Apparently, the men of Gerar had a pretty bad reputation. They would not hesitate to kill a man just because they would like to take his wife. But they did have respect for a man’s sister. Your sister might be taken, but at least you’d not be killed.
And so both Abraham and Isaac feared for their lives when they were living in Gerar. A very real fear because both Sarah & Rebecca were exceptionally beautiful. Therefore Isaac asked Rebecca to tell everyone she was his sister instead of his wife, just as Abraham had asked Sarah. Abraham & Sarah were actually brother & sister, they had the same father. Rebecca is the daughter of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, so they are related but certainly not siblings.
The timeline of this story is interesting. Right before Isaac asks his wife to lie about their relationship he has a personal encounter with the Lord. “the Lord appeared to Isaac”, we read in Genesis 26:2. Isaac is told by the Lord that he should stay put and not go to Egypt. The Lord himself told Isaac to stay in Gerar, with the protection and blessing of the Lord. And Isaac obeys.
And right after this very personal and powerful encounter with the Lord, Isaac is so afraid for his life that he asks his wife to lie for him.
Now it is very likely that growing up Isaac heard the story of how his mother told everyone she was his father’s sister, both in Egypt and in Gerar. And that both times she got taken away. In both cases the Lord intervened on her behalf and she was safely returned to her husband. So when Isaac finds himself in Gerar he decides to use the same ‘trick’ as his father before him. When asked about his wife, he tells the men of Gerar that she is his sister.
It seems like maybe the men of Gerar remember the family and stay on the safe side. While Sarah was taken by Abimelech, but no one came to take Isaac’s ‘sister’. Abimelech had every intention to make Sarah his wife, but was not able to due to the interference of the Lord. The Lord actually spoke to him in a dream and he returned Sarah to her husband. He even paid a large sum of money and gave gifts to compensate her. Now Abraham’s son has come to live in Gerar and again there is a beautiful ‘sister’.
After Isaac and his family have lived in Gerar for a long time the secret comes out. The King Abimelech sees Isaac cerrasing Rebecca. Isaac is asked why he lied. And he answered that he was afraid for his life. A fear we can understand.
But Abimelech raises an interesting point. He doesn’t argue with Isaac, nor did he with Abraham, about whether he should be afraid or not. The fear both men had was very real and just under the circumstances. Abimelech points out that their solution, lie about the identity of their wife, gravely endangered him and his people.
Abraham & Isaac might have been the Lord’s chosen ones but it was a heathen king that pointed out the danger their fear caused others. A non-believer, as we might say in this day and age, listened to the Lord & spoke truth to the people of God.
May this story remind us that, while it is very normal & natural to be afraid, our actions should always be in line with the commandments of the Lord. And sometimes the Lord uses the most unlikely person to remind us of this.