Lesson 3 – Count on God (Genesis 12:10-20)
Abram is a man of faith. He does not have to have fine-grained details in order to do God’s will (Hebrews 11:8). By faith he is able to work with vague directions and set out from what is familiar for an unknown country. For what? For the prospect of a great name, the promise to become a great nation, and a prosperity that enables him to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-3). His confidence in God is so remarkable that it places him in the great Hall of Faith:
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8, NKJV)
The same Abram, three times referred to as the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), is a man of faults. Early in his relationship with the Lord, and shortly after his display of leave-everything-behind-in-obedience faith, his shortcomings become visible. He, like many of us, becomes deceptive in difficulty, untruthful when faced with unsafe conditions, and likely to lie if it lessens his chances of dealing with danger. He has only recently begun to follow the Lord and at this point in our story he is still very pagan in his dealings with problems. He trusts God with the calling to go out into the unknown for great things; but in matters of his personal day-to-day welfare, he leans on himself.
Let us look at another episode in Abram’s life. In doing so we will become more acquainted with his failure, the underlying fault in his faith, and truths about His God that he needed to learn. And in doing so we have a grand opportunity to learn an invaluable lesson for our lives. That is, our study of a low point in Abram’s story offers (1) insight into our own problem of not trusting God when we feel threatened and (2) a principle that will reinforce our resolve to do right in all circumstances.
In the material that follows I have attempted to be easy to understand and concise. My writing, like my speaking, leaves much to be desired. But by His grace I present my two cents in hopes that they are a help in our sojourn to a land that He will show us.
Famine Facilitates Finding the Fault (Genesis 12:10-13)
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
Abram, and those around him in Canaan, come face-to-face with a famine in the land (Genesis 12:10). Canaan’s crops were watered exclusively by rainfall. A period of persistent or severe drought would have caused problems with cultivated food. In response to the famine Abram went to Egypt. This was, as Fruchtenbaum notes, a common occurrence:
Archeology has verified what is described in this verse, because paintings in the Tomb of Khnun-hotep III in Beni Hagan, which dates back to the time of Sesostris II (1897-1878 B.C.), show the arrival of thirty-seven Asiatic men, women, and children in the same time period of Abram. Thus, Egypt regularly experienced migrations of Asiatics into Egypt, especially in times of famine. (Fruchtenbaum, 2008, p. 309)
The Famine-Forced Trip to Egypt (Genesis 12:10; 26:1-2)
Many commentators find fault with Abram’s decision to go to Egypt. His actions, they say, were done without consulting with God. Since the text does not say that he did not consult with God, I believe it is best to refrain from impugning his character in this matter. Further, if God had not wanted Abram to go to Egypt He could have said as much. That is exactly what the Lord does for the son of Abram (Genesis 26:1-2):
1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar. 2 Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. (Genesis 26:1–2, NKJV)
And there were times when a famine became part of the plan for moving people to Egypt:
Although famine is associated with divine curse (e.g., Deut 28:23–24; Amos 4:6–8) or at least divine absence (Ruth 1:1, 6), there is no hint of divine disapproval of the patriarchs or any objection to their leaving Canaan. In the case of Jacob, it is specifically condoned by the Lord (46:3–4). (Mathews, 2005, p. 127)
Whether God is the advocate of the sojourn or just allowing it to happen misses the point. Getting caught up in the conjecture over whether the Lord promoted or permitted the travel to Egypt is to be distracted from the message:
Difficulty is used to put on display the defects, deficiencies, and developmental needs of Abram. The reader is made to watch Abram’s shortcomings with a view to helping him see his own. The writer is conveying the outworking of Abram’s failure and warning his audience against similar actions. Most importantly the story communicates the consequences of an unconditional covenant in the context of human failings.
And then there is the matter of helping the nation through the example of their patriarch. Abram’s sojourn, when we back away from this passage to see the larger work, has striking similarities to the experience that will unfold for the nation. In Table 1 the correspondence becomes uncanny and the intention of God becomes clear – the famine was used to foreshadow the descent to Egypt, bondage of Israel, and then the deliverance of the nation.
