Genesis 20-21 Summary

Genesis 20

In Genesis 19:27, Abraham got up early in the morning and hurried up to the place where he stood in God’s presence and interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah. He saw columns of smoke rising from the cities like smoke from a furnace.

But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain. Genesis 19:29 NLT

Following the destruction of Sodom, Abraham moves again.

Scripture tells us God answered Abraham’s prayer and saved Lot, but it doesn’t say that Abraham knew the outcome. There’s also no record saying God instructed him to move or that he consulted God about it.

So it leaves us to wonder why he moved.

According to Jewish tradition, Abraham moved “To distance himself from Lot, as a bad reputation came upon him (Lot) since he had relations with his daughters.”1

This makes sense because we read the events in scripture, so God revealed the information, and it was passed down orally until put into writing.

This new region they settled in is the land of the Philistines—the place that eventually produces Goliath.

Some detractors say this passage about Abraham’s ruse (saying Sarah is his sister) proves the Bible just repeats the same story again.  But this isn’t the same old story. This is a different time, place, and ruler. Abraham didn’t deal with his sin the first time around and repeats it.

This is hard to understand—why, after Abraham’s encounters with God, did the unbelieving King Abimelech behave more uprightly than Abraham? Abraham risked Sarah’s safety, honor, and well-being for his own protection.

There is another potential problem—The messengers promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a son within a year. If Abimelech slept with her and she became pregnant, how would they know the baby was Abraham’s son? So, God could not let that happen.

We compartmentalize our sin, thinking it won’t affect the rest of our lives. But it does.

A little yeast grows through the whole lump. Galatians 5:9


  • Doubted God’s ability to protect him
  • Believed he was better able than God, so his view of himself was elevated.
  • Fearful—fear for his life. Fear is the opposite of faith.
  • Fear becomes consuming in our minds.

God gives us His word to encourage us.

“Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].” Romans 12:2 AMP

Abraham didn’t have the written word of God, however, he had physical encounters with angels and the son of God spoke to him, answered questions, and made promises.

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal . . . 2 Corinthians 10:6
Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ . . . 2 Corinthians 10:5
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . Philippians 2:5

Even when we are faithless, He is faithful. He restores us so that He can work through us. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13 NKJV)

Although Abimelech behaved more correctly out of fear of God, Abraham was under grace.

Abimelech was under condemnation. It must have been quite humbling for Abraham to be rebuked and disciplined by a pagan.

Yet God did not reject Abraham. He restored him to a right relationship with Himself. So we can assume that Abraham repented. God brought him back and used him in the healing and restoration of King Abimelech and his household.

We must confess the sin in our past and repent because God wants to restore us, too.

No one can hang out a sign that says, “Everything is fine here.” All families have difficulties. But God has always been faithful to His word.

Genesis 21

One year later, Sarah’s laughter turned into the joy of suckling her own baby.

We have a choice between good and God’s best.

  • A job we love vs. God’s call to do something else
  • Home or location we love vs. called to move somewhere else
  • Friends vs. called to leave one or more behind
  • Recreation vs. called to abandon the distraction and focus elsewhere

Ishmael was not God’s best. He was a product of man’s effort and striving. Age was not an obstacle to God, and He knew what was best.

God said to send Hagar and Ishmael away, but not away from Himself, His love, His care, or His promise. From their perspective, it doesn’t seem fair.

We face circumstances that don’t seem fair—the loss of someone through death or otherwise and we may not understand.

Contrast between faith vs. works of the flesh:
Ishmael = work of the flesh.
Isaac = work of God.

Even though we had an earthly father and mother, we must be born again. All of us were born enemies of God.

God calls believers to give up their own plans.

God calls us to follow and obey Him. It may not be easy, but it will go well.

Every time Abraham followed his own ways, trouble for himself, his family, and others ensued. Following God means choosing between good and God’s plan.

The closing verses of Chapter 21 relays a treaty between a prophet and a prince. Abraham showed humility. It appears they had an amicable relationship. They saw that God was with Abraham in all he did.

  • Do others notice that about me?
  • Do I trust God as easily as I fall back on trusting myself?

Some scholars say the name “Abimelech” may have been a title rather than a name. However, verse 23 shows it was likely the same guy Abraham originally deceived. Abimelech says, “promise you will not deal falsely with me or my descendants.”

The chapter ends with worship. A new name of God is revealed in Genesis 21:33—The Everlasting God.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Obeying God prepares the way for reconciliation with God and others. Reconciliation means brought back into right relationship. It is not God who changes in order to get back into relationship with us. It is a work of God. A former sinner, transformed by grace, in right relationship with a Holy God!

God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

He is committed to us.  His appeal to us is to be reconciled with God. We are called to be Christ’s ambassadors—to get out and share the good news.

We must be reconciled first, then allow God to use us to bring reconciliation.

  • Stick to the truth, even if it is initially more difficult.
  • No matter who started it, what can you do to bring restoration?
  • Confess thoughts, actions, or accept blame even where none exists.
  • Do all you can do. Then pray.

Maimonides (The Guide of the Perplexed II.42; as explained, I believe, by Rabbi Dr. Menachem Krakowski) maintains that the passage is describing the events as they were prophetically witnessed by Abraham, meaning he was aware of the entire sequence of events.