1 ¶ And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.
As proof that Sarah was still desirable to look at in an age where people lived longer and were more youthful looking longer and as further evidence of the customs of the time, the king of Gerar places Sarah in his harem. Abraham repeats his same, what we would call today cowardice, practice as in chapter 12 in Egypt in protecting himself from possible murder but not his wife from this humiliation.
This shows us the dangers of travel in those days particularly if you had a wife other men might desire. Abimelech king of Gerar is used here as Pharaoh king of Egypt is used in 41:46 and in other verses. The question then arises as to whether or not Abimelech is a Philistine title for a king or whether it is a name. Isaac will repeat this behavior in a few chapters and dwell in this same city for a time. In 26:8 this king of Gerar is called the king of the Philistines.
We see two characteristics of life in the ancient world. One, the molestation of visitors to a city as revealed in the story of Sodom and later in Judges 19 and, two, how ancient kings might forcibly take a man’s wife and kill him if they felt like it.
This also shows us the political powerlessness of women, used without their consent as commodities, sexual resources, or just instruments to produce progeny. The woman had no right to say no to any of this. Her value was in her usefulness to men, much like a farm animal, modified only by affection and a sense of moral custom. But, when God’s directive will was involved, by these cultural practices, women in the Bible were blessed by being part of God’s plan of producing the line that He came to earth through in His work of reconciliation of man to Himself. A woman’s lot in life, based on the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin and man’s prevailing cultural custom, was ameliorated only by the affection her husband might have toward her and the love of and for her children, sons of which might care for her in her old age if widowed.
Keep in mind again that man invents culture and civilization and God permits him to do so by God’s permissive will. God alters and modifies to lead man’s effort to an end He has ordained. Imagine that while slave ships and ships for conquest went out a couple of hundred years ago missionaries went out as well. And while many missionaries were simply instruments of the conquering country or institutional church a minority simply went out as God’s instruments to save souls. We need to reorder history in our minds to see how God intervenes and directs. When you include God’s actions in the course of history and cease thinking of Him as simply a first cause or standing on the sidelines waiting for a prayer you get a different picture of history. Of course, you get a different picture of everything from biology to literature if you haven’t accepted the mental condition of modernity that removes God from every equation.