As always, thank you for joining me as we continue our study through the book of Genesis. In the last episode, we began a discussion of God’s call of Abraham. I mentioned how this would not have been an easy thing for Abraham to do, to just pick-up and leave his home and his land and everything he knew, and follow God’s calling. Sure, it sounds like a no-brainer for us looking back at the story, but Abraham didn’t have the benefit of our hindsight. He had to make a conscious decision to trust God, to place his faith in God, that God would deliver on His promises
I also mentioned in the last episode that I will refer to them as Abraham and Sarah for the sake of convenience, even though God has not yet changed their names
And so we will pick-up here in chapter 12, verse 4
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
And so we see that, of course, Abraham decides to trust what God has promised him, and he sets out from Haran towards Canaan.
First off, notice how old Abraham is when he leaves his home…75! That is 10 years past our modern retirement age! Even though Abraham lives to be 175, and I have already mentioned the rapidly declining lifespans we are now seeing in Genesis, it is important to understand that he is no spring chicken. He is no longer in the prime of his life. It seems that as we age, we are less open to major changes in our lives, we have become much more set in our ways. And so, the decision of Abraham to pick-up and leave at an advanced age is even more admirable.
Now Abraham takes his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and all their people and posessions, and begins the journey to Canaan.
As just so you are aware of what we are talking about when we say Canaan, Canaan is the area we know as modern day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and small portions of Syria and Jordan.
So the trip from Haran to Canaan would have been around 500 miles. So if Abraham would have travled at a normal caravan pace of about 20 miles per day, it would have taken him about a month to make the trip.
6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh…Shechem has been identified with Tell Balatah, which is about 35 miles north of Jerusalem.
Now it says that “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The Canaanites were the people who inhabited the land prior to the Israelites. So what we see right off the bat is there are two obstacles in the way of God’s promise to Abraham: First, Sarah is unable to have children. Second, the Canaanites are already in the land God has promised to Abraham
Now we will discuss each of these in more detail when we get to that point, so I am not going to do that right now. But I will mention that, regarding the Canaanites, removing them from the land has been a favorite subject for atheists and other critics and non-believers. They try and paint the story as the mean old God of the Old Testament committing genocide against a sweet group of peaceful, loving, righteous people living in the land. And when we get there, you are going to see that nothing could be further from the truth. God isn’t mean, and they are sweet. It is just another example of people parroting some supposed examples they have heard, but they haven’t done their research, and they think that gives them an excuse or some justification for rejecting God.
7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Notice in V7 that the Lord “appeared” to Abraham. It doesn’t say that the Lord “said” to Abraham. It says that the Lord “appeared” to Abraham. There is a difference. God is now providing Abraham with a special sort of confirmation of His presence, perhaps as a way to solidify Abraham’s faith, or to reward him somehow for the steps of faith he has already taken.
“God appeared to Abraham” may be a theophany. A theophany is a visible manifestation or appearance of God. There are a few examples of theophanies in the Old Testament, such as the burning bush, when Moses talks to God on Mt Sinai, God appearing in a pillar of fire, or, what many commentators note, when scripture uses the phrase “the angel of the Lord”.
Some commentators believe that some instances that mention “the angel of the Lord” is a christophany, or a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. There are good arguments to believe this too.
In what I believe is one of the most interesting theophanies in the Old Testament, very soon, the Lord visits Abraham prior to destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and with whom Abraham has a very interesting conversation. We will discuss that conversation when we get to it in chapter 18.
God again tells Abraham that he will give the land to his offspring, and yet again, Abraham must be wondering how that is going to happen since Sarah cannot have children. But what Abraham doesn’t understand is that this offspring will not be a natural offspring, but a supernatural one. I wonder if Mary had the same sort of confusion? But just like Abraham, she didn’t understand that it was not going to be a natural offspring, but a supernatural one.
Paul tells us about Abraham’s faith in God in Rom 8:18-21 “ 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Paul goes on in the remaining verses of that chapter to further explain that Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. And he explains something very important here. He tells us that that wasn’t included in scripture just to honor Abraham and for his sake, but was written down also for our sake, so that we might understand that it will also be counted as righteousness for those of us who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses, and raised for our justification. So again, just like with Abraham’s faith, it will be counted as righteousness for those who believe God raised Jesus from the dead.
So what is the first thing Abraham does when he settles in an area east of Bethel?? He builds an altar, and calls on the name of the Lord. When Abraham left his home, he also abandoned the old ways of worship. Although it would have been much easier and more convenient, he does not use a Canaanite altar. He builds a new one. And thus begins Abraham’s worship of God.
Beginning in verse 10, we leave behind the setting up of Abraham’s call from God, and join him in his journey. This is where the narrative and action that most people are familiar with begins
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”
So, for a reason we are not told, there was a famine in the land. It may have been from locusts, war, drought, etc., but the important thing is that due to the famine, Abraham went to Egypt. It tells us that the famine was severe, which suggests that Abraham wasn’t just reacting to the first difficulty he encountered. And Egypt would have made sense as a place to go during a drought, as it has a dependable water source with the Nile river.
Interestingly, archaeologists and geologist have both found evidence for a massive drought that occurred during the time period in which Abraham is dated
So when they are about to enter Egypt, Abraham tells Sarah to say she is his sister. He believes when they get to Egypt that the Egyptians will see Sarah, see that she is beautiful, and kill Abraham in order to take Sarah for themselves. So Abraham tells Sarah, tell them “you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”
Now this brings up a few interesting questions. First, why would Abraham believe they would kill him if God has already promised him he would have many descendents? Did he not trust God? Did he have doubts?
