************ Sermon on Genesis 12:10-20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 12, 2012
Shocking! Astonishing! Surprising! That is how the incident in front of us would have struck the Israelites as they listened to Moses read the story of Abraham in Egypt.
"Now there was a famine in the land ..." (Gen 12:10). What land? In the Promised Land. A land of plenty. A land of rest and security. Twenty-four times the Promised Land is described as the land that flows with milk and honey (Ex 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; etc). Israel is traveling through the wilderness on the way to this land. Yet, this land has a famine. This is now the second item of bad news given to the children of Israel about the Promised Land. First, as we discovered last time, it is a land filled with idol-worshipers – heathen people whom Israel needs to conquer before the land becomes theirs. Now, they find out the Promised Land is also a place of famine. "Moses, what are you doing? Where are you bringing us?"
"And Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe" (Gen 12:10). Egypt. The old enemy of Israel. The country that enslaved and mistreated the children of God. The place they just escaped from. The place of Pharaoh and his pagan priests. "Moses, are you telling us that Father Abraham went to wicked Egypt for help?"
As I said, this opening verse produced shock, astonishment, and surprise among the children of Israel. And, as we will find out, it produced the same sort of reaction in Father Abraham.
I Abraham Lives a Lie
A Do you remember why Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees and, later, Haran? Abraham left because God called him to leave:
(Gen 12:1) The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you."
In today's passage Abraham goes to Egypt because there is a famine in Palestine and food in Egypt. In the ancient world, the annual flooding of the Nile in the land of Egypt made it a reliable source of food. The Roman Empire, in fact, prized Egypt as the number-one provider of grain. But long before the days of Caesar, people – like Abraham and Jacob – would travel to the land of Pharaoh for food.
So, Abraham went to Egypt. But, there is no command from God this time. Instead, we are simply told "Abram went down to Egypt" (Gen 12:10). The original Hebrew indicates that Abraham is the actor. In other words, this was Abraham's doing, his decision, his act. God did not call Abraham to go down to Egypt. God did not command Abraham to go down to Egypt. Nor did Abraham inquire of the Lord. Abraham did not pray to God about this. Abraham did not ask the Lord for direction. Abraham did not ask God to show him what to do by opening and closing doors. Abraham simply went to Egypt on his own.
A couple of months ago someone wrote me about a possible move to Visalia. He asked for information about the Visalia community; he especially wanted to know about the church and the Christian school. He let me know his move to our area depended on the church and school. It used to be in our circles that no one would move to an area unless there was a reformed church or a reformed Christian school. But, now, many people move without giving even a thought to this; their most important considerations, instead, are the job, the money, and the house.
Abraham went to Egypt without considering any of the religious or spiritual questions involved. He went to Egypt without first praying about this and asking the Lord for guidance.
Whether you are young or old, don't be like Abraham. Don't consider a move without first asking God to reveal His will. Don't consider a college without first asking God for direction. Don't be the kind of Christian who moves somewhere or starts something purely for secular or temporal reasons.
B Do you know what Abraham was doing? Abraham was living a lie. We like to talk about Abraham as one of the great heroes of faith (Heb 11). We like to talk about Abraham as the father of all believers (Rom 4:18; Lk 3:8). How disappointing to realize Abraham is a sinner just like you and me. How disappointing that Abraham did not measure up.
Everyone knows liars, but some liars are worse than others. For me, the worst liars are those who lie to themselves; and the saddest liars are those who've been doing it for so long that they don't even know anymore that they are lying. As a pastor, trying to work with these sorts of people can be so maddening; if someone can't or won't look at reality, it is almost impossible to deal with them.
Abraham was living a lie and did not even know it. He was called by God, he was chosen by God, but he decided to go to Egypt as if there was no God. Abraham took matters into his own hand. Abraham took everything into account but God and the spiritual well-being of himself and his family. Abraham decided, on his own, of his own free will, to go to Egypt. Abraham decided it is better to eat than to obey the Word of God. Abraham decided that self-preservation is more important than the will of God.
