Fear and Deception (Gen. 12:10-13:4)
In obedience to God’s costly call, Abraham left his family and homeland to go to a new land that God would show him. Upon arrival, God promised to give this land to Abraham’s offspring. In response, Abraham worshipped God.
Our failures do not thwart God’s faithfulness to his promises.
Abraham demonstrated tremendous faith by leaving what was known and comfortable to follow God into an unknown future. It’s no wonder then that Scripture holds him up as a model for God’s people to imitate (Isa. 51:2; Heb. 11:8-22). But Abraham wasn’t perfect. And on the heels of watching him give up everything and build altars to God in the land of Canaan, we see his faith falter at the sign of trouble.
Verse 10 sets the scene: a severe famine has hit the land of Canaan. Will Abraham trust God to protect him in this hardship? Will he trust that despite what his eyes can see, God will provide food for him and his family in the land he called him to?
Sadly, no. Abraham chooses to temporarily leave Canaan for the greener pastures of Egypt. It sounds like the logical choice, sure. But leaving for Canaan was never logical to begin with, and the God who called Abraham to take that illogical step isn’t mentioned as a factor in his decision here. When obedience to God’s will got tough, Abraham bailed.
Once in Egypt, Abraham again fails to trust God to protect him and his family. Fearful that some Egyptians will kill him and take Sarah, he tells everyone that she’s his sister and leaves off the part about her being his wife. He got more than he bargained for when she got the eye of Pharaoh himself and taken into his palace!
On account of Sarah, Pharaoh deals well with Abraham and makes him a rich man (12:16). But this must have been small consolation to Abraham. He shouldn’t have been in Egypt to begin with. And he shouldn’t have lied about Sarah not being his wife. His decisions made out of fear instead of faith have jeopardized God’s call in 12:1-3. How can he have a child now that Sarah is living in Pharaoh’s palace?
Fortunately, God intervenes and “afflict[s] Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” (v. 17) We’re not told how Pharaoh finds out the truth about Sarah and Abraham’s relationship, but he’s furious when he does, and he deports Abraham from Egypt with all his newly-acquired possessions (13:2). Despite Abraham’s sinful, foolish choices, God entered in to preserve him and Sarah and the promise he made to them.
If this incident in Egypt shows us how Abraham’s faith faltered when tested with famine, it also shows us how he responded to his failure. In this passage, geography serves as a metaphor for his spiritual condition. In disobedience, he went “down” (12:10) to Egypt, only to come “up” (13:1) from there again. And after coming back to the land of promise, we’re told that he went back to “the place where his tent had been at the beginning…to the place where he had made an altar at the first” and “called upon the name of the LORD”, language that indicates his spiritual renewal. After disobeying him, Abraham was eager to worship God again.
- Instead of bringing blessing to Egypt (12:1-3), Abraham’s actions brought suffering (12:17). Think of a time you made a decision out of fear instead of faith. How did that decision negatively affect you and others? How did you see God’s faithfulness to you despite your decision?
- How do you respond to failure? Do you tend to move away from God in guilt and self-pity? Or do you tend to move toward him in repentance and faith? Why?
- Abraham was faced with the choice between difficult circumstances inside God’s will and comfortable circumstances outside it. Where in your life are you faced with this decision? In what areas is obedience to God costly and inconvenient? What comfortable alternatives are you tempted by?
1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”