Genesis 12:10-13:1 “Abraham’s Faith Is Tested By Famine”

Posted on May 23, 2009. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis Class

Genesis 12:10-13:1 “Abraham’s Faith Is Tested By Famine”

Bryan E. Walker


Read Genesis 12:10-13:1


Introduction: In your life as a Christian, has your faith ever been so sorely tested that you thought that just maybe, God had made some kind of a mistake? That maybe he had abandoned you? That you knew better than God and were not going to wait on God to answer, you were going to take matters into your own hand? Have you ever made a decision that was worldly and suited what you thought were your best interests even though it might harm those closest to you?


In today’s text we see another couple of tests come Abram’s way: famine and personal danger. Today we shall see that the man of faith, Abram, failed in these two examinations of his faith by God. But even bigger than Abram’s failures here, we see God’s promise for an heir to Abram threatened, God’s Word is being challenged by some circumstances here, and God intervenes to preserve his promise to Abram.


In this story then, we see some truths about God, we see some moral issues, and faith issues, and we see some indicators of what Israel would face time and again in their history.


I.                   Literary Analysis

A.     The Story has Three Related Stories in Genesis

1.      Critical Liberal scholars see this as being one of three repetitive stories (Gen.12:10-20; 20:1-18; 26:1-11) and therefore the stories must not be true in their eyes. But, have you ever made the same stupid, sinful mistake more than once? Have you or anyone you have known, ever followed in your parent’s footsteps into a sinful pattern of behavior? What we see in these three stories is that the Bible is a very realistic book that demonstrates that even the greatest of saints is also a sinner like you and me. I do not find the three repetitive stories to be a problem, I find them comforting. And when we discuss the theological meaning of the stories you will see that there is a very important prophetic message being sent to Israel and to us as well.


Ross writes, (p. 271) “More important to the point of exegesis is the question why the writer saw fit to include three similar stories when one would apparently have done just as well. In this regard it may be observed that repetition is the essential feature of Hebrew rhetoric, which extends also to repetition of motifs and stories.”

2.      The similarities of the three stories: (1) The family sojourns in a land ruled by the ungodly. (2) The ancestress-Sarai or Rebekah- is endangered by the deceptive actions of the ancestor. (3) A pagan ruler takes her into his harem. (4) God intervenes in some manner to preserve the purity of the ancestress. (5) The pagan ruler confronts and rebukes the man of faith. (6) the differences in the stories are substantial enough to support the view that the stories are real, but different incidents.



3.      The idea of powerful rulers taking women for themselves is common in the OT. This story points us back to Gen. 6:1-4 where the “Sons of God” took the daughters of men as their wives. Samuel warned that kings would do this in 1Sam.8:11-18 and in fact David took another man’s wife and Solomon had hundreds of wives.

4.      The three stories, when viewed all together, represent a Triple Threat to the promised seed by attacking the women of the family. This emphasizes God’s Promise not only involves the women, but that He intervenes on their behalf time and again.


B.     Structure of the Story– 12:9 and 13:1, the Negeb, form the bookends.

1.      v.10 The challenge to Abram’s faith

2.      v.11-13 Abram’s deception

3.      v. 14-15 Sarai is taken

4.      v. 16 Abram profits from his sin

5.      v. 17God intervenes

6.      v. 18-19 Pharaoh rebukes Abram and returns Sarai

7.      v.20-13:1 Abram is sent away


C.     Prophetic Parallels with Israel’s History

1.      Severe famine in the land- this will also bring Jacob and his 11 other sons to Egypt. Gen. 43:1; 47:4. The difference is that God sent Joseph ahead and God tells Jacob to go. In Matthew 2 Joseph is told in a dream to go to Egypt for the baby Jesus’ safety.

2.      Sojourn in Egypt for Abram, Jacob Gen. 47:4.

3.      Threat of death Gen. 12:11-13; Exodus 1:16.

4.      Bondage Gen.12:14-15, Ex. 1:11-14

5.      Left with wealth Gen. 12:16; Ex. 12:36

6.      Plagues on Egypt 12:17; Ex. 7-11

7.      Ordered to leave Egypt 12:19; Ex. 12:32

8.      Journey to the Negeb 13:1 and Num. 13:17,22

9.      Knowing the history of Father Abraham, and how God protected him would encourage the faith of Israel as they faced very similar circumstances.


