Summary: Abraham trial in Egypt proves God’s faithfulness and gives Abraham reason to believe.
God told Abraham to leave his family and nation behind:
4So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. 5And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. 6And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 7And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land:
When he gets to this plain of Moreh (or oak of Moreh) the LORD appears to him. This isn’t the last time God meets with someone here (18:1; 35:4), but it is the first. We need to remember that no one has ever seen the Father (Jn. 6:46), but the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily (Col. 2:9). Don’t let anyone tell you this is a “theophany;” that’s impossible. This is a Christophany—Abraham saw “my day” and was glad (Jn. 8:56). He saw Him face-to-face and knew he had met the promised Redeemer!
and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
His response upon meeting Him is to build an altar. The Hebrew root word means “slaughter.” I suppose it was a pile of stones or something where he could lay an animal and kill it. Even before the Law Abel, Noah, and Abraham all knew of the sacrifice required for atonement. We aren’t told how they knew, but it’s obvious that they did. The gospel has been the same since it was first told to Adam and Eve.
Also, I want you to see that this is an active and proactive God. He’s not sitting in heaven waiting for Abraham to get things right. He called Abraham personally. God revealed Himself to Abraham. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost, and He’s been fulfilling that mission even before the advent.
8And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east:
Because he’s a stranger in the land with no inheritance he pitches a tent rather than build a house.
Now, I don’t want to read any more into this than we’re supposed to, but it’s interesting to me that Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel, which means “house of God” and Ai which means “ruin heap.” He’s temporarily lodging between God’s house and the ruin heap. He’s not yet in the house, but he’s not in the ruin heap either (II Cor. 5:1-8).
and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
Again he worships the LORD and offers sacrifices. We know this story so well and we’re so familiar with the outcome that it’s hard to appreciate the facts: here we have a 75 year old man living in a tent; he’s a nomad with no real securities wandering around in a strange country because God told him to! All these altars and calling upon God are acts of faith. He doesn’t trust in Nanna the moon-god anymore; he’s following Yahweh.
But he’s not the great man of faith yet; he has a few tests and trials and failures to endure:
9And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. 10And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 11And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
In that time and culture, the older brother would have had custody of his sister, and he could have given her into marriage. If the Egyptians think that Sarai is his sister then they’ll try to gain favor with him. But he’s afraid that if they know then they’ll kill him and marry his widow.
Now, here’s a question: why is he afraid of dying? Doesn’t he believe the promise of God that he’ll become a great nation? He has a specific promise directly from the mouth of God, but he doesn’t really believe it; he’s afraid. It’s a real comfort to me to see someone who’s now considered such a giant of the faith who also fails. Those Egyptians couldn’t have laid a hand on him without God’s permission, but he’s not thinking about what he can’t see. He can see the famine and he can see the Egyptians. Interestingly, he’ll come to face this exact same test later in life when God asks him to give up his only son. By that time though, he realizes that God will fulfill His promise and that Isaac is in no real danger. But for now he isn’t sure God will preserve his life.