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Abraham 2: Is our friendship still on track? Bible:Genesis+12:10-13:18 by Alan Golton
I'm going to speak this morning to us who've begun the Christian life. How do we know whether we're still on track, going in the direction God wants us to take?
An airline pilot, flying by his instruments and relying on the radio beacons set up to guide him, has a visual or audible indication when he has deviated from the centre of his air-corridor. How does God guide us?
Are we ever inclined to look to our earthly blessings our home, our family and friends, our good health, our job or our financial security and tell ourselves that therefore God has approved our choices in life? Is that proof we have followed his guidance?
We've probably all been tempted to think like that, at one time or other. But our true guidance comes from what God indicates to us in Scripture. Let us see then what we can learn from this second episode in the life of Abraham.
1. A successful journey?
At first sight, Abram's journey to Egypt was very successful. He avoided the famine and returned a rich man. We read, Pharoah treated Abram well... and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. (12:16) And, Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. (13:2)
But that's not the whole story, is it? When we handle God's word we must do so honestly not cutting out the bits that don't fit our theories. If I read again the verses 1116, we get quite a different impression: When Abram was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, "I know that you are a beautiful woman to behold; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account." When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharoah saw her, they praised her to Pharoah. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram ... (12:11-16 RSV)
Is this a man who believes God's promise to make him a great nation give him a great name and through him bless all the peoples on earth? Is he trusting God to bless him, and curse those who ill-use him? He is not!
What had happened? Was it the discovery that there could be famine in the promised land? If so, let us take heed being a Christian won't make us immune to hardships and difficulties. Perhaps God was testing Abram, to see if he really trusted his promises. Certainly God will test our trust in him, so that trust can grow.
Whatever the reason Abram's solution was to go to Egypt. We are not told this was right or wrong. But whereas in Canaan the language and customs had not been so very different from those of his birthplace in Mesopotamia the culture and language of Egypt were totally different. That by itself could have been disorientating and unsettling to his new-found faith. Young Christians need to be wise in the places they go to, and so not be tempted.
More significantly, we are not told that Abram consulted God before going as his grandson Jacob was to do before going to Egypt during another famine. Nor are we told that Abram built any altar in Egypt.
When our grip on God's promises is relaxed because we begin to doubt their truth we are no longer walking with God in trust and obedience. When we are out of fellowship with him, we no longer want to worship him. And when we've got spiritually low we become like Abram some temptation overwhelms us and defeats us.
And we may resort to some scheme of our own, of doubtful morality, to improve our position in the world. Who in the world of business has not been tempted to do just that?
2. A fear of man replaced trust in God
In Abram's case, fear of man replaced faith in God. We see Abram as he was by nature a man like us, with the same weaknesses and temptations. He was fearful selfish and cowardly and quite insensitive to his wife's feelings.
Oh yes, Abram became a great man of faith but that was to be the result of God's work in his life. At this time he did what many a person has done since he took advantage of someone else, to save himself. The man of faith stooped to worldly wisdom. Among the Hurrian people whose outlook dominated northern Mesopotamia at that time, there was a very strong sense of the value of kinship. It was not only known for men to marry their half-sisters, as Abram had in fact done (Gen 20:12), but also, it appears, to adopt their wives as sisters, to enhance their own standing.
So, in terms of Abram's cultural background, it must have seemed to him an appropriate thing to stress this relationship. But it was a half-truth intended to deceive and as such it was a lie. Lack of faith in God had led Abram into the further sin of falsehood.
Now consider the promises God had given Abram, which he might have relied upon. Would God have let a famine wipe out both him and his family? When he was in Egypt, would God have allowed him to be killed seeing that God had said he would make him a great nation? Moreover the promise of protection for his family should have been guarantee enough to a man of his particular background, where the family was so important.
Instead he jeopardises Sarai's integrity, purity and honour to save his own skin. As her husband he should have been her guardian. The trouble was, that Abram hadn't yet learned to be different from the surrounding male-dominated culture. The account itself underlines the Egyptian way of referring to Sarai she is just the woman (verses 14,15: this is clearer in RSV) the woman was very beautiful... the woman was taken into Pharoah's house.
Abram's estimate of his wife's beauty was evidently correct. Since Sarah died at the age of 127 [as a woman nearly did in France, a few years ago!] we must assume the patriarchs aged more slowly than we normally do. At 65 she must have appeared as if in her mid-30's! But Abram's distrust of the Egyptians and his ruse to deceive them only made matters worse. He lost Sarai and she became Pharaoh's wife! (12:19)
What did this episode do to Sarai and her relationship to Abram? How much of their future differences stemmed from that? It seems this wasn't something Sarai could discuss with Abram. Are there no-go areas in our marriages? Something which one partner will not face and the other cannot bring up? For Christians this ought not to be because for us there should be mutual submission and mutual sacrificial love.
The result of Abram's sin didn't, of course, stop with Sarai. When, in effect, we say to God: I don't believe you and I don't trust you it destroys our witness to others. I wonder what result his example had on Lot? Was Lot's taste for city life and earthly riches reinforced by his uncle's example? What did others in Abram's household think? We know what Pharoah thought!