Table 1 – Parallels Between Abram’s and Israel’s Sojourn to Egypt
We should not overlook the parallels between this sojourn of Abram in Egypt and the later event in the life of the nation of Israel. “The great deliverance out of bondage that Israel experienced was thus already accomplished in her ancestor, and probably was a source of comfort and encouragement to them. God was doing more than promise deliverance for the future nation; it was as if in anticipation He acted out their deliverance in Abram.” (Ross, 1985, p. 49)
The Deficit of Faith (Genesis 12:12-13)
Abram obeyed the call. But he did not have the faith to believe that God could protect him from the evil inclinations of the peoples around him. To be safe he would have to take care of himself. All of this has been running through his mind and finally comes out of his mouth when he was close to entering Egypt. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. “At this time, Abram’s faith was not mature to the point that he knew he could trust God under any circumstances.” (Fruchtenbaum, 2008, p. 308)
The lack of faith is the reason for his fears. In fact, truth be told, his fear is based on his ignorance. Abram has not seen God in action and does not have the benefit of the Scriptures to inform his thinking. Thus, in light of what he knows men are likely to do when they want the wife that belongs to another man, he is fearful.
Abram’s fear is spelled out in verse 12: and it will come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see you, meaning they will see her beauty, that they will say, This is his wife. This is not merely a statement of fact. The very statement, This is his wife, automatically becomes a threat to the life of Abram. As the archives also show, Egyptians of this period were famous for wife abduction. The result will be: They will kill me, but they will save you alive. (Fruchtenbaum, 2008 , pp. 309-310)
The danger can be diminished with a half-truth. “In enemy territory a husband could be killed for his wife. But if Abram were known as her brother, someone wanting her would have to make marriage arrangements with him, which would possibly give him time to react in his own interest.” (Ross, 1985, p. 49) It is a half-truth because Sarai is his half-sister; they share a father but have different mothers (Genesis 20:12).
Look What Came Out of Abram’s Lying (Genesis 12:14-16)
14 So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
Abram and Sarai had an agreement. We are not told what she said or thought of her husbands plan. But she was complicit in the execution.
The Problem with the Plan (Genesis 12:14-15)
Upon entering the country the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was beautiful.
adj. m., constr. יְפֵה; f. יָפָה constr. יְפַת—
(1) fair, beautiful, used of persons, both men and women, Gen. 12:14; 2 Sa. 13:1; 14:25; Cant. 1:8; 5:9; often with the addition of מַרְאֶה 1 Sa. 17:42; or תֹּאַר Gen. 29:17; also used of animals, 41:2, seq.; of pleasant countries, Psalm 48:3; of a pleasant tuneful voice, Eze. 33:32.
(2) good, excellent, καλός. Ecc. 3:11, “God made all things beautiful;” καλῶς, 5:17. (Gesenius, 2003, p. 358)
Abram’s plan was based on the assumption that he would be given some time to get away if someone nefarious took a liking to his Sarai. He did not take into account that not everyone needs to bargain. “Pharaoh, being Pharaoh, did not need to bargain; and so the action of taking Sarai was immediate. This shows that Abram’s fear was indeed reasonable. However, since there was no negotiation period, he did not have the opportunity to get away.” (Fruchtenbaum, 2008, pp. 310-311)
Blessed But Dealing with a Backfired Scheme (Genesis 12:16)
It is cool to have a surprise gift come in. When the gifts are basically compensation for taking your wife, the feeling is not cool. As Abram received gifts of sheep, camels, donkeys, and servants he was continuously reminded that his planning was faulty and that this was all his fault. But what could he do? “Entangled in his deception, he found himself unable to refuse his questionable earnings (16), if indeed he wished to, and unable to answer Pharaoh’s stinging rebuke. Yet if this experience lay behind his fine reply to the king of Sodom in 14:22f. there was something salvaged from it.” (Kidner, 1967, p. 127)
The promises to Abram were unconditional. That is, God did not say that he would bless Abram if he did right and curse him if he did wrong. He said that he would bless him, period! Thus God uses this situation to show Abram that the covenant is being kept… inspite of his meddling. Prospering was not a matter of doing the right things. It was based entirely on the trustworthiness of God.
