Pastor Ricky Powell
April 11, 2010
What is the one fact you can get Christians, Jews, and Muslims to all agree on? It is the fact that Abraham is the Father of Faith. All three of the world’s great religions -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam -- agree that Abraham is the Father of the Faithful. Abraham is mentioned in several books of the New Testament for his faith. He is considered the great hero of the faith in the New Testament. But did you know that Abraham was not always a man of faith? Like you and me Abraham experienced failures of faith. It is possible to go from being at one moment a hero to the next moment a zero. It is possible to go from being a person of faith to a person of failure. It was true of Abraham and it is true of us.
Now we have all experienced failures of one sort or the other. We have failed vocationally, academically, financially, or relationally. But the worst failure of them all is a failure of faith. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
So let us learn a few brief lessons about failures of faith from the life of Abraham. This is the first message in our new series titled, "Famous Failures" based on Hebrews 11. Our text today will be Genesis 12:10 and following. Open your Bibles and follow along. Ask God to teach you how to be a person of faith. And ask Him to teach you how to come back from failure when you have experienced a lapse in faith.
Genesis 12 finds Abram, as he was called in those days, in the Land of Promise. How did he get there? Well it is a remarkable story. Abram had been a Mesopotamian moon worshipper in the city of Ur when the one true and living God came to him and called him to leave his home in what is modern day Mosul, Iraq and go to a land of Promise. God told him to leave but He did not tell him where he was going. Abram had to trust the Word of Yahweh explicitly. God promised that He would give Abram a land of his own, the land we now call Israel. God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). God said:
1. I will make you a great nation.
2. I will make your name great.
3. I will bless you.
A. Involves spiritual blessings
B. Involves physical blessings, (fertility and wealth)
4. I will make you a blessing to the nations.
5. I will bless those who bless you.
6. I will curse those who curse you.
Never lose sight of the Abrahamic Covenant as you read the Book of Genesis from chapter twelve on. It is the key to understanding what is going on. So God called Abram from his pagan culture to a land where he would be the father of a new nation that would know and follow the one true God. We do not know anything about Abram’s life before God called him, but we know that he immediately believed God and obeyed. Abram left Ur and what family he had went with him. He started on a journey with nothing but the promise of God. He did not have a road map, GPS, or the On Star service. God just told him to start walking and He would tell him when he arrived. Now that is faith! You can see why Abram is called the Father of the Faithful.
Our text this morning finds Abram in the land of promise, but just barely. And that prepares us for our first lesson in failures of faith. This first lesson has to do with…
Abram had no sooner arrived in the land of Promise when a famine swept through the place. Look again at verse 10.
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. Genesis 12:10 (NKJV)
We often fail in times of testing. You would have thought that this great hero of the faith who has left everything he ever knew to follow God would have been spared from testing times. You would have thought that after such a long and arduous journey that God would have granted Abram respite from times of testing and trouble. You would have thought that when Abram arrived in the land that he would have found resources in plentiful supply, but he did not. Instead of being greeted by a feast he was greeted by a famine.
As is so often the case, our faith does not always lead us first into lands of blessings but burdens; not feast, but famines; not triumphs, but testings. Living by faith in God does not guarantee you a life of comfort and ease. Living by faith will lead you into times of difficulty and danger.
Moses discovered this truth when he first led the people of Israel by faith out of Egypt into the wilderness. No sooner had they gotten out of Egypt they were confronted with Pharaoh’s army behind them and the Red Sea before them. After they crossed the Red Sea they ran out of water. After they found water they discovered it was bitter. After God cleansed the water they ran out of food.
Faith does not always lead us to times of tranquility, but times of testing. So Abram finds himself in the midst of a famine in the Land of Promise. But God intended for his man who was to walk by faith to trust Him during the times of famine. Abram was to abide in the Land of Promise confident that God would make good His promise!
But that was not the customary thing to do. The customary thing to do in those days was to flee to Egypt when there was a famine in your land. Egypt was the great bread basket of the ancient world. The Nile River made it a rich and productive land. The logical thing to do in times of famine was to go to Egypt. That is what Abram does. He does not pray. He does not ask God. He just takes off for Egypt. And who could blame him? He was only doing the logical thing, the rational thing, and the natural thing! Right?
