Abram in Egypt

Scripture: Genesis 12:10-20

 

Title: Abram in Egypt

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Famine
  • Fear
  • Freedom
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

When a toddler is learning to walk, they fall over a little bit

–         No one criticises the toddler because she is just learning and needs encouragement

 

Likewise, when a child is learning to ride a bike, they fall off sometimes but no one punishes the child for this – a scraped knee is punishment enough

–         Instead we give the child confidence to pick themselves up and carry on

 

Or when a young person is learning to drive

–         They might stall a few times as they get used to the clutch but the instructor is patient with them because they are still getting the hang of it

 

Learning to trust God is a bit like learning to walk or ride a bike or drive a car

–         We make mistakes – we fall, we scrape our knees and we stall

–         But God isn’t there with a big stick ready to hit us if we get it wrong

–         He understands and gives us the grace we need to carry on learning

 

This morning we continue our series on the life of Abram

–         Last week we heard how God called Abram to leave his country, his people and his father’s house

–         Abram responded by obeying God’s call in stages

–         First he left his country and then, some years later, he left his father’s household

 

When Abram finally did make it to Canaan (the Promised Land) the Lord appeared to him and said, “To your offspring I will give this land”

–         Following this wonderful spiritual experience there is a famine in the land and Abram migrates to Egypt to avoid starvation

–         While in Egypt his faith falters – Abram’s fear & anxiety gets the better of him and he trips up

–         But the Lord isn’t waiting with a big stick to punish Abram

–         Rather God is patient and gracious as Abram learns to walk by faith

 

We pick up Abram & Sarai’s story from Genesis chapter 12, verse 10…

 

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “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.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 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!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

Today’s Scripture passage conveniently divides into 3 parts…

–         Famine, fear and freedom

–         Famine in the land, fear in Abram’s heart and freedom by the Lord’s hand. First let us consider famine in the land…

 

Famine:

I remember when I was about 13 or 14 going to an Anglican youth group camp

–         To teach us what the journey of faith is like they had us all line up one behind the other and then told us to take two steps forward and one step back, two steps forward, one step back and so on

–         It was frustrating in a way but it was also effective in teaching the point

–         This is often how it is in our journey of faith

–         Things are going along fine, we feel close to God, and then we go through a famine experience

–         We might sustain some kind of loss – perhaps the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or the breakdown of a marriage

–         Or maybe we experience some kind of disappointment – either with another person or with God

–         Or our prayer life becomes stale and dry

–         Or we might suffer a famine of meaning, where we struggle to find purpose in life – somehow the things we once valued no longer seem so important

–         Whatever form or shape the famine comes in, it feels like we are taking a step backwards and it tests our faith

 

After making two steps forward (leaving his country and his father’s house to enter the Promised Land), Abram now takes one step back as he faces a literal famine in the form of a severe food shortage

–         God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring and then, sometime after he gets there, Abram discovers the land is not a reliable food source

–         It’s sort of like being given a car with no petrol in the tank

–         Or a cell phone with no battery

–         Or a pair of shoes with a hole in them

–         The famine calls God’s faithfulness into question

 

On the wall here is a diagram of what to do if you are caught in a rip tide at the beach

–         A rip is a current of water on a surf beach which is moving out to sea

–         You can identify a rip by the relative calmness of the water – ironically the rip is where the water is flat (that is, where the waves aren’t)

–         If you are caught in a rip and feel yourself being taken out to sea you basically have three options:

–         Wave out to a life guard to come to your rescue

–         Or, try swimming against the current

–         Or, go with the current and swim sideways till you come out of the rip

–         Once you are out of the rip you can swim back to shore

 

Swimming against the current is probably the worst thing you can do – it will simply make you exhausted and you’ll get nowhere for your efforts

–         Waving for help and swimming to the side are better options

 

A famine is sort of like a rip tide – it’s one of those circumstances you don’t have control over

–         Abram was caught in a severe famine and he had three options:

–         He could call out to God for help

–         Or, he could try and swim against the famine by staying in the land

–         Or, he could let the current of the famine carry him to Egypt, where the food was, and then swim out the side later

 

As far as we know Abram did not call on the Lord for help or ask his advice

–         Instead he thought he would take care of it himself

–         Maybe he didn’t realise that the fulfilment of God’s promise depended more on God than it did on him

–         In any case Abram doesn’t try to swim against the famine (he doesn’t stay in the land) but rather he lets the current carry him to Egypt with a view to returning to Canaan once the famine has finished

 

Interestingly God is silent – he doesn’t say anything to try and stop Abram

–         The Lord let’s Abram make his choices and then works with the choices Abram gives him

 

Fear:

Okay, so that’s the first point, famine in the land

–         Now let’s consider our second point: Abram’s fear

 

About 6 months ago we bought a new car – a 2008 Nissan Tiida

–         The car we traded in was a 1995 Mitsubishi Lancer, so the Tiida is about 13 years newer than the Lancer

–         Consequently the Tiida has a lot more technology built into it

–         One of the things with the Tiida is that talks to you

–         There is literally a voice which says ‘konichiwa’ when you turn it on

–         Not only that but the car is covered in sensors so whenever you get a bit close to something it beeps at you to warn you to stop

–         Or, if you leave your lights on, it beeps at you when you open the door to remind you to turn your lights off

–         It even has a little display estimating how many more km’s before you run out of petrol

–         The point is the new car has all this warning technology built in to it

–         You can turn the volume down though and drive old school if you want

 

Fear is a bit like warning technology built into our brain and nervous system

–         A little bit of fear can be a good thing – it warns us when danger is imminent so we can take corrective action to protect ourselves

–         Sometimes though the volume of our fear is turned up too high so that the warnings our fear gives us is all we can hear and we end up over-reacting

–         Other times our fear malfunctions – it starts beeping when it’s not supposed to, warning us of imminent danger when none exists, so that we end up anxious over nothing

 

A little bit of fear is a healthy thing but when fear has too much influence in our lives it distorts our thinking

–         It makes us forget the bigger picture and deceives us so that we feel like we have no other options than the one presented by our fear

–         Too much fear is like a cruel tyrant living in our head – it bullies us and makes us do things we don’t want to do

 

Turning the volume of fear down, in our brains, is more difficult than turning it down in a car. Verses 11-13 describe how fear affected Abram

 

11 As Abram was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “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.”

 

The first thing to say here is that Abram’s fear was not unfounded – his fear did have some basis in reality

–         Pharaoh was a dictator with a reputation for taking whatever he wanted and disposing of whoever got in his way

–         So Abram was being sensible in heeding the warning his fear gave him

–         Unfortunately the volume of Abram’s fear was turned up too high and that prevented him from thinking clearly

–         With fear calling the shots in Abram’s mind it seemed that deceiving Pharaoh was his best option, perhaps his only option

–         Apparently it didn’t occur to Abram to enquire of the Lord

–         Just as he had left Canaan without asking God for help or advice he now also excludes God in dealing with Pharaoh

–         It’s like Abram thinks the fulfilment of the promise depends on him rather than God

–         Fear has temporarily disabled Abram’s faith in God’s promises

 

A couple of other minor technical points that this passage raises…

–         We know from other parts of Scripture that Sarai was 10 years younger than Abram and that Abram was 75 when he left Harran to go to Canaan

–         This means Sarai must have been at least 65 when she entered Egypt

–         If the genealogies in Genesis are to be accepted at face value then it appears that people 4000 years ago lived longer than we do today

–         In other words they might have aged more slowly – so their 65 may have been more like our 35 [1] (which would make sense in light of Abram’s concern about Pharaoh wanting Sarai because of her beauty)

 

The other minor point to be aware of is that Sarai was Abram’s half sister

–         We know from Genesis 20:12 that Sarai & Abram had the same father but different mothers

–         So by today’s standards their marriage would be considered incestuous,

–         But in that time and culture marrying your half-sister was acceptable – in fact it may have even given more status to the marriage [2]

 

We shouldn’t get hung up though on Sarai’s age and relationship to Abram, they are minor curiosities in the context

–         The main point is that on this occasion Abram acted out of fear, not faith

–         Fear can be a ruthless dictator – not unlike Pharaoh

–         It can distort our thinking and cause us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do

–         Fear turned Abram into a con man and it made him use his wife, Sarai, as a shield to protect and enrich himself

 

Now on the one hand we don’t want to condemn Abram for his actions, he was in a difficult situation

–         But on the other hand we can’t condone what he did either

–         We human beings are a mixture – capable of both fearful deceit and faithful courage

–         Abram is not perfect at this point – he is still learning to walk by faith and part of learning to walk by faith is learning to manage our fear

 

Fear and anxiety plays a big part in our lives these days – more than it did 20 or 30 years ago

–         I don’t think shame or guilt over our fearful responses is helpful

–         Learning to manage our fear, learning to walk by faith, is like learning to ride a bike or drive a car

–         There is no shame in falling over or in stalling – it’s part of the learning process

–         God is not standing over us with the big stick waiting to wallop us the moment we make a mistake

–         He is standing alongside us, encouraging us, helping us to find our feet

–         If you suffer from anxiety or fear then take heart by Abram’s example

–         Abram was overcome by fear at times too and yet God used him to bless many

 

As I said before, Abram’s fears were not unfounded

–         Pharaoh did in fact hear of Sarai’s beauty and took her into his harem, treating Abram well for her sake

–         Sarai and Abram didn’t get a choice in the matter – Pharaoh was a dictator. What Pharaoh wants, Pharaoh gets

–         The text doesn’t say whether Pharaoh actually slept with Sarai or not

–         We the reader are left hoping he didn’t, for Sarai’s sake at least

 

This is a picture of men behaving badly

–         Not only did Abram act out of fear to save himself

–         Pharaoh acted out of his lust to have Sarai

–         And so God intervened to set Sarai & Abram free

 

Freedom:

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”

–         In the context Jesus was talking about holding to the truth of his teaching

–         The principle is, when we believe what is true our minds are set free

–         But when we believe what is false our minds are bound in fear

–         It appears Abram believed that God couldn’t help him with the famine or with Pharaoh and that false belief created a fear which led him to deceive Pharaoh and that deceit resulted in Sarai becoming a captive in Pharaoh’s harem

–         Consequently God intervened to set her free, not by force but by revealing the truth

 

Verse 17 tells us the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh because he had taken Abram’s wife

–         We might look at this situation and think – that doesn’t seem fair, Abram tells a porky (a big fat lie) and Pharaoh gets punished for it

–         Well, I don’t think the Lord is punishing Pharaoh, so much as trying to communicate with him

–         The message was, ‘Pharaoh, your attitude to women is sick and your whole regime is diseased. Your behaviour Pharaoh is as repulsive to me as this illness is to you’

 

I’m not sure whether Pharaoh interpreted his sickness in this way but he certainly realised something was wrong and after investigating what it might be he learned the truth, that Sarai was actually married to Abram

–         We are not told exactly how he learned this but that doesn’t matter

–         The main point is that Sarai was set free when Pharaoh learned the truth

 

When Pharaoh learns the truth he confronts Abram, saying, ‘What have you done to me?’

–         Apparently Pharaoh wants to blame Abram for his predicament

–         Now while it’s true that Abram did deceive Pharaoh, the Egyptian king is missing the point

–         Abram didn’t do this to Pharaoh – Pharaoh brought this on himself

–         It’s not okay for the king to take women against their will to use as objects for his own pleasure

–         Pharaoh has been abusing his power for quite some time it seems

–         He clearly has a Harvey Weinstein reputation, otherwise Abram wouldn’t have felt he needed to deceive Pharaoh in the first place

 

God is love – he doesn’t just love Abram & Sarai, he loves Pharaoh and the Egyptians (and Harvey Weinstein) too, even if he hates their behaviour

–         I believe the sickness God sent on Pharaoh’s household was a message of truth intended to set Pharaoh free from his own sin

–         Unfortunately the Egyptian king didn’t want to face the truth about himself – otherwise he would have said, ‘What have I done?’ rather than ‘What have you done?’

–         He repented in part (by returning Sarai to Abram) but it appears he didn’t go far enough – what about all the other women he had used?

 

The dictator is reaping what he has sown – now it’s Pharaoh’s turn to be afraid and he manages his fear by sending Abram and Sarai away

 

In many ways, God’s deliverance of Abram & Sarai from Egypt foreshadows Israel’s exodus experience

–         Just as Abram & Sarai were forced to migrate to Egypt due to a famine, so too Abram’s grandson, Jacob, moved his family to Egypt because of famine

–         Just as Sarai was oppressed by the Pharaoh of her day, so too the people of Israel were oppressed by the Egyptians some centuries later

–         And just as God intervened with diseases so Pharaoh would set Abram & Sarai free, so too the Lord sent plagues on Egypt so another Pharaoh would let the nation of Israel go free

 

Conclusion:

There are parallels here between Abram and Jesus too

–         After the joy of Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary are forced to flee Israel to find refuge in Egypt because Herod is out to kill the new born Messiah

–         Unlike Abram though, Joseph makes the journey to Egypt, not out of fear but in faith, because an angel of the Lord instructed him in a dream

 

Another connection between Abram & Jesus…

–         After his baptism in the River Jordan, God said to Jesus – ‘This is my beloved Son with whom I’m pleased’

–         And then, straight after that wonderful (two steps forward) spiritual experience, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness (one step back) to be tested by Satan

–         And what’s the first temptation?

–         Famine, hunger. ‘If you are God’s Son, turn these stones into bread’

–         Forget God and rely on yourself

–         Unlike Abram, Jesus passed the test

 

Where you are at in your journey of faith at the moment?

–         Is this is a two steps forward or a one step back stage for you?

–         Are you walking confidently in faith or ducking & diving under that cruel dictator we call ‘Fear’?

–         Either way, the Lord Jesus is faithful to his promises

–         He does not promise us an easy ride – we all face a famine of sorts at some point

–         What Jesus does promise is to never leave us or forsake us

–         And when our journey on this earth has finished he promises heaven

–         Those two things, his presence and heaven

 

Reflection / discussion questions:

 

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

 

2.)    Can you identify with your journey of faith being two steps forward, one step back?

–         If yes, what have the forward and backwards steps looked like for you?

–         If no, how would you describe your journey of faith?

 

3.)    What is your best option if you get caught in a rip at the beach?

–         If being caught in a famine is like being caught in a rip, what option did Abram go with?

 

4.)    How did Abram’s fear of Pharaoh affect him – what did his fear make him do?

–         How does fear affect you?

–         When is fear a good thing?

–         How might we know when fear is having too much influence in our life?

 

5.)    How does God set Abram & Sarai free?

 

6.)    How does Abram & Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt foreshadow Israel’s exodus experience?

 

7.)    Reflect on /discuss the parallels Genesis 12:10-20 raises between Abram & Jesus

 

8.)    What does Jesus promise us?

–         What does he not promise?

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/22-oct-2017-abram-in-egypt

 

 

[1] Derek Kidner, Genesis, pages 116-117

[2] Ibid

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