When Abraham returns to Egypt, he is returning to the place where he had initially rebelled against God. Where is your spiritual Egypt? Will you return to that place of departure and follow God again?
“REWARDING FAITH WITH FAMINE”
(Genesis 12 - 14:4)
Last Sunday morning we began the biography of Abraham, the first pioneer, and discovered in him a man of rare faith, a man who was willing to leave it all behind, everything that represented security and stability. He left his society. He left his family. He was instructed by God to leave everything that had been his for so many years to walk away and go to an unknown land that God had promised to give him. I wonder if we would have obeyed, but Abraham did. In fact, you’ll discover in Genesis Chapter 12 with me as we review the promise that Abraham, in fact, did obey.
Genesis Chapter 12 is where we find ourselves again this morning.
Now the Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall all be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him.
That was a mistake, as we’ll discover later.
Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated,
Perhaps you have moved to Cary in recent days, and you know what it’s like to move everything you have accumulated and wonder how in the world you held all that stuff in the attic. Well, he cleaned it out and he took it with him.
and all the persons which they had acquired in Haran,
(Genesis 12:5 continued)
That is the servants.
and they set out for the land of Canaan;
(Genesis 12:5 continued)
What an adventure.
Thus they came to the land of Canaan.
(Genesis 12:5 continued)
Now for the sake of your notes, if you are following along, he will now build two different altars. They are highly significant, and let me tell you where he builds them. The first is at the oak of Moreh.
Let’s read on in Verse 6.
And Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh (or the tree of Moreh). Now the Canaanite was then in the land.
You need to understand that this is a literal tree. This is the location. Moreh means “teacher,” and in old times during the days of Abraham, there would be the guru, the teacher, who sat at a tree, and this was the tree of Moreh. This was the oak of the teacher. And this idolatrous guru was supposed to be able to hear the voices of the gods as they rustled through the trees or the leaves of the tree. And at this very spot, this idolatrous location, Abraham sets up an altar. What a man of courage! It’s as if he says, “I know that you have your idolatrous practice, but God has promised me the land. And so right here under the leaves of this oak tree, I build an altar to my God.”
The second place he builds an altar is between Bethel and Ai. Look at Verse 7.
And the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”
By the way, this was the first time Abram now understands that it’s Canaan. He builds an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east.
Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there ere he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
Now here again these places are highly symbolic or significant. Ai literally means “pile of rubbish.” It was symbolic of the temporal world. In fact, it would be a terrible place for the Israelites in their history as it would develop. You’ll discover as we go through the Old Testament. Bethel literally means “the house of God.” And this was symbolic of everything that represented the presence, the fellowship of God, including heaven or the kingdom. And right in the middle, right between the pile of rubbish, representing the world, and the coming kingdom, or the place of God, Abram builds an altar. What a tremendous picture or illustration of the New Testament pilgrim, you and me, who have built an altar. We live our lives somewhere between the pile of rubbish, this world that we’re passing through, and the coming kingdom of God. That’s where he built his second altar. And it’s an illustration to us, and I think a warning, of a great danger that comes when we forget this world is not permanent. We become distracted by the scenery, and we dig down deep. We, we put the tent pegs in way too far. We are pilgrims. We are not settlers. And so he pitches his tent an builds an altar.
Now I want you to understand first, before we go any further, the importance of the altar. Let me give you two. Number one. It represents a place of worship. You note here in Verse 7 that a theophany has occurred. A theophany is the appearance of the form of God. No man has ever seen God and lived. So this is what we consider theologically a theophany, that is, the visible glory of God came to Abraham as if he gave him an outline in his figure but he never saw his face. This represented then the place where Abram would worship God.
It also represented a place of fellowship. This is a wonderful day. Abraham has made it through the dessert. He’s arrived in the land. God says this is the land that I’m going to give you. He builds an altar and has fantastic wonderful fellowship with the glory of God. I can hear him singing a hymn, “What A Fellowship.” What a fellowship. What a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms. What a blessedness, what a peace of mind, leaning on the everlasting arms. Can you hear him singing? Oh how to sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms. Oh how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms. I want you to understand that this point in Abram’s life, he is excited. He’s thrilled. Everything is wonderful. And then bang! Next verse. He lives happily ever after. No!
Now there was a famine (or then there was a famine) in the land.
