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Gen. 20:16 records Abimelech's speech to Sarah,

"And to Sarah he said, Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, he is to you a covering of the eyes, to all that are with you, and with all other: thus she was reproved."

The expression "הוּא־לָךְ֙ כְּס֣וּת עֵינַ֔יִם" suggests that "he"(Abraham) was indeed her "covering" and the money Abimelech gave was acknowledgement that he 'wrongfully' looked upon her.

However, the Jewish Bible translates the last part as "...and with all you shall contend," whereas the KJV states,"...thus she was reproved".

My question is, how are we to understand "He is a covering of the eyes", and was Sarah being 'vindicated', as the Jewish Bible suggests, or 'reproved' as the KJV suggests?

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  • I don't understand enough Hebrew to be able to give a good answer to this, but looking at many other translations seems to suggest that Sarah is being vindicated, which makes sense in the context. I believe the idea is that Abimelech had not touched her and therefore, she remained pure and had no shame. – sbunny Oct 27 '15 at 16:27
  • @sbunny I'm tending to agree w/you, but I'm curious as to why the HB takes this direction vs the KJV which 'reproves' her actions. – Tau Oct 28 '15 at 2:30
  • I'm wondering if the word might have had a slightly different meaning when the KJV was written. Furthermore, to reprove means to correct, which has some relation to being vindicated. Finally, I'd say in this case that no translation is perfect. – sbunny Oct 28 '15 at 18:22
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There are only 4 instances of kə·sūṯ (Strong's H3682) in the Old Testament: Genesis 20:16, Job 24:7, Job 26:6 and Job 31:19, each of which is associated with "covering" nakedness. Adding to that the "thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of" expression of the KJV in Leviticus 18, becoming "you shall not have sexual relations with" in the NIV, there can be little doubt what Abimelech's compensation to Abraham was all about.

I'm left wondering, however, whether the tranlators have actually rendered the pronoun correctly in this verse. Perhaps it would have been better translated:

"And to Sarah he said, Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver: behold, IT is to you a covering of the eyes, to all that are with you, and with all other: thus she was reproved."

I'm not a Hebrew scholar by any means, but I find it hard to see how Abraham, in any way, becomes a "covering of the eyes" for Sarah.

The passage from which Genesis 20:16 belongs, clearly portrays a public gathering: Abimelech calls his officials (Genesis 20:8), and then he summons Abraham (Genesis 20:9), and in front of these people Abimelech humbles himself in the sight of the Lord.

In his explanation to Abimelech about why he had behaved as he had, Abraham says, "There is surely no fear of God in this place;". However, this was clearly not true, which is evidenced by:

  1. Abimelech's appeal to God - "Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?". The word "also", here, suggests that Abimelech had heard of God's intervention to destroy the wicked nations of the plain, i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah, and his people were not like theirs.

  2. Abimelech's behaviour - he did not wrongfully look on Sarah. His actions were with integrity of heart and innocence of hands (Genesis 20:5), which God, himself, confirms as true (Genesis 20:6), and as much as for Abimelech's righteous behaviour as for Sarah's honour, God made sure nothing improper took place.

  3. Abimelech's acknowledgement of Abraham as God's prophet, whose prayer would be needed to redeem his life (Genesis 20:7).

  4. The reaction of Abimelech's officials - "when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid" (Genesis 20:8)

Abraham's assumption was wrong about there being "no fear of God in this place", and the trust he put in his own insight caused a major issue for himself and the people of the land. Besides being an important lesson for Abraham, God used this encounter as a means of advertising His presence, and His willingness to intercede on behalf of the righteous as well as against the unrighteous.

Conclusion

The willingness of a man of power and substance, such as Abimelech, to humble himself before men, in the sight of "those with" Sarah (Abraham's people) and "all other" (Abimelech's people, and anyone else who would hear of the incident - including us), and thus before God, by offering so great a compensation, was surely the proof that Sarah's nakedness had not been uncovered.

Sarah was certainly vindicated by Abimelech's righteous intent and humble behaviour, but Abraham and Sarah were also reproved/rebuked for their dependence on themselves rather than God. So, regardless of the writer's intent for the Hebrew word וְנֹכָֽחַת׃ (wə·nō·ḵā·ḥaṯ - Strong's H3198), I think the meaning of the passage is pretty clear, and either meaning for this difficult word is acceptable.

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  • Fine answer. Don – rhetorician Nov 14 '15 at 0:17
  • @enegue Great answer! I appreciate the fact that you distinguished Abraham's "covering"(the fact that he was her husband), from the intending meaning "covering of the eyes" which denotes a payment to Abraham for the "wrongful intent", even though it was without guile. Strongs, as you know is directly tied to the KJV-and therefore inadequate to answer my second question: whether or not Sarah was 'vindicated' or 'reproved'. Thank you! – Tau Nov 14 '15 at 0:59
  • Wtih regard to the event of the text, Tau, it could be that Sarah was vindicated from the entire ordeal, as she was just an accessory to the crime. While Abraham, who answered directly to Abimelech for the issue, was the mastermind. – Philip May 4 '19 at 4:08
  • It also could be the immense fortune Abimelech gave Abraham and Sarah was a reconciliatory approach to the misunderstanding of them being a godless nation. As Enegue brilliantly noted, at this point in time the Philistines were not the pagan society they were hundreds of years later. They were a God-fearing nation. If you think about it, it was really Abraham and Sarah at fault, but Abimelech himself did all the reconciliation. Such can be attributed as proof he believed in God. Also, God Himself appeared to Abimelech personally in a dream. That never happened to Pharaoh in Genesis 12. – Philip May 4 '19 at 4:10
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Yes, Abraham was right saying "There is surely no fear of God in this place". It was so natural that even wicked men were very afraid when Abimelech told them what God said to him in a dream. And Abimelech didn't have to vindicate Sara since he and his people were still alive after God's warning. Therefore a covering of eyes means something else.

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  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your answer. Please take the tour (link below( to better understand how this site works. I am not sure I understand how this answers the question. Can you clarify and perhaps add some references to support you ideas? – Dottard Oct 23 '20 at 7:25

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