II Abraham Says a Lie
A As Abraham was about to enter Egypt, he speaks to his wife about her beauty and the danger that beauty poses:
(Gen 12:11-13) "I know what a beautiful woman you are. (12) When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. (13) Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."Do you hear what Abraham asked Sarah to do? He asked Sarah to lie about their relationship. So, Abraham not only lives a lie but now he also says a lie.
We know from further on in Scripture that technically Sarah was Abraham's sister (Gen 20:12) but, more importantly, she was also his wife. According to Scripture, to say a half truth or only part of the truth is to say a lie.
These are the first words we hear from Abraham's mouth. And, they are heard in the context of sin. Does this sound familiar? The first time we hear from Eve is when she was being tempted by the devilish serpent. The first time we hear from Adam is after he fell into sin. And, the first and only time we hear from Noah is after he got drunk.
Do you see how honest the Bible is about its heroes? No attempt at cover up. No hiding of sins. No attempt to make someone look better than they really are. This is one of the things that makes the Bible unique as compared to the holy books of all other religions. Unlike all other faith and religions, we believe that God – and only God – is holy, perfect, and altogether righteous.
B Abraham is correct about two things. One is that he is married to an extremely attractive woman, despite the fact that she is at least sixty-five years old. Unlike Nancy Pelosi or Cher, Sarah did not need a tummy-tuck, face-lift, breast-augmentation, or a personal trainer to look beautiful.
How beautiful was Sarah? Beautiful enough that Pharaoh's officials sang her praises. How beautiful was Sarah? So beautiful that Pharaoh took her into his palace, sight unseen, on the recommendation of his servants.
Second, Abraham is correct in thinking he and Sarah will be vulnerable and in danger in Egypt. The law of hospitality, so central to biblical thought, was absent in most other cultures. The stranger is not an alien who is welcomed and protected; rather, he is someone to be abused and mistreated.
So, Abraham decided to lie, to say a half-truth.
Now, Abraham had a choice. Abraham could have chosen to trust in God to protect him. Instead, Abraham again took matters into his own hand: "Say you are my sister" (Gen 12:13).
Abraham could also have chosen to protect his marriage and Sarah's chastity. Instead, Abraham chose his own safety over Sarah's safety. And, Abraham chose a lie over the sanctity of his marriage.
One of the things we learn from Scripture here is that it is God Who determines what wife and husband means. Just because it is convenient or serves one's purposes, a wife is not a sister or a concubine. A wife is not a person of the same sex. A wife is not a prostitute. A wife is not someone you can take or leave at a moment's whim. The marriage relationship is too holy and sacred to play around with.
Not only did Abraham throw his wife and his marriage under the bus, think of what he was doing to God's eternal plan for our salvation if God did not stop him. God had announced in the Garden already that a seed of the woman would destroy the works of Satan (Gen 3:15). God made clear that this blessing would come through a child born to Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12:3). How can this plan be fulfilled if Sarah is with Pharaoh instead of Abraham? How can this blessing come to pass if beautiful Sarah becomes Pharaoh's plaything? So, there is far more at stake here than Abraham's life and marriage.
III Abraham Profits from a Lie
A Our Scripture reading also shows us that Abraham profits from a lie. What does Pharaoh do after he takes Sarah into his palace?
(Gen 12:16) He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.Pharaoh lavished presents upon Abraham: flocks and herds and servants in abundance.
Abraham's compromise seemed to be working out very well. Sarah was still safe. As for Abraham, not only was he alive but he was prospering, thank you.
Abraham is not the first person to profit from a bad situation. We know that during World War II Swiss banks profited from Nazi persecution of the Jews. We know that Bernie Madoff profited from the lies of his Ponzi Scheme. We know that corrupt officials in Mexico profit from the drug wars. We know that Wall Street brokers and bankers took advantage of the housing bubble.
B If you are a worldly person, you would say Abraham was coming out ahead. However, there was a big problem on the horizon: what would happen when Pharaoh actually decided to take Sarah as his wife or sleep with her as his concubine? Would Abraham and Sarah continue the deception? Or, would they confess to Pharaoh that they had lied about their relationship? No doubt both of them had many sleepless nights. No doubt both of them spent many hours in prayer. As far as we know, Abraham and Sarah loved each other. So, we can well imagine the panic and pain in their hearts. I am sure they both wished they had never left Canaan, famine or no famine. I am sure they both wished they had never come to Egypt, food or no food.