Right in the middle of the third verse, God interrupts his rejoicing with a famine. I wonder how we respond when God interrupts our rejoicing with a period of famine. What do you do? How do you respond when a trial or a test knocks on your door, (Stephen knocks on something) especially when it comes on the heels of close communion and fellowship. It leaves us scratching our heads. We can’t figure it out. I thought, Lord, I’ve arrived. I’m in Canaan. Here’s the altar. Great fellowship. Bang! A trial.
Perhaps you feel like King Hezekiah in I Chronicles (should be II Chronicles) we read these words. King Hezekiah did throughout all Judah; that which was good, right, and true before the Lord his God, seeking his God with all his heart. Note this. After these acts of faithfulness the king of Assyria invaded Judah. (Laughs) This is the time when you think it’s not worth it. After all the acts of faithfulness, guess what God does? Brings an enemy king to invade the land.
(Reference to Hezekiah mentioned is from II Chronicles 31:20-21; 32:1)
I think of Jesus Christ himself in Luke Chapter 3 who went under the waters of baptism, and when he came back out, His Father’s voice was heard from heaving saying, “Look, this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Luke Chapter 3. Luke Chapter 4, he’s led by the spirit in the wilderness to be tested by Satan.
(Reference above is from Luke 3:22; Luke 4:1,2)
I want to give you something to jot down, and I want you to remember it. This is something that most Christians never grab onto, and as a result check out when famine comes into their lives. It is this. Initial obedience is the starting point on the road to spiritual maturity. It’s the starting point. We have the idea that that it’s the final destination. Lord, I surrender to you. I want to be like Christ. Well, great, takes care of my sanctification. I’m here, arrived. And all of a sudden God brings a trial into your life, and you say, “Hey, wait a second Lord. What are you doing?” And God says, “I’m answering your prayer. I’m going to make you like Christ.” “But wait a second. I said I wanted to be like Christ. I said I want to surrender.” God in effect responds, “I don’t necessarily care that you say that. I want you to experience it. I want it to be a reality in your life.” And so testing comes to do just that.
What lay ahead for Abram in terms of spiritual growth? Well, in the next ten verses we’ll find out. But before we get into that and before we’re too hard on Abraham for checking out and heading for Egypt, I want you to notice the question that he is probably asking. It is this. You and I’ve asked the same thing, “God, where are your promises? Where are they?” Abraham had three. God said I will give you the land. Abraham gets there, and he looks around, and he sees the Canaanites with their chariots of iron, with their armies led by blood thirsty pagans. This is wonderful, Lord. The promise of the seed you will have a myriad of descendants; he still is without child. The promise of blessing, I will bless you. Here comes a famine. So Abraham asks the question, “Where are the promises?” He probably scratches his head and he says, “Well, isn’t there a verse in the Bible now that says God helps them that helps himself? (Laughter) Where can I find bread? Egypt was known as the granary of the ancient world, so he heads for Egypt. He retreats in cowardly fear.
Read Verses 10 and 11 with me.
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. And it came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife. (And we’ll get into those words in just a moment.) But I want you to understand that Abraham is heading to the place that throughout the Old Testament represents rebellion to God and bondage to the world. You see, help was not in Egypt; help was at the altar. He’d just built it. I think the angels in heaven were probably saying, “Abram, stay there. We’ve got a recipe for manna. We’d like to use it.” They probably said, “Shucks, now we got to wait till Moses comes along.” They know that there are rocks there that are ready for gushing, if you will only go to God. But he cannot see the promises, so he begins leaning on his own understanding, his own reason, and he heads for Egypt.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’d walked right up to Abraham right in between these two verses, and you said, “Listen, Abraham, I want you to understand that in about three months, you’re going to be alone in Egypt sitting in a tent. Your wife has just been added to the heirum of the Pharaoh, and you are increasing in herds.” He would have said, “You’re reading the wrong tea leaves or something. Not me!” Ah, but we’ll discover that’s exactly what happened.
One verse before we go further. The prophet Isaiah writes these words. Do you see yourself in these words? Note very carefully.
Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord, who take counsel but not from me, who devised plans but not of my spirit that they may add sin upon sin who walk to go down to Egypt and have not asked my advice to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh and to trust in the shadow of Egypt. Therefore the strength of Pharaoh shall be your shame and trust in the shadow of Egypt shall be your humiliation.
