************ Sermon on Genesis 12:10-13:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 24, 1998
"A Marriage Endangered and Preserved"
Abram, or Abraham, as he was later known, was one of the greatest of all saints. He is held before us as an example of faith:
(Gal 3:6) Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Cf Rom 4:3-6, 9-10, 21-22; James 2:23)
That's not all. Scripture also tells us that Abram had a very special relationship with God.
(James 2:23) ... [Abram] was called God's friend. (cf 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8)Abram was a man that God Himself spoke to. Abram was a man God Himself visited with and appeared to. What a privileged position being God's friend.
We read, too, that God promised Abram protection and safety and His personal presence:
(Gen 15:1) "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
The Lord also promised Abram a long life and a peaceful death:
(Gen 15:15) You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age.
The Lord God also made a series of astonishing promises to Abram about a nation, a name, and a blessing:
(Gen 12:2-3) "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
What can we say about Abram? He was a real man of God. He was a man of faith who believed God. He was a man who was God's friend.
Yet, in today's Scripture reading we see that this great man of God fell. He resorted to lies and half-truths instead of having faith and trust in God. How disappointing. It is even more disappointing when you consider that Genesis 20 records a similar incident in Abram's life. And another similar event in the life of Isaac is found in Genesis 26.
But then we need to remember something. The main actor in the story in front of us is not Sarai, a beautiful woman; it is not Pharaoh, a lustful king; it is not Abram, a lying or a scheming husband. The main actor in the story in front of us is almighty God. When we keep our eyes focused on Him rather than man we will never be disappointed. We will never be disappointed because God never disappoints us.
We are being reminded too that even the greatest of saints are but human and fallen. Because of this, we know that our faith and our trust are misplaced if they are ever put in a mere human. You see, there is only One the God of heaven and earth Who is ever worthy of our faith and our trust.
A couple of weeks ago we looked at God's call of Abram. In calling Abram it was God's intent to form from him a separate nation out of which the Messiah would eventually be born. In bringing about the Messiah's nation God did not allow anything or anyone to stand in His way to keep Him from accomplishing His redemptive purposes. In fact, to bring about the Messiah's nation God overcame a barren womb and cultural ties to home and family and country. This time we see that God overrules human sin and weakness to accomplish His redemptive plan.
I Abram's Marriage Endangered
A Abram's trouble began with a famine which means hunger. Abram had a choice of watching his large clan slowly starve to death or of going to Egypt. Famines were very common in Palestine. That country depended on seasonal rainfall for the growing of crops which obviously did not come. Maybe they had El Nîno back then already. Egypt, on the other hand, did not depend on seasonal rainfall for its crops; instead, its fertility came from the yearly flooding of the Nile. On account of this, Egypt often served as the breadbasket of the entire region. So "Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe." There is no suggestion in Scripture that Abram was being wrong or disobedient in going to Egypt. God always wants us to use common sense and our wits and Abram was certainly doing that in bringing his clan to where the food was.
B But once Abram approached Egypt his anxiety over starvation was replaced with a different kind of anxiety: the possibility of losing his life to Pharaoh for the sake of his beautiful wife, Sarai.
I should mention that Abram's fear was not unfounded. The British Museum has, among it many relics from the ancient world, a papyrus dating from around the time of Abram. This papyrus relates how the Egyptian Pharaoh sent his armed men to take a certain man's wife and to kill her husband.
So Abram came up with a plan. A plan of deceit and half-truths and deception. As Abram was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai:
(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."We know from Genesis 20:3 that Abram came up with this plan way back in Haran already even before God had ever called him. For over 40 years, then, Abram had to fight off the glances and lusts and covetous desires and advances of other men. Sarai must have been an absolutely stunning and ravishing beauty the sort of woman most men could only dream about.
Sure enough, when they got into Egypt, Pharaoh heard about the stunning beauty of Sarai and took her. Scripture simply says, "... and she was taken into his palace" (vs15). However, Abram was treated well for her sake: from Pharaoh he acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels (vs 16).
What do you think were Sarai's feelings and thoughts in all of this? Was she a willing partner in this deception? Is it possible that Sarai was part of the problem? Did she maybe flaunt her great beauty? Did she love the adoring glances of men? We aren't told a word about any of this.
C What comes through clearly in this story, though, is the sin and misery of humankind. On the one hand is the lust of a Pharaoh who has to have for himself every single beautiful woman in his realm. With this Pharaoh always on the prowl, husbands had to keep their wives out of sight and fathers had to keep their daughters locked up. What a sick and perverted man! On the other hand are the lies of an Abram who, as a friend of God, showed a dismal lack of faith and trust in God's protecting care. Abram was living by his wits, all right, but it was a case of wits over faith. We find no prayer seeking for God's help on the part of Abram. We find no effort on the part of Abram to seek the Lord's will. He did not "call upon the name of the Lord."