Confirmation of the Covenant Being Kept by God (Genesis 12:17-20)
17 But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” 20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.
The promise to bless Abram was part of a set of promises. Along with those unconditional promises of prosperity was the unconditional promise to curse anyone who cursed Abram (Genesis 12:3). Pharaoh never had a chance; the policy for dealing with the enemies of Abram did not require (1) consent from Abram or (2) conduct that was condoned by God. If anyone acted against Abram God would act against them. Period! Abram needed to learn that his safety was not a matter of his self-preservation skills and that lying was not needed.
The Gracious Extent of the Promise (Genesis 12:17; Genesis 20:18; Psalm 105:13-15)
“Diseases” translates the Hebrew for “plagues,”119 which is the same word describing the ten plagues against Pharaoh (Exod 11:1). The term refers to skin disease in Mosaic legislation (Lev 13), and the verbal form describes the leprous judgment by the Lord against Uzziah (2 Kgs 15:5). “His house” probably refers to the members of his royal court, including his harem, as with King Abimelech (20:7, 17). (Mathews, 2005, p. 129)
Discerning the Difference (Genesis 12:18-19)
At some point it became obvious that the skin diseases being suffered by Pharaoh and his court were not a natural occurrence. The baker was sick, the candlestick maker was sick, the cup bearer was sick, the wives were sick, the children of Pharaoh were sick, the guards were sick. [Was the royal dog and cat sick? The Egyptians had pets and they were considered part of the household (Mark, 2016).]. The only one not sick was Sarai. He must have thought, “It’s as if someone is punishing us for taking his sister as a wife. But that is not a crime. She is his sister! Or is she? Hmmm. He lied to me and some god is not happy with the fact that I have taken his wife. Get Abram in here! And get him in here now!”
Get Out! (Genesis 12:20)
Pharaoh insists on his departure, whereas Abimelech, probably impressed with Abram’s status as a prophet (Genesis 20:7), welcomes him to live in Gerar (Genesis 20:15). The dismissal is not left to Abram’s timing; Pharaoh ensures his expulsion by assigning “men,” a different term than “officials” (v. 15), to escort him and Sarai with “everything he had.” (Mathews, 2005, p. 129)
What are we to learn from all of this. If I have succeeded to any extent two things should be clear. First, a lack of faith or ignorance about God’s ability to care for us, will lead to schemes and plans that are unnecessary. Second, if I am in the care of Jesus I need not fear or be deceptive; I can tell the truth with the assurance that no weapon formed against me shall prosper. Are you in the care of Jesus? If so, your witness should not waver with the winds of change (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:18-20).
The key to the whole problem lies with the patriarchal life-span, which was still approximately double our own (this seems to have been a special providence (cf. Deut. 34:7): there is no indication that it was general). Abraham died at 175 and Sarah at 127; Jacob was to think 130 years ‘few and evil’. Their continued vigour shows that this was no mere postponement of death but a spreading-out of the whole life process: e.g. Abraham at, say, 110 in chapter 22 has the vitality of a man of, at most, seventy. Sarai’s sixties would therefore presumably correspond with our thirties or forties, and her ninety years at Isaac’s birth with perhaps our late fifties. At the latter age she was past childbearing, yet not past all thought of matrimony, and it is significant that in chapter 20, unlike chapter 12, there is no mention of her beauty. (Kidner, 1967, p. 128)
Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Arnold G. (2008). The Book of Genesis. Ariel Ministries. Kindle Edition.
Gesenius, W., & Tregelles, S. P. (2003). In Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Logos Bible Software.
Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1). InterVarsity Press.
Mark, Joshua J. (2016). Pets in Ancient Egypt. Obtained 2022.05.19 from https://www.worldhistory.org/article/875/pets-in-ancient-egypt/
Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Ross, Allen P. (1985). Genesis. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1). Victor Books.