2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.
4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?
5 Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.
6 And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.
God came to Abimelech with a strong sentence: “thou art but a dead man!” But when Abimelech professed innocence of any wrong God admitted that he already knew this to be the case. He was actually only warning Abimelech from destruction.
But why did God approach the matter in this way? Why start by pronouncing a punishment for a crime that Abimelech was innocent of? I can’t know for sure, but one possibility might be that God was helping Abimelech to evaluate the state of his own heart.
Being put on trial is often thought of as an unpleasant thing, but sometimes it can be a cleansing, justifying experience. By taking a close inventory of all their actions and motivations, the innocent are relieved to find that their heart really is pure, more so than they even realized. They can look anyone in the eye and honestly testify of their own worthiness. It could be that this experience was what God sought for Abimelech, even if it took a little fire to get him there.
25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
I let my two young children take a shower just last night. They love our walk-in shower, because they can freely march across its tile and splash in the water without a single care in the world! Both of them were stark naked, of course, but they didn’t feel one bit embarrassed or ashamed about it. Why should they? They are innocent. Indecency and sexuality don’t even register in their minds.
Of course being naked is also metaphorical. It means being exposed, being vulnerable, having all your private secrets laid bare. How many of us would feel so unashamed in that event? A key piece of my children’s carefree innocence is that they also are too young to have done anything that they truly, deeply regret. They therefore have no hesitation to be seen exactly the way they are, just like Adam and Eve.
And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
Peradventure there be fifty righteous: wilt thou not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? If I find in Sodom fifty righteous, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
Sodom and Gomorrah was a place of intense wickedness, filled with a populace that had given up any pretense of morality or decency. When considering the destruction of those people, though, all Abraham could think of was the potential innocents that might be lost as well. His great concern was not about the guilty escaping their rightful punishment, it was about the guiltless being unjustly condemned.
And God readily agreed with Abraham’s pleas. For fifty good, for forty-five, for forty, for thirty, for twenty, for ten…He would regard the few righteous over the thousands of evil.
How often do we do the same? I think it is often easier to point to the other side of our political and social divides and describe the “others” as being all bad. All the rich are corrupt and should have their feet held to the fire. All the liberals are immoral and should be censured. And if any among their ranks are not actually guilty by action, we still make them guilty by association. We are very quick to call fire down on all the “wrong-thinkers,” with no regard for the innocent mingled in their ranks.