But living by faith does not always mean doing the logical thing. The man of faith is not to be a man of custom but of confidence! Abram was to abide in the land of promise by faith, confident that God would keep His promise. Abram’s sight told him to flee to Egypt, but his faith should have told him to trust God. Faith, after all, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
Have you ever been in a famine? A famine of joy, peace, financial stability, purpose, contentment, of strength you once had? Did you turn to God or did you turn to Egypt?
Most of the messes we make in life are because of failures of faith.
The first lesson has to do with The Timing of Failures of Faith: We often fail in times of Testing. There is a second lesson for us here about…
Living by faith had led Abram into a famine in the Land of Promise. He shifted into survival mode and took matters into his own hands. He did the natural thing by going to Egypt to escape the famine. But Abram went from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Notice what happened. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt… He went from Canaan, the place of Promise to Egypt, the place of peril. I agree with the country preacher who said it would be better to be in the land of famine in the will of God than to be in the land of feasting out of the will of God!
11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Genesis 12:11-12 (NKJV)
Abram has taken himself out from under the providential care of God in the land of Promise and has placed himself under the pagan care of Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. And Abram is not just hurting himself. He is not just putting his own life in danger. He is hurting the ones he loves the most on earth. All of his family was with him and his beloved and beautiful wife, Sarai, was with him. When we fail in faith we do not fail in isolation. We do not sin in a vacuum. Our lapses in faith hurt others.
Abram makes Sarai a co-conspirator in his lie and lack of faith. He was worried that when the Egyptians saw his beautiful wife that they would kill him so they could take her. This was not uncommon in those days. Instead of trusting God to protect the wife who He promised would be the mother of many children, Abram comes up with his own scheme. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you. Genesis 12:13 (NKJV)
Abram thought that he could buy some time to escape from Egypt if they thought Sarai was his sister. As her brother the Egyptians would likely ask him for her hand in marriage. Abram could then stall them during the negotiations and flee. Besides, this is only a half-lie because Sarai was his half-sister (11:27-30; 20:2). Abram probably congratulated himself for being so cunning. He had come up with a great plan. So he thought.
Abram is no longer walking by faith. He is running scared and living by fear. He is living like covenant God made with him does not exist. He is living like God will not keep His Word.
It was his initial decision to enter Egypt that has put Sarai in this precarious and compromised position. The best thing Abram could have done to protect his wife and family was to maintain his faith in the God of promise. Friend, the best thing you can do for your family is to live by faith in God and in His Word! Well, how did his scheme pan out?
14 So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh's house. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. Genesis 12:14-16 (NKJV)
The average Egyptian would have followed common court-ship customs. But Pharaoh was not your average Egyptian. He was revered as a god and was used to getting his way! Sarai ends up in Pharaoh’s vast harem of beautiful women. R. Kent Hughes questions, “What was going on in those chambers? Was she now in Pharaoh’s arms? ‘Oh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh…let my Saria go!’ Sarai, so beautiful, would surely become one of Pharaoh’s favorite entertainments. And from then on, life would have taken its natural course. She well could have lived and died in Egypt, had her place in a royal tomb --- and her excavated mummy would be grinning up at us in the British Museum. Good job, Abram.” (Genesis: Beginning and Blessing; pp. 192-193).
Abram’s failure in faith has reduced Sarai from her position of honor as the wife of the first patriarch of faith to being just another pretty face in the harem of Pharaoh! Failures of faith always hurt those we love the most.
At some point in life, all of us will put our trust in someone who fails us. It is inevitable in team sports, in family life, in business. Still it hurts.
In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it happened to the Netherlands' superstar skater Sven Kramer. In the Olympic finals for the 10,000 meter race, he skated the 25 times around the rink so well that he set an Olympic record time. He finished a full 4 seconds ahead of the second place skater. He was thrilled. The week before he had won gold in the 5,000 meter race. Now he had won a second Olympic gold medal, and done that representing a country that adores speed skating. He was a national hero!