(Reference above is from Isaiah 30:1-3; check version; not NASB)
And I think we could add a postscript to these words. And when you go down to Egypt, when you trust in the world system, when you do not ask my counsel nor my advice, don’t blame me when you get in a mess.
Not long ago my family and I took a trip to Atlanta, and as we normally do, we travel through the night because our kids are controllable at that time being asleep. We were all packed in, and I knew the tires on the car were getting bald. I knew it. They were smooth. I had no business making an eight hour trip. In fact, before we left, I even checked to see if the spare was in the trunk. Foolish. But we left. I didn’t tell Marsha, of course, about this, but I figured, well, you know, God is sovereign. We’ll get there. Well, two o’clock in the morning, you guessed it. A flat tire on the side of Interstate 85, 2:00 a.m. Why don’t these things ever happen in your driveway or just as you pull into the gas station, you know full service, they’ve got a sale for tires. This happens at two o’clock in the morning. So I pull over, and you know how those semi’s are whipping by, and I try to convince Marsha to go out and change the tire (laughter) and she wouldn’t do it. So I finally get out. Now wouldn’t it have been foolish for me to get out there and kind of kicked the car and looked up at the stars of heaven and say, “God why did you do this to me? Why have you gotten me into this mess?” That would be foolish! Absolutely!
See, the last thing Abram could say when he got down to Egypt and all of this stuff started to happen that we’re going to look at, he can’t look up and say, “Lord, why in the world did you do this to me? “ It’s a result of his rebellion. And many times we rebel against God. We get away from God. We don’t ask advice or counsel, and we get boxed into a corner and guess who we give the credit to? God! So I go to the back of the car and I pull out this spare. And you know this spare is a bicycle tire, and ugh, they say you can go a hundred miles on those things. You can’t! You can’t! Those treads evaporated, and I would stop every 25 miles. By now the kids are up uncontrollable (laughter), and ugh, we’re driving along. So finally we pull into this (?) motel, and the next morning we get up, and I go to the gas station, and he happens to have a six dollar spare that fits the hub. It was worth every penny of it, six dollars, not a penny more, because when I got up to about 45 miles an hour, the car starts to just shake. And we shook into Atlanta, all the way in there. My fault.
Abraham is boxing himself in. I want you to notice what happens in Verse 11.
He comes to Egypt and he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please. I like the word in there. He’s on his knees. He’s begging. Please Sarai, say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”
Now this wasn’t really a lie, because Genesis Chapter 20 will tell us that she is his half sister. They had the same father back before God gave the penalties for marriage within the family. So she is his half sister. So he’s clever. He says, “ I’m not really lying. I’m just telling a half truth. Tell them you’re my sister, and everything will be okay. We’ll stay here. We’ll get all the food we need. We’ll survive. We’ll slip back into Canaan. Everything will be all right.” So she does.
Now we know that a common practice in this day was if the Pharaoh wanted a woman, he respected marriage enough to kill the husband enough to get her. (laughter) That was as far as his respect went. As a matter of fact, this is exactly the practice that David did. Remember. He saw Bathsheba. He wanted her. So he took care of the husband. He adopted the practice of a pagan Pharaoh. By the way, I think that’s probably the reason why the people never said anything. They were pagans too. So they said, “Our king is acting just like the Pharaohs of Egypt. He took care of the husband.” Fine. This is the way it is, until Nathan confronted him. But this was the practice, and this is exactly what would have happened.
Well, let’s read on. Verses ugh, let’s read Verse 15. Well, Verse 14.
And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.
She was sixty-five years old. Probably with the length of life they lived, she would be somewhere around thirty-five years of years in respect to how long we seem to live on planet earth. So she was really reaching the blossom of her womanhood. And he knew that as soon they laid eyes on her. He was no dummy. She was beautiful. And he knew that they would knock him off.
So the Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh.
Now note this. This is a shock to Abraham.
And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
Ugh, oh. He didn’t anticipate this. He didn’t think that it’d go this far. Now the custom was for there to be twelve months of preparation when a woman was being added to the heirum. Until that time, she was simply taken care of, and Pharaoh didn’t touch her. But after months, she would be added to that heirum officially. Now I don’t know how much further we went down the pike, but I just imagined Abraham sitting ugh, you know, in his tent alone realizing that now he’s really gone way too far.
