The book of Genesis gives a wonderful lesson about our reactions toward a prophet of God when they err. A “prophet” in this context refers to anyone in a position of trust whether temporal or permanent in the cause of God. This may include a pastor, an elder, a departmental leader, etc.
Prophets, by virtue of their position received homage from almost all classes of people. Notwithstanding the fact that some men of God had no honour even among their own native people (Matt. 13:57) in some instances many prophets suffered rejection, prejudice, and even death at the hands of their own people. The homage received by the Levitical priesthood even at the time of Jesus informs us that this was not always the case.
Like men of God of old, “prophets” beginning from the apostles to date received greater honour from the church and beyond. Even the emergence of many false prophets who profess God but deny Him through their actions (Titus 1:16), seems to have tarnished the image of the church and its leaders do not refute this fact.
While these “prophets” continue to enjoy this privilege by living a practical Christian life, when they err along the way, they do it at the expense of the honour they receive. In every mistake on their part, they become liable to reproaches from the public both within and without Christendom, both from enemies and so called lovers (or sympathizers). Sometimes these perpetuators of reproaches seem to take their failures for granted and treat them with impunity.
WHAT TO LEARN FROM ABRAHAM’S FAILURE
Undoubtedly, Abraham is popularly known as “father of the faithful”. This attribute attached to him could also be linked to His unprecedented journey of faith with the Lord expressed in his exodus from his heathen homeland to the sacrifice of his son Isaac (Gen 15, 17, & 22).
Though Abraham had faith in the Lord, a study of his life also “reveals that his faith included difficult struggles against doubt and disbelief in God’s power” (Adult Teachers Sabbath School Bible Study Guide July 8, 2015). The Bible records so many instances of Abraham’s distrust of God (Gen 12:10-20; 16:1-4; 17:15-17; 20) and how he needed God’s mercy in order to continue in his journey of faith. While all these instances reveal to us the fallible nature of the patriarch, they also insinuate God’s mercies and tender love for His children even in their weakness.
Abraham in Gerar
Even though almost all of Abraham’s failures had to do with his faith in God, yet different factors seem to have initiated them. Prominent of these seems to be with his lie regarding his true relation to his wife Sarah in different lands. One of these instances occurred in the land of Gerar. “And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah” (King James Version, Gen. 20:1, 2).
Abraham’s misinformation to King Abimelech concerning the true identity of Sarah his wife led him into committing three major sins.
“In concealing the fact that Sarah was his wife, he betrayed a distrust of the divine care, a lack of that lofty faith and courage so often and nobly exemplified in his life” (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, 130). To say Abraham trusted in God is nothing new. His confidence in God was justified right from the scratch of his relationship with God, when he left his homeland to go to the promise land. (See Gen 12: 1-4, and Heb 11:8.) In the protection granted him in Egypt (Gen 12) and in the conquering of the four kings in the rescue of Lot (Gen14), God seems to be calling him to have full confidence in Him. After God has assured Him; “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield” (Gen 15:2) and followed by his renewed trust in the Lord (verse 6), nothing more was expected to shake his confidence in God again especially if it had to do with the fear of Kings. But in lying to Abimelech, Abraham seems to have placed himself in the same condemnation as the priest, Zacharias, who, though receiving much evidence of God’s capabilities, still doubted the words of the angel Gabriel (Luke 1).
Secondly, Abraham’s distrust in God’s protection led him to lie about his true relationship with Sarah. The S.D.A Bible Commentary in its comment on the ninth commandment “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Ex. 20:16), states: “Whoever tampers in any way with the exact truth, in order to gain personal advantage or for any other purpose is guilty of bearing “false witness.” Hence, in lying to King Abimelech about his true relation to Sarah, Abraham was guilty of the ninth commandment.
Thirdly, Abraham would have led King Abimelech into breaking both the seventh and tenth commandment, had it not been God’s intervention. Jesus said; “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.” (The New International Version, Luke 17: 1). Hence Abraham was guilty for leading Abimelech into sin.
