24 March, 2016

Genesis 20:6—“… for I also withheld thee from sinning against me”

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 (Gen. 20:6).

Part of the modern, contemporary teaching of common grace speaks of an inner, gracious restraint of sin by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the unregenerate that changes their natures for the better, mitigates somewhat the devastating power of total depravity, enabling the man thus blessed with grace to do good in the sight of God, but nevertheless fails to save him, so that eventually he goes to hell in spite of all these gracious influences.

The assumption that many make when it comes to this text is that Abimelech was an unbeliever/unregenerate.


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered [2019 edition], p. 238]

It is my judgment that Abimelech was not a reprobate, but a true elect believer. While the text does not say this in so many words, the entire narrative in Genesis 20 very strongly suggests that.
Nor is this necessarily surprising. After Babel and the division of mankind into races and nations, the true religion continued for some time in various places. Although God narrowed this true religion to the descendants of Shem, He did this over a period of many years. Pockets of the true worship of God could be found. Examples would include Job in the land of Ur, a contemporary of Abraham, Melchizedek, king of Salem, a type of Christ’s office of king-priest, Jethro in the wilderness of Sinai, later to become Moses’ father-in-law, and probably Abimelech who seemed on very intimate terms with God in his conversations with God in his dream.
There is no question about the fact that God, by His Holy Spirit, restrains sin in the lives of His people, even sins of ignorance. It is a part of their salvation.



Robert C. Harbach (1914-1996)

[Source: Studies in the Book of Genesis (RFPA, 2001), pp. 412–413]

“I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” May it not be said that this text furnishes us with the basis for the theory of the so-called Second Point of Common Grace? Do we not have here the hypothesis, now phenomenally manifested, of a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the sin-cursed world, so restraining evil that the world does not break out into a screaming hell? It is this “common grace,” so we are told, which so restrained the power of death God had inflicted on Adam, that he did not die in physical and eternal death on the day that God had threatened it would occur. This same “common grace” also checked the sin and corruption of totally depraved human nature, so that man did (does) not become wholly corrupt in all his thoughts, words, and actions.

We must not confuse this plausible philosophy with the Reformed teaching that God controls all creatures and all their actions, including those of the most wicked, so that without His will they cannot so much as move … God by His power frustrates the evil devices of men, doing so as a result of His direct access to and control over their very thoughts and desires. We therefore believe, and have never denied, that God restrains men by placing on them the limits of time, strength, opportunity, and environment. Men are also restrained from certain sins by the limitation of their individual nature, personality, temperament, ability, talent, means at hand, ambition, fear of social norms, and fear of reprisals. If this were all that were meant by “the restraint of sin,” there would be no “common grace” and no controversy on this point. But although scripture teaches that this restraint of the wicked is not by grace, but by the providence and government of God, nevertheless, the “Second Point of Common Grace” declares a restraining grace. There is, we are told, an inward and restraining operation of the Spirit in the heart of the natural, unregenerate man, so that the corruption of his depraved nature is checked, and he thus has a glimmering of goodness in him, so that he can do civil and natural good. (see commentary on chapter 6:3.) This theory attributes to man a righteousness not purchased for him on the Cross, for that which Christ there merited was only for the elect. It is a paralogistic theory which denies the Cross of Christ.



Homer C. Hoeksema (1923-1989)

[Source: Homer C. Hoeksema, Unfolding Covenant History: An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (RFPA, 2001), pp. 195-196]

There are specific indications in the narrative of Scripture that Abimelech was a child of God:

1. God in this instance deals differently with Abimelech than with Pharaoh. Instead of the plagues laid upon Pharaoh, God speaks to Abimelech by a special revelation in a dream (v. 3).

2. Abimelech in his response gives evidence of being a child of God. He pleads the integrity of his heart and the innocence of his hands, and he pleads that he and his nation are righteous (vv. 4-5). And God acknowledges both the fact that Abimelech sinned ignorantly in taking Sarah and the fact of the integrity of his heart (v. 6).

3. The Lord instructs Abimelech to have Abraham, as a prophet, pray for him (v. 7).

4. In his reproof of Abraham, Abimelech manifests himself as a man of integrity (vv. 9-10). And in Abraham’s statement, “Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place” (v. 11), there appears to be the implied admission that Abraham was wrong and that the fear of God (in the true sense of the word) was indeed in that place.

5. Even after this incident Abimelech’s attitude toward Abraham is different than that of Pharaoh. The latter dismissed Abraham. Abimelech, however, allows Abraham to dwell peaceably in his own country. In this light, incidentally, the sin of Abraham, who compares unfavorably with Abimelech in this instance, attains even more serious proportions.



More to come! (DV)

As an addition comment, it could be pointed out that we end up with a Pelagian interpretation of the text if we say that Abimelech was an unbeliever (Pelagianism is the heresy that says unbelievers, after the fall, can still think, say, and do good things in the sight of God).

According to the doctrine of Total Depravity (clearly taught elsewhere) no unbeliever has “integrity of heart” and God would certainly not acknowledge there is, as He does so with regards to Abimelech. For that reason alone, Abimelech must be a believer. Otherwise God would be lying (a blasphemous implication).

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