I read a story by Gary Richmond that intrigued me. He used to work for the Los Angeles Zoo. In fact, I think I included one of his stories in our Communiqué one month. He talked about the day when the curators of the reptile section of the zoo needed to perform surgery on a king cobra. And so they solicited his help. He was on staff. And they said, “Look, Gary, you come with about four of us. We’re going to go into the cage of this king cobra.” And I think the king cobra was about ten feet long. You know it has the cape that spreads as they stand almost as it were erect. So he comes along and they say, “Now what you’ll do is you’ll help the surgeon. You’ll grab the head. And ugh three of the other men will grab the body. Once you’ve got it, somebody else will take over, and then you help me with the surgery.” So they walked into this reptile cage. And it’s huge. And soon enough here comes this king cobra around the corner, and it’s as if he recognizes, he saw and he immediately as it were stood (?), he spread his cape and story says that he looked back and forth at each of the five men as if he were selecting his prey. (Laughter) Gary Richmon is standing there, his knees knocking, and sure enough, the snake darted at one of the men, and he was expert and left out of the path of the snake and then grabbed a hold of the body and soon all five men had a hold on the snake. So Gary is helping the surgeon, and the surgeon says, “Look, you take some towels, and I want you to wod them up, and I want you to stick them in the snake’s mouth.” And he says the snake is growling and hissing and its long fangs. And they have defanged this thing. In fact, it has the venom sacks, venom strong enough to kill an elephant. And so Gary Richmon wods up the paper towels and sticks it in snake’s mouth, and the snake chomps down on those things and begins to grind. And he says that venom dripped from those towels. And the surgeon said that the reason we do this is because the difficulty is not really catching the snake. The tough part is letting it go (laughter) and getting out without getting bit. So we milk this thing as we were. We take the venom, we drain the venom so that if he per chance gets a hold of one of us, we won’t die. He has no venom.
And then he went on to illustrate this story in a way that I found here. Here is Abraham in an effect, easily grabbing on this snake. Hey, a little lie. A little half truth. We’ll have it made. Now he is embracing in his tent a serpent that is venomous. He’s probably looking over his shoulder constantly wondering if his lie has been discovered and they are coming to take his head. Just outside another deposit of cattle has arrived with a note from the Pharaoh, “Thank you Abraham for coming to Egypt. Oh, that sister of yours. She’s mine in three months.”
And it all started with a little lie. My friends, dishonestly is an epidemic in the church. I understand in 1811 they started in Washington, D.C. a conscience fund. When a man sent in five dollars, he had stolen from his taxes. They have it today. In fact, they’ve received nearly four million dollars.
Well, there’s hope because of the first phrase of Verse 17. Would you circle the words, “But the Lord.” Oh man. If it had not been for the Lord’s intervention, no hope. What’s Abraham going to do? Go up to the Pharaoh and say, “Pharaoh, I lied. I’d like my wife back.” No way. So the Lord intervenes and struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 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.”
Now I don’t want you to get the idea now oh great, no problems. Everything’s taken care of. God intervenes. Abraham’s off the hook. No. I want to give you, for the sake of your notes, a couple of consequences. I didn’t make room for them, but let me give you them now. Several consequences from Abram’s sin. First of all, lost blessing. If he had stayed at the altar at Bethel, if he had called to God because his needs weren’t being met, God would have responded miraculously or in some way to provide for him like He did Moses, the children of Israel, Elijah, and all the others. But as a result, he lost the blessing of seeing God work, seeing God provide for his need, because he rested on his reason. So often you and I forfeit the blessing of God because, instead of waiting on Him to provide, we figure it all out. Secondly, an increase in possessions. When he left Egypt, Verse 2 of Chapter 13, he was a very rich. How is this a consequence? Because these riches would now cause the dispute among the herdsmen of Abram and the herdsmen of Lot where they would finally have a family split. Don’t ever think it’s inevitable that when you and I grow rich, it’s the blessing of God. In Canaan in the will of God, Abram was living hand to mouth. In Egypt out of the will of God, he was getting rich. I don’t mean to imply that when you stay in Canaan, that poverty is the hand of God, nor that riches are the hand of Satan. But in this case, this was in fact true. Thirdly, when Sarai left Egypt, she brought along with her a little maid servant to help named Hagar. Huh! And this little maid would bear a son, because Abraham would once again listen to his reason. That son would grow up to be even to this day the arch enemy of the Israelite, the Arabian nation. Fourth, Lot evidently developed a taste for Egypt that persisted. He took Lot back out of Egypt, but he couldn’t get Egypt out of Lot. And how tragic it is when a more mature believer who ought to know better leads a younger believe astray.
