12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
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.
(Genesis 12:1-20 NIV)
In chapters 6 – 10, we followed Noah, whom God called a righteous man. Noah arrived on the scene righteous – we really don’t know any details of Noah’s journey to righteousness, only that God was pleased with Noah and counted him righteous.
As we begin the story of Abram in Chapter 12, God does not make any such statement about Abram. As we will see, God hand-picks Abram and grows his righteousness over time – and we will have front-row seats for this transformation and growth.
Here is one writer’s comparison between Noah and Abram:
“God seems to command Abraham to become that which Noah was by nature!”
(Martin Buber, “Abraham the Seer”, in On The Bible (New York:Shocken, 1968), p. 33)
Abram’s story begins with a promise from God, along with a requirement for that promise to come true. God required Abram to leave all that was comfortable and familiar in order to receive His promise to Abram. Abram was not only to receive God’s blessing; Abram was also to be a blessing to everyone else on earth, through all peoples and generations.
So Abram leaves friends and family and heads out to where God was leading him – a destination that only God knew and Abram had to walk by faith to realize. Along the way, God first appeared to Abram to reinforce His promise (vv. 4-9).
Soon after God visited Abram and gave His a promise of a homeland for Abram and his offspring, a test came along in the form of a famine. Abram’s response was a natural one – go look for a place where there was food for him and his flock and family. Moses makes no mention of Abram consulting God before leaving – he seems to just pack up and go.
Along the way, Abram knows the Egyptians and constructs a ruse, a story, a half-truth to protect himself at his wife’s expense. Abram tells Sarai to tell the Egyptians that she is Abram’s sister so they don’t kill Abram to take Sarai as their own wife.
As we look back on this story, this seems unthinkable – a man willing to sacrifice his wife’s purity and fidelity in order to save his own skin, for his own self-preservation.
Well, the ruse worked… until it didn’t.
True to form, the Egyptians wanted Sarai for her beauty, and took her to be the Pharoah’s wife. The implication was that Sarai had sexual relations with the Egyptian ruler.
The Lord intervened and judged Pharoah and his household with serious diseases because of Abram’s ruse. When Pharoah figured this out, he called Abram out and read him the riot act for his deception.
And thus begins the rocky relationship between Egypt and God’s people – both friend and foe at the same time.
In all this, God was merciful toward Abram and Sarai by keeping Sarai barren. Imagine what a mess that would be for Sarai to have a child by this Egyptian ruler! Granted, this is a rather severe mercy, but a mercy nonetheless.
As we look at the beginning of Abram and Sarai’s life and walk with God, we need to ask ourselves some questions and think about examples where we might have done likewise:
- What do we do to make a name for ourselves, rather than trusting God?
- What do we do to protect our name or a promise God has given us, rather than trusting His provision and protection to bring the promise to reality?
- What impact do our choices have on others, either good or bad?
- Do we make choices out of self-preservation at the expense of others?
As we think through these questions and examples in our lives, what would those examples looked like if we had walked in faith rather than self-preservation?
May we learn to walk in faith and develop Godly character over time, and may we learn from our mistakes and bad choices along the way, allowing God to transform us to be more like Him each day, month, and year.