I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable when I’ve heard others teach on the story of Avram and Sarai’s (i.e. Abraham & Sarah) journey to Egypt. Specifically I am referring to how Avram is characterized for ‘lying’ to the Egyptians, stating that Sarai is his sister and not his wife. (See Genesis 12). The reason is that Avram is the ‘father of our faith’ and noted for his faith in the ‘Faith Hall of Fame’ of Hebrews 11.
How can this man, who had the faith to leave the land of his family at the age of 75 and venture to a land whose destination was yet unknown, and do so as a result of an encounter with someone he could not even see, do something for which most commentators deride him for? Surely Avram possessed the type of faith we all should aspire to. Indeed he is our model. I believe that sometimes we, when reading the story thousands of years later with the benefit of hindsight, find it easy say, ‘see he didn’t trust GOD’ and ‘he lied!’ and put him down for it. Indeed, no one should uplift him for his actions; however I’ve felt we’ve been too harsh on him for what he did.
Technically, Avram was not lying to the Egyptians. Sarai was his half-sister (Genesis 20:12. However, as I heard this taught on again recently, I find my viewpoint altered slightly and, while I knew what Avram did was not right, I can see why it was wrong, beyond simply not being completely up-front with the Egyptians. Rather than put him down for what he did, we can learn a great lesson from his choice as it sheds some light on something everyone of faith can learn from. On their face, the events testify of Adonai’s (the LORD) mercy. In addition we see that while He may protect us from the stupid things we do there are at times consequences that we bear.
Avram left his land, apparently with few qualms, and little if any questioning. So great must his encounter have been that he was fully convinced that was what he his purpose. Avram trusted the voice of Adonai. However, once Avram arrives in the land, after a period of time a famine hits. He is forced to take his wife, nephew (Lot) and niece down to Egypt (echoes of Yosef (Joseph) and Yeshua (Jesus)!!!!). Perhaps he began to wonder that great question so many of us struggle with when the storms of life come our way; “Why?!”
Genesis 12:11-12 says;
It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.
It would appear that Avram took his eyes off of the one whom was the giver and preserver of his life. Instead of trusting fully, he began to fear for his life, seeking to preserve it with his own efforts. As the story goes Pharaoh takes Sarai into his house (plans on making her his own). During this time Pharaoh showers blessings upon Avram (Gen. 12:16). Soon thereafter great plagues strike him and his household and Pharaoh sends her away along with Avram and everything he showered upon them.
That which Avram meant to conceal, in order to preserve his life, had been revealed. Surely Pharaoh had reason to strike him down right then, but Adonai made Himself known in a strong way to Pharaoh that he dared not lay a hand on Avram. (Here we see a foreshadowing of the future slavery and exodus!!) Adonai continued to show Himself faithful to the promise, even when Avram failed to fully trust in Him. (May we rejoice in the fact that our King does not change, and He shows Himself faithful even when we fail to trust Him fully!)
However there is something that happens in this historical account (verse 16) that I’ve become aware of and it certainly deepens the story. Pharaoh gave Avram, among other things, female servants (hand-maidens). It is safe to say these servants were Egyptians. Also, while Sarai was in Pharaoh’s house, she most likely had hand-maidens too.
Do you remember someone named Hagar? She was the hand-maiden of Sarai whom she told Avram to have the child of the promise by. She also was Egyptian (Genesis 16:1). Have you ever wondered where she came from? I believe she was one of the ‘gifts’ from Pharaoh bestowed upon Avram. Sarai could have picked her up anywhere along their journeys, but I find that unlikely. Jewish history believes that not only was she from Egypt, that she was perhaps even a daughter of Pharaoh!
We see that Adonai protected, preserved and even blessed, Avram while in Egypt, even though he failed to fully trust Him. But there was a consequence. And that consequence was Ishmael.
Sarai believed that, even though Adonai made a promise for a son, that He at the same time prevented her from the promise. Taking matters into her hands, just like Avram had done before, she turns to Hagar and bids Avram to have the child of the promise with her (this was socially acceptable in the ancient world). The result? Ishmael.
The one choice by Avram, where he didn’t fully trust the one who had sent him, the one who had called him by name and revealed Himself in a powerful way, put Sarai in the house of Pharaoh. Imagine had he fully trusted, like he had up to that time. Surely Adonai would have spared him from what he feared (death by jealous Egyptians), and Sarai would not have had to find herself with Pharaoh, almost destroying his house.
All of us, including yours truly, do stupid things. We all fail to fully trust the One who knows the number of hairs on our head, and knows the secrets of our hearts. However, I am sure we all can think of times that He has spared us, despite our stupidity. However, being spared from what we deserve doesn’t mean there won’t ever be any consequences. Surely if Avram could fast forward thousands of years to today and see the result of his actions, he never would have put Sarai in the position he did, and he certainly would not have had a child with Hagar years later, even when Sarai encouraged it.
That one choice (which I believe I’ve shown didn’t start with listening to Sarai to lay w/ Hagar) has resulted in something we are all familiar with. The children of Avram, one of the promise, and the other not, are still battling one another. The promise flows through Yitzhak (Isaac), while Ishmael (at the very least a sizeable portion of the Muslim world today) claims it belongs to them. The brothers are and always have been at war at one level or another since Ishmael mocked Yitzchak as a very young child.
Despite Avram’s shortcoming in this instance, Adonai led him onward and he did indeed become the father of an innumerable people, a people through whom Adonai would make Himself known to the world.
While Adonai may bless us, even when we falter, we should be aware that when we allow fear to come between us and the One we should trust fully, that unintended and sometimes frightening consequences are possible.
Therefore may all of us take this and resolve to trust Adonai. Not just trust, but trust fully. May we hold fast to truth when confronted with fear. It surely is easier said than done!
-Nathan Mancuso, Congregational Leader