Genesis 10:12-20

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Genesis 12

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 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.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. 17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So 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,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

“Beauty is a curse here.”

On one of my first trips to Honduras I was visiting with a family in a village. There was a little girl in this family who was particularly pretty. I had the translator tell the little girl’s mother for me, “Your little girl sure is very pretty!” The mother spoke to the translator and he interpreted for me. “She says thank you. She also says that beauty is a curse here and that life can be dangerous for very pretty girls.” He went on to tell me that, as a result of this, many mothers take intentional steps to make their daughters look plain and less striking.

It was a jarring thing to hear. Life can be very hard, very dangerous for girls and women. Perhaps beauty, in a sense, can indeed be a curse. It certainly played its part in the sad story we will read about today, the story of Abraham and Sarah’s sojourn into Egypt.

In reality, Sarah’s beauty was not, at root, the main issue. The main issue was Abraham’s fear and the unfortunate choices that Abraham’s fear led him to consider and then make. The 3rd/4thcentury Christian Lactantius said, “Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be.” This is so. Perhaps more specifically apropos is this amazing statement from Jawaharlar Nehru said, “As fear is close companion to falsehood, so truth follows fearlessness.”

Yes, fear is a close companion to falsehood. We will see this today. To fear is to panic, to panic is to scheme, to scheme is to lie. Let us turn our attention to Genesis 12.

Abraham lied and put someone he loved in danger in order to save his own skin.

Abraham had received the call of God. God had promised to bless Abraham and his lineage, making of him “a great nation” (12:2). Abraham, demonstrating great faith, had left his home and traveled with his wife, Sarah, to Canaan. Finally we see in the obedience of Abraham some good news in the midst of the sad events of Genesis that precede this. But our joy is short-lived. Famine comes and with it fear…and with it, a lie.

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 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.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. 17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So 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,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

Abraham takes Sarah down to Egypt. You go “up” to Jerusalem. You go “down” to Egypt. On the way down to Egypt Abraham ponders Sarah’s great beauty. For the first time, perhaps, her beauty seems to him to be a curse. So Abraham tells Sarah, his wife, to lie and say that she is actually his sister. In this way, he hoped to avoid being murdered at the hands of the lustful Egyptians. In other words, he went ahead and served her up to the Egyptians in order to save his own skin.

This is not a good look for Abraham. Even so, it is a bit surprising to me to see some of the church fathers excusing and actually extoling Abraham’s decision. Didymus the Blind called it “an intelligent compromise with the lustfulness of the Egyptians” and “the intelligent strategy of the patriarch.” Augustine argued that Abraham committed “to God the defense of his wife’s chastity” and provided “as a man against human wiles.” He went to say that if Abraham “had not provided against the danger as much as he could, he would have been tempting God rather than trusting in him.”[1]

This strikes me as surreal, this defense of Abraham’s behavior by many of the early interpreters of scripture. It so surprised and irritated me that I reached out to Dr. Stephen Presley, Director of the Center for Early Christian Studies and Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and asked him to explain. He shared with me that many of the church fathers found it very very difficult to offer anything approaching criticism of the great patriarchs and figures of the faith. They were inclined, in other words, to find ways to defend Abraham because he was Abraham.

If we are honest, we all understand that kind of thing. All of us are inclined to defend our heroes. Even so, so we must be willing to look this story squarely in the face. Abraham’s behavior in this story is notcommendable. To begin with, as Derek Kidner has pointed out, Abraham never consulted God about going to Egypt in the first place!

…[A]ll the indications are that Abram did not stop to enquire, but went on his own initiative, taking everything into account but God. His craven and tortuous calculations are doubly revealing, both of the natural character of this spiritual giant (cf. Jas 5:17a) and of the sudden transition that can be made from the plane of faith to that of fear.[2]

Next, Abraham thought primarily of his own safety, his own skin, in this episode. In his very interesting article, “Educating Father Abraham: The Meaning of Wife,” Leon Kass writes:

Abram has a genuine dilemma, with which one must sympathize: either he can try to save his own life at the expense of his wife’s honor, or he can risk his likely death, after which his wife will also be taken (only this time as a widow). Thinking about God’s promise, Abram reasons that it depends on his own survival even more than it depends on Sarai’s fidelity and marital chastity; and, should he have considered the matter, he probably concluded that there was no risk of confounding his lineage through adulterous union, for Sarai was barren. Abram in his heart willingly commits Sarai to adultery.[3]

Thus, Abraham acts with self-interest, with no apparent thought of God’s will and desire for them, and to Sarah’s dishonor and danger. Let us also not miss that Abraham’s dishonesty and fear had terrible results for the household of Pharaoh.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.