But some of that glory quickly evaporated. Moments after Kramer crossed the finish line, his coach Gerard Kemkers, a former Olympian himself, approached him and broke the unthinkable news. Kramer had been disqualified from the race. With eight laps to go, he had changed lanes improperly. What made this disqualification so bitter for Kramer was that he had changed lanes for only one reason: his coach had told him to change lanes. In other words, he had no plans to change lanes until his coach called out for him to change. Worse yet, Kramer had never received lane-change directions from a coach in a race prior to that day!
In a situation when a split-second decision had to be made, Kramer trusted his coach instead of himself, and it cost him an Olympic gold medal.
Kramer, of course, was not the only one to suffer an emotional blow. The coach later said it was "the worst moment in my career." He said, "My world collapsed." "Sven was right. I was wrong." No doubt he will reflect on what happened for the rest of his life. (Adapted from: Craig Brian Larson, editor of PreachingToday.com; source: Brian Hamilton, "One lane change changes everything," Chicago Tribune [2-24-10], sect. 2, pp. 1, 8)
Our failures of faith hurt the ones we love the most.
Perhaps you are thinking that things turned out alright for Abram because he got rich in the process. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. Genesis 12:16 (NKJV)
Take a look at Abram’s life, however, and you will discover that everything he got in Egypt became a problem for him later on. Abram’s herds became so large that the land could not sustain him and it caused a family feud and split between Abram and his nephew Lot. We also belived that Abram got an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar. Hagar and her offspring Ishmael drove a wedge of division into Abram’s family whose ripple effects are felt down to our day in the dispute between the Jewish people and the Arab people.
The first lesson has to do with The Timing of Failures of Faith: We often fail in times of Testing. The second lesson is about…The Tragedy of Failures of Faith: Our failures of faith hurt the ones we love the most. The third lesson has to do with…
17 But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister'? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way." 20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had. Genesis 12:17-20 (NKJV)
Abram’s failure of faith not only hurt his family but it also hurt Pharaoh! “There’s no mention of what these plagues are. They are severe. We would assume that Pharaoh's household is overwhelmed, yet Sarah isn't touched by it.” (Dr. Haller, notes on Genesis 12; LRU)
Pharaoh asks, “What have you done to me? Why have you brought this pain upon my house?” He then gives Abram his wife back. Pharaoh even calls Sarai Abram’s wife indicating that no harm had come to her.
The covenant God made with Abram included him being a blessing to all the nations. Now, in the first nation he encounters he becomes a burden, so much so they Pharaoh kicks him out of the land! Instead of being the representative of the one true living God, Abram has become a reproach worthy only of expulsion from Egypt. He had gone from being a hero to a zero!
Why did God afflict Pharaoh? Did God do this for Abram’s sake? 22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. Ezekiel 36:22 (NKJV)
God is faithful even when we are unfaithful! He will honor His Word and uphold His glory!
We must conclude, however, with affirming that Abraham is still a great man of faith. He was not perfect. Neither are we. Failures in faith do not have to be final. Look at how the first part of Genesis 13 presents Abram:
1 Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. 2 Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord. Genesis 13:1-4 (NKJV)
Restatement of Big Idea: Failures in faith do not have to be final. You can return to God and call upon Him again in faith.
When you realize you have stopped walking by faith the best thing you can do is go back to the last place where you last were walking by faith. Perhaps you need to come home to your church family. Perhaps you need to start reading your Bible again. Perhaps you need to put God first in your finances again or in your dating relationship, your parenting, your career.
Thankfully when God sums up our lives he will not focus on our failures but on our faith. My wife Donna has always maintained a baby book for each of our children. At their birth she recorded their vital statistics, their foot-print, and baby pictures. Each baby book provides space for you to record milestones in your child’s life. Imagine how petty and demoralizing it would be if I recorded in my child’s baby book: 1st time he fell down. 2nd time he fell down. 3rd time he fell down.
No! Those things do not define my child. Instead we wrote the date by 1st steps. 1st words. 1st day at school.
Look at what God records in His book, the Book of Hebrews where he sums up the life of Abraham.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. ” (Hebrews 11:8–10, NKJV)
Abraham’s failures of faith were not final! Your failures of faith do not have to be final either. Call upon Him again today and begin walking by faith, trusting in God and in His Word, the Bible.