Walking with Abraham Part 3: Famine, Fear and Folly

J.R. Waller, MBA

Introduction

In our last Walking with Abraham lesson we examined God’s call to Abraham and Abraham’s faith informed departure from Haran. This taught us that God is a God of details.

We also learned that God calls all Christians and that he tells us both his immediate plans by asking us to obey him and his future plans by telling us about the blessings that will come after obedience.

Ultimately, though we do not know everything about what God has in store for us, we can walk and live by faith by trusting in what God says because he never goes back on his words, and while it can be hard to accept the in-between moments of life, faith fills in the details.

In this next study we will be looking at what happens to Abram and his caravan when a famine strikes and they head south to Egypt for survival. We’ll also spend time looking at lessons relating to Abram’s plot to deceive Pharaoh by having Sarah tell him that she Abram’s sister and not his wife.

And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.Genesis 12:10-13 (KJV)

Famine, Fear and Folly

After Abram, his wife Sarah and nephew Lot departed Haran they entered the land of Canaan. While in Canaan God appeared to Abram at a place called Sichem. (Gen. 12:6)

During this appearance God promised Abram that his descendants would inherit the land before him, and out of respect for God’s promises Abram built an altar to God. (Gen. 12:7)

Not long thereafter Abram built another altar on a mountain east of a town called Bethel which sat north of Jerusalem. (Gen. 12:8)

Bethel is significant in that it is the most referenced town in the Old Testament, second only to Jerusalem. At Bethel Abram called upon God, though there is no reference that God appeared or answered him. After this Abram continued south and it is at this juncture where today’s lesson formally begins.“When Abram arrived at the outskirts of Egypt he began to entertain misguided and delusional fears.”

Genesis 12:10 marks a change in Abram’s journeying. The verse tells us that he decided to head to Egypt because of a severe famine in the land of Canaan. This famine was most likely a punishment administered by God on the land due to the wickedness of its inhabitants.

So, we find Abram heading away from Canaan to Egypt for sustenance and survival. However, when he arrives at the outskirts of Egypt he begins to entertain misguided and delusional fears.

His fears reach a fever pitch when he worries that Pharaoh will take Sarah, his wife, to be one of his wives because of her great beauty.

While it was possible that Pharaoh could do such a thing (it would have be in line with the customs of the time) Abram’s fears were nevertheless dependent on a giant “what if?” that was divorced from any sense of actuality.

Nevertheless Abram devised a plan to escape a possible demise at the hands of Pharaoh. He did this by telling Sarah to tell Pharaoh that she is his sister, not his wife.

Sarah was in fact Abram’s half-sister, but it is clear that Abram’s goal here was deception. His scheme is a perfect example of that popular adage that “a half-truth is worse than a lie.”

What is striking is that Abram didn’t just ask Sarah to lie, he begged her to! He says “I pray thee” which in our modern vernacular is like saying “please, please!”

Abram also put all the blame on her. He more or less tells Sarah that because she is beautiful she has to lie about it so he can live (“my soul shall live because of thee.”) (Gen. 12:13)

So, to Abram, its Sarah’s fault that he could be in danger, and if she doesn’t lie she will still be at fault since he will die at Pharaoh’s hand because of her lack of complicity. Also note that he effects all of this by guilting her to do his bidding.“Lest we overly moralize Abram’s actions in this passage, we must understand that none of us are immune to the kind of thinking and actions that Abram exhibited here – not by a long shot.”

Abram guilts and blames Sarah to deflect attention away from the fact that his scheme is rooted in selfishness. Put simply, Abram wanted to save himself.

Abram’s scheme and plot of deception stand in sharp contrast with his time in Canaan before the famine. Back then he was in God’s will, he was faithful.

Even in the midst of the wicked Canaanites he built altars to God and called out to him whether he answered or not. Now we find him begging his wife to lie because he is hungry and afraid.

Now, lest we overly moralize Abram’s actions in this passage, we must understand that none of us are immune to the kind of thinking and actions that Abram exhibited here – not by a long shot. In fact, I’m sure we’ve all done similar things, I know I have.

What we need to focus on instead are the nuggets of wisdom that Abram’s example in this passage afford us. This means learning how to act by looking at Abram not as some overly wicked person but as a man just like any one of us. This is in fact why the Bible often remains silent when it comes to the faults of many of its heroes – because we are to study and learn from their faults.

As such we will now turn our focus toward Abram by looking at three things that his actions from his flight to Egypt teach us.

Three Lessons from Abram’s Trek to Egypt

1. We Ought to Shape Our Environments and Not Allow Them to Negatively Shape Us

Abram’s decision to head to Egypt was no doubt caused just as much by fear as by hunger. The famine was the reason why he went to Egypt in the first place.

Abram and his caravan were in survival mode. As such, before consulting God on the matter Abram simply up and left.“Abram allowed external situations to influence him so much that his thirst for survival led him to rely on himself instead of God.”

We all act like this from time to time. In fact, for most of us, “when the goings get tough we get going.”

The point is, our environments influence us and we have to be careful of that.

Why? Because we tend to make the worst decisions when one (or more) of these conditions are true: we’re angry, tired, lonely and/or hungry.

Abram and his company were feeling all of those emotions. In fact, that is most likely why Sarah did not counter Abram’s request and merely went along with it.

While Abram guilted her into lying, and abused his position as the leader of the family unit by leading Sarah into sin (more on that later), Sarah could have objected.

However, she was hungry too and more likely than not wanted to get along with things by following the path of least resistance. Remember, they had just trekked through a famine infested land of heathens.

