Abram has been called to leave his land and family and go to a new land that God would show him. Abram and Sarai cannot have children but God has promised that he would make Abram a great nation, bless him, bless those who bless him, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through him. So they move to the land of Canaan, which is occupied by the Canaanites, and as they walk through the land Abram is offering worship to the Lord.
Testing Faith (12:10-13:4)
But God does not leave Abram in the land to live happily ever after. Verse 10 opens with the words, “Now there was a famine in the land.” God does not pave the way for Abram’s life so that things are simple, convenient, or easy. Even though God is with Abram, is blessing Abram, and has promised to make him a blessing to the world, difficult days face Abram. Abram must face hardships. Verse 10 also tells us that the famine was severe. A famine means that there is no food to eat and is often caused by drought. If the land does not receive enough rain, then the plants die. If the plants die, not only is there no food for you but there is no food for your animals and they die. The land cannot be farmed so that you cannot provide food for yourself. Since the famine is severe, Abram feels compelled to move to Egypt. The text does not tell us if this was the right decision or not, so at this point we cannot make comment about this decision. This is what we do know. God said that this was his land and that God would bless him. We should also observe that nothing in the text indicates that Abram sought the Lord in this decision. So Abram, Sarai, Lot, and all that he has moves to Egypt.
Now Abram recognizes that he has a problem by moving to Egypt. His wife is beautiful and what Abram fears is that when they move to Egypt, one of the Egyptians will want her and will kill Abram to take her. Therefore Abram believes he needs to lie. He tells Sarai to say that she is his sister. The thinking for that culture would be that if anyone were to want to marry her, they would have to come to Abram as the brother who is responsible for her. As verse 14 points out, Abram is correct in his assessment of Sarai and what the Egyptians will do. The Egyptians saw that she was very beautiful. But something happens that Abram did not count on. The princes of Pharaoh saw her, praised her beauty to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh took her into his house. Pharaoh does not have to ask for permission in marriage. He is ruler over the land and he just takes Sarai to be his wife. In the meantime Pharaoh is dealing well with Abram, because he believes that Abram is her brother, giving him animals and servants. Now there is a great dilemma. Abram’s deception has not worked. While the deception has kept him alive, his wife has been taken into Pharaoh’s house. Now what are you going to do?
Verse 17 shows God coming to the rescue for this situation. How often we need the “But God” moment, to enter into the situation and rescue us (cf. Ephesians 2:1-4)! The Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Abram’s wife. Please consider a little foreshadowing to the days of the exodus when God will strike Pharaoh and the nation with great plagues. So Pharaoh calls Abram and asks him why he has done this to him and did not tell him that Sarai was his wife. Notice that there is no answer by Abram. Pharaoh acts more honorably than Abram, gives Sarai back to Abram and tells him to leave. Thus Abram, Sarai, Lot and all that he has are driven out of Egypt (12:20-13:1). While we were not told if moving to Egypt was the right decision at the moment, the flow of the narrative indicates that it was not. Notice in Genesis 13:3 that Abram returns and to the very place where he was at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai. God has moved Abram back to the promised land, in spite of the famine, through the plagues that he inflicted on Egypt. This is an interesting moment in the life of Abram. Why was this event recorded concerning Abram? What are we to learn about faith and what are we to learn about our God?
The first thing we must learn from the text is that Abram is not a superhero. It is so easy for us to read about the heroes of faith in the scriptures and feel like their faith is so vastly superior to ours. We have the tendency to not relate to these people because we think they are different. I think this is why we do gravitate to characters like Peter because we are able to more easily see his flaws. But all the people in the scriptures are described with great flaws. I want us to see where Abram is at right now. He is not the superhero of faith right now. He makes a number of missteps at this moment. When the famine arises, Abram leaves the land rather than staying in the land that God promised to him and staying because God said he would bless him. Further, when he comes to Egypt, he puts Sarai in danger to keep himself alive. When Pharaoh takes Sarai, we are not told what Abram would do, if he could do anything. The hopeless couple looks even more hopeless, with Abram losing his barren wife to the ruler of Egypt.
The point I want us to see is that faith is grown by God, not achieved by us. You do not wake up with great faith. When we think of Abram, our minds we often jump to the offering of Isaac. But God does not start with Abram at that point. Rather, the test is smaller as a famine overtakes the land of Canaan. One moment Abram is showing great faith and moves to the land God will show him. Another moment Abram’s faith weakens as he leaves the land and choose to be deceptive to save his own life. God said the world would be blessed through him, but he does not fully believe all of what this promise means for he thinks he must save his own life and God will not protect him.
Faith is not easy. It is always a battle. Faith is grown. Faith is not achieved. Having faith is challenging. We must recognize that to have the saving faith that God calls us to and that the Gospel of John is teaching us to have is not easy and is very challenging. We learn from Abram how faith can quickly become overwhelmed by circumstances. The struggles of life challenge our faith regularly. This is what Satan is doing to Job and why God is allowing the suffering to occur. Faith must be grown. We must fight against the temptations to abandon the promises of God in favor of the physical possessions and provisions. When life challenges us, we are tempted to gravitate and cling to what is seen rather than maintaining our faith in our great God who is unseen. We must take great care that our faith is grown during the difficulties of life, rather than letting our faith to be broken. Tough times must draw us to the Lord, not to become self-sufficient or self-reliant. Is this not what trials must do to us? Trials have been much more difficult for me in the past because I thought I had to do something. I tried to be my own savior and my own problem solver. But in this latest and ongoing trial, resting in God has made the trial bearable. I cannot rescue and I cannot solve the problem. Trials must grow faith. We must turn to the Lord who loves us and cares about us. We must turn to our Father who listens to our prayers and is acting for the good of our souls.
How merciful and loving is our God! Notice that God does not revoke his promises because of Abram’s lack of faith. God does not let Abram die in his own mess that he has created for himself. God intervenes to protect his promises. God moves Abram back to where he needs to be. How great it is that God’s promises are not dependent on my failing faith! God is great because he builds our faith through these tests. God takes opportunities to show his faithfulness. Even in the face of the expressly declared promise of God to Abram that he would be blessed and would live in this land, Abram’s faith was weak and those promises did not keep him in the land, fully trusting in the Lord. Now, we may think we would be different if God spoke to us such promises. But consider what God has said to us.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)
God’s promises about eternal life, being his children, having access to the Father, and being with the Lord forever are often not strong enough to keep us from sinning. God’s promises are often not strong enough to maintain our faith in him. Just like Abram, in the face of very great and precious promises we will fail to trust in the Lord and turn to ourselves for solutions. But God stays faithful to his promises. Our failure is not the end. Our sins do not mean all hope is lost. The reason our failure is not the end and hope is not lost is because God keeps his promises. He promised to send the Savior to remove the curse of sin and set us free from our condemnation when we are found in Christ (cf. Romans 8:1).
How about another great and precious promise?
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:7–2:2 NIV)
What will you do when your faith has faltered? God remains faithful and offers forgiveness to you. Will we get back on the path to the promised land or will we live for ourselves, disregarding God’s precious promises? Faith is grown. Your failure does not signal the end. One of my favorite sayings is used in the television show, Mythbusters: “Failure is always an option.” But those failures bring future success. Our failures yesterday are to grow our faith today so that we are ready to stand tomorrow. Turn back to the Lord today in faith. God has sent Jesus, the greatest intervention God has ever displayed in this world.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11 ESV)