Click here to read Genesis 20:1-21:34

Today’s passage begins with Abraham making the same mistake that he made back in Genesis 12 (except this time it involves Abimelech, king of Gerar, rather than Pharaoh).  But the most striking thing about thing about this account is that its placement and the role Abimelech plays emphasizes that God will remain faith to His promise and provision even as His people make mistakes.

In the last passage we read about God visiting and talking with Abraham, formalizing His covenant with Abraham, and it ended with Abraham a few big reminders of God’s promise – a physical reminder and new names for Abraham and Sarah.  But in Chapter 20 we see that Abraham is making the exact same mistake that he did earlier in Genesis.  But to make matters worse, the king of Gerar—who is not the recipient of God’s promise, nor is he shown to have any real affiliation with God—acts in a righteous manner while Abraham does not.

But God keeps His promise, and a son is born to Sarah and Abraham.  In response to God doing just as He has promised they do just as God told them to—naming him Isaac and circumcising him.

God continues showing how He will bless Abraham in dealing with Hagar and Ishmael.  God promises Abraham (and Hagar) that He will take care of Ishmael and his descendants by making them into a great nation simply because they are the offspring of Abraham. However, we also see that God is very specific in His plan to carry out the other promises that He made to Abraham and those will be fulfilled through Isaac’s descendants.  Not only did God explicitly say this earlier in Genesis, but also Ishmael is no longer a legal heir to Abraham after Hagar and Ishmael are freed and sent into the wilderness.  We also start to get a clearer understanding of the future contrast between Ishmael and Isaac through Ishmael’s mocking and the fact that Hagar chose a wife for Ishmael from the land of Egypt.  Her choice shows that finding a God-fearing wife for Ishmael is not a priority, which will prove to be a sharp contrast to how Isaac takes a wife.

Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech serves as a bookend for the account of the birth of Isaac.  In the beginning of this passage the big threat was to God’s promise of an heir (and descendants) as a result of Abraham’s mistake.  The focus at the end is the new threat to God’s promise of providing the land to Abraham’s descendants.  But it doesn’t end on a down note.  In initiating a treaty with Abraham, Abimelech demonstrates to his own righteous dealings, but also shows that he viewed Abraham as a powerful man during that particular time and for the future.  Abraham had become a powerful man in the area because of God’s blessing.

Names Places

God – God

Abram/Abraham – son of Terah, descendant of Shem

Sarai/Sarah – Abraham’s wife

Abimelech – King of Gerar

Isaac – son promised to Abraham and Sarah

Hagar – Abraham’s maidservant and mother of Ishmael

Ishmael – son born to Abraham and Hagar


Negev – southernmost region of Palestine
where Abraham traveled (to get a better picture
of where Abraham wandered, see the map below)

Gerar – where Abraham came across Abimelech

Beersheba – “well of oath” or “well of seven”
where Abimelech and Abraham made a treaty.


Abimelech’s servants – servants to the king

Abimelech’s wife – Abimelech’s wife

Phicol – commander of Abimelech’s army


Kadesh and Shur – Abraham lived between these two areas

Desert of Paran – where Ishmael lived after separating
from Abraham’s house

Egypt – Ishmael’s wife is from Egypt

land of the Philistines – Palestine

Interesting facts:

1) Why was it important that Abraham planted a tree?

By planting a tree Abraham demonstrated his intention to live in that land and it also showed that Abraham believed that there would always be water available to him there.  By planting a tree Abraham showed that it was his home and he was no longer a stranger in the land. Also, dwelling under one’s own tree was viewed as a sign of peaceful security.  This theme is shown again in the Old Testament book of Zechariah (Zechariah 3:10).

2) Genesis 20:7 marks the first use of the word “prophet” in the Old Testament.  The role of prophet will be important through out the Old Testament.  Here the concept is introduced as the role of being a spokesperson for God.

Abram's Journey

Abraham's Journey in Genesis 20 - Yellow Line (Logos Bible Software)