And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”
But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”
And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. (Genesis 20:1-8)
Abraham lied to Abimelech. Oh sure, Sarah was his half sister, but what mattered in their relationship was the fact that Sarah was his wife. But Abraham was afraid—which of course is the motivation for all lying. He imagined the worst of Abimelech and the other people of his land, assuming that they were so wicked that they would kill him so that they could steal what mattered most to him: his beautiful wife. He didn’t trust them, and he didn’t trust God.
Despite Abraham’s lies, however, God protected Abimelech from doing something that Abimelech had never had any intention of doing in the first place. He didn’t want to take another man’s wife and was appalled by Abraham’s actions. But God showed them mercy, and more importantly, he showed Abraham mercy. He protected his wife, despite Abraham’s poor choices. And he protected Abraham. Abimelech didn’t kill him or even curse him. Instead, Abimelech paid him a thousand shekels of silver—about 25 pounds—and gave him cattle, sheep, and slaves. Abraham lied, put a king and his people in jeopardy from God and put his wife into the arms of another man—and wound up richer because of it.
Abraham was spared from what he deserved and got instead what he didn’t deserve. Abimelech was spared as well. The story of Abraham and Abimelech is an odd illustration of mercy and grace.