II.                Exposition

A.     The Challenge to Abram’s Faith v.10

1.      Tests Often Follow Triumphs- We have seen that Abram seems to have delayed his obedience to the Lord’s command to go because of his father. However, after Terah’s death in Haran, Abram does go to Canaan and walks the breadth of the land, building altars as he goes. His faith is growing as he obeys and holds to God’s promises. Abram is seen leading his family and band in worship in the face of the terrible Canaanite fertility religions.


But now a famine strikes the land. After he has claimed the land for the Lord, the land has now been promised to him by God seems harsh as they undergo some kind of famine. It can be presumed to be a drought caused famine as that is a frequent occurrence in that part of the world. Famine was a constant worry for most people in most of the world for most of history. It is only in the last hundred years or so, with our modern agricultural techniques and intricate transportation and refrigeration advances that famine has been greatly reduced.


But think of Abram’s faith. He had experienced a mountain top revival so to speak with the appearances of the Lord to him, actually completing the journey, worshiping the Lord throughout the land. Yet the land of promise now seems like a harsh, broken promise. Instead of blessing it seems to be a cruel joke. Add to the famine the supposed silence of the Lord. There is no hint in the text of the Lord communicating to him in this time of famine. The text does not say the Lord told him to go to Egypt. Abram at this point may be having a crisis in his faith.


Don’t we see this same testing with Israel in Moses’ day? Moses the prophet shows up and begins speaking to them of YHWH, asking Pharaoh if they can leave to worship, and Pharaoh responds by increasing their burden of work. God’s Word is proclaimed and things get tougher! Finally, after the plagues, Pharaoh consents and sends Israel away…but when they get to the Red Sea they realize that Pharaoh’s army is right behind them and they are caught. A great victory followed by a sudden loss of faith. Or, after they cross the Sea and watch the Egyptian Army drown, they continue marching into the wilderness and run low on water and begin to murmur. And so it goes. From miracle and victory to challenge and loss of faith.


Does any of this sound familiar to you in your walk? A couple of years ago I quit one low paying job to take an even lower paying job but in a field I thought would be better for me in the long haul. Through several unique circumstances and years of prayer, through the counsel of some godly friends, I took the job. It not only did not work out, my dreams were crushed. I returned to my company, and got an even lower paying job back for my trouble. All the time I absolutely was certain I was following God’s will. Yet it has crippled us financially for the foreseeable future. From the elation of realizing that God had opened a door into a field I had long dreamed of, to the bewilderment of famine. I felt betrayed by God and struggled to see him as being good. But I did not quit. Neither did Abram.


FB Meyer writes, (p.35) “How often do professing Christians adopt a hurt and injured tone in speaking of God’s dealings with them! They look back upon a sunny past, and complain that it was better with them before they entered the wicket gate and commenced to tread the narrow way. Since that moment they have met with nothing but disaster. They had no famines in Ur or Harran; but now, in the Land of Promise, they are put to sore straits…And they complain that the service of God has brought them misfortune rather than a blessing.”


“These misfortunes would probably have come in any case; and how much less tolerable would they have been had there not been the new sweet consciousness that God had now become the refuge of the soul! Besides this, God our Father does not undertake to repay His children in the base coin of this lower world…Had God pledged Himself to give His servants an unbroken run of prosperity, how many more counterfeit Christians would there be!”


Martin Luther’s take on Abram’s leaving Canaan and going to Egypt is actually positive. He states that it was prudent. Luther frequently disagrees with many of the commentators of our day. Should Abram have waited out the famine in Canaan? I am going to dare to disagree with Luther on this. In my studies of Genesis and of how Moses is writing, I think that the things he leaves out are often very telling and deliberate. While I could not make a dogmatic assertion I will say that it is very likely that Abram’s leaving for Egypt was a loss of faith. The results of his trip to Egypt are almost all negative, though not entirely. The biggest failure is that they acquire the maidservant Hagar and that leads to trouble that we are still experiencing today.


