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Posts Tagged ‘Abimelech’

women and storyAbraham protected himself by claiming that Sarah was his sister in the land of Abimelek (Abimilech) and here, Isaac does the same thing, in the same geographical area, with another king (perhaps a son?), also called Abimelek (Abimilech). Scholars are not in agreement about these accounts since they are mirror of one another in so many ways. But for my purposes, they cause a completely different resonance: one that makes my blood boil if you want to know the truth.

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” [Genesis 26:7, NIV, emphasis mine] (See Genesis 20 for Abraham’s version.)

In some quarters, commentators have said that these parallel stories show God’s protection over the patriarchs and the beauty of their women. How swell. But in neither story, as told by the Old Testament historians, is there much information about the women and the circumstances in which they found themselves as a result of their husbands clever misinformation (lies). The reason for their deception, in both cases, was to protect their own lives because the ruler might kill the husband to acquire the wife. But a sister? Piece of cake, just hand her over (with gifts from the household of the King to the patriarch, I’m sure).

And so the women, beautiful they may have been, were thrust into the households of foreigners. Nice. Convenient and cunning.

I am more than aware that culturally, in those days, women were a type of property or chattel. They were owned by their husbands and subservient to the lord of the house. Despite these restraints, many women of that period still accomplished great things and often, with courage, they turned their world, the Esthers and Abigails and for all we know, many who went unnamed. But these accounts are few and far between.

Women are a often strong and flexible and most tenacious. They can take a bad situation and make it better. They can tolerate much. They are survivors. But not all women. Too many other women fall in the face of men who strike with force to gain their will. Other women self-medicate to beat back emotional pain. And still others eat until their bodies betray them altogether and beauty is no longer apparent.

I suppose Abraham and Isaac could be commended for their clever little deception. They both gained immeasurably by it and found much favor from the Abimileks in their sojourns. But for the women, it was a sacrifice. And I want to remember that.

As a contemporary reader of scripture, I often remind myself that it’s critical to look between the lines, to pray and contemplate the untold story. So often, scripture time is compressed into a single phrase but it’s really months or years. And in those time frames, there are women living, crying, hoping, and maintaining their faith, often in the face of trial. whats_your_story

For my sisters in faith today, I challenge you, don’t read like a man. Read from your unique femaleness. For it may only be us who hear and see and can recognize those underlying truths. In the centuries since those days, many women’s stories have been lost. We need to remember and we need to repeat our own narratives, to our daughters, to our nieces, to our girlfriends.

Tell your story. No one else is more qualified than you.

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In this story of Abraham, Abimelech (King of Gerar), and Sarah, her husband called her “sister” to protect their household. But that protection meant being taken by Abimelech and placed in his harem of women. Her safety was exchanged for the many. But not until the end of the story are we told what drove her redemption: barrenness.

Genesis 20:17-18
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the Lord had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah. [NIV 1984]

God opens and closes wombs. Whether it was back then or now.

I am always intrigued by the real time that takes place within the space of a single sentence in the scripture. In order for Abimelech’s household to know that none of the women could bear children, some time had to pass by. Perhaps their monthly menstruation stopped or women who had been fruitful and continually pregnant, suddenly were not. In any case, it was not a day or a week but more like a year or more that Sarah languished amid the Philistines of that part of the Negev. Which is another reason why the story specifies that the King had not touched Sarah, a surprise, considering how long she had been among them.

In my imagination, when the King’s household discovers their barrenness, they beseech their gods and they beseech their leader to seek healing, to seek an answer, to seek a solution. In this way, it makes sense to me that Abimelech was open to hearing the voice of God in his dream. I believe his seeking was authentic. And when a person seeks from the heart, God answers.

Another interesting side note is that Sarah herself was barren. Did she reveal this fact to the other women? Undoubtedly, since the most important role of women in those days was producing children, and in particular, producing sons. Perhaps they mocked her. That would be my conjecture and yet I could see God responding to Sarah’s lament as well. That they might experience her sorrow of childlessness.

Sometimes, it takes a physical situation to wake us up. When my husband I married thirty years ago, the last thing we expected was to experience barrenness and childlessness. How could that be? We were both believers and committed to our marriage. We were faithful in things of God. And yet, we had no children for eight years. And only then did we seek adoption as a way to build a family.

And yet, despite our confidence that God was in this process, we still had people who asked if we still believed that God would give us our “own” children. Another woman told me I was probably too selfish to have children. Another said it was a curse and we should seek forgiveness for the unspoken sins in our lives. We felt the judgment of well-meaning Christians in our midst.

Our barrenness drove us to God and God’s answer was not pregnancy in the traditional sense. From this experience forward, I have been clear that we, as humans, limit God every day with our interpretation of what God’s “answers” should be or look like. And not only that, but the time it takes for the plan to unfold.

And so, for any women who sorrow over their closed wombs, I offer this one advice: accept what is today and move on so that God can bring forth the next thing. As long as we hold to our way, no other path can be revealed. Every closed womb still holds the Spirit and that is a seed for all generations.

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