Over and over and over again, we hear about God is impartial towards His people.
Sure, there are some who play special roles in the story of the Bible (i.e. Moses), but many of those same figures pay huge fines for their sins (i.e. Moses). It’s not as if God simply overlooks when they sin because they’re super special.
That’s part of what makes Genesis 20:6 so interesting. There, Abimelech pleads his innocence before God, saying that he acted in the “integrity of his heart” when he took Sarah (who is not “Abraham’s sister”) to be his wife.
God agrees, and even goes so far as to say that He “kept Abimelech from sinning” because he didn’t know.
Which makes me ask: Does God do that for me too?
Was Abimelech Innocent?
We forget sometimes that one of the paramount characteristics of God is His justice.
He’s quick to anger, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean He takes any kind of joy in the destruction of humanity. In fact, He says exactly the opposite in Ezekiel 18:32.
What we learn then is that even though immorality is opposite of His very character and that He can’t even be in the presence of sin (Exodus 33:5; Isaiah 59:1-2), He is remarkably lenient towards those very people who do commit sin.
Don’t forget that God waited nearly 400 years from the time of Solomon til He eventually allowed the Babylonians to annihilate the Temple and take the people into captivity. Would you have put up with their immorality that long? Not sure I would have.
All of this brings us back to Abimelech and his perceived sin. As he professed to God, he was lied to about Sarah’s marital status and took her as his wife under that information. He acted in the integrity of his heart, just as Paul did when he spent years persecuting Christians (Acts 23:1).
BUT, as Paul also said to the Athenians, once someone receives information that changes the scene — such as finding out that Sarah is actually married — that person is required to change course. If you don’t, that’s a sin (Acts 17:30).
Will God Overlook My “Innocent” Sins Too?
I think the phrase “innocent sin” is a little bit of a misnomer, because rarely is a sin ever committed in innocence.
Take the cities of refuge for instance. If someone “accidentally” killed someone, they were told to run to the cities of refuge to receive safe haven until the High Priest died (Numbers 35).
Does that mean the accidental murderer sinned? I don’t necessarily think so. After all, it wasn’t their fault that the axehead slipped off the axe and killed their BFF.
But they still had to have a way to make that scene right — hence, the cities of refuge.
Abimelech had the same responsibility. He acted in good conscience, took a course of action that ended up to be wrong, but then needed to course correct in light of new information.
Will God do that for us? Maybe, but the very fact that we have the complete will of God in the form of the Bible leaves us all accountable. There’s literally no reason for any of us to not know what God wants us to do; it’s all there in black and white (and red).
The only question is whether we’ll be as repentant as Abimelech.