It appears by this that God revealed himself by dreams (which evidenced themselves to be divine and supernatural) not only to his servants the prophets, but even to those who were out of the pale of the church and covenant; but then, usually, it was with some regard to God’s own people as in Pharaoh’s dream, to Joseph, in Nebuchadnezzar’s, to Daniel, and here, in Abimelech’s, to Abraham and Sarah, for he reproved this king for their sake, Ps. 105:14, 15.
I. God gives him notice of his danger (Gen. 20:3), his danger of sin, telling him that the woman is a man’s wife, so that if he take her he will wrong her husband; his danger of death for this sin: Thou art a dead man; and God’s saying so of a man makes him so. Note, Every wilful sinner ought to be told that he is a dead man, as the condemned malefactor, and the patient whose disease is mortal, are said to be so. If thou art a bad man, certainly thou art a dead man.
II. He pleads ignorance that Abraham and Sarah had agreed to impose upon him, and not to let him know that they were any more than brother and sister, Gen. 20:6. See what confidence a man may have towards God when his heart condemns him not, 1 John 3:21. If our consciences witness to our integrity, and that, however we may have been cheated into a snare, we have not knowingly and wittingly sinned against God, it will be our rejoicing in the day of evil. He pleads with God as Abraham had done, Gen. 18:23. Wilt thou slay a righteous nation? Gen. 20:4. Not such a nation as Sodom, which was indeed justly destroyed, but a nation which, in this matter, was innocent.
III. God gives a very full answer to what he had said.
1. He allows his plea, and admits that what he did he did in the integrity of his heart: Yea, I know it, Gen. 20:6. Note, It is matter of comfort to those that are honest that God knows their honesty, and will acknowledge it, though perhaps men that are prejudiced against them either cannot be convinced of it or will not own that they are.
2. He lets him know that he was kept from proceeding in the sin merely by the good hand of God upon him: I withheld thee from sinning against me. Abimelech was hereby kept from doing wrong, Abraham from suffering wrong, and Sarah from both. Note, (1.) There is a great deal of sin devised and designed that is never executed. As bad as things are in the world, they are not so bad as the devil and wicked men would have them. (2.) It is God that restrains men from doing the ill they would do. It is not from him that there is sin, but it is from him that there is not more sin, either by his influence upon men’s minds, checking their inclination to sin, or by his providence, taking away the opportunity to sin. (3.) It is a great mercy to be hindered from committing sin; of this God must have the glory, whoever is the instrument, 1 Sam. 25:32, 33.
3. He charges him to make restitution: Now therefore, not that thou art better informed, restore the man his wife, Gen. 20:7. Note, Ignorance will excuse no longer than it continues. If we have entered upon a wrong course through ignorance this will not excuse our knowingly persisting in it, Lev. 5:3-5. The reasons why he must be just and kind to Abraham are, (1.) Because he is a prophet, near and dear to God, for whom God does in a particular manner concern himself. God highly resents the injuries done to his prophets, and takes them as done to himself. (2.) Being a prophet, he shall pray for thee; this is a prophet’s reward, and a good reward it is. It is intimated that there was great efficacy in the prayers of a prophet, and that good men should be ready to help those with their prayers that stand in need of them, and should make, at least, this return for the kindnesses that are done them. Abraham was accessory to Abimelech’s trouble, and therefore was obliged in justice to pray for him. (3.) It is at thy peril if thou do not restore her: Know thou that thou shalt surely die. Note, He that does wrong, whoever he is, prince or peasant, shall certainly receive for the wrong which he has done, unless he repent and make restitution, Col. 3:25. No injustice can be made passable with God, no, not by Caesar’s image stamped upon it.