Bible Q&A: Did God Take Away Abimelech’s Free Will?

In Genesis 20:6, God says to Abimelech, “…that I have kept you from sinning.” Is this an example of God taking away free will?

Out of fear, Abraham and Sarah had lied to Abimelech, the king of Gerar, by telling him the half-truth that Sarah was Abraham’s sister rather than his wife (Gen. 20:1-2).  So Abimelech had taken Sarah to be one of his wives.  Yet before he could be intimate with her, God appeared to him in a dream and threatened his life because he had taken another man’s wife (v. 3).  Abimelech protested, saying he had been lied to and had simply taken Abraham and Sarah at their word (vs. 4-5).  God replied, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me.  Therefore I did not let you touch her,” before directing the king to return Sarah to Abraham or else face death with his family (vs. 6-7).

“…it was I who kept you from sinning against me” does not mean that God took away Abimelech’s free will.  Otherwise, why appear to Abimelech in a dream and threaten his life?  Why direct him to return Sarah to Abraham or else face death with his family?  He could have simply programmed Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham without informing him of his wrongdoing or threatening him.  In fact, He could have programmed Abimelech to never take Sarah in the first place, regardless of whether he believed the lie Abraham and Sarah had told him.  He could have also programmed Abraham and Sarah to not lie in the first place.  He could have programmed all of mankind to not sin against Him in any way if taking away free will was His prerogative.  In reality, the Scriptures teach that God allows mankind free will (Josh. 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21).

Thus, “…it was I who kept you from sinning against me” refers to several possibilities.  It could refer to whatever providential measures God had taken up to that point to keep Sarah out of Abimelech’s bedroom after he had taken her from Abraham.  Perhaps a busy schedule for the king, or some palace tradition which required time to prepare Sarah in various ways to become the king’s wife or concubine.  God does have the ability to providentially lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil (Matt. 6:13).  Another possibility is that God was referring to the actual warning He was currently giving the king in the dream, thus providing him with strong motivation to not commit the sin of adultery.  Regardless, the Lord never took away from Abimelech the choice to sin against Him.

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