Genesis 20:1-5 (translation mine)

And Abraham journeyed from there to the land of Negeb, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, settling in Gerar.

2 Now of his wife Sarah Abraham had said, “She is my sister.” Therefore Abimelech, king of Gerar, sending for her, took Sarah for his own wife. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Behold, you shall die on account of the woman you have taken: for she is the wife of a husband already.” 4 Abimelech, therefore, did not approach her, but said, “Lord, would you really kill a nation that is innocent? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister?’ She herself said to me, ‘He is my brother.’ In the sincerity of my heart and in the cleanness of my hands did I do this.”


Why did Abimelech conflate his own punishment with that of a whole nation?

  • 1
    and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine. (verse 7).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 4:41
  • Hmm, does this simply mean we are looking at the summarized conversation, where God said this before verse 7? Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 15:25
  • related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/34174/…
    – bach
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


I can think of two related answers.

  1. Abimelech, as king, viewed himself as the avatar for this country. He understood that if he were punished his whole nation would be punished. Which is why he says in verse 20:9 (speaking to Abraham)

What have you done to us? And what is my sin to you that you should bring upon me and my kingdom a great sin

  1. Abimelech was seeking protection from G-d because of the innocence of his people. Abimelech invoked the righteousness of his nation who would surely suffer if the king and his household were destroyed as a defense to G-d. Destroying Abimelech wouldn't only hurt Abimelech but would harm the entire Philistine nation.

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