The Life of Abraham, Part 2: The Egyptian Detour
In the last episode we saw Abram and Sarai on the backside of the wilderness trying to scratch out a meager living and I think wondering about they had understood God correctly. When Moses wrote down this account of Abram, he was in the wilderness outside the same Promised Land. Like Abram, he knew he would never get to possess it, but Moses also hoped in the promise of God that it would belong to those who came after him. Abraham would spend the last hundred years wandering around the edges of the land just had Moses had spent the last eighty years of his life chasing the same promise. But at least Moses felt the nearness of the fulfillment at the end.
Abraham shares many similar experiences with the wilderness generation who had spent 40 years in the Negev in meager surroundings. All of the generation who came out with Moses except Caleb and Joshua would die there in the wilderness. The knowledge of Abraham would have encouraged that nation to keep pressing on towards receiving God’s promises for them.
Exposition of the Text
In this lesson we are told that famine had come to the land. Abram and Sarai who lived on the margins of the desert would have been the first to feel its effects. Grazing was scarce and so was water. The family was facing starvation if they stayed. This presented a real crisis of faith. Their lives were threatened. Family harmony was threatened. Lot, who at that time appeared to be the promised seed was threatened. Abram in increasing poverty was losing power among the people. Finally, their ability to stay in the land was threatened.
At some point, Abram took his family to Egypt, a journey that would be repeated by his grandson Jacob’s family. Egypt would have probably been known by Abram when he was living in Ur. Like Ur, Egypt had an advanced civilization. And even if he hadn’t the Canaanites who were merchants could have told him about it. Most of the pyramids had been built by this time. The regular yearly flood of the Nile ensured a stable and abundant food supply. Perhaps Abram had misunderstood the Lord, he thought. Instead of going south into the wilderness, he should have gone southwest. This is the same kind of adjustments we make in our own lives when we feel we have missed God’s blessing.
How inspiring Egypt must have appeared to the poor and hungry family as they eyed Egypt on the horizon. Here was a land with abundant food to sustain life and the opportunity for better company than sheep and wolves. But Abram already sensed a threat. He was going to be a stranger in a foreign land who happened to have a beautiful sixty-five year old wife. He feared that he would be killed and his wife taken.
So the scheme Abram now hatches is an attempt to save him from death as well as to gain influence in the land. He tells Sarai to tell the Egyptians that they were brother and sister, which was a half-truth. She must have been extremely good-looking because word of her beauty got the Pharaoh who summoned her for the harem. And just as Abram plotted, Pharaoh who wanted to woo Sarai treated Abram very well. Abram gained in property and status. There was only one large problem with the scheme. God had promised Abraham children and by this he meant more than Lot or one of Abram’s servants. Being someone else’s wife was surely a threat to the promised seed, and God acted quickly before such a union was consummated. He sent plagues among the Egyptians and allowed Pharaoh to make the association between the plagues and his taking of Sarai. The truth that Abram and Sarai were man and wife was also made known to him. He summoned them and confronted Abram with the truth. Then he expelled them from Egypt and had his men escort them out with all of their possessions.
We must take a moment and reflect on this story. In it we see the story of the Exodus generation all over again, except this was four hundred years in advance. Hunger drove Jacob to Egypt. Israel through Joseph was raised to high authority in Egypt. They had land in Goshen. They had for some time a good life in Egypt. Their seed multiplied greatly. Then they fell from Pharaoh’s favor. God sent plagues. Pharaoh summons Moses and expels Israel from Egypt and all they had. One should immediately see that this trip of Abram to Egypt was part of the greater plan for the children of Israel. By reading the story of Abram, the generation of the wilderness who was about to enter into Canaan would see their lives tied up in that of their ancestor Abraham. This is one of the many patterns we see in the bible which helps us discern God’s plan.
We see this in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Many in the congregation had suffered persecution which apparently led to imprisonment of some of them and confiscation of their goods. They we cast out of the cities into the waste places where other Christians took the risk of housing and feeding them. The writer of Hebrews encourages them in the faith to look at all the examples from the Old Testament as well as the firm resolve of the early leaders and apostles.
The life of Abraham is also a meant by which we can interpret our own journey today. Like Abraham, we too are pilgrims on this earth. If we are true to Christ, then we have to face the reality of the loss of our early blessings. There are many Christians who are in fear of their lives due to persecution. Their families are threatened. In some cases their children are taken away from them by the state. There is pressure to push Christ out of the public arena, even in this country which claims to tolerate religion and guarantee religious rights. Instead of having privilege and dominion, we are having to get used to the opposite. It is hard to see this land anymore as being a Christian country. If things continue, Christians will have to flee to the back side of some desert.
In other words, the world we live in looks increasingly cursed. The world tempts us that it provides the blessings only God can give. They promise life even as millions of infants are being killed like the Egyptians tried to do with the Israelite babies. They promise fellowship and dominion, but just how much control do the Justin Bieber’s of this world really have? Their own lives are spinning out of control. They claim community, but what a cursed community. They promise wealth to those who will follow their ways, but just how many people are really finding it? We look at the glitz and glitter promised us by Tinseltown, but how empty are the promises.
If we think that if we are undergoing difficulty right now, we must not think that we are out of the will of God. After all, the Scripture promises that all who would live godly lives in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. We may think that Egypt looks promising as though advanced technology and standards of living equals true prosperity. We must instead look to God who gives us life, eternal life. We must look for the land that God has promised us, the New Jerusalem. We must rest in God’s promise that he has made us priests and a kingdom as well. We must see in the church that we belong to a large family and enjoy each other’s fellowship as well as that of God. All of the five blessings bestowed upon Adam at creation belong to us in Jesus Christ.
We are at the edge of the wilderness which means we are also at the edge of the Land of Promise. We should live every day in the expectation that today might be the day the Lord returns and we take full possession. This is the hope that sustains us, our manna from heaven. We must be like Abraham who looked for a city, whose builder and maker is God. This is the land in which we shall find rest from our labor.
The Bible tells us that the people we call heroes in the Old Testament are recorded as examples for us to follow. This of course does not mean we should follow them into error. But we like them are prone to wander and leave the God we love. We will find ourselves in Egypt, having been lured there by the siren song of the world. When we do find ourselves there, let us remember that it is God who is the true hero. He came to the rescue of his all too human saints, and He will do the same for us. His promise depends upon His faithfulness and not ours. We will see again and again through our study of Abraham how the faithful Lord of the covenant extricates Abram from his mistakes and blesses him.
Abram and his family have been expelled from Egypt and all they had. They were headed back to the wilderness. God will be there to meet them.