HOW GOD DEALT WITH ABRAHAM
“Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine” (King James Version, Gen. 20:7, emphasis mine).
From the above quote, we can see that God still interceded on Abraham’s behalf and still acknowledged him as a prophet even after his failure. Thus Abraham, though he sinned, still secured God’s favour. Like King Abimelech, who seems to have capitalized on Abraham’s weakness (fear of been killed for his true relation to Sarah’s) and took for himself Sarah as his wife, most people capitalize on the failure of “prophets” and sometimes treat them in an ungodly way, with the presumption that the unimaginable failure on the side of these “prophets” justifies their ungodly treatment to them. To such people God says “for he is a prophet” and bids them go and settle issues with those “prophets” who have suffered from their ungodly reproach without hesitation before they faced His indignation.
The silence of God on the sin (failure) of Abraham does not suggest that God justified Abraham’s sin. The Bible reveals to us so many instances in which God was very displeased with the sins committed by people of His trust. In the immediate judgment pronounced on Moses and Aaron for smiting the rock (Numbers 20:12), we see God “as an impartial ruler, in no case justifying sin” (Ellen White, Patriarch and Prophets, 420). Hence for maintaining silence on Abraham’s sin and reproaching Abimelech instead, God seems to be drawing our attention to how grievous are the sins committed by those who capitalize on the fault of His “prophets” and maltreat them out of impunity.
Unfortunately, most people like King Abimelech, are unknowingly facing the vengeance of God for wrongful reproach to His “prophets” for a mistake on their part. What makes their situation very absurd is that, unlike King Abimelech, they have not been able to discern the warning “now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine” (Gen 20:7, emphasis mine). Thus in their ignorance of God’s ever tender mercies to His “prophets” even in their failure, they have never taught that such disappointing “prophets” could still secure His favour, explaining their inability to perceive His warning to go and settle issues with the “prophets” who they have reproached wrongfully. Until these people follow the example of King Abimelech, by realizing their wrongful act and settling issues with the “prophets” whom they have offended, they will still face the vengeance of God and perhaps even a more severe one (Gen 20:7, 8-18). As the integrity of heart and the innocence of King Abimelech couldn’t pardon him of God’s vengeance (verse 17,18), so will no one’s ignorance or innocence pardon them from God’s vengeance for a wrongful reproach to any of His “prophets”.
THE BIBLE GIVES REPROACH
While the Bible admonishes us not to be silent regarding the sins of others (Isaiah 58:1, Ezekiel 3:17-19), it also outlines the principles through which this should be done (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus said “learn of me” (Matt 11:28), hence how God mercifully dealt with our first parents after their fall ( Gen 3:9,15,21) presupposes how He expects us to deal with others in their failure.
NATHAN’S EXEMPLARY REPROACH
Nathan’s approach in his reproach to King David in his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah her husband forever stands as a perfect example of how God expects us to relate to His “prophets” even in their grievous sins. The fact that Nathan himself was a prophet made it more obligatory for him to acknowledge the position of the king in its full sense in conducting his reproach. Like David (1 Sam 24:5,10), Nathan might have been aware of the proper way to relate to God’s anointed. Besides, since he was sent by God, there was a need for him to restrict himself solely to what God had put in his mouth and not go beyond that. At the end God was glorified and David was redeemed. What a smile Nathan’s good approach put on God’s face.
We may not be in the category of prophets like Nathan nor have any relationship with God at all (even an atheist) that may influence us to conduct ourselves in His ways but as far as the one to whom our reproach is directed to, it behooves us to construct our reproach in God’s way, in order not to face His indignation.
The ability to call sin by it right name is good, but the desire to rescue a sinner from his or her malady is very commendable. If reproach is the means through which one wants to accomplish this, then one should make sure it glories God at the end in order not to face His vengeance for a wrong reproach.
Have you ever reproached any prophet of God who faltered? How did you conduct your reproach and what was the outcome? What resolution are you trying to make concerning how you relate to “prophets” of God in their failure having realized that even God still acknowledges them as His “prophets” and treats them with respect even in their failure?.