Couple these plagues with the fact that, as we have seen, God’s calling out of a particular people, of which Abraham was the patriarch, was ultimately intended for the good and salvation of the world, including Egypt, and the full scope of this tragedy comes into view. Abraham was to be a blessing to Egypt. Instead, he was a curse. He was to point them to the goodness of God. Instead he brought the wrath of God down upon them. Wisely does Walter Brueggemann argue that our text “presents Abraham as an anxious man, a man of unfaith,” “a desperate man who will act in prudential and unprincipled ways, even endangering Sarah to save himself.”[4]

Now think of your own life: in what ways have you brought ruin upon yourself and others because you allowed fear to eclipse wisdom and therefore the truth? In what ways might you be doing this right now? In what ways have you endangered those you love because you took your eyes off of God and panicked? In what ways have you thought, “I can fix this! I’m in charge here!” only to find, in the end, pain and hurt?

Think of it: Abraham lied and put someone he loved in danger in order to save his own skin. Abraham put his wife between himself and the danger in order that he might be saved. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his wife in order to avoid death.

How unbelievably tragic! How dark! How unlike what he should have been as a husband and as the head of this called-out people.

Abraham was a great man, but great men can do profoundly wicked things. This is what he did in this case.

But let us now consider an amazing contrast to Abraham!

Jesus told the truth and laid down His own life so that He could save those He loves from destruction.

We have seen how Jesus once angered the religious authorities by saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Yes, Abraham rejoiced to see the coming of Jesus! He rejoiced because he knew that Jesus was the whole point of the calling of Abraham and the election of a people, Israel, in the first place, but certainly he must have rejoiced also because he did not see in Jesus any of the old frailties that had plagued his own life and decisions. On the contrary, Jesus showed the exact oppositebehavior of Abraham in Egypt.

First, Jesus never lied. Jesus told the truth. But it is more than just that. Jesus told the truth because Jesus wasthe truth. Jesus famously said this in John 14:

6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unlike Abraham, and us, Jesus never connived, never schemed, never panicked. Jesus never had to throw a hail Mary pass into the end zone of anxiety hoping it would all somehow work out. Jesus will never ask you to say that you are something you are not. Jesus will never ask you to lie. Jesus will never pull you into an act of deceit.

But there is something else Jesus will never do. Jesus will never put you between Himself and the danger. Jesus will never serve you up and sacrifice you in the hope of saving Himself. Jesus will never ask you to take the shame so that He does not have to!

No! A thousand times no! The cross of Christ tells us the exact opposite: that Jesus, in stark contrast to Father Abraham, put Himself between the danger and us, that Jesus took the shame so that we would not have to, that Jesus embraced death so that we could be saved! In John 15 Jesus said:

13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Yes! This is love: to say to your bride, “Honey, you get behind me. I will take whatever is coming from these Egyptians! I will lay down my life to save you!” And the church is the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:25-32), so this is what Jesus says over us!

Jesus does not serve His bride up in order to save Himself! Rather, Jesus lays down His life and says, “Take me, but you will never have her!” Jesus is the great substitute. He dies in our place.

Jesus makes His bride beautiful, and He knows the devil wants to destroy us, but He will not hand us over!

Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ days because Abraham knew that our salvation, included his own, depended upon Jesus not doing with His bride what Abraham did with his!

And Jesus did not do what Abraham did!

Jesus will notdo what Abraham did!

You are safe in Egypt with the bridegroom, Jesus!

He stands between us and Pharaoh.

He stands and says, “You will never have her! You will never have her! You would have to go through me to get to her…and you will never get through me!

So, church, we are safe! Hallelujah! We are saved! Hallelujah! We need not panic! We need not fear! We need not lie! We now dwell in the truth and safety of the love of God as revealed in Jesus our Savior.

 

[1]Andrew Louth, ed. Genesis 12-50. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. Old Testament II (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p.7-9.

[2]Derek Kidner, Genesis. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Vol.1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), p.127.

[3]https://www.firstthings.com/article/1994/11/educating-father-abraham-the-meaning-of-wife

[4]Walter Brueggemann, Genesis. Interpretation. (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), p.126, 128.

 

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