Learning From the Sins of Abraham

Between the first promise of a son given to Abraham (Gen 12:2) and its fulfillment (Gen 21:2), Abraham had some rough patches. Like us, Abraham wavered, and we would not commend his every action to our children.

In particular, Abraham is recorded as calling Sarah his sister instead of his wife on two separate occasions (Gen 12:10–20 and Gen 20:1–18). In fact, Abraham may have demanded this of Sarah repeatedly (Gen 20:13).

This particular stumble may not seem very relatable to modern day Christians. Not many of us, I’d wager, are tempted to introduce our spouse as our sibling. And yet, I suspect we have more to learn from Abraham’s struggles than what first meets the eye.

How Do We Know This is Sin?

Some brief background: After the rescue of Lot and the destruction of Sodom, Abraham sojourned in Gerar, which was between Canaan and Egypt (Gen 20:1). Abraham passed Sarah off as his sister, and Abimelech (the local king) took her for his wife (Gen 20:2). God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and told him about Sarah, instructing him to return her to Abraham. If Abimelech did this, he would live; if not, he would die (Gen 20:7).

When I first studied this passage, I wondered why God didn’t rebuke Abraham. It’s a good Bible study question: How is the reader to know that what Abraham did was wrong?

I eventually realized that God did rebuke Abraham, but he did it through Abimelech (Gen 20:9). God called Abraham a prophet (Gen 20:7), and yet Abraham needed this Gentile king to play the role of prophet and bring the word of God to him. Abraham is an anti-prophet; that is the correction he needed.

The Nature of Abraham’s Sin

It’s too easy, across the distance of history, to judge Abraham for this bad behavior. Even if what he was saying was technically correct (Gen 20:12), he was intending to deceive. I believe the sophisticated word that theologians use to describe Abraham’s explanation is “weasly.”

But because Abraham and Abimelech have an extended conversation, we learn why Abraham acted the way he did (Gen 20:10–13). Further, we see some of the ways Abraham sinned and how we might easily fall into his well-worn footsteps.

Abraham believed God’s influence was limited. He said, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place.’” Abraham feared falling into the hands of those who didn’t fear God, and he assumed that was true of the people of Gerar. Of course, Abimelech ended up acting more like a God-fearer than Abraham!

Abraham believed God needed help to keep his promises. Abraham thought the people of Gerar would kill him because of Sarah (Gen 20:11). Yet God had promised Abraham an heir through Sarah (Gen 17:16) and this heir had not yet been conceived. This means that Abraham doubted that God could preserve his life without this deception. He had to protect himself because God might not do it.

Abraham doubted God’s goodness. We can hear some resentment and bitterness in the way Abraham recounts his calling: “And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house…” (Gen 20:13). Abraham is not remembering God’s provision, his protection, or his promises. He only recalls the inconvenience God caused him.

When we identify Abraham’s sins this way, I suspect many of us can see our tendency to repeat them. We often doubt God’s power and his extensive reign. We do not cling to his promises or trust him to keep his word. We wonder if God is as good as the Scriptures report.

The Answer is Resurrection

There are many places in the Bible which address these three doubts and teach us what is true. But there is one event which addresses all three.

All the Bible points to Jesus. And Jesus’s resurrection, in particular, is essential. It is the ultimate proof that God keeps his promises, that he is who he claims, and that we have a great hope.

The resurrection proves that Jesus reigns. Paul writes that the resurrection declared Jesus to be the Son of God in power (Romans 1:4). If we suspect that God is limited or that he cannot do the unexpected, the resurrection announces that Jesus is king with a megaphone.

The resurrection proves that God keeps his promises. Jesus taught many things and made many claims. Some of his boldest predictions were of his own suffering, death and resurrection. The truth of his resurrection, being the most audacious claim, verifies all of his teaching. (See 1 Cor 15:17 and Acts 13:16–41.)

The resurrection proves that God is good. In Acts 5:29–32, Peter explains that in his resurrection and ascension, God exalted Jesus as Leader and Savior, to give repentance and forgiveness to Israel. What mercy and goodness is captured in this! Further, Paul famously writes that those who believe will enjoy a resurrection like Jesus’s—in fact, Jesus’s resurrection is the first fruits of the resurrection of the faithful which is to come (1 Cor 15:20–23).

Prone to Unbelief

We are prone to doubt, to unbelief, to attributing ill motives to God. Any of our surface-level sins likely have a root in a heart which isn’t believing what is true.

