In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Last time, we began the story of Abraham (here, still Abram). We began by reading about Abram’s call by God to go and his obedience in going. And we talked about the significance of Abram’s going – his leaving behind everything that he knew, everything that he thought defined him – and following the call of God.
In our story today, we find that Abram is not where he is supposed to be. God calls Abram out of his land into Canaan, but he winds up in Egypt. Why? In vs. 10 we read that Abram left Canaan because there was a famine in the land. This doesn’t seem like a big deal and seems like a perfectly reasonable decision but it’s notable for the fact that it is not precipitated by God. In other words, it seems like Abram made the decision on his own, without consulting or consideration for God’s will.
Along with going where he is not supposed to go, what we also see in our story is Abram doing what he’s not supposed to do.
Abram, upon arriving in Egypt, worries that Sarai is going to cause problems for him. Specifically, he’s worried that, because Sarai is so beautiful, the Egyptians will want to take her for themselves, presumably killing Abram in the process. So what he does is asks Sarai to claim to be his sister – the Egyptians will then want to win Abram’s favour in order to get Sarai. Now obviously this works too well because Pharaoh himself decides that he wants Sarai. He gives Abram lots of livestock in order to win Sarai and eventually takes her as his wife.
Obviously this is not what God had intended – God inflicts Pharaoh with diseases as a result of these circumstances.
Now it seems like Pharaoh is the one who sinned since he is the one who suffers from the diseases. But the text seems to make it fairly clear that, though Pharaoh is the one who suffers, Abram is the one who sinned.
18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?
We don’t the time to go into the question of suffering for someone else’s sins – let us simply remember that the story of Genesis so far (i.e. the proto-history) has made it clear that the whole world has fallen into sin.
Considering our passage today, we must remember that, in the immediately preceding verses, God has called Abram to be his chosen people.
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.”
God tells Abram to go and he goes. So what’s going on here? We go from an account of Abram’s great faith immediately to a story of Abram’s folly. What causes Abram to abandon his call? Quite simply, Abram abandons his call, he engages in deception, essentially selling his wife because of fear.
- In Canaan, faced with famine, Abram abandons the land to which God had called him because of fear.
- In Egypt, faced with the possibility of violence on account of Sarai, Abram takes what is essentially the easy way out.
I wonder what any of us might have done in his situation? Some of us might have done much better, made better choices. But some of us may have done much the same thing. Fear makes us do stupid things.
Some of us are afraid of heights. I have a natural fear of heights – always have. But several years ago, I took up rock climbing. There’s nothing like hanging on a cliff face, 50 feet off the ground, to make you face your fear.
Some of us are afraid of spiders. I hate spiders – always have. But several years ago, I was living with a friend of mine in an older house in Vancouver and there were spiders everywhere. Just little things – but it faced me to deal with it. After living there for awhile, spiders just didn’t bother me any more.
Some (apocryphal?) studies show that death is second on the list of peoples’ greatest fears. First? Public speaking. I’ve always had this fear as well. But after many years of preaching, I can confidently say that it doesn’t really bother me any more.
So some fears we can overcome. We can overcome them by counseling, by experience, or by sheer force of will. And not all fear is bad. Some fears, obviously, serve a function. The fear of heights is normal. If we didn’t have a fear of heights, a lot more people would fall. It’s actually not a normal thing to climb a cliff – precisely because falling off is a bad thing. The fear of spiders may be irrational, but not a fear of all spiders. Some spiders should be feared. Many fears exist – and tend to be universal in humans – because we need to be protected (because we’re stupid).
But these are not really the fears that shape us. The fears that really impact the way we live, the choices that we make, who we are as people are not spiders or heights or public speaking. The fears that really shape us are more subtle.
They are the fears that we shape our lives around. They are the fears that cause us to change who we are, who we are called to be; they are the fears that cause us to turn our backs on God and take the easy way out. How many of us have taken a job we didn’t really want, that we wasn’t really suited for us because we were afraid of being poor? How many of us have started a relationship with someone who was totally wrong for us or extremely bad for us because we had a fear of being alone? How many of us have followed the latest trend, whether it’s in fashion or music or technology – or even church? – because we were afraid of being “left behind” or we were afraid of looking stupid (unfashionable)?
There’s historical evidence to suggest that Abram was following the path of other people who went to Egypt during the famine (or at least that this might have been the common wisdom). Did he do think this was a good idea because everybody else seemed to think it was a good idea?
What happened when Abram succumbed to his fears? He found himself where he wasn’t supposed to be doing what he wasn’t supposed to do.
Now as we go, as we walk this Christian walk, we will often find ourselves where we know we’re not supposed to be, doing what we know we shouldn’t be doing. We can examine ourselves, as I hope Abram did, to find out how we wound up off the path. And truth be told, there will be a lot of things that will try to distract us (and succeed).
So What Now…?
The point that I want to make today is simply – don’t let fear (of whatever) distract you from the promises of God. Don’t let the fear of what might be rob you of the promises of God for what will be.
And here’s the grace in our story today: Though Abram found himself far off the path, he was still God’s chosen. Though Abram made some pretty bad decisions, based on worldly fears, God’s grace drew him back to his promises.
So fear not: Because in the end, it wasn’t that Abram was able to overcome his fear. There’s no real indication in the story (here) that Abram became a better person and therefore God took him back. Rather, it is purely that God’s love, God’s grace, was greater than Abram’s fear.