Abraham and Sarah were caught up in their lie and were helpless to do anything. Suddenly, the lavish presents didn't look so good. Suddenly, the flocks and herds and servants in abundance became a mixed blessing. This makes me think of the words of Jesus:
(Mt 16:26) What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? Abraham gained the world but what he lost or what he was going to lose was so much more.
C Abraham and Sarah must have felt caught and helpless. However, this does not mean God was helpless. So, notice what God does:
(Gen 12:17) But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai.We aren't told the nature of the diseases. But they were obvious, they were painful, and they were serious. Pharaoh quickly realized this was God's punishment.
We don't know whether God actually spoke to Pharaoh or whether Pharaoh found out by talking to Lot or to one of Abraham's servants, but somehow Pharaoh figured out that the diseases were God's punishment because of Sarah; and, somehow Pharaoh realized that Sarah was a married woman.
IV Abraham Admonished for a Lie
A What happens next is embarrassing, if you are a Christian: A heathen king, an unbeliever, admonishes a child of God for his lies and his shameful behavior. A heathen king shows himself to be more righteous in his behavior than Abraham.
(Gen 12:18-19) So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? (19) Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!"Pharaoh wanted nothing more to do with Abraham, Sarah, or their God.
(Gen 12:20) Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
Abraham was a child of God, a servant of the King. He was called to represent God, to be God's ambassador, before the heathen. It was Abraham's job to be a light to the nations. So, we need to ask, did Abraham's trip to Egypt serve righteousness? Did his lie serve righteousness? Did the profit he made serve righteousness? You know the answer. The answer is NO. Abraham did an injustice to his wife, to Pharaoh, and to God.
I suspect the trip back to Canaan was done in embarrassed silence. Outwardly, of course, everything had gone well. Abraham and Sarah escaped the famine in Canaan. Both escaped any harm in Egypt. Their marriage was still intact and their marriage vows remained unbroken. And, they came out of Egypt with increased goods. If they had been worldly people, they would have been satisfied with how things ended up. But they were not. They were children of God. They had suffered a deep rebuke. At one time their lives were a testimony to others about the power and faithfulness of God as they followed His call and enjoyed His protection. But now, now their testimony was lost. They no longer had a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim 3:7).
However, God's plan for our salvation was intact and secure. Notice what God does: He used a plague to restore Sarah to her destiny (Gen 3:17); and, He used deportation to get Abraham back to the Promised Land (Gen 3:20).
B We, of course, have the same calling as Abraham. Do you remember our opening song this morning? We sang, "Send the Light." There are souls to rescue; there are souls to save. So we are to let the gospel light shine from shore to shore.
Let me tell you, my brothers and sisters, if you don't have a good reputation with outsiders, your witness – like Abraham's – has been compromised. Not only do you do damage to your name but you also do damage to the name of God.
"Send the Light! Send the Light!" We can't sing that, we can't say that, and we can't pray that unless we are willing to live out our faith.
Abraham stopped looking at God and His promises and he made big compromises with the world. Abraham faced hunger, fear, and riches, and he lost the vision of God and His Kingdom.
What happened with Abraham happened to the children of Israel. In fact, it happened to them over and over again. They faced hunger and drought in the wilderness and they abandoned faith and hope in God. They joined themselves with heathen women and compromised their faith.
What happened with Abraham and Israel can happen with anyone of us. If you lose sight of Jesus and His cross and His grave and God's promises, you will be more than willing to make compromises with the world. If you take your eye off the prize you will not finish the race. If you look at the world and the worries of life instead of God and Christ, then you too will lose your way in a sinful and godless world.
I would like to ask the congregation to open the grey Psalter Hymnal to 446. Let us say together the words of stanza 1 and then let us sing all three stanzas:
If you but trust in God to guide you
and place your confidence in Him,
you'll find Him always there beside you
to give you hope and strength within;
for those who trust God's changeless love
build on the rock that will not move.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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