Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 4. Young Believer Abram
Gen 12:10-13 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. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated
Our goals: We are, may I repeat, considering the lives of a variety of people in the Bible as we explore God’s intentions to ‘redeem’ us. Inevitably, but I hope not surprisingly, they are episodes that reveal the poor side of humanity but also the grace and mercy of God. Redemption, we have said, is all about God working to bring us back from a bad place into a good place, and when we see this in operation and consider how it might work today, I believe it will possibly change how we think about one another in the church, especially those who don’t live up to our high expectations.
Abram: We move on to consider something of the life of this man who the Jews consider the father of their nation, a man we consider as the father of faith. In many ways he is a most remarkable man, somehow hearing God back in his home, Ur, leaving there and travelling roughly a thousand miles to Canaan, purely on God’s say-so. Yet there are three episodes in his life that might leave an intelligent person to cry out, “God, how could you let him do that,” or “I thought he was supposed to be the chief example of faith. Where is it here?” Now we are not out to do character assassination, but it is important that we face these things in our heroes.
Situation 1: He hasn’t been in Canaan very long when a famine hits the land and so hearing it is not in the south, he travels down to Egypt. Next, we read, “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Gen 12:11-13) What he is about to do is well thought out, but I like how the notes in one modern Bible describe what is about to happen as his “morally dubious actions”. The result is that he obviously goes too near the seat of power for Pharaoh’s officials see her and “she was taken into his palace,” (v.15) and you may guess what happened to her there. Now if such a similar thing happened today there would rightly be an uproar. This is sexual abuse of the worst kind. It took the Lord to intervene for the situation to be sorted. Not a good start for this ‘man of faith’, we might say!
Situation 2: A while later (ten years) we find, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.” (Gen 16:1-4) So here we have this man who has been told a number of times by God (Gen 12:2,7, 15:4,5,13-16) that He will make him into a nation, now listening to the wisdom of his wife which, in any other context, might have been wisdom but here was unbelief. The result was Ishmael and the Arab nations that have been a thorn in the side of Israel ever since. No so good, man of faith!
Situation 3: Time passes, a lot happens and then we find, “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.” (Gen 20:21,2) What???? There is a sense of deja-vu about this. This is a repeat of the first situation. Now what makes this doubly difficult is that this is the third time a difficulty has arisen and you might have thought Abraham might have learnt by now that he could trust the Lord’s protection. Even more Abraham is a rich and therefore powerful man. The result of the first debacle was amazingly, by the hand of Pharaoh, “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels,” (Gen 12:16) and we later read, “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” (Gen 13:2)
More blessing: The Lord intervenes yet again and so, “Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.” To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” (Gen 20:14-16) Oh my goodness! Abraham can’t go wrong – even when he gets it wrong!!!!
Questions & Answers: No wonder that the modern Bible version I referred to before, in its notes at the beginning of the first situation, states “The events described in this section raise many questions that go unanswered.” Do these episodes teach us that we can get away with any misdemeanour and God will just smile on it and bless us? How does faith interact with unbelief in all this? Why does God let him get away with this? Some tentative answers.
Answer 1 – Long Term Plan: Hold in the back of your mind that God works on the long-term plan; He looks to what He can achieve with his man by the end of his life. This is about redeeming us from being messed up faithless pagans (Abram and us) and changing us into faith-filled, mature believers who are a light to the world. Very quickly let’s note, Abraham excelled in faith in the episode of apparently sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22), he becomes a man who treats with kings and army commanders (Gen 21:22-32, 23:3-20), and he appreciates his birth right and makes careful preparation to get the right wife for his son, not from among the local pagans (Gen 24). An amazing man.
Answer 2 – Faith in the midst of unbelief: You may not have been able to accept it yet, but we are ultimately, even after our faith commitment that saved us, so often people who struggle with unbelief (watch the disciples with Jesus) and faith breaks through as flashes of light, occasionally! God understands that spiritual growth takes time. He doesn’t want you and me to keep on tripping over our feet, but He doesn’t give up on us when we do. He is constantly working to change our feet of clay into feet of flesh and spirit.
And so? a) remember you are still “a work in progress”, and b) those around you are the same! Be there for one another, despite the stumbles, because God is!
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I take this on board: I am indeed “a work in progress” and thank you that you love me like this and are working with me in the long-term to make me something more than I am at present. Help me to see those around me in the same light.