A. God’s promise to Abram.
1. (1-3) God’s previous covenant with Abram.
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
a. Now the Lord had said to Abram: We know from Acts 7:2-4 that this promise was made to Abram before he left Ur of the Chaldeans. Now that his father was dead and he was compelled to a more complete obedience, God repeated the promise.
i. Abram’s partial obedience did not take God’s promise away. Instead, it meant the promise was on “hold” until Abram was ready to do what the Lord said.
ii. Abram would certainly become a giant of faith, even being the father of the believing (Galatians 3:7); yet he did not start there. We see Abram as an example of growing in faith and obedience.
b. To a land I that I will show you: After stating He wanted Abram to leave his country and his relatives, God promised Abram a land. Specifically, God promised the land of greater Israel.
i. These are God’s promises; notice how often God says I will in these verses. Genesis chapter 11 is all about the plans of man. Genesis chapter 12 is all about the plans of God.
c. I will make you a great nation: God promised to make a nation from Abram. He will have enough children and grandchildren and further descendants to populate a nation.
d. And make your name great: God promised to bless Abram and to make [his] name great. There is probably no more honored name in history than the name of Abram, who is honored by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
e. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you: God also promised He would bless those who bless you and to curse him who curses you. This remains true today and is a root reason for the decline and death of many empires.
i. “When the Greeks overran Palestine and desecrated the altar in the Jewish temple, they were soon conquered by Rome. When Rome killed Paul and many others, and destroyed Jerusalem under Titus, Rome soon fell. Spain was reduced to a fifth-rate nation after the Inquisition against the Jews; Poland fell after the pogroms; Hitler’s Germany went down after its orgies of anti-Semitism; Britain lost her empire when she broke her faith with Israel.” (Barnhouse)
ii. This is also one reason why the United States has been so blessed. The United States was one of the first modern nations to grant full citizenship and protection to Jewish people.
iii. This promise has also affected the church. The times when the church took upon itself the persecution of the Jewish people were dark times not only for the Jews, but also for the church.
f. In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed: Not only was Abram promised blessing, but God also promised to make him a blessing, even to the point where all the families of the earth would be blessed in Abram.
i. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (Galatians 3:8-9)
ii. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). The work of Jesus will touch every people group on the earth.
iii. Luther said the promise in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed should be written “in golden letters and should be extolled in the languages of all people,” for “who else ... has dispensed this blessing among all nations except the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ?” (Boice)
2. (4) Abram’s departure from Haran.
So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
a. And Lot went with him: This was partial obedience by Abram. God commanded him to go out from his kindred, and he brought his nephew Lot.
b. Lot went with him: Lot would not be a blessing to Abram. He would be nothing but trouble and inconvenience.
3. (5-6) Abram’s arrival in Canaan.
Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.
4. (7-9) God appears to Abram in Canaan.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.
a. Then the Lord appeared to Abram: Once Abram was in the land, God reminded him of His promise. The land Abram saw belonged to Abram and his descendants.
b. To your descendants I will give this land: Abram never owned any of this land except his burial plot (Genesis 23:14-20). Yet God’s promise was enough evidence to assure Abram that he did indeed own the whole country.
c. And there he built an altar to the Lord: Abram thought this was important to do. The altar was important to Abram because it was a place to meet with God, to offer sacrifice for sin, to show submission to God, and to worship God.
i. Christians have an altar also (Hebrews 13:10). We meet with God at our own place where we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for sin (Ephesians 5:2), where we submit to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and where we offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15).
d. He pitched his tent: Even in the land God gave him, Abram never lived in a house - he lived in a tent. Tents are the home of those who are just passing through and do not put down permanent roots.
i. We too are to live like tent-dwellers, as pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11). We should live as people who have their permanent dwelling place in heaven, not on earth. Too many Christians want to build mansions on earth and think they would be happy with tents in heaven.
ii. A pilgrim is someone who leaves home and travels to a specific destination. A pilgrim isn’t a drifter; a pilgrim has a goal. Abram’s goal (and our goal) was God’s heavenly city (Hebrews 11:8-10, 14-16).
B. Abram in Egypt.
1. (10) Abram’s faith is tested by famine.
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.
a. There was a famine in the land: Abram was not wrong for being concerned about famine and feeding his family, but Abram was wrong in thinking God would not provide for his needs in the place where God called him to live. After all, God called Abram to Canaan, not to Egypt.
i. Abram, like most of us, found it easier to trust God in the far-off promises than in the right-now needs.
b. Abraham went down to Egypt: When we are tested in this way, we often believe our actions are all right because no harm can come. Though God blesssed and protected Abram even in Egypt, he came away with excess baggage and a rebuke from a pagan king. Harm came.
i. The harm especially shows up later when a slave girl named Hagar - whom Sari received when in Egypt - is a source of great trouble to this family.
2. (11-13) Sensing potential danger in Egypt, Abram persuades Sarai to lie on his behalf.
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. 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. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
a. I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance: We are first struck at Abram’s concern over his 60-year-old wife’s attractiveness to the Egyptians. This shows Sarai was not only a woman of particular beauty, but also that not every culture worships youthful appearance the way modern culture does.
i. The long life span of Abram and Sarai also explains her beauty. Since Abram lived to be 175 and Sarai to be 127, this was only middle age for her, perhaps corresponding to what we think of as her thirties.
ii. A Jewish legend says when Abram went into Egypt, he tried to hide Sarai in a casket. When Egyptian customs officials asked what he had in the casket, he said, “barley.” “No,” they said, “it contains wheat.” “Very well,” answered Abram. “I’ll pay the custom on wheat.” Then the officers said it contained pepper. Abram said he would pay the custom charges on pepper. Then the officers said it contained gold. Abram said he would pay the custom charges on gold. Then the officers said it contained precious stones. Abram said he would pay the custom charges on precious stones. By this time, the officers insisted on opening the casket. When they did, all of Egypt shined with the beauty of Sarai. These same legends say that in comparison to Sarai, all other women looked like monkeys. She was even more beautiful than Eve.
b. Please say you are my sister: This was in fact a half-truth. Sarai was Abram’s half sister (Genesis 20:12). Yet a half-truth is a whole lie. Abram’s intent here was clearly to deceive, and he trusted in his deception to protect him instead of trusting in the Lord.
i. If you want to do something wrong, you can find some good reasons to do it. If you can’t think of the reasons yourself, the devil is happy to suggest them.
ii. Ideally Abram would say, “God promised me children, and I don’t have them yet; therefore, I know I am indestructible until God’s promise is fulfilled, because God’s promises are always true.”
3. (14-15) Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s house.
So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house.
a. The woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house: Understanding the place Abram and Sarai have in God’s redemptive plan, we realize how serious this is. God did not want Sari’s womb to be defiled by a gentile king, because the Messiah will come from her line of descendants.
4. (16-20) Abram leaves Egypt after being rebuked by a heathen king.
He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels. But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 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? 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.” So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.
a. He treated Abram well for her sake: God blessed Abram even when he didn’t do what he should. God continued to protect Abram, even when Abram acted like a liar. God did not call back His promise to Abram because the promise depended on God, not on Abram.
b. What is this you have done to me? Sadly, a pagan king had to rebuke Abram. The king shows Abram if he trusted in God and told the truth, everything would have been all right.
i. But God is in the business of growing Abram into a man of great faith, and this requires circumstances where Abram must trust God. “Faith is not a mushroom that grows overnight in damp soil; it is an oak tree that grows for a thousand years under the blast of the wind and rain.” (Barnhouse)
©2013 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission