Genesis 12:10–13:4 - The First Test
We like to think that, when we are where God wants us to be, things will go well for us. After all, we are trying to follow God’s will for our lives, so we expect life to be free from testings and trials. But now we see something different taking place in the life of Abram. This is only the beginning of Abram’s journey of faith, and we see that Abram is a person very much like ourselves. He has the same struggles we have, often uncertain of exactly what God has in store.
Abram had only just begun his journey in faith when a disturbing situation arose — a famine came in the land that was supposed to be flowing with milk and honey. In the last lesson, Abram believed God, left his country, and traveled to the place where God had sent him. He was trusting God, turning his back on the world, and following the promise that God had given to him.
Sometimes it takes more grace to stay where God wants you to be than it does to get where He wants you to go. That certainly was the case for Abram. Instead of trusting God to provide for him despite the famine, Abram took matters into his own hands. He turned his back on Bethel and went down into Egypt. To rely on Egypt was to trust in human resources rather than trusting in God. Throughout the Old Testament, Egypt represents the world and worldly thinking. The prophet Isaiah writes: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek their help from the Lord” (Isaiah 31:1). Abram should have trusted in God, saying: “Here is where God has placed me, and it is here that I will stay until He tells me to move.” Instead, Abram left the place of obedience and traveled to Egypt. How long Abram had been in the Promised Land before the famine came is uncertain. It was not likely a very long time. It was enough time for Abram to notice some of the barriers he faced: a barren wife, an unknown destiny, the people around him settled in their communities — each with their established homes and wells, each with their own armies and weapons.
As Abram watched the harsh environment around him worsen, he opted to reject God’s promised land for the supposed greener pastures of Egypt. Throughout his decision process there is neither a hint of prayer to God nor any turning to God for advice. Abram trusted God enough to leave Ur and go to an unknown country, but then when he got there, he did not trust God enough to take care of him. Instead of trusting God, Abram failed the first test of faith God set before him and moved to Egypt.
Abram In Egypt
Once Abram entered Egypt, he lost his sense of peace and security. He began to worry. After all, his wife was a beautiful woman. He feared for his own life and devised a plot that he believed would save him. Recognizing that a husband would be in greater danger than a brother, Abram instructed his wife, Sarai, to tell people that she was his sister. That way they would not kill him in order to get to her. It was not exactly a lie, was it? After all, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister. That makes it a half-truth. And yet, it is a whole lie because it was meant to convey the untruthful impression that Sarai was not Abram’s wife. Certainly this precaution did not arise out of any true faith in God. Abram’s trip out of fellowship with God led him to resort to lying when he should have been trusting, fearing for his life when he should have been confident in his God, and making excuses when he should have been resting peacefully in the Lord. When Abram failed to believe that God could sustain him through the famine, he was driven to a point in Egypt where he did not trust God to fulfill His promise, causing him to lie to Pharaoh for the sake of his own life.
Abram had hoped that he might escape death and that both he and his wife would be kept safe if Sarai would claim to be his sister. But Abram’s precaution led to Pharaoh’s action. The very thing he feared and hoped to avoid happened. Because of his half-truth, Sarai was brought into the harem of Pharaoh; and because of their deception, they were rendered helpless, unable to object without divulging their secret.
Abram has placed himself in a horrible situation, hasn’t he? There is no way out. He had left God’s place for him and he had lied about his wife. There is no way to reverse the situation and start over. How could he go to the great Pharaoh and explain to him what had happened? What would he say? “Heh, heh, I told you she was my sister, but you know what? There’s something I forgot to tell you.” That would not work. What about, “Hey, guess what? I’ve got something really interesting to tell you, Pharaoh.” No. That would not work, either. There was no way that Abram could climb out of the hole he dug for himself and for his wife Sarai. Abram learned the hard way the awful consequences of getting oneself out of harmony with God.
