“When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “my wife,” thinking, “the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful.”” Gen. 26:7
This is the third time we see this ruse in scripture: first with Abraham and Sarah involving Pharaoh in Genesis 12; then with Abraham a second time, this time involving King Abimilech in Genesis 20; and here with Isaac and Rebekah, again with King Abimilech.
I see the repetition of this recurring theme being recorded as having two possible explanations, of which both may be true.
1 – On one hand it lends to the credence that it was an actual concern; that men would be willing to kill another man in order to take his wife as their own. This raises a question however, as it infers that such a man would have a stronger conviction about committing adultery than taking someone’s life. Perhaps this is why in the New Testament contains this interesting passage:
“For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” James 2:11
2 – The repetition of the story however, also reinforces the likelihood that neither Abraham nor Isaac were very good at judging the motives of others. Perhaps in their cases, it was not a valid concern, and their lives may not have been in danger. In the case of Pharaoh, it becomes fairly clear that Pharaoh would not have taken Sarah in the first place if Abraham had been honest about their relationship:
“Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” Gen. 12:19
I explored the incident between Pharaoh and Abraham much more thoroughly in a previous post.
Additionally, what the repetition of this theme helps us to see is the character of those involved. Isaac had a choice: handle the situation with honesty, or do the same thing his father did, and he chose the latter. What may be more surprising in this case, however, is the integrity of character shown by Abimilech.
What is important to ultimately glean from the text in my opinion, is that those of us who believe in God often misjudge the moral standing of those we assume do not believe in God. In doing so, our distrust of others translates into a lack of faith. Our actions that follow may then be skewed by our perception of those we judge.
In the case of Pharaoh with Sarah, and the case of Abimilech with Rebekah, the actions of Abraham and Isaac nearly caused Pharaoh and Abimilech to sin, but God in His mercy prevented them from such guilt because He knew they were both innocent in the circumstances. Further, God then saw to it that both Abraham and Isaac were called out on their dishonesty.