Great Moments in Bible History
We would not have expected this of him
An Embarrassing Lie
Of all the sins that we humans commit, lying is the most ancient. The serpent told the first recorded lie and that led very rapidly to the mess that we still see around us today (and not just around us but inside us). Lying is the very opposite of how God behaves. “It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). Today’s story is about a man who got himself in big trouble by telling a lie. In itself, that is not unusual. It would be impossible to count how many people have done the same thing over the years. What does surprise us is the identity of the man who told the lie. Our story is about Abraham—the man God chose to bless by making his descendants into a great nation. The man through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
In our last issue, we learned that God told Abraham to leave his country, relatives and family to go to a land He would show him. Today that land is called Israel. Abraham obeyed and travelled all over that land. Our story in this issue begins as a severe drought hit that land. It was so bad that Abraham decided to go down to Egypt. On the way he began to worry about a particular danger he was afraid he might run into in Egypt. He explained to his wife Sarah, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live” (Genesis 12:11-12). Abraham came up with a plan: “Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” And so, at Abraham’s request, Sarah told a lie.
I assume that Abraham’s plan was that if anyone expressed interest in marrying his “sister,” he would quickly pack up and leave town, taking his wife with him. What he had not counted on was that the person who wanted to marry Sarah would be Pharaoh—the ruler of Egypt and possibly the most powerful man on earth at the time. When Pharaoh wants to marry your sister, you do not just leave town! So Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem and rewarded her “brother” with rich gifts. Abraham and his wife must have been beside themselves with worry after that. Instead of keeping them safe, their lie had gotten them into the deepest trouble they had probably ever been in. They were in a mess so big that only God could deal with it. And that is exactly what He did. God afflicted Pharaoh and his family with great plagues. Somehow Pharaoh learned why he was being plagued. He called Abraham and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go” (Genesis 12:18-19). It is very embarrassing when a man like Pharaoh who worships idols rebukes a God-fearing man like Abraham. It makes us cringe even today, almost 4,000 years later.
Why do you suppose this story is in the Bible? I don’t believe God put it there to warn us against lying. It is true that Abraham’s lie got him into trouble, but God does not want us to tell the truth simply because we might get in trouble if we don’t. He wants us to tell the truth because He wants us to be like Him. When we tell the truth because God tells the truth, we honor Him. But that aspect of lying versus truth-telling is not in this story.
I think this story is told to teach us something about Abraham’s faith. In our next article, we will explore what it means to have faith in God and what this story tells us about Abraham’s faith.
An Imperfect Faith
God wants us to have faith in Him. In fact, the Bible says that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Abraham is one of the premier examples in the Bible of a person of faith. In future issues we will look as some of the results of his faith, but even in our story so far he has certainly demonstrated that he believes God (which is what it means to have faith). God had told him to leave his family behind and go to a land he had never seen. And Abraham went just like God told him to.
But today’s story does not show his faith in a very good light. When he worried that someone might murder him to get his wife it never seemed to occur to him that if that were to happen, then God would not be able to keep His promise. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. At the time of this story he had no descendants because his wife was unable to have children. If he truly believed God’s promise he would understand that God could not let him die childless.
But if we cannot please God without faith, then why did God rescue Abraham from the mess he got himself into because of his lack of faith? This is one of the most encouraging things about this story—that God did not just discard Abraham after he messed up. It is obvious that Abraham’s faith was not perfect. But he had faith nevertheless, and it is encouraging to see that God recognized that and accepted it.
Apart from Jesus no one who has ever lived has had perfect faith. A good example of this problem is seen in a story from the life of Jesus. A man came to Jesus asking Him to cast a demon out of his son. He said to Him, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus picked up on his use of the word “if” and replied, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus helped his unbelief by casting the demon out of his son.
God helped Abraham’s unbelief by rescuing him from the mess he got himself into. And God does the same thing for us today. If you are in Christ, then God has promised you that you are His child and that He will treat you as His child. He is not going to toss you out when you, in a moment of weakness (like Abraham), show a lack of faith. His goal is to help your faith to grow so that you will truly live by faith. May each of us work with Him to achieve that goal.
Where Does Fear Come From?
Abraham told his lie in today’s story because of fear. He was afraid someone might kill him to get his wife. Where does fear come from?
At its origin fear comes when we fail to take God into account in our calculations. Just like with Abraham, it comes from a failure to trust God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33). It takes faith to believe that my heavenly Father knows I need something when I can see no way that I can possibly get that thing. But Jesus promises that if I will be concerned about the things of God (as a person of faith certainly will be), God will make sure that my needs are taken care of.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
A Change of Pace in Genesis
If you have been reading Great Moments from the beginning, you are probably aware that the first eleven chapters of Genesis covered thousands of years of history and numerous generations of people. In chapter 12 we began the story of Abraham. With this issue we have finished that chapter, but there are still another 12 chapters to go just on Abraham ! This is an amazing change of pace in the book. The author of Genesis has slowed way down to give us a chance to really get to know Abraham. This is because of what God has picked Abraham to be. He is to be the founder of a race of people who are to be separate from the rest of the world. That race will eventually bring forth the Messiah (whom we know as Jesus). The founder of that race (Abraham) will set the standard for how God wants that race to live. Even though Abraham messed up in today’s story, his faith will grow until we see him doing some amazing things because of his faith in God.