Nevertheless, God operates fully in any environment. And we know from hindsight that God used the famine to help move Abram forward to where he was supposed to be.

Of course Abram didn’t necessarily cooperate properly as his reliance on fear over faith illustrates, but God never once requires our cooperation to do his will, he merely affords us the privilege of going along with his plans which is a great honor.

The problem here then ultimately was not Abram’s environment, it was Abram’s response to his environment. He allowed external situations to influence him so much that his thirst for survival led him to rely on himself instead of God.“We must always be aware of how our environments are influencing us, and we must never allow challenging times to diminish the seriousness of sin.”

Moreover, he permitted the situation to destabilize his mindset little by little until a debilitating fear minimized the seriousness of the sins he was contemplating, thus making it easy for him to lie.

We must always be aware of how our environments are influencing us, and we must never allow challenging times to diminish the seriousness of sin.

The next time trials confront you, how will you react? With God top of mind and with faith in him that he will uphold and sustain you come what may?

None of us can accurately answer such a question until we find ourselves in difficult situation, but when the time comes our actions and reactions will demonstrate the strength of our faith.

2. Men Must Exercise Leadership with Great Sensitivity and Respect Towards Their Wives and Women in General

Abram’s treatment of Sarah teaches us (and men in particular) a lot about how not to act towards women.

Men are under God’s authority and are to be loving leaders and husbands who honor their wives. (1 Pet. 3:7) To honor a wife or a women means to value and respect her.

Yet one of the ugliest forms of disrespect is throwing someone else to the wolves or erroneously blaming them for something they can’t help or have nothing to do with. Such were Abram’s actions here.“Men must always keep their responsibilities toward women top of mind. This means being selfless and treating women as precious image-bearers that are to be protected from sin.”

Moreover, God considers women and wives precious and marriage a good thing. (Gen. 2:23-24, Prov. 18:22) Something precious is valued, but when we sin towards someone else, or when a man leads a woman into sin it devalues her. Doing so is an abuse of male headship.

Despite Abram and Sarah both being complicit in their deception, the full blame still rested on Abram just like it fell on Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Abram’s scheme of having Sarah lie to Pharoah that she was his sister so that Pharaoh would not kill him was motivated solely by fear and selfishness. He was elevating himself above his wife.

Men must always keep their responsibilities toward women top of mind. This means being selfless and treating women as precious image-bearers that are to be protected from sin.

3. Fear Is a Terrible Motivator

Fear is an easy thing to get out of balance. Some fear is healthy. We need to be fearful of certain things to protect ourselves.

However, fear can quickly cloud out faith and usher in confusion. At best it makes us irrational, at its worst it makes us paranoid.

The famine was no doubt something scary. We’ve already discussed how that environment influenced Abram to act out of fear for survival.“It cannot be stated enough: do not let fear control you. Our spirit as Christians is one of a sound mind, not of fear.”

We have to also consider that Egypt was a scary place. Compared to Canaan, a nomadic and unstructured land, Egypt was one of the pinnacle civilizations of its day. It had a different language, a formalized culture and government not at all like what Abram was used to.

So Abram’s mind was under attack from a double whammy of present fear (hunger and survival) and fear of the future (what will happen to me in a strange land like Egypt?)

All of the fear circling inside Abram’s mind caused him to speculate a million scenarios which might happen, one of which was Pharoah killing him to take Sarah as one of his wives.

It cannot be stated enough: do not let fear control you. Our spirit as Christians is one of a sound mind, not of fear. (2 Tim. 1:7)

Fear is in fact a sin, and it controls us like a slave. (Rom. 8:15) Yet Jesus left us with peace and he is with us every step of the way in this life; nothing can ever change that. (Jn. 14:27, Is. 41:10, Rom. 8:35)

Keeping control over fear isn’t just something that helps in the short term. It also helps in the long term.

“Abram’s flight into Egypt, among other things, teaches us to be mindful of the extent to which our environments and situations influence us. It also teaches us to not let fear takeover and diminish the seriousness of sin, and it reminds us and men in particular that they are to be caring leaders of women who look out for their well-being.”

As we continue to renew our minds and rest in God’s peace and our forgiven standing with him we will grow to be more like Jesus and be less swayed by sins and self-reliance to get us out of seemingly difficult situations.

Instead, we’ll rest and rely on Him who is our strength, rock, fortress, deliverer and very present help in time of need. (Ps. 18:1-2, Ps. 46:1)

Conclusion

God pulls no punches by showing us all the blemishes of the great men and women presented in his word. Yet, he does this for a reason.

God presents to us their moral struggles to humble us (we’re no different than they are, human nature does not change) and to help us learn.

When times got tough in Canaan Abram fled to Egypt to avoid a famine and survive. The problem was that he let his environment and situation influence him more than God. This caused fear and self-reliance to take over his thoughts and actions.

So great was his fear and desire for control over his circumstances that it diminished the seriousness of sin, causing him to contemplate lying to Pharaoh.

Abram feared that Pharaoh would kill him so he could take his wife Sarah as one of his wives. So Abram, in an abuse of male headship, helped lead his wife into sin by making her complicit in a deceptive scheme that involved lying to Pharaoh by telling him that she was not Abram’s wife but his half-sister.

Abram’s flight into Egypt, among other things, teaches us to be mindful of the extent to which our environments and situations influence us. It also teaches us to not let fear takeover and diminish the seriousness of sin, and it reminds us and men in particular that they are to be caring leaders of women who look out for their well-being.

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Image Credit

Pharaoh Gives Sarah back to Abraham by Isaac Isaacsz, 1640. Gift of A. Bredius, The Hague. The Rijksmuseum. SK-A-1191.

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