicality as an explanation to the king. Indeed, it was the pagan Abimelek who chastised Abraham, saying: “What were you thinking of, that you did this thing?” (v. 10, RSV). Abraham confessed his assumption that there was “no fear of God in this place” (v. 11), but in the end Abimelek proved both God-fearing and generous—note his gift to Abraham of land and possession. Sometimes we can find God-fearing people in the most unexpected places.

Apply the Word

This story reminds us that we never know where we might find hearts ready to yield to God. Make a list of five people you know that seem hardened toward God. Then pray for them specifically, asking that God would soften their hearts and that you would have a chance to share the love of Christ with them sometime this week.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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