Summary: Our account of Abram’s life shows how God cares about us individually. We discover that God patiently loves us in spite of our failures and often-weak faith. We learn of: 1) the famine--a time of testing; 2) Abram’s “solution” which resulted in failure
“Abram in Egypt” Genesis 12:10-13:4 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Our account of Abram’s life shows how God cares about us individually. We see this in Abram’s misguided trip to Egypt. We discover that God patiently loves us in spite of our failures and often-weak faith. We learn of: 1) the famine--a time of testing; 2) Abram’s “solution” which resulted in failure; and 3) God’s restoration.
1) The Famine
The first mistake Abram made in the Promised Land was to leave it. The land of Canaan relied on two rainy seasons for crops to grow. In times of drought, the wealthy could procure food from neighboring lands; the poor were forced to beg, and many died. Some famines lasted for years.
This situation likely caused considerable unrest within Abram’s caravan. “If God has led us here, why are the grazing lands drying up?” Abram may have also asked this question, and his faith was being tested. “Where is God’s deliverance?” was a question on everyone’s mind. The broiling sun was over their heads and the cracked earth beneath their feet. Dwindling supplies of rations and mounting fatigue slowly wore away at the tribe’s morale, and their faith faltered.
It was common for nomadic people to turn to Egypt for refuge. Archeologists have uncovered inscriptions and artwork depicting “the admission of Semites to the rich pastures of Egypt”. Temporary visits by foreigners were tolerated. But there’s one big problem: Abram hadn’t been directed to Egypt by God. He hadn’t prayed about going. He went on his own, figuring it was the only way to survive. Abram had not fully learned that his refuge was in God. Faith means we choose the right thing, regardless of the circumstances and consequences.
Abram could have ventured north toward greener pastures, but instead, he traveled south to the fertile Sinai peninsula. He pushed on to Egypt and did not stop until he reached Memphis. Abram was city-bred, and after life as a rural wanderer he likely yearned for the comforts and trading opportunities of urban life. In the midst of a famine it might have seemed providential that Egypt was nearby, watered by the flooding of the Nile. Abram’s error is acting on his own initiative. At the first sign of hunger, he panics, and the vision was lost.
2) The solution/failure
Wandering tribes were required to stop at Egyptian registration stations, to receive an entrance visa. Above these gateways were railed balconies manned by armed guards. The stations were run by officials of Pharaoh’s court, the offspring of his many wives. Some were appointed to watch for suitable women for Pharaoh’s harem. Abram became concerned that they might wish to select his wife Sarah. Adultery was dishonorable, but not murder. If Abram stood in Pharaoh’s way, he could easily be eliminated. So in fear and weakness Abram schemes to save himself. Today we call this “situation ethics.” He may have also thought that God’s promise was at stake. He needed to stay alive. God teaches Abram through the turn of events, “You don’t need to protect Me; I will protect you and the promise.”
By calling Sarah his “sister”, Abram tells a half-truth. Whenever we tell a half-truth, we want people to believe the wrong half! Sarah was in fact, Abram’s step-sister. In Abram’s day it was common for a husband to legally adopt his wife as a sister to raise her status and inheritance. In any case, Abram’s dissembling cover-up is worthy of a politician. Abram risks his wife’s honor to save himself. He uses Sarah as a commodity. He never sank lower than when he made this request.
Sarah is seen and selected. Entangled in his deception, Abram finds himself unable to refuse Pharaoh’s lavish gifts. Cattle, sheep, donkeys, camels and slaves were possessions that marked the wealth of nomads. By accepting, Abram increased his sin and his actions had severe consequences. Because of increased possessions acquired in Egypt, Abram and Lot find it necessary to separate. And one of the slaves given to Abram was Hagar. Had Abram trusted God, there would have been no Ishmael, the father of the Arabs. Because of his sojourn in Egypt, Abram changed the course of human history.
Sarah was obedient to her husband. As she was led into Pharaoh’s palace, she was oblivious to the rich splendor around her; she could only think of how wrong this all was, and how she was caught in the web of her husband’s fear-driven deceit.
3) The Restoration
Divine intervention was the only solution. Only the court of Pharaoh was affected by the mysterious, sudden illness that occurred concurrently with the acquisition of Sarah. The city was unaffected. Pharaoh was looked upon as a god, yet he too was afflicted. Within the palace Sarah alone was untouched by the disease, and she realized the power of God. There’d be no honeymoon. The connection between Abram and Pharaoh’s affliction was made.