Summary: Second in a six-part series on the life of faith as seen in the person of Abraham
When we left him last week, he had stepped out in great faith and was on the move, going at the behest of God to a place known only to God. He had marched what must have seemed like 3 million steps. What courageous faith! What derring-do! He built two separate altars, one at Shechem and one at Bethel:
• “Staking his claim” to the reality of God’s promise of land
• Signifying his worship of God, however incomplete his knowledge of God might have been at the time
We marvel at his faith and his willingness to follow God regardless of where it might lead, and we left him riding the wave of his faith, midway through Genesis 12 marching boldly where he’d never gone before!
At the end of chapter 12, though, we find this very same warrior of faith being marched out of town shamefully under armed guard (v. 20). How did Abram get from the heights of belief to the depths of ignominy? After taking 3 million steps forward, he took 2 steps back.
Spiritual irony: sometimes, it is on the heels of a spiritual triumph that we experience a spiritual trial—which leads to our defeat! Beth Moore says in her book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, that we are most vulnerable after a spiritual high because that is when we least expect to fall. The fall is highest from the spiritual mountaintop; it is when we’re there that we’re of most use to God and most danger to Satan.
We find that a challenge of considerable significance comes into the life of Abram and his family.
• Drought was not uncommon in Palestine, its fragile ecology based upon winter and spring rains, and absent these, trouble can brew in the form of famine.
• Food scarce in Canaan, and the local pagans would have felt little compunction to share any with the wayfaring family of Abram.
• “Thanks, God...I do what you say, worship you, and you give me a famine?”
Trying circumstances offer us an opportunity to grow in our faith—or a chance to fall away – Sometimes we think, if we’re not careful, that living the Christian life should be without trying circumstance if we are living in harmony with God’s will; if you listen carefully, you might pick up that kind of teaching on popular Christian media. On the contrary, living in God’s will might create for you some problems that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Abram’s response was to go to Egypt – One commentator suggested that the Bible usually uses Egypt as a symbol of the place to avoid (though God used Egypt as the place where His people were saved!), and thus we can read into Abram’s descent into Egypt a mind stubbornly determined to seek out his own solution to the problem without consulting God’s help. Well, while it’s a stretch to read into “Egypt” a place that at this point in Abram’s journey was verboten, nonetheless we don’t find Abram calling upon God prior to making his decision to go there. And we don’t hear God speaking to him, telling him that this is God’s provision for him and his family during the famine. Is Abram abandoning faith in his fear of famine?
Egypt served as both a marketplace and a source of food; it was not unusual for a traveling entourage to journey there. Employment there would also be a draw to outsiders driven by war or famine there to refuge. So it was natural to think of going to Egypt; it in fact was likely the common-sense approach to the problem!
But there was a problem in Egypt, and the problem was Pharaoh. Would have been customary for a national leader like Pharaoh to feel the prerogative to take whatever woman he chose to be a part of his harem. Abram, being her husband, might well have been, then, a target of Pharaoh’s wrath—what would stand in Pharaoh’s way of simply killing this stranger and taking Sarai to wife?
Sarai is a bit of an innocent character here in Genesis 12; she is the victim, if you will, of the conspiring of a chicken-hearted husband and an admiring Pharaoh. Hey, ladies, take heart as you age: at age 65, she was a pretty hot babe!
If, on the other hand, Pharaoh were to find that Abram were her brother, there’d be little reason for him to consider murder, if indeed he found Sarai to be desirable, and crafty Abram knew this, and so he devised a plan, a plan which contained a kernel of truth, in fact! If Sarai would pass herself off as his sister—and indeed, she was his half-sister—then Abram’s neck would likely be spared.
Godly people can do ungodly things when they take their eyes off God and stop walking by faith. No one is above the possibility of failing, and failing miserably. Abram, who had begun so well with God, now in a moment of cowardice fails miserably. Let’s look at