Well, I think if Abraham had doubts, it wouldn’t make him any different than you or I at times. We all wonder at times, have some doubts, ask questions, and have gaps in our understanding. That doesn’t make us unbelievers. Furthermore, how many times do we try and take control of our lives, try and force things to happen, rather than exercising a little more patience and trust that God’s timing is perfect?
Some have criticized Abraham for telling Sarah to lie. They say Abraham spoke out of the fear of humans, which is incompatible with faith in God. But, think about it for a moment. Once he has decided to go to Egypt, it really becomes a matter of pragmatics at that point. He is doing what he thinks he needs to do in order to survive. What were his choices? If he told the Egyptians the truth, the reality is that he had every reason to believe exactly what he believed, that they would kill him and take Sarah. Would that have been better? And would Sarah have been better off with Abraham dead?
Some people argue that Abraham should have spoken truthfully. And so they are looking at it from a moral point of view. But which was more moral, for the German citizen hiding Jews in their house in Nazi Germany to lie to the SS when they knocked on the door looking for Jews, or to say “Oh yes, I am hiding 8 Jews in the basement. Come on in”. You see, I think there is a big difference in a life filled with lies and a one-time, life-saving lie.
In fact, in the book of Samuel, God actually instructs the prophet Samuel to lie. After Saul disobeyed a divine order, God instructed Samuel to go and anoint David as King. But Samuel is afraid to do so because he is afraid of Saul, and rightfully so. Samuel tells God, How can I go? “If Saul hears of it, he will kill me”. But rather than assuring Samuel that He would protect him, God instructs Samuel to lie, to say he was going to sacrifice to God. The bottom line is that we don’t owe would-be murderers the truth. And if a situation comes down to telling a lie in order to save a life, you tell the lie, and go with the higher morality of saving the life
It is also important to remember here that Abraham’s lie was actually only a partial lie…Sarah was his half-sister! So if you are trying to get all technical here, then…
14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
So what happens is exactly what Abraham thought would happen. Or perhaps it is a little more than Abraham bargained for. The Egyptians see that Sarah is beautiful, praise her to Pharaoh, and she is brought into Pharaoh’s house. And because of Sarah, Abraham is treated well. And so now, the question becomes. “How is Abraham going to get out of this situation”? What chance does he have to convince Pharaoh to give him back his “sister’? He has no chance. It will require divine intervention. And that is exactly what we see beginning in V17.
17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.
So God afflicts Pharaoh, and his house, with plagues. Interesting that we will see another Pharoah in Egypt, who will be afflicted with multiple plagues. That of course, will be Moses and his dealing with Pharaoh in Egypt. But in both cases, it is God who acts on their behalf.
It is interesting that the scripture is silent on what the plagues were exactly. But whatever they were, they got Pharaoh’s attention. So much so that he realizes Sarah is the reason for their suffering. So much so that he doesn’t just have Sarah executed, he brings her back to Abraham. He also doesn’t have Abraham executed.
It really is remarkable. Pharaoh asks Abraham “What is this you have done to me”? Think about that. Pharaoh is admonishing Abraham, he knows that Abraham has done something to him, and yet, as Pharaoh, he does not seek to kill both Abraham and Sarah. I wonder how many other people throughout history have committed any sort of negative act against any Pharaoh and lived? How many people in all of history have been caught lying to a Pharaoh and lived? Pharaohs were considered Gods among the Egyptians. My guess is probably none. And yet here we see Pharaoh, so impacted and afflicted, that he brings Sarah back to Abraham. And all he does is admonish him and question him, “What is this you have done to me”?
I think another thing to point out here is what scripture records as Abraham’s response…nothing. Scripture does not record Abraham saying anything in response. Perhaps he did and scripture simply does not elaborate. But I think the absence of a response is sort of a demonstration that Pharaoh was justified in his anger towards Abraham. And perhaps Abraham’s silence, at least in scripture, expresses his guilt.
And finally, we see Pharaoh giving his men orders to send Abraham and Sarah away, and ironically, leaving with more than they came in with.
You know, one of the things I think about in this episode, one of the most overarching lessons for me, is that God has a plan. God is creating a covenant people who will share God with the world. And that is extremely important because people cannot enter into a relationship with a God they don’t know!
And so nobody will prevent his plan from coming to fruition! Not a world monarch, such as Pharaoh, not ourselves when we make poor decisions. And that same principle still applies today. God still has a plan, and nobody is going to thwart that plan. Not the President, not the United Nations, not the media/social media, not Hollywood or Bill Gates or the universities, not any wolves- in- sheeps- clothing preachers, nobody!
As believers, we should have confidence that God has a plan, be grateful that he is a God that keeps His word, and thankful that His plan is ultimately good.
There is an awful lot to look at out into the world today and be concerned about, worried about, to be afraid of. But the truth is, that is no way for a true believer in God to live their life.
Are things going to be difficult at times? Absolutely! 2 Tim 1:7 tells us “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
So through those difficult times, we should keep our faith in God, that He is ultimately in control, he knows better than we do because he can see the end from the beginning, and that He loves you more than you can imagine.
Thank you for listening, and I hope you will join me in the next episode. Until then, God bless!