Ross writes, (p.275) “One cannot fault Abram for this decision, for the verb, sojourngur, indicates that he had no intention of abandoning the promise but was going to Egypt for a temporary stay while the famine lasted. There are no indications in the narrative, however, that faith was operative.”


In the Bible, Egypt usually represents the worldly system, bondage, a sinful shameful past. Canaan, on the other hand, represents the land of Promise. One always “goes down” to Egypt but “up from Egypt to Israel”. Num.11; 14; Isa.30:1-2; 31:1 and Jer.42:13ff. To go to Egypt or call on Egypt to help, basically means a loss of faith in God and placing your faith in man. However, keep in mind that God does send Joseph and then later his whole family to Egypt during a famine.


B.     Abram’s Deception vv.11-13

1.      “I know that you’re a beautiful woman…” It is a good thing that Abram has a beautiful wife and acknowledges it to her. Keep in mind that she is in her 60’s at least, so in some ways there may be a different rate of aging at that point in the human race, or it could be a miraculous preservation of Sarai, or maybe Mary Kay was in business back then. Physical beauty is a blessing from the Lord but can be very deceptive and is always a difficult blessing to bear at times.

2.      vs.12- The threat of violence and having a harem hearkens back to Gen. 4 and 6. Abram is operating out of fear here, not faith.

3.      vs. 13- “say you are my sister…that my life may be spared…” This craven cowardice receives a lot of condemnation from most commentators. Here Abram moves from trusting to scheming and anytime a believer resorts to scheming it is a bad thing. Prov.3:5-6 “trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Notice that he moves from leading boldly, to focusing on his own self preservation. He betrays his wife and the Lord. His own actions help to endanger the Lord’s promise by placing Sarai, a part of the promise, in danger. A husband should seek to protect and defend his wife, not use her for his own protection. 1Pet.3:7; Eph 5:25, 28-29. Abram, who was to be a blessing to all, instead brings a plague upon Egypt. Abram’s actions are seriously placing God’s promise of blessing in jeopardy.


Abram and Sarai are indeed half brother-sister we find out in 20:12. Does this excuse Abram? No, a half truth is still a lie. It was told with the purpose of deceiving Pharaoh and the important truth of their being husband and wife was left out.

4.      vs.14-15– Sarai is taken by Pharaoh. This is the main point of the story, there is a threat to the ancestress, Sarai, that will endanger the promise of God which includes Sarai. This threat is essentially, though not totally, caused by Abram’s own sinful tendencies.

5.      v.16- Abram profits from his sin. He was already a rich and powerful sheik, but he apparently gets a large gift from Pharaoh for Sarai. Ross writes, (p.276) “Once again in Genesis, through fear and disobedience, the intimacy of the man and the woman is broken; once again someone has taken that which God had put off limits. But this time God would prevent it from going further, for his word of promise was in jeopardy.”


But it seems that everything Abram got for Sarai ends up causing more trouble. All his cattle and sheep, etc. cause a problem with nephew Lot, so Lot leaves and that ends up being a bad situation or two. Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant of course leads to problems that plague us today. Basically, the riches of this world are a blessing from God, but also a heavy burden to carry.

6.      v.17- God intervenes. The plague is “great” or severe and somehow Pharaoh either figures out it is because of Sarai or God intervenes somehow. QQ: Does God always deliver us from our own sinful choices and decisions? Ezek. 36:22

7.      v.18-19- Pharaoh rebukes Abram and returns Sarai. Abram, the man of faith is humbled by this pagan king and ejected from Egypt. There are times when worldly people are used of God to rebuke God’s own. We remain sinners and deserve our blame when we do wrong. Sarai is preserved and the promise of a child remains.

8.      v.20-13:1- Abram and company are sent out of Egypt and go up from Egypt back to the Negeb.

9.      The Main IdeaMoses is informing his people that God will protect His plan from His people’s sinful choices that might result in the plan being unfulfilled. Resorting to cheap, deceptive schemes instead of faithfully trusting in God.


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