In the ESV Bible, the phrase “but God” appears in the narrative 43 times, changing the direction of the story. Ebenezer the squirrel, the blog’s mascot, represents these memorials of God’s intervention in the world and in our lives. As a squirrel can unexpectedly draw our attention, I write about these moments to draw our attention to God as a reminder that adding God to our circumstances can change everything. One of the times the words “but God” appears is in Genesis 20:3, which says:
“But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.’”
This “but God” Ebenezer comes during Abraham’s sojourn in Gerar, where Abimelech was king. Similar to an earlier story from Genesis 12, Abraham lies and says his wife Sarah is his sister in order to stay out of trouble. In this case, Abraham explains his reason for lying as: “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” Ironically, Abraham inadvertently here proved there was no fear of God in his own life at this moment, by prioritizing an assumption he had made about Abimelech’s character above the absolute knowledge of God’s character, who does not lie. Be careful about what you’re certain of. It might be wrong.
Just like each of us, even the heroes of our faith are not perfect and seek their own means of finding prosperity apart from God. How God deals with them therefore reveals His grace with real people, and also has lessons we can learn from. In response to this “but God” dream, Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham to avoid sinning with her. The dream revealed the power of God to Abimelech, who “took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.” Abimelech even gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver and told Sarah it was “a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.”
Although Abraham ended up shamed by this situation, God ended up glorified. God was always in control, even when Abraham was faithless. Of this story, the Life Application Study Bible notes: “How many times has God done the same for us, holding us back from sin in ways we can’t even detect? We have no way of knowing—we just know from this story that he can. God works just as often in ways we can’t see as in ways we can.” In other words, there are often many Ebenezers we are not even aware of. We may benefit from “but God” moments in the lives of others, as Abraham did with Abimelech. Therefore, next time you see a squirrel (or the next 100 times), thank God for His many mercies toward you that you haven’t even noticed.
“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” – John Piper