A Failure in the Life of Abraham: Genesis 12. 10-20

By divine inspiration, Abraham is revealed in the New Testament as a man of great faith. Hebrews 11 is a gallery of Old Testament saints who wrought much for God “by faith”. Yet in that chapter more verses are devoted to Abraham than to any of the others. He is seen supremely as the man of faith. The apostle Paul uses Abraham as an example in his argument that it is faith and faith alone which is the basis of acceptance with God. “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness”, Gal. 3. 6. Again, Abraham is used as an illustration of justification by faith in Romans 4.

Yet Abraham did not always act in a faithful manner towards God. There were occasions when he failed the Lord. We can read of his failures in Genesis 11-25. These failures are not glossed over in the Scriptures, but are fully exposed for us to see with no attempt at a cover-up. This is because they are on record for our spiritual edification: “All scripture…is profitable”, 2 Tim. 3. 16. Thus we can read and take note of this man’s failures, learning to avoid similar pitfalls in our own spiritual lives. Essentially they are recorded as examples of what not to do.

In Genesis 12 we read of Abraham leaving Haran and journeying to Canaan, the land that God had chosen for him. Unfortunately no sooner had Abraham arrived than a famine struck the land and Abram, fearing starvation, decided to go into Egypt. No doubt he reasoned that, with so many servants, flocks and herds, it was better to leave Canaan’s famine and to go into Egypt’s plenty.

En route to Egypt Abram, realizing the desirable beauty and attractiveness of his wife Sarai, feared for his life. It was a heathen practice of his day that men, especially strangers in a country, were killed so that attractive wives could become the wives of local despots. So Abram designed a plan which was startling in its simplicity. It involved lies and deceit, for Sarai would claim to be his sister. In one sense this was true, as Sarai was Abram’s half-sister. They both had the same father but different mothers, Gen. 20. 12. Yet Abram wanted to convey the wrong impression, namely that Sarai was his sister and not his wife. We notice that Abram was going down hill spiritually. Fear of starvation due to famine and fear of violent death because of Sarai had caused him to forsake his principle of utter dependence upon God. There was not recourse to God in prayer for deliverance from famine or for protection from the Egyptians. He acted in isolation and independence from God, and this led him into the sinful actions of deceit and lying. Prayer is so vital— if only Abram had practised it at that time! As believers we are exhorted to “pray without ceasing”, 1 Thess. 5. 17. If we were diligent in prayer, we would avoid many of the spiritual pitfalls which otherwise we would fall into.

In Egypt Abram’s plan worked very well. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s harem in the belief that she was Abram’s sister. Abram himself received many gifts—servants, sheep, oxen, asses and camels, Gen. 12. 16, and consequently became wealthier. However, God was watching closely, and He was in complete control of the situation. He preserved Sarai from heathen defilement by sending plagues upon Pharaoh and his household, and by somehow revealing to Pharaoh the truth of Sarai’s marriage to Abram. So Abram was called before Pharaoh, who rebuked him, and yet sent him away out of Egypt unharmed.

Pharaoh would have been within his rights to have severely punished Abram for his deceit. He might well have imprisoned Abram or even had him executed, but Pharaoh did not punish him. In fact, Abram was allowed to leave Egypt with “all that he had”, Gen. 12. 20; 13. 1. In other words, he was able to keep all that he had gained or had been given whilst in the land of Egypt. Thus Abram escaped the punishment which he really deserved, and was even allowed to depart with gifts which he patently did not deserve.

This is a glorious picture of God’s dealings with a Christian in mercy and grace. Abram had deserved punishment but this was withheld by an act of mercy. Moreover Abram received gifts which he did not deserve—an act of grace. No wonder Joel says that God is “gracious and merciful”, Joel 2. 13. Also the Psalmist says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy”, Psa. 103. 8. Every Christian has experienced both the mercy of God and the grace of God. As sinners we deserved the judgment of God, but because of Christ’s work on Calvary God has removed His judgment from us. This is God’s mercy. Instead He has given us gifts which we never deserved and could never have earned. This is His grace. “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace”, John 1. 16. So Christians can rejoice that His mercy is such that they do not receive from Him what they deserve. Instead we know His grace, and receive from Him what we do not deserve.

Unfortunately Abraham failed God many times. He even repeated the same sin when dwelling amongst the Philistines of Gerar, Gen. 20. 1-14. Yet still he is held up as a model of faith. This is not because he never failed, but because he did fail and he yet rose up to conquer his failures in the power of a triumphant faith in God.

Christians need not remain spiritual failures. We can rise up in triumph and victory in our spiritual lives. It will involve confession, 1 John 1. 9. It will involve daily repentance and keeping short accounts with God. It will involve regular prayer and quiet times meditating in the scriptures, Psa. 1. 2. Ultimately this will lead us into victory and spiritual fruitfulness, v.3.

We read that Abraham became the “Friend of God”, 2 Chron. 20. 7; James 2. 23. The Lord Jesus says to us, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you”, John 15. 14. God has befriended us in the Person of the Lord Jesus. May we give ourselves in full devotion to follow Him in total obedience to all His commandments, and so become His friends in reality. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”, Heb. 4. 16.


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