After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis provides us with a couple of small stories that seem relatively unimportant – or at least “off topic” a bit. In chapter 21, we will finally see the promised child, Isaac, born, but before that wonderful story, we are told about the bizarre episode involving Lot and his daughters on the hills outside of Zoar (19:23-29) as well as the disagreement between Abraham and Abimelech (20:1-18). Why are these stories included? At first glance, they seem irrelevant and yet, when seen as “chapters” in the larger story, they begin to make sense because they – like the stories around them – serve to show the character of God while also showing how we should respond to Him. In short, God is gracious and kind to His people – even when they don’t deserve it. And the purposes of God are certain, so we do not have to resort to our own desperate scheming. We can simply trust Him.
We begin with the tragic story of Lot and his daughters. After being rescued from destruction in Sodom, they eventually found themselves in a cave in the hills outside of Zoar. Desperate for offspring, Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him – becoming pregnant in the process. The eldest daughter gave birth to the man who eventually became the father of the Moabites. And the youngest daughter gave birth to the man who eventually became the father of the Ammonites.
This is a tragic episode – which leads to the question: Why is it in the Bible? What is the point? Put simply, this serves as a stark reminder that apart from the gifts and promises of God, we are left to our own desperate schemes, and the results are often terrible. Compare this with Abraham and Sarah. They were not forced to resort to such immoral scheming because they had the promise of God on which to depend. They did – in their faithlessness – resort to a similar sort of scheming, but it was not necessary for them to do so because they had the promises of God. Without those promises, we are left to our own strength and wisdom, and though we might have a high opinion of ourselves, the results are often not so impressive as we imagine. In the case of Lot’s daughters, they were no doubt satisfied – to some degree – that they had children. But those children came to be enemies of God’s people and were eventually defeated by God’s people (2 Sam. 8:2,12; 1 Chron. 19). Left to ourselves, we will trust ourselves, and our plans will fail. We need to be on God’s side, or we are forever lost.
The second episode involving Abraham and Abimelech is similar to Genesis 12:10-20. Fearing for his life, Abraham pretended Sarah was his sister. The result – as with Pharaoh in Egypt – is that Sarah was taken, but God protected her from harm and miraculously revealed the truth to Abimelech. Though Abimelech was angry and rebuked Abraham, the end result – again, just like in Egypt – was that Abraham was enriched even more (Gen. 20:14-18). Just as God originally promised (Gen. 12:2), Abraham was blessed.
What is the point of this episode? First, on a very surface level, it shows us how we ought to live – and not live. Instead of lying, we ought to trust God in every situation. Even though Abraham was blessed, he put his wife in great danger, and it took a miracle of God to deliver her from his foolishness. Moreover, the story reminds us of the evil of sexual immorality. God takes sexual sin so seriously that he had made the women in Abimelech’s house barren because of Abimelech’s sin (Gen. 20:18) – even though Abimelech was innocent and unaware of the sin! God sees all things, and He hates sin. We should remember this – particularly with regard to sexual immorality, and we should flee it (1 Cor. 6:18).
But there is a deeper level to this story as well. At root, did not Abraham do the same thing as Lot’s daughters? Did he not trust his own scheming and wisdom instead of trusting the Lord? Indeed, he did. But notice the difference: God cared for him and kept him and blessed him – in the way that He did not bless Lot’s daughters. Why? It was because God had called Abraham and promised to bless him. Those who know God – and have trusted in Him like Abraham (Gen. 15:6) – can know that God is for them. He will work all things together for their good – so that His perfect purposes are brought about in their life (Rom. 8:28). This does not mean we should use God’s grace as an excuse for sin (Rom. 6:1), but it does mean that we can trust God to work out even the worst situations and circumstances for our good – even if those situations and circumstances are our fault! God is far kinder to us than we deserve, and His love is never taken away from His people.
So as we consider these stories, we should remember the character of God. He is gracious and merciful and kind – even when we do not deserve it. If we are His people, we can have confidence in Him and know that He is for us and nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:31-39). In light of that, we should trust Him even more and walk in obedience to His commands. Instead of trusting our own wisdom and scheming, we should obey Him. Instead of leaning on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5), we should lean on His.