The story of Abraham in Genesis 12-25 is filled with many profound truths upon which our faith is built. Indeed, I want to say that this portion of Scripture is the "Gospel according to Abraham”. Think about that for a moment. What is the Gospel? It is the Word of God’s covenant love made personally known to an undeserving sinner. That is how the gospel of God came to Abraham. God, in His free, sovereign love chose to manifest Himself to Abraham, an undeserving pagan from Ur, telling Him that he would become the father of many people in the world. These, like Abraham, would be endowed with the gospel gift of faith to believe in the One Living and True God of the Universe.
However, as we read the story of Abram’s faith and walk with God, we begin to notice very soon that this loving call to belong to God does not come without some severe challenges. Behind us we have 11 chapters of Genesis. Beginning with Chapters 1 and 2 – the good creation of the world, follows the fall of man in Genesis 3. Here we find the beginning of our many challenges. Before the fall, man had only one challenge, “You may eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Gen. 2:17]
A flood of problems follows after the fall. Life has become, as we would say, “complicated”. Life following the fall is filled with trials. Even believers are not spared from the effects of the fall and from trials. We shall learn that Abram and his offspring, men and women of faith are kept by grace alone and helped by Almighty God through their various trials.
So then, we have the story of Abraham before us. Last time we considered the call of Abram. At that time we had noted that Abram had not been looking for God! God was looking for Abram. Furthermore, Abram did not dream his own dreams for the future. He did not write his own job description.
God’s mission became his mission: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…” [12:1,2]
A great promise! But it will all happen in the context of many trials for Abram. The first trial was the fact that Sarai his wife could not have children [11:30]. The next trial was that he would have to leave his country, his familiar surroundings and his family to go to a foreign and distant land. Following this there would be the great rigors associated with trekking 1500 kilometres to the place of promise in Canaan. Canaan would be occupied by a hostile, evil people upon whom a Divine curse had been made in Genesis 9:25. But there would still be more! God is testing the man whom He has called. He is testing him at the very core of his being, namely with regard to His promises made to Abraham:
(i) In terms the promise made with regard to his offspring, the obstacle is a barren wife.
(ii) In terms of the promised land the obstacle is that he has hardly arrived when he has to leave for Egypt, because of the severe famine. In fact, we shall learn that he is never really able to settle down in the land of Canaan. Hebrews 11 reminds us that Abram died without the promises of God being fulfilled to him with regard to the physical land of Canaan.
(iii) In terms of the promise that he would be a blessing to the nations, he saw very little of it. He received the promise by faith, and with hindsight we know that God did honour his faith in generations to come.
In every promise made to Abram, God tests him. We need to grasp the significance of this. The God who calls us into His loving covenant tests our faith through many trials. Jesus said that we must enter the kingdom of God through many sufferings. Our trials are not designed to make us fail, but to purify us and to show us that, in the end, we stand by grace alone and not by our own goodness and efforts. We learn that it is not our ability to successfully pass every trial that makes us acceptable to God. Rather, we learn that the gracious hand of God continues to lead us, enabling us to persevere with Him through the many complexities of life, despite our many our failures. I have known this for many years, but oh, how little I still understand this!
We learn that in the midst of Abram’s failings, God persevered with Abram, and we know that Abram did persevere to the end. We need to know this, because God tests and matures us in exactly the same way today, and that sets the stage for the incident that we see here.
Abram has to learn what we all need to learn with such great difficulty - to trust God and to put no confidence in the flesh. He and we must learn that we cannot have children of promise, we cannot possess this land, we cannot be a blessing to the world without the help of God. He has to learn to live by trusting in God alone.
V.10 A Famine leads Abraham into Temptation
"Now there was famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there for the famine was severe in the land." Here comes a trial of faith. Did God bring Abram here, only to let him and his people of the promise die of hunger? Surely not! There is something greater behind this, and the greater plan was this testing and strengthening Abram’s faith. Faith is both a free gift of God and at the same time it is something that needs to be developed in each true believer. Very often we learn only through our mistakes and our failures. The decision to go to Egypt was a mistake! Remember that God had called him out of Ur and then out of Haran to start a new community, by taking possession of the land of cursed Canaan. He was to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and become the father of a new way of living and thinking under the direction of YAHWEH.
His promised land was Canaan and not Egypt. Now you may ask, “but what do you do when there is a famine in the land?” Is that not what Jacob did? Did he not settle in Egypt at the time of another famine in order to survive. Isn’t that a responsible action (Gen. 47)?