That this is sin is seen by the serious diseases the Lord inflicted on Pharaoh and his household until Pharaoh sent Sarai back to her own home and marriage. Whatever the disease or the plague, it was serious enough to cause Pharaoh to act quickly.
That this is sin is obvious when we see Abram, the man of God, standing guilty and ashamed before a pagan king. This pagan king is "morally" outraged at what Abram has done and rebukes him. Things are in a bad way when a child of God has to be harshly rebuked by a man of the world for his sin. Abram says nothing in his own defense, because he has nothing to say.
That this is sin is obvious when Pharaoh unceremoniously sent Abram and his possessions and his wife out of the country. It was a shameful departure something like the departure of American troops from Viet Nam. At that time, if you remember, the last load of Marines had to leave by helicopter from the roof of the American Embassy while Vietnamese soldiers were breaking down the front door. Or, we can compare it to the departure of Richard Nixon from the White House and the Office of the President of the United States he left in disgrace and shame.
That this is sin is also seen by what Abram immediately does upon leaving Egypt he goes back to the altar at Bethel to "call upon the name of the Lord" (Gen 13:4). Abram does this because he knows he has been straying in his walk with God. Abram does this because he know he needs to confess and repent. Abram does this because he knows he has sinned in God's sight.
II Abram's Marriage Preserved
A As I already mentioned, God sent plagues on Pharaoh's house because of Sarai.
In this life we are rarely allowed to see a connection between a sin and God's response to that sin. For instance, God allows a wicked man like Saddam Hussein to remain in power. And, God does not take the life of a boy who sprays his classmates with bullets. And, everyday rapists and child molesters continue to ruin lives. But we certainly see God's response to sin in this story. God inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household.
Why does God respond so decisively and so quickly in this instance? Because there is more at stake than sin and a man's walk with the Lord. At stake here is God's plan of redemption. It was God's redemption plan to start a new nation through Abram and Sarai. "I will make you into a great nation," promised God, "and I will bless you" (Gen 12:2). And from this nation God would bring forth the Redeemer, the Savior: "All people on earth will be blessed through you," said God (Gen 12:3b).
If this great plan of God were to unfold according to God's purpose, if the promise were to be kept, then Abram's marriage to Sarai can not and must not be violated by a pagan king. From the marriage of Abram and Sarai a promised son was to be born, a new nation was to be raised, and the Redeemer ultimately was to be brought forth.
So God acted decisively and quickly to preserve Abram's marriage and therefore the line of the Redeemer!
What is clear is this: God overrules human sin and weakness to accomplish His redemptive plan.
B But this is not the only time God acts in such a fashion.
Four hundred years later the descendants of Abram are in Egypt. Like Abram, they are there because of a famine. Like Abram, they did not conduct themselves faultlessly while in Egypt. Like Abram, they showed themselves to be sinners.
(Ezek 23:3) They became prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth. In that land their breasts were fondled and their virgin bosoms caressed. (cf Ezek 20:7-8)They prostituted themselves by worshiping the pagan gods of Egypt. The Pharaoh of that time, after being afflicted by the Lord with the ten plagues, sent them away just like Abram was sent away.
Why did God do this? Because it was from this people that the promised Messiah would come. If this great plan of God were to unfold according to God's purpose, if the promise were to be kept, then the people of Israel, like Abram had to kept holy and separate.
What is clear is this: God overrules human sin and weakness to accomplish His redemptive plan.
C Many years later, God's Son was in Egypt. I'm sure you remember the story. An angel warned Joseph about Herod's plan to kill the baby boys of Bethlehem. So Joseph and Mary got up during the night and escaped to Egypt. They stayed there until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled, says Matthew, what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Matt 2:15). Unlike Abram and Israel, though, Jesus conducted Himself faultlessly while in Egypt because in Him there was and is no sin.
What is clear is this: God again overruled human sin and weakness in order to accomplish His redemptive plan.
D You all have heard of Karla Faye Tucker. She participated in two brutal pick-axe murders. After she was found guilty and sentenced to die she found the Lord. And, I believe she died a Christian. God overruled human sin and weakness in order to accomplish His redemptive plan in her life.
God often does this sort of thing. Someone becomes an alcoholic or drug addict and hits bottom, or they come down with a horrible disease like AIDS, or they are paralyzed in an accident, or they commit a crime and end up in prison God uses this sort of thing to drive them to Him. God overrules human sin and weakness in order to accomplish His redemptive plan in the lives of His children.
We cannot help but be disappointed when we look at Abram, the man of God, in Egypt. But we cannot help but be thrilled when we take our eyes off of Abram and put them were they belong on God. For when we look at God we see that once He begins His plan of redemption, nothing can stop it. Once God begins the process of saving you and me by the blood of the cross, nothing can stop it.
What a great and awesome God.
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