Bible Reading

Genesis 12

Prayer Points

  • Phil and Lil (Wycliffe, West Asia )

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Sermon Transcript

I wonder how your relationship with God has been going in all this Corona craziness?

Maybe it’s been thriving. You’ve had extra time to read, extra time to pray, you’re feeling extra close to God. Maybe it’s not been so good. Maybe you’ve slacked off a bit. Maybe with the extra pressures of new ways of working, or of having the whole family stuck in the house, God has dropped off your radar. Maybe your Bible study group hasn’t found a way to meet up, or maybe you’ve been too stressed or anxious about other things to spend time with God yourself. Is that you?

Or maybe you haven’t thought about God much for a very long time. Maybe you get to church at Christmas or Easter, but the rest of the year you just do your own thing, just trying to be a good person.

How does God deal with us when we are slack in our faith? How does God deal with us when we are lazy, or when we make dumb choices, or when we’re downright disobedient?

We’re going to get an answer to that as we think through Genesis 12 more closely.

For Term 2 this year we’re getting back into a sermon series in Genesis we started last year.

Genesis is the very first book in the Bible, and in the first 11 chapters we learnt that the world was created perfect, and humans were made to enjoy it, to take care of it, to enjoy loving one another and enjoy loving God. But in chapter 3 we saw how Adam and Eve decided that they wanted to call the shots, that they didn’t need God to be involved.

From that point on things spiralled out of control. Adam and Eve got kicked out of the garden paradise. Sin and rebellion against God grew worse and worse until God sent the flood to wipe the slate clean. But even after that, people still opposed God, and in chapter 11 you have the whole human race banding together to build a tower to reach heaven. God scatters them across the face of the earth in judgement.

You’d think by this point God would call it quits, that fiery judgement would pour down on the earth and he’d be done with us. But instead we get those big promises we heard at the start of our reading. Where we’d expect God to pronounce another curse he binds himself to humanity with those big promises to Abram: vv2-3.

Gen. 12:2    “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.”

We’re at a pivotal moment in God’s plan to save the world, when his plans become focused on one man: Abram. But what happens when Abram slacks off? What happens to God’s plans when he fails?

That’s what we’ll see today in verses 10-20, so let’s pray and we’ll make a start.

At the start of our story, Abram finds himself in a life-threatening situation. Verse 10:

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Now this comes as something of a shock for us. The land Abram is living in is the land that God has just told him to go to. It’s the land that God promised to give to Abram’s descendants. And now there’s a famine. There’s not enough food. And it’s obviously a serious problem. The one verse tells us about the famine twice, and emphasises that it was a severe food shortage. It’s life and death for Abram.

So Abram packs up and heads south to Egypt.

Egypt didn’t depend on seasonal rains to grow food, like in Canaan. It had the Nile river flowing through it, with irrigation systems and a fertile floodplain, so there was always a reliable source of food there.

Egypt wasn’t out of bounds for God’s people at this point, so Abram isn’t necessarily doing the wrong thing. Later on, Egypt enslaves God’s people, and later kings are warned against going there for military supplies, and Egypt becomes a symbol of relying on human strength. But at this point there was no prohibition about it. In fact in Genesis 46, God tells Abram’s grandson Jacob to go to Egypt to escape a famine.

But that said, there’s no indication that Abram looked for God for guidance in this tough situation. He already seems to be relying on his own ideas.

As Abram gets closer to Egypt he realises that he’s got another problem. When he gets to Egypt he’s going to be a foreigner, a temporary resident. Many of the people in our church know what that’s like. As a foreigner, Abram would have no rights, no family around, and no one to protect him.

And that’s a problem, because Abram has a very attractive wife. Now I find it a bit weird that Sarai is pointed out as being very beautiful, because at this point she’s around 65 years old. And she’s attractive enough that Abram’s worried someone might try to take her.

Now this could be because God blessed these early ancestors of God’s people with extra-long lives. Sarai lived until she was 127, so at this point she’s just starting to hit middle age. Or maybe we just find it a bit odd because our culture is obsessed with youth being the definition of beauty. There could be a bunch of other things that could have made her attractive as a wife.

However it was, Abram was worried that someone would see how attractive Sarai was, and would kill off Abram so they could take Sarai for themselves. No family around means there’s no one to protect Abram, there’s no one to threaten revenge if anyone tries something.

And so Abram comes up with a faithless plan. He uses his own cunning and craftiness to come up with a solution: What if they think I’m her brother.