3. A faithful God
But if Abram had failed God God had not failed Abram. God had promised to take Abram's part when others did not use him well. Perhaps Abram didn't think that that promise also applied to Sarai but God showed that it did. Abram might let Sarai down, as well as God but God let neither of them down, despite Abram's not deserving it. (2 Tim 2:13)
But that is what we mean, when we speak of God's grace. Our God is wonderfully gracious. He also orders all things according to his will there is a Providence that guides and governs the world to God's glory. He's not like a builder who puts up a house, but afterwards has nothing more to do with it. He is a Captain who steers the ship of the whole creation. Of course there's mystery here for we're still responsible for our own choices and actions.
But time and time again, God's care shields his people from danger, rescues them from their follies, and supplies their needs. He is a loving Father to his children and we need to trust him at all times. And so it was that God intervened to save Sarai.
Abram's sin was found out and he was rebuked by a heathen king. The ethical standard of the world is high where it concerns our behaviour and Christians are rightly watched. We should be grieved and ashamed when Christians in positions of responsibility fail to walk uprightly and rejoice when Christians are rightly commended for their integrity.
Abram was not only found out he was flung out! In this way God guided him back to the promised land, and he never left it to go to Egypt again. What Abram did do was to return to the place he had started out from. To the place between Bethel and Ai, where he'd made an altar and there he called on the name of the Lord. The record is reticent about Abram's words and actions at this point. But clearly Abram returned spiritually as well as physically. He returned to the attitude of trust and commitment he had had before.
When we have sinned we must go back to where we left God's way. One way or another God's Holy Spirit will convict and teach us that we've left God's way and we must return to him. This is the kind of guidance God gives us when we read his word. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isa 30:21 RSV)
Praise God he restores us and forgives us when we ask him. Let me remind you of these words from John's First Letter: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
There is only one remedy for sin and that is found in Jesus's death on the cross on our behalf. When Abram offered a sacrifice on his altar and called on the name of the Lord, his sacrifice was a picture of that final and perfect sacrifice yet to come but his trust in the Lord's mercy was the same as ours has to be for we are all utterly indebted to the Lord alone.
4. A lesson learned
What evidence is there that Abram learnt the lesson of this episode? The lesson that we must trust God and his promises put worship at the centre of our life and listen to God's guidance? I believe the verses in chapter 13, that follow the reading we heard, show us that God used this incident to help Abram to grow spiritually. Are we as apt pupils in God's school?
Chapter 13 records the well-known story of how uncle and nephew parted company because their increased riches of flocks and herds led to clashes between their herdsmen. And because the land had insufficient pasture for them both, together, no doubt, with the indigenous people.
Riches gained in Egypt do not necessarily represent a blessing. Now Abram is tested again. He had failed to trust God when he was in need would he trust God when he had plenty? No doubt that's a test that applies to many of us here.
Abram could so easily have decided the matter according to worldly wisdom. He could have stood his ground as the older man or as the recipient of God's promises and asked Lot to respect his position. Or he could just have said, selfishly I'm taking the best you can have the rest! Or he could have used pious language The Lord has told me you are to have that and I'm to have this! [Have we ever done that?] When we speak like that, we're really trying to stop all sensible discussion!
Instead Abram trusted God for the future, and let Lot make a free choice. Abram didn't attempt to use or manipulate Lot. He didn't pull rank or claim a hotline to God. He just trusted God to look after his interest. Trusting God's promises he had no need to fret or scheme. Instead, trust in God's faithfulness brings peace and leaves us free to be generous.
In fact, of course, Abram may not have known what choice he ought to make although I suspect he knew Lot well enough to know what his choice would be. You see, when we live by faith we shall not necessarily have a clear idea what God wants us to do in a given situation.
In that case, we should say to God, Lord, I don't know I have no particular insight into this matter but you know all about it, and all the consequences of this choice and I'm going to trust you to work it out according to your sovereign purposes. I'm quite sure that's what Abram did. That's much better than making our own decisions and then asking God to bless them!
So Abram trusted in the unseen reality while Lot, using his eyes, chose by worldly standards, even though he probably knew the moral character of the area he was moving into. What consequences this was to have for the two families Lot's and Abram's!
If you don't know read the sequel in chapter 19. It's a very sad one as far as Lot's family was concerned. I wonder if we regard such matters as of first importance when we have to move house enquiring what the situation will be for our family's spiritual well-being where there is a suitable church, and so on.
We began by asking whether we regard ourselves as being on track. And whether we are tempted to gauge this by the blessings we appear to have received. But we've seen, in this story of Abram how we must look more deeply to the hidden attitudes known only to God and to ourselves and maybe not even to us. We must examine these in the light of Scripture whether we really love others or whether we are using them for our own ends by the things we say about them or to them, and by the things we do that affect them.
Of course there is much more that could be said about this for this is true of communities and nations, as well as ourselves as individuals but in all these respects there is our personal responsibility to think through to the right attitudes and actions!
Above all we need to ask ourselves how great is our God? Is he our all-sufficient Friend, on whom we rely, day by day? Remember although Abram failed God God didn't fail Abram. When Abram did trust God, God spoke to him again (Gen 13:14-17). God reaffirmed his promise, added colour to it, and invited Abram to explore and enjoy the greatness of what he had promised. God does the same with us.
But first we must return to him, whenever and from wherever, we have gone astray back to the place where we were at first where we left the path. There we must seek him and his forgiveness and then he will fill us anew with his Spirit to live out the life of trust and obedience that he has called us to.