There are three accounts of two Patriarchs lying about the relationship of their wives during their journeys to other lands. It has been suggested that this is one story told three times with different names, or that these three stories indicate separate authors of the book of Genesis. However close scrutiny of these scriptures has convinced me that these are three separate stories. The texts for this discussion are: Genesis 12:10-20, Genesis 20:1-8, Genesis 26:1-11.
In my reading and studying I found enough differences to suggest that these are indeed three distinct events. The best way to review the differences is through comparison. In the first account notice that Abram and Sarai are still using their original names. God has not as yet changed their names. This occurs in Gn 17:5 betwen the two accounts of Abram lying about who Sarai is. In the second account the names recorded in Genesis 20 the names are Abraham and Sarah. And in the Genesis 26 account it is Isaac and Rebekah who are involved. Isaac being Abraham's son through Sarah.
In Genesis 12, Abram and Sarai have travelled to Egypt because of a famine. In the second account they have travelled to Gerar. The leader is King Abimelech. (Pharoah is the leader in Egypt) In the third account Isaac and Rebekah have travelled to Gerar because of a famine.But notice that verse 1 makes mention of "the previous famine that occurred in the days of Abraham." King Abimelech is the ruler. Isaac is specifically told not to go to Egypt in 26:2.
Notice the three different ways the leaders found out about Abraham's and Isaac's lies. Notice in chapter 12:17 "And the Lord plagued Pharoah and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife." It was through this plague that it was revealed to Pharoah the lie that Abraham had told. Now notice in Gn 20:3 "But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou are but a dead man, for the woman which thou has taken; for she is a man's wife.".... 20:6 "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 spoke to Abimelech in a dream. Verse 8 of chapter 26 tells us how Abimelech found out that Rebekah was Isaac's wife. He looked out his window and found him caressing her. These verses clearly demonstrate that these events are three distinct stories.
These stories are not just an historical account, but also clearly demonstrate God's ability to keep Sarah and Rebekah safe, even when their husbands placed them in danger. For me the fact that God's Word reveals the sins of these patriarchs attest to it as God's Word. What other religious writings speak so frankly and directly of the holiness as well as the sins of their great prophets? Yet in Hebrews 11, Abraham and Isaac are among those listed as God's people of great faith. (Hebrews 11:8-20)
Because of these easily identified differences in these accounts, I think we can be confident that these are three separate accounts.
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