“‘Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister.’ And she also said herself, ‘He is my brother.’ In the purity of my heart and the guiltlessness of my hands, I did this.’ And God said to him in the dream, ‘I know that in the purity of your heart you have done this and I spared you. Also, I kept you from sinning against me. Therefore, I did not let you touch her.’”
As Abimelek pleads his innocence, notice God’s response: “I kept you from sinning against me.” The sole reason that Abimelek can stand before God and say that he never touched or defiled Sarah is because of God’s restraining hand. In our natural element, sin will be our primary pursuit, but we are not as bad as we could be because God places his hand upon our lives and governs all of us in this world to bring about his good ends. This takes place in the life of both the believer and the unbeliever, though as the believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, God moves in us not simply to restrain our sin, but to transform us into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Not only is this passage a reminder that God is sovereign over the actions of unbelievers, but it is a passage that reminds us that God will preserve the lives of his own until he brings about his desired ends through us. It has been said that we are immortal until God is done with his plans in our lives. There is a certain degree of truth to this, and while this ought to cause us to live boldly for the Gospel, this does not give us license to live recklessly. It is God who knows the number of our days and the things he has planned for us to contribute to his Kingdom.
Another interesting point comes out in this passage for those who hold to a free-will theism, for how could Abimelek’s will be totally free if God is restraining his hand from doing what he otherwise wanted to do (he would not have taken Sarah as his wife if he never meant touch her). Clearly, God’s will brings about a change in Abimelek’s will and action, thus Abimelek behaves in a way that is consistent with God’s design. Typical Wesleyans would argue that man has the ultimate freedom to govern his own actions; the Bible presents a different picture here, that of God ultimately governing the people of the earth.
A number of years ago, I was confronted by a man who confronted me about my lifting every prayer before the Lord, both great and small. He contended that God had enough to do with governing the big things that go on in the world (wars, catastrophes, etc…) and that my prayers for healing or help were just distractions from God’s primary work. Beloved, such a view is not consistent with what the Bible teaches about the character of an infinite God who bids us to lay every care before his throne (1 Peter 5:7). He is the great governor over all of his creation, even numbering the hairs of our head (Matthew 10:30). Both great and small, God governs us and hears the prayers of those who know him and are called according to his purposes. It is good to be a child of the King. May we trust in His hand of protection and give Him glory for all he is and for all he has done.