Maybe he hoped that if people thought he was Sarai’s brother, then, rather than killing him, they would come and negotiate any potential marriage arrangements. Normally marriages were organised with the bride’s father, but with no father around it would be the older brother’s job. Maybe Abram hoped that if it came to it, he could promise Sarai to someone as a bride, but stall and delay the actual marriage until he could work something out.

He tells Sarai the plan:

11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Abram is worried that his life is under threat. It seems like he’s forgotten God’s promises already. Remember verse 3?
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”

God promised to protect Abram, to look out for him. But it seems like Abram has forgotten God’s promise, or maybe he simply doesn’t trust God. Abram is faithless. He’s slack in his relationship with God. But on top of that, he’s actually deceitful. He’s going to go around Egypt saying “She is my sister.” Now as it turns out, that’s actually half true. In chapter 20, Abram explains:

12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.

Yes, Sarai is technically Abram’s half-sister, but what he’s doing is using half the truth to conceal the other half. He’s clearly trying to deceive people, to mislead them.

Now it’s worth mentioning that Sarai is treated really poorly in this story. She’s asked to lie and gets passed around like property. But just because it is recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of what happens.

Some men twist what the Bible says about women into an excuse to mistreat and abuse them and that is a very grave sin in God’s eyes. The Bible gives no permission for domestic violence or mistreatment of women. Jesus’ selfless, sacrificial love is the model God gives us for men should treat women.

Back to Abram, what he’s doing is rather than trust in God’s strong, powerful words of promise, he trusts in his own little lies. Imagine you were going to go on a road-trip around the South coast of Australia, and you had the option of a fully serviced, top-of-the-line Mercedes, but instead you choose the Volvo that you’ve been building yourself out of spares you found at the junkyard.

That’s just what Abram has done. Straight after receiving God’s promises, Abram, the great forefather of God’s chosen people, ditches them for a dodgy lie.

Abram is not held up as a model for us to follow at this point. But he is an example of the kind of person God chooses. Do you think God was surprised by what Abram did? Not at all. God knew that Abram would get the wobbles – and yet he chose him anyway.

And that should be a great comfort for us. God chooses imperfect people to be his own. If your faith gets the wobbles sometimes, if sometimes you have doubts about God, his existence, his goodness, the truth of Christianity, if you sometimes do just dumb things that don’t fit with being a Christian, take comfort from the example of Abram. I know I do. You’re just the sort of person God chooses to love and to save.

Back to Abram in Egypt, and it’s at this point that Abram’s plan backfires.

Abram’s faithless plan backfires and threatens God’s promise to give him descendants. Abram’s lie jeopardises the future of God’s plan to save the world.

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

Things happened just as Abram predicted. The Egyptians did notice Sarai’s beauty. And one of them did want to marry her. But Abram obviously didn’t think about what would happen if that person was Pharaoh, the supreme ruler of Egypt. And what happens when a king sees something they want? They don’t negotiate. They see it and they take it.

Abram may well have been able to fend off other men who were keen on Sarai, but once Pharaoh was involved, he was well out of his depth. There was no wrangling with Pharaoh.

And so, because of Abram’s lie, Sarai, the one who would give birth to Abram’s children, the woman though whom God’s promises of descendants for Abram and a great nation would be fulfilled, she gets ushered into Pharaoh’s palace to join his harem of wives. And meanwhile, Abram gets rich with cows and sheep and servants. Abram profits, but God’s plan is put in peril.

We don’t how Abram or Sarai feel about this. Did Abram have any feelings of guilt or remorse about his dumb scheme? We just don’t know. What we do know is that unless something happened, the plan to bring blessing to the world through Abram had reached a standstill. And it’s at this point that God intervenes, verse 17:
17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.

God’s promise to protect Abram has kicked in. Remember from verse 3?

“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”

Or, to put it another way,

3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,

Pharaoh has unwittingly and unknowingly mistreated Abram, has “cursed” him by taking his wife. And so God steps in to protect Abram and Sarai. God keeps his promise to protect Abram by hitting Pharaoh with disease.

Pharaoh’s response
Pharaoh somehow traces the disease back to Abram and Sarai, and finds out the truth about their relationship. You can almost hear his anger:

18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!”

And Abram’s got nothing to say. His silence shows he’s without excuse. He really has done a despicable thing. He hasn’t trusted God, he’s lied, he got rich off a lie and brought pain to a lot of people. And God has to step in and fix the mess.

Pharaoh’s rightly angry, and makes sure they don’t cause him any trouble, verse 20:

20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

It’s not a great look for Abram.

