Today’s Chocolate: Equal Exchange Panama Extra Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Genesis 20
In junior high, when one of my friends encountered the name “Abimelech,” he adopted a silly deep voice with a quasi-Middle-Eastern accent and pronounced it “a-BIM-lick.” I started drawing a series of comics titled “The Bimlik,” in which a handful of shyguys, at least one of whom had just had or was about to have or was in the process of having face surgery, had inane conversations before encountering a nebulously-drawn monster called the Bimlik, with violent results. Apart from illustrating how strange ancient Semitic names can sound to contemporary American ears, this story has nothing to do with today’s chapter, but a personal anecdote can make for an effective introduction.
Who is Abimelech? He’s not a faceless fanged monster shrouded in shadow; he’s the very human king of Gerar, located about halfway between the Dead Sea to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. And when Abraham travels through Gerar, he apparently learned precisely nothing from his encounter with Pharaoh, because he and Sarah have returned to the story that they are brother and sister. Time flows like a river, and history repeats.
But this time around, we discover that Abraham’s lie is a lie by omission, because it’s technically true. Sarah is his sister by his father, though they have different mothers (12). Ew, gross, right? Incest! To which I point out that the Levitical laws prohibiting such things did not yet exist, and moreover, that of necessity Cain and Seth would have needed to take their wives from among the daughters of Adam and Eve. There was nowhere else for wives to come from. At a certain point, God draws a line in time and space: no more of these relationships. In order that human beings may actually continue to exist as a species, he has not drawn it yet.
Things are different this time around in other ways. For instance, while Pharaoh seemingly had to infer from the plagues on his house that something was not right in the state of Egypt, God visits Abimelech in a dream to straight-up tell him: “Yo, you’re about to marry a married woman!” (3, Contemporary Jackson Ferrell Version). To which Abimelech responds, “Man, don’t kill me! I didn’t know!” And God tells him, “I know! That’s why I’m telling you before you do anything with her!” (4-6, CJFV). Notably, we have God speaking directly to a guy who is not within this line of chosen people that will come from Abraham. Moreover, God appears to acknowledge that the not-of-the-family-of-Abraham guy is in the right; he’s the victim of a misunderstanding, and when shown the actual situation, he does the right thing! He’s Good Guy Abimelech.
Abimelech is a chill king. He doesn’t send Abraham packing like Pharaoh did. Instead, he gives Abraham a bunch more livestock–after God has brought the whole truth to light–and tells him, “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please” (15). Perhaps it’s because he’s met Abraham’s all-powerful Friend and wants to stay on the good side of the Being on whose good side Abraham is. After all, when he’s talking to Sarah, he calls the thousand silver pieces that he’s given her husband “your vindication” (16, literally “for you a covering of the eyes”). It’s money to put the previous incidents behind them, out of sight and out of mind. It’s fresh-start money, a generous gift to show that there’s no hard feelings. He may not be within the bloodline of this new Jewish people that God is drawing out for himself, but Abimelech, it would seem, is an okay guy.
On a side note, Abimelech’s name means “father of the king.” The first portion of his name is the same root as the “Ab” in “Abraham”: they are both fathers of certain sorts of things, Abimelech of the king, Abraham of a multitude. “Abimelech” is a fitting name for a king, and it expresses a hope that the dynasty will continue. If he has a kid, any king is an Abimelech. And while God shut the wombs of the women in Abimelech’s household (17-18), after Abimelech and Abraham patch up their misunderstanding, God allows them to bear children again. Abimelech lives up to his name, and the monarchical line lives on.