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Genesis 12: A(nother) New Hope

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

The Call: 12:1-3
Acts 7:2 says that God originally spoke this to Abraham back when he was in Mesopotamia, before he moved to Haran. Genesis doesn’t tell us this, but the NIV interestingly translates verse 1: “The Lord had said to Abram.” It could just as easily be translated “said.” In any case, if you read Genesis on its own, it seems that Abram’s call was completely out of the blue.

Moving on, here’s what God says. How very special: the Lord appears and gives Abram seven promises. How many people get seven promises from anyone? Ever? Abram gets seven from God. Wow.
1. I will make you into a great nation
2. I will bless you
3. I will make your name great
4. You will be a blessing
5. I will bless those who bless you
6. Whoever curses you I shall curse
7. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you

All of these promises are actions on God’s part, promises given unconditionally based on God’s faithfulness. Some of these promises strongly echo 1:28, a gracious blessing given because of God’s love. Throughout the previous eleven chapters, we see the word bless(ing) occur five times, and five times see the word curse*. But in these two verses alone we see the word bless(ing) five times. Wow, that starts Abraham’s story off on an amazing note of hope!

The Response: 12:4-5
So, Abram left just as the Lord commanded. Abram’s response was obedience. He took with him everything that was his to take: his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all his possessions and servants. He took everything with him because he had no intent of coming back. Abram’s response was complete obedience to a wonderful promise.

The Journey 12:6-9
Verse 6 tells us that the Canaanites were still in the land in those times. Well, what did Abram expect? Did he think that the land would already be clear and unclaimed before he got there? Possibly. In any case, the presence of the Canaanites presented a problem for Abram and troubled him. However, the Lord appeared to Abram and reassured him of the promise to give Abram this land. After the Lord appeared to him, Abram built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. God responded to Abram’s (apparently) unspoken nervousness at the Canaanites’ presence, and appeared personally to reassure Abram. How amazing! Abram’s response quite naturally would be to give thanks to God for showing such grace and favor. After this, Abram continued toward the Negev.

Famine 12:10-16
Now, there was a famine in the land. Since Egypt has a stable food supply, Abram went down there when the famine got severe. Dr. Joel Hoffman made some excellent observations on the way famines work. God doesn’t send them, they just happen “in the land.” In Bible times, shame is reserved for how you feel after doing a shameful action. Circumstances, however, should not bring us shame. We shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help. The economy, for instance, isn’t our fault.

Back to the text now. Abram wants to provide for his household, even if it means going to Egypt. There is a problem, though. There’s a risk that Pharaoh may notice his wife and want her in his harem. Since it’s bad form to take another man’s wife into your harem, the custom is to kill the woman’s husband first. You know how politics works: he meets with an “unfortunate accident,” but it’s an open secret that the man in question was actually assassinated. Fearing this, Abram tells his wife to give only a half-truth and say that they’re brother and sister. This way, Pharaoh won’t assassinate him.

So, they go through with this plan, and indeed Pharaoh treats Abram well for Sarai’s sake, and takes her into his harem. However, Abram has resorted to trickery and forsaking his marriage to save his own hide. How will the Lord react to this? The Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh. Why? Because “whoever curses you, I will curse.” The Lord kept his promise and was faithful to Abram. Sarai went through with the deception and was faithful to Abram (in saving his life, even by pretending they weren’t married). Abram, however, was being unfaithful to both of them to save himself. But the Lord is still faithful.

Exile 12:17-20
The Egyptians may not have been perfect models of morality, but they emphasized absolute truthfulness. Abram has thus broken faith with not just the Lord and Sarai, but also with the king he had deceptively befriended. So, Pharaoh summoned Abram, gave back Sarai, and sent Abram on his way. Abram was clearly NOT welcome in Egypt any more, and he left with everything he had, even that which he gained by deception.

Abram had no reason to be ashamed when he entered Egypt and asked for help. No; it’s when he’s exiled from Egypt that he should feel ashamed. And all of his household knows of it, too. I wonder how Sarai feels right now? Not so great, probably.

Lessons to be gained from this chapter:
1. The Lord will provide, even when obstacles give you pause. Give Him praise for providing.
2. Don’t let circumstances mar you with shame. Famines happen.
3. God is faithful to His people, even when we are unfaithful.