So how does God respond to Abram when he’s slack in his faith? More than that, how does God deal with Abram when he is downright dodgy and sinful?

Well, God keeps his promises. He stays faithful. He remains kind. He is merciful. Abram trusts in his own cunning, his own intelligence and scheming, but it just shows his lack of faith, and it puts at risk the promise of descendants. Yet God still faithfully protects him and prospers him.

God overrules Abram’s faithlessness with his faithfulness. God keeps his promises even when we don’t trust them.

There are a few things we can take away as we look back on this story from 4,000 odd years ago.

The first is that God is still the same. He is still faithful to his word.

Only, we can see his faithfulness even more clearly, because we can see how he kept his promises to Abraham through Jesus. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham who brings blessing and salvation and restoration to the whole world.

As we see God’s faithfulness back then with Abram, it helps us trust that he will keep his promises now. Everything promised in Jesus will come good: We have forgiveness of sins, there is a home for us in heaven, God’s Spirit is at work in us to help us obey him, everyknee will bow before Jesus, Jesus will buildhischurch – God will keep all these promises too.

So we can take comfort in God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness.

A second thing is that we know that Jesus is the one who succeeds where Abram fails. He always trusted and obeyed God. It’s his obedience and faithfulness to God that saves us.

In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul is talking about the impact that Adam’s sin had on the human race. All of us, including Abram, have followed in his footsteps. But Paul says:

Rom. 5:18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Jesus is the one who always stays faithful and never wavers, and when we trust in him, it’s his obedience that gets counted as ours. He’s the one that saves us, even though our faith wavers.

But there’s a third thing to note as well. This story is just at the start of Abram’s faithjourney. It’s ok to start off without everything sorted, but God wants you to press on. Abram’s faith grew.

Not growing in your faith, standing still in your Christian life has always been a problem for God’s people.

We get a bunch of warnings in the New Testament, urging us to grow up in our faith. Paul writes to the church in Corinth:

 “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly!” 1 Cor 3:1-3

They were letting the world, shape what they think. People were still looking back, they were thinking the way the world thinks. They were thinking in terms of competition, and revenge, and doing what feels good, and looking out for me first. Don’t let that be you. Press on with Jesus.

Let me show you Abram a bit later on in Genesis 22. By this point his name’s changed to Abraham. And God presents him with a massive test of faith. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, the son God had promised to him. Along the way,

7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
            “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
            “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Gen. 22:8        Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

We don’t know everything that was going on in his mind, but look how strong his faith is now! “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” He is so confident in God now that he’s willing to give up everything for him.

How did that happen? What changed in Abram? How did he get to this point?

Well, over the course of his life God repeated his promises to Abraham. Time and time again, Abraham saw and remembered God’s faithfulness. Time and time again Abraham was reminded of God’s promises.

If you want to grow in your faith, if you want to move on from being slack and lazy, keep putting God’s promises before your eyes. Fill your ears with the stories of God’s faithfulness. Dig deeper in your knowledge of God and who he is and his promises and plans,

Try this. Choose one of the letters in the NT, and read it slowly and carefully. As you read, write down all the things God promises, all the things he’s done for us. And then, when you’re finished, start another letter. One of my favourites is Ephesians, so why not start there? Why not read it with someone else? Press on in your faith. Grow. Dig deeper.

Finally, seeing that God is faithful even when we are slack should make us draw closer to him. Our sin and our stupidity and neglect don’t stop God keeping his promises. They don’t stop him loving us. Our mistakes and lapses of faith and godliness don’t derail God’s plans for us and for the world.

If you’ve been wish-washy as a Christian – if you’ve been flaky at church, if you haven’t been giving yourself opportunities to hear the Bible, if you haven’t been getting together with other Christians to be encouraged – even if you’ve been slack for years, don’t let that push you further from Jesus. Jesus’ faithfulness overrules our faithlessness. So draw in tight to him.

If you’re not yet a Christian, this is good news for you too. All the times you’ve done your own thing and lived without God, they don’t disqualify you from a relationship with him. He sent Jesus to die to take way the offense of your rebellion. And because Jesus died to take away our sin, he can now hold out the promise of forgiveness, and the promise of a fixed relationship with God.

And as we’ve seen, our faithlessness doesn’t stop God from keeping his promises.

Let me finish with a wonderful little poem that the Apostle Paul sent to his trainee, Timothy. It’s from 2 Timothy 2:

2 Tim 2:11-13 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.