Notice the forbearance and goodness of God! He faithfully stays with us in our unbelief. And he provides what we need to grow: his Spirit, his Word, and his people.

We believe, and we need God to help us in our unbelief. And this is exactly what he does.

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Now, We Laugh


The victory seemed sure. Against the odds death lashed this man to the wood, this wonder who spoke so much of life. Jesus had assaulted death’s kingdom at every turn, and now, with a final cry, he ran out of breath.

His body found a tomb, and fear stationed a rock and guards. These bouncers would let no one in.

They faced the wrong direction. They missed the show.


Who knows what sounds or sights burst inside. Perhaps it was ear-splitting, a blinding flash. Maybe it was quiet and small, a hiccup of life stirring the body.

Jesus flung death aside and the boulder with it. The grave clothes lay discarded on the ground. The mighty guards passed out from fear, replaced by heavenly officers.

As he walked out of the tomb, Jesus laughed at death. The righteous Son of God had finished his work. Now he pulsed and thrummed with life.


We follow our Savior between the times. We see the hatred and the grabbing of the old way, kicking and jerking toward and within us. We mourn and cry and resist.

But we are not all mourning. We know the new way. We laugh at the good news—not because it’s funny, but because it’s so good. We are amazed and overcome and grateful, and we laugh the laugh of those who are free.

We laugh that the good news would be spoken to us. We laugh that we would be loved and adopted. We laugh that we would be promised such a future.


Death will make its final, futile attempts. It will throw us in the ground, a stone on top.

Who knows what sounds or sights will come. Jesus will fling death aside and the stone with it. The heavenly officers will take us further up and further in to the city coming down.

As we join the throng, we will laugh at death. Where is your sting? Where is your victory?


Without the curse, without frustration and thorns, we will rejoice forever. In the presence of our Father, we will know as we have been fully known. In our joy, we will laugh.

That joy is not just for Then. It is not just for Easter morning. It is for now and now and now, because the bond Jesus secured cannot be broken. We are grabbed and held by everlasting, full-to-the-brim love.

We will laugh forever because we will be with God, safe. And we laugh now, because we need the practice.

Photo Credit: cheriejoyful (2011), Creative Commons License

King David on the Resurrection


There’s a moment at the end of the Gospel of Luke that surprises me every time I read it.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44–47)

The resurrected Jesus speaks with his disciples and tells them that he fulfilled all that was written about him in the entire Old Testament. He says it is written that the Messiah should die and be raised, and that the gospel would be preached to the whole world.

Did you catch that? Jesus said his resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament. So…where was that again?

Peter’s Sermon

Many people rightly point to Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 as places to turn for Old Testament teaching on resurrection. But today we’ll examine how the apostle Peter answered this question.

Peter began his Pentecost sermon by explaining that the early Christians had received the Holy Spirit. He then talks about Jesus—his arrest, death, and resurrection. In explaining that “it was not possible for [Jesus] to be held by [death],” Peter does a strange thing. He quotes David in Psalm 16:8–11.

For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25–28)

Then Peter interprets for us.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29–31)


Peter says that David, believing God’s long-term promise, knew that the Messiah could not be abandoned in death. He would not decay in the tomb.

As with Jesus, so with Us

Knowing that David was speaking about the Messiah in Psalm 16, what can we now learn from that text?

Because Psalm 16 is written in the first person, we should read David’s words—at least in part—as speaking prophetically not just about Christ but for Christ. After expressing confidence in the resurrection from the dead (v.10), we read this.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Though we may be eager to apply these verses to ourselves, let’s slow down.

Jesus had enormous, painful, tortuous work to accomplish. He bore a weight of sin we cannot imagine, and in his death on the cross he suffered an agony of soul far beyond the bodily pain he endured. His eternal Father turned away, and the Son felt the wrath of God against sin. On the cross there was no presence of the Father, no joy, no pleasures.

But the resurrection (and ascension) turned this story around. Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection and was welcomed back into perfect communion with his Father. In place of the wrath, loneliness, and fury he felt in his crucifixion, Jesus would now have “pleasures forevermore.”

These delights await us too. We can gain nothing greater in the new heavens and earth than God himself and the full joy that comes from his presence. But that fellowship was bought for us at a great cost. The promise is first for Jesus—who died for us but over whom death could never be a victor. And then it’s for us, because we follow our elder brother in his resurrection.

Photo Credit: James Emery (2007, Creative Commons License