I enjoy a good story. If you’re like me, the first thing we do when we read a new book or watch a movie for the first time is to figure you who is the hero and who is the villain. In most stories, it’s fairly obvious.
It’s not that straightforward in real life. Humans are a complex mixture of motives, values, personality and emotions. We are prone to a wide range of behaviour. Some days we behave like heroes, other days we come across more like villains.
So it is with virtually every character in the Bible. This is one of the attributes that makes the Bible so believable. There’s no sugar-coating. Almost no one comes off as perfect. The Bible accurately reflects the messiness of human behaviour. It’s not always easy to spot the hero or the villain.
Our devotional passage is a great example of this. Found in Genesis 20, it’s the story of Abraham and Abimelech.
Abraham often tops the list of Old Testament heroes. The author of Hebrews certainly makes this point (cf. Heb. 11:8-19). Abraham was personally called by God to a life of faith and was referred to as “God’s friend” (James 2:23). God gave him many promises and blessings (cf. Gen. 12:1-7; 13:2, 14-18; 15:1-21; 17:1-8), and extended His grace and protection to him throughout his life (cf. Gen. 14:14-16; 21:1-5; 24:1). Most critically, God blessed the entire world through Abraham’s most important descendant, Jesus of Nazareth (more about Him later).
On the face of it, Abraham is a very likely hero. Abimelech, on the other hand, has the resume of a classic villain.
Abimelech was a Philistine King from Gerar, a city on the border between Palestine and Egypt, about 10 miles south of Gaza. The Philistines were a violent pagan people who worshipped multiple false gods, including Dagon, Ashtoreth and Baal-Zebul, whose name eventually became a pseudonym for Satan himself (cf. Mark 3:22; Luke 11:14-20).
Given this background and context, one might expect that Abraham would behave like the hero and Abimelech would fulfil the role of the villain. Except like many great stories, there’s an unexpected twist:
“Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done." And Abimelech said to Abraham, "What did you see, that you did this thing?" (Gen. 20:9-10).
This pagan king was shocked by Abraham’s deceitful actions, and God used him to teach Abraham some important life-lessons, which we’d do well to remember.
We mustn’t make assumptions about the motives of others. Only God knows the true intentions of the heart. Abraham mistakenly assumed Abimelech had murderous intentions.
"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7b)
The Lord Jesus is the only true hero. Only He was able to live a perfect selfless life and perform the most heroic act of love in history.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2).