Well, maybe at face value, but it appears that God intended to show Abraham the nature of His faithfulness IN and THROUGH the drought in Canaan. I also remind you that Jacob’s going to Egypt did not prove to be an ultimate blessing to the nation. We have to be very careful in being tempted to escape short term problems, for they often produce more problems than they solve. God is committed to His people in their hardships. He is committed to providing for them their daily bread, as He did when He led His people out of Egypt back to Canaan in the day of Moses. You will remember that daily miracles were the order of the day as God’s many people moved through waterless and barren deserts. Would God not provide through the drought? Would He not hear prayer for daily bread? Would the rain not finally come and end the drought, as has happened here in Namibia at this time, in response to the pleas of many of our people?
It seems that Abram did not trust God in this trial. And in so doing he almost lost his wife and his life! He did not gather Sarai and Lot and all the people with him saying, “Now we must pray for God’s daily provision until He finally sends the rains and end this terrible drought and famine?” Instead, Abram looked to Egypt, the bread-basket of that region at this time. Egypt remained a great temptation for the people of God at all times.
Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 30:1-3 had to remind the people of his day: “Woe to the obstinate children, declares the LORD, ‘to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace”.
The tendency to want to solve our problems by taking shortcuts is ever with us. We find ourselves often in the same predicament as did Abram. The Gospel of Jesus has found us in our pagan places. We have heard the call of Jesus to follow Him, and that is where faith is challenged. Jesus calls us to love Him more than we love this world. He calls us to live as citizens of heaven. He calls us to live in faithfulness, obedience, perseverance to him despite our trials. He intends to grow us through these. Is that not what James has in mind in Chapter 1:2-4?
But we are so very tempted to take shortcuts in our life with Christ. We seek solutions that sound so very reasonable, but which if you think about it, encumber us and enslave us rather than truly help us. Abram is trying to find his own way out of a dilemma. He is trusting the Lord, but a man has to live, doesn’t he? Can you see how quickly our faith can be undone?
And so, Abram, went to Egypt, and as he went away from the famine in Canaan, his worries started to increase in Egypt!
That wasn’t supposed to happen, right?
But, knowing something about the culture of the Egyptians (and the heart of man in general) and their fancy for pretty women, what would the Egyptians do with his beautiful wife? And so he starts planning and scheming to evade a new problem [vv. 11-13].
And, sure enough, it happens! [vv 14-16]
His plan to survive is back-firing.
His life is now in greater danger in Egypt than it was back in the famine of Canaan. Sarai, who he deceitfully presented as his sister, is now in the hands of another man. And in her place he received sheep, oxen, male and female donkeys, male and female servants and camels” (v.16). He has lost Sarai and gained animals. But in reality he has lost the most important person in relation to the fulfilment of the covenant blessing. He literally had no future without Sarai. Without her, the wife of his covenant, there could be no future blessing.
How can this poor decision be reversed?
How can God make Abram into a great nation now? How is the Messianic line going to develop? How will Jesus, the Messiah, born of the line of David, in the ancestry of Abraham come?
Answer: God intervenes! If God did not constantly intervene in our lives, picking us up when we fall, bringing us back when we go astray, patiently bearing with our unbelief, forgiving our sins and restoring our souls – then what helpless, hopeless men and women we would be?
BUT THE LORD… v.17 Thank God for the great But's of the Bible! God, through painful plagues revealed to Pharaoh that Sarai was in fact Abram’s wife, and what Pharaoh was doing here stood in the way of God’s great plan. I remind you that God did say to Abram, as he was about to leave the city of Ur, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse…” (v.3).
These were not empty words. God’s promise stood. And so Pharaoh and Abram learned a very big lesson that day. Pharaoh had the wisdom not to strive with God , and we learn that Abram is no hero. He is a weak man, BUT he is a chosen son of God , and that fact makes the big difference.
And so, the thing that needs to happen, happens.
Chapter 13:1 reads, “So Abram went up from Egypt… into the Negeb “… back into Canaan, the land of promise, where he belonged. The incident has a happy ending, yes, but it is obtained by the humiliation of Abram and the discovery of the weakness of his unbelieving heart.
This part of Abram’s life is not recorded to encourage you to think that you may sin so that grace may abound. It is written to remind us that we all have hearts like Abram, hearts that seek shortcuts, hearts which doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. This is written to remind us that God loves His people and that He extends grace to us, despite ourselves.
God is determined to save His people, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. Our unbelief will not stop the advance of God’s kingdom. And it is all ultimately rooted in the depths of His covenant love for us.
And that love was made known to us supremely in Jesus Christ who laid down His life for ALL our sin! Amen.