I want you to notice the fifth thing in Verse 18. You may not have caught it. Let’s read it together and that’s a lost testimony. Would you not again.
Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
He is confronted by a man who at this particular point in his life is more godly than Abraham is, and he’s a pagan Pharaoh. And Pharaoh is straightening out his ethics. He’s clearing up his morals. How difficult it must be to be confronted by a pagan who knows even better than you. Perhaps you have received rebuke lately. Maybe it’s a son who says, “Dad, you sure are gone a lot lately.” Or from a friend who confides in you and says, “Are you doing okay? You really, really seem impatient lately.” Or a spouse who says, “Is everything right between you and the Lord? I don’t see the fruit.”
But Abraham was confronted by a pagan king who Abram should have won.
Well, is there hope? Yeah. Let me give you a reason why. Because Abram returned to the altar. Look at Chapter 13. In Verse 20 of Chapter 12 they are escorted out of Egypt. I mean they took them right to the border and said we never want to see you again.
Chapter 13 Verse 1
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him; and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock in silver and in gold. And he went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, (note this) to the place where his tent had been at the beginning between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar, which he had made there formerly.
What is Abram telling us? A couple of things. First of all, go back to the place of departure. Go back to where it was that the fork came in the road and you went left, and God said I want to go right. You want to straighten it all out, go back to the place where you departed. I don’t know about you, but your Egypt may be a bar. Your Egypt may be the principal’s office for cheating. Your Egypt may be in front of cable television set where you secretly watch immorality. Your Egypt may be in the home of another man or another woman. Or your Egypt may be much more subtle, like telephone conversations riddled with gossip, an unused Bible that’s dusty, that has marked on it the invisible words, “For Sunday’s only.” But you’re in Egypt. Go back to the place of departure.
Abraham is also telling us go back to the place of dependence. Would you notice the last part of Verse 4?
And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.
In your life, just how essential is God? How often do you hear yourself say the words, “I can do it myself. Leave it to me.” Go back to the place, like Abram, where he once again called on the name of the Lord, a place of dependence.
Let me apply this passage four ways. Number one. Don’t be surprised when famine arrives in your life. It’s as if we are shocked. But the path of faith is an ascending hill that is designed by God to develop the muscles of our faith. The journey is not a level plain where we can casually stroll. It isn’t a descending hill upon which we can coast. That’s not faith. It’s a climb. And that famine is designed by God to help you on your way. Secondly, famine comes to test and strengthen our dependence on the Lord, even when He seems silent, even when He’s distant, even when He is unfair. Trust in the Lord then with all thy heart. Lean not to thy own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge, trust, depend on Him, and He will direct thy paths. Third, God never runs short of patience. This is an amazing thing. If I had been God, I would have said, “Abraham, and you are loser. I’ll go get another person to fulfill the covenant I’ve given to Israel. Forget it. You have caused the heathen to blaspheme my name. You tested me. You almost gave your wife away. I’ll find somebody else.” But he didn’t.
The story is told of Thomas Edison who was working on improving his first light bulb, and he finished it, and he handed the finished bulb to a young boy, an assistant in the lab. And that boy had to take it to the vacuum chamber up some stairs, and he cautiously took each step one at a time, but then at the last minute he dropped the bulb, and it shattered in a thousand pieces. The whole staff had to spend another 24 hours making another bulb, and when they finished, to the amazement of all the staff, Edison handed the newly made bulb back to the same boy. That probably marked him for life. It changed that boy’s life, I would imagine. This time he accomplished the job. Multiply that by ten million. That is how God is patient with His children. We drop the ball. There we are in the middle of Egypt, and God still cares.
Let me give you one other one. Going to another source for help will never solve what faith in God can. If we would only get that through our heads. Egypt will never help. It will never satisfy. There are no altars in Egypt. There’s no fellowship in Egypt, no worship in Egypt. We have to return to Bethel, the place of fellowship, the place of worship, the place where God patiently waits for you and I to return.