God to the Rescue
While Abram was unfaithful, God remained faithful. He inflicted serious diseases upon Pharaoh and his household. Interestingly, the plague fell upon Pharaoh, who acted in ignorance, and not Abram, who acted in disobedience. God did not desert his child even though His child had wandered away from Him. He did not cast the disobedient, sinning believer away, but rescued him out of his dilemma. God knew Abram would make the wrong choices but permitted it to take place. God used Abram’s failure to teach Abram a great lesson.
Somehow Pharaoh recognized that the plagues were a message from God. He confronted Abram with harsh words and commanded that Abram and Sarai be deported under military escort. Though not harmed, Abram is deservedly rebuked by the heathen Pharaoh. The friend of God stood mute while a pagan pointed out his wrong conduct. The Lord brought Abram out of the land of Egypt back to the Promised Land where we once more see the tent, the altar, and the promises of God.
An Important Lesson
God had allowed the famine to take place in order to test Abram. Certainly God knew Abram would fail this test which He had placed before the patriarch, and God also could have kept Abram from failing. But He allowed Abram to fail. Abram failed at the point where he was supposed to be the strongest—his faith. God then used the failure to teach Abram a great lesson of trusting in Him. God tested Abram to cause his faith to grow, to develop his perseverance, and so that he might mature in his walk with God. If Abram had stayed in Canaan when the famine came, his faith would have grown by seeing how the God he worshipped provided for him in spite of the hardships. But since he did not stay in Canaan, the same famine that could have meant spiritual growth took him away from the Lord, led him to sin, and eventually brought him great humiliation when he was rebuked by Pharaoh. And yet, even in all of that Abram learned an important lesson.
Thousands of people trust God to bring them to the Promised Land. They trust God with their souls, but they think they have to do the rest. God saves them, but they have to maintain their salvation. They do not trust God to keep them. Others trust in God for eternal things but do not dare to trust in Him for the material things. Many will gladly sing praises to God in church, but the moment something goes wrong in their lives, their joy is gone.
God allows trials to enter into our lives. He allows us to make mistakes in order that He may use those experiences and mistakes for our growth in the faith. James writes: “The testing of our faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3). We see that wonderful truth in the life of Joseph, Abram’s great-grandson. His brothers were going to kill him, but instead they sold him into slavery. Later on, Joseph was put into jail. But it was all used by God eventually to save the lives of the very brothers who at one time had wanted to kill him. Joseph says to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” God is able to take the things that people mean to do for evil and make them work for His kingdom.
Abram is a wonderful example of this truth. While Abram was unfaithful, God remained faithful. God does not desert His child, even though His child was living in sin and disobedience. God plagued Pharaoh’s house until Pharaoh drove Abram and Sarai out of Egypt. God would not leave His patriarch in Egypt, even though it took an unbelieving king to drive Abram back to the place of obedience.
God had tested Abram, and Abram had failed. If Abram would have stayed in the land that God had given him, God certainly would have provided enough food and water for Abram and his herds. God would not have failed Abram, but Abram failed God. By going to Egypt, Abram trusted in himself rather than trusting in God. God does not always make our way easy, but He does arrange the steps of faith to lead us in an upward direction so that our spiritual muscles will grow stronger and stronger as we learn to trust in God more and more.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
- What might Abram have expected once he arrived in the land God had shown him? Is this what we often expect from the Christian life?
- In verses 10–12, how do changes in Abram’s life and circumstances threaten both his faith in God and the promises God made to him?
- Why did God send the famine? What two different responses to the famine were set before Abram? Which one did he choose?
- For Abram, one sin led to another. Trace the progression of Abram’s sin. Have you witnessed a similar progression in your own life?
- Following Abram’s journey into Egypt, trace the results of Abram’s sin. Have you experienced similar results at times when you failed to trust completely in God?
- Abram’s deception almost cost him his wife. Have there been times when a “small deception” or “white lie” caused great pain in your life?
- God came to the rescue in Abram’s life. Has God come to the rescue in you life? How?
- How can we better trust God to provide for us not only spiritually, but also physically?
- What does Genesis 12 teach you about the practical realities of living by faith?