Summary: Abraham hits a speed bump on the road to God's blessing.
The Life of Abraham, Part 2: The Egyptian Detour
In the last episode we saw Abram and Sarai on the backside of the wilderness trying to scratch out a meager living and I think wondering about they had understood God correctly. When Moses wrote down this account of Abram, he was in the wilderness outside the same Promised Land. Like Abram, he knew he would never get to possess it, but Moses also hoped in the promise of God that it would belong to those who came after him. Abraham would spend the last hundred years wandering around the edges of the land just had Moses had spent the last eighty years of his life chasing the same promise. But at least Moses felt the nearness of the fulfillment at the end.
Abraham shares many similar experiences with the wilderness generation who had spent 40 years in the Negev in meager surroundings. All of the generation who came out with Moses except Caleb and Joshua would die there in the wilderness. The knowledge of Abraham would have encouraged that nation to keep pressing on towards receiving God’s promises for them.
Exposition of the Text
In this lesson we are told that famine had come to the land. Abram and Sarai who lived on the margins of the desert would have been the first to feel its effects. Grazing was scarce and so was water. The family was facing starvation if they stayed. This presented a real crisis of faith. Their lives were threatened. Family harmony was threatened. Lot, who at that time appeared to be the promised seed was threatened. Abram in increasing poverty was losing power among the people. Finally, their ability to stay in the land was threatened.
At some point, Abram took his family to Egypt, a journey that would be repeated by his grandson Jacob’s family. Egypt would have probably been known by Abram when he was living in Ur. Like Ur, Egypt had an advanced civilization. And even if he hadn’t the Canaanites who were merchants could have told him about it. Most of the pyramids had been built by this time. The regular yearly flood of the Nile ensured a stable and abundant food supply. Perhaps Abram had misunderstood the Lord, he thought. Instead of going south into the wilderness, he should have gone southwest. This is the same kind of adjustments we make in our own lives when we feel we have missed God’s blessing.
How inspiring Egypt must have appeared to the poor and hungry family as they eyed Egypt on the horizon. Here was a land with abundant food to sustain life and the opportunity for better company than sheep and wolves. But Abram already sensed a threat. He was going to be a stranger in a foreign land who happened to have a beautiful sixty-five year old wife. He feared that he would be killed and his wife taken.
So the scheme Abram now hatches is an attempt to save him from death as well as to gain influence in the land. He tells Sarai to tell the Egyptians that they were brother and sister, which was a half-truth. She must have been extremely good-looking because word of her beauty got the Pharaoh who summoned her for the harem. And just as Abram plotted, Pharaoh who wanted to woo Sarai treated Abram very well. Abram gained in property and status. There was only one large problem with the scheme. God had promised Abraham children and by this he meant more than Lot or one of Abram’s servants. Being someone else’s wife was surely a threat to the promised seed, and God acted quickly before such a union was consummated. He sent plagues among the Egyptians and allowed Pharaoh to make the association between the plagues and his taking of Sarai. The truth that Abram and Sarai were man and wife was also made known to him. He summoned them and confronted Abram with the truth. Then he expelled them from Egypt and had his men escort them out with all of their possessions.
We must take a moment and reflect on this story. In it we see the story of the Exodus generation all over again, except this was four hundred years in advance. Hunger drove Jacob to Egypt. Israel through Joseph was raised to high authority in Egypt. They had land in Goshen. They had for some time a good life in Egypt. Their seed multiplied greatly. Then they fell from Pharaoh’s favor. God sent plagues. Pharaoh summons Moses and expels Israel from Egypt and all they had. One should immediately see that this trip of Abram to Egypt was part of the greater plan for the children of Israel. By reading the story of Abram, the generation of the wilderness who was about to enter into Canaan would see their lives tied up in that of their ancestor Abraham. This is one of the many patterns we see in the bible which helps us discern God’s plan.