201 Abraham traveled onward to the Negeb, and he settled between Kadesh and Shur as a sojourner in Gerar. 2 Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, “She’s my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent and had Sarah taken.
3 But God appeared to Abimelech in a dream of the night and said to him, “You are a dead man because of this woman you took. She is a wedded wife.”
4 But Abimelech had not gone near her, and he said, “Lord, will you really kill a nation when it is innocent? 5 Did not he say to me, ‘She’s my sister!’ and didn’t she, she, too, say, ‘He’s my brother!’? With the wholeness of my heart, I have acted with clean hands.”
6 God said to him in the dream, “I know that your heart was pure when you did this. And so, I kept you from offending against me, and I did not allow you to touch her. 7 Now send back the man’s wife for he is a prophet who will intercede for you so you may live. But if you don’t return her, know that you are doomed to die, you and all that belongs to you!”
What appears as an out-of-place repeat of Abram’s/Sarai’s misadventure with a Pharaoh, has significant differences in their new relationship with YHWH as Abraham/Sarah. Among these is a context of travel not being need-based. In the first instance, a famine drove matters and foreshadowed troubles while in Egypt. Here Abraham does what Abraham has done, travel the region of Canaan—Gerar being a Canaanite city-state in the western Negeb (the side Lot and his daughters are on).
Another difference is how the Pharaoh of Egypt and the king of Gerar (Abimelech) are apprised of the danger they are in. Pharaoh gets plagues; Abimelech gets direct address in a vision.
Returning to the story as placed directly after the incest of Lot’s daughters with their father, there is a continuation of family traits—from nephew to uncle and down to this day. An interesting exercise is to compare and contrast the story of Lot, post-Sodom, and Abraham, pre-Binding of Isaac.
Were Abraham in Sodom, his action of playing the wife-sister game and throwing the parentage of any subsequent children into doubt would be counted as a reason for cries originating from Sodom. The difference between Lot offering his daughters to be raped (ironic how that got turned around) and Abraham offering Sarah to be a king’s concubine is semantic. The end result would be a huge question about a child being the result of G*D’s covenant or promise—whether it was from Abram’s/Abraham’s seed.
And so we have Abimelech echoing Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom—“Will you destroy the innocent?”
Abimelech seems to be closer to YHWH than Abraham as Abimelech is directly kept from being compromised by the double ploy by Abraham and Sarah to short-circuit the long-delayed promise of a son. In everyday terms—Abimelech would make a dandy surrogate. Well, no better, it seems than Abraham with Hagar.
The ending here seems strained with Abraham labeled a prophet when it is Abimelech who carries more prophetic weight with his vision and sense of justice.