There are all kinds of details in Genesis 20 that someone can choose to talk about. You could talk about the difference in the opening verses about where Abraham settled and where he did his shepherding. You could talk about Abimelech’s jibe at Sarah about paying her brother rather than her husband after the king had been told that Abraham was really her husband. You could talk about the probable nature of the disease that affected Abimelech and his household. However, all these details are merely that – details. The question remains, “Why was this story written in the first place?” To understand that, it is important to go back to the ‘first place’ and ask, “Who received this letter?” Knowing the world of the original audience helps us to limit the possible range of what the passage could mean. For example, the original recipients were not going to think of the story as directives on how to behave on a holiday/vacation with your spouse. In this context, the original audience were people getting ready to enter the Promised Land after a long trek through the wilderness.
The original audience would not have looked to Abraham’s behavior as a moral guide. Too many times we look to biblical characters as the heroes of the narratives and we decide the passages were written to tell us how to act. However, the human characters are players living out scenes in the larger story. The whole Bible is the story of God. He is the hero and the human characters act out his plan. In Genesis 20 the promise God has made to Abraham is on the line. Abraham’s poor decision making means that Abimelech might sleep with his wife and become the father of the promised son. God needs to overcome the obstacles to his plans, and he does. God reprimands and blesses Abraham in spite of his behaviour. God reaches graciously into the life of a polytheistic king. God moves his plans forward.
The big idea of the passage is what must drive our teaching and preaching. The details can be communicated as support. In this case the big idea is, “When God’s plans for blessing are thwarted by bad decisions, God will sovereignly intervene to bring his plans to fruition.” The details inform this idea. They add colour to the canvas. However, the forest can not be hidden by the trees. The lack of a fear of God, the fear of man, God’s miracles – they are all details. That God intervenes for his people is front and centre. People about to enter the Promised Land will be encouraged that in spite of their failings God’s sovereign choice of them to be a light to all people will be realised.
Help us to see clearly why a passage is written. Help us to apply that insight before we get lost in details.
- What do you think the main idea of Genesis 20 is?
- How do you arrive at the main idea?
- What other main ideas do you think people could gain by looking at the human characters?
- Why is it important to remember the biblical truth that the Bible is primarily a story about God?
- How well do you do at communicating the main ideas of scripture to others?