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The Life of Abram (4): His Descent Into Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20)

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The Life of Abram (4): His Descent Into Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20)

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Abram had come into the land of Canaan with Lot. As he journeyed through the land, the Lord appeared unto him. He received the promise that the Lord would make it well in all the circumstances of his life. Then he built an altar to the Lord. He was not ashamed to confess that the Lord was his God, even when he was in the midst of the Canaanites. When we are among our own people, it is not so difficult to do this; but when we are among strangers, it becomes much more difficult to show whom we serve. Is this not true, young people? Still, I hope you will not deny the Lord, but acknowledge Him.

We assume that when Abram came into the land, it would have been a good time for him, a time of prosperity. But this did not happen, as we read, “And there was famine in the land” (v. 10a). What a disappointment this must have been for him! Is this the fruitful land which the Lord had promised? When once his descendants received this land, then they were confronted with all kinds of problems, even famine. It was really a disappointment for Abram, humanly speaking, but at the same time it was a trying of his faith by the Lord. When the Lord tries His people and they may overcome, it will lead to the strengthening of their faith. When they are overcome by sin or unbelief, it will ultimately lead to their humiliation before God. The Lord does not seek the downfall of His children, but their welfare.

Famine is a sharp sword. It occurred more often. We find it in the history of Isaac in Genesis 26:1 and in the history of Jacob in Genesis 43:1. We think also of Elimelech and his family in the book of Ruth. The land of Canaan was very fruitful when it received the early and latter rains. If this did not happen, everything would be scorched by the sun. Rain was indispensable for the agricultural needs, but even more so for the cattle. Without rain, especially the southern part of Canaan was soon like a desert. This was the area where Abram was at this moment.

By faith Abram had left Ur to go to an unknown country. Unconditionally, he followed the call of the Lord. This obedience of faith was rewarded, by grace, with a divine appearance and precious promises. What would Abram’s reaction be when his faith was tried again? Humanly speaking, the best he could do was to go to a country where the situation was more favorable, like Elimelech did in later days when he went to Moab. Did this bring the favor of the Lord? No, not at all!

Abram fixed his eyes upon Egypt. This is obvious. Why? Because he already was in the southern part of the country and Egypt has been known from of old for its fruitfulness. By the flooding of the Nile River the land was irrigated every year; although from the history of Joseph we know of seven years of famine in Egypt also. How clear it is that the Lord rules over everything, also over the fruitful and unfruitful years, as the Heidelberg Catechism says! The Lord has taught us to pray for our daily bread.

Abram planned to go to Egypt. This country occupies a singular place in the history of Israel. On the one side, it was a place of refuge for God’s people in difficult times. Abram was going there and later on Jacob and his sons did the same, at God’s command. In the time of the prophet Jeremiah the remnant of the people of Judah fled there also. In the New Testament the Lord Jesus sought refuge in Egypt from the hand of the children’s murderer. From this we can learn that the world is also used to protect the church when the Lord wants to use them. On the other side, Egypt is also the image of the house of bondage from which the Lord must deliver His people (Ex. 20:1; Hosea 11:1).

So we read, “And Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there” (v. 10b). It is literally true that Abram went down into Egypt because Canaan is situated much higher than Egypt. Was this deed of Abram justified? Or was it sinful? Some commentators attempt to minimize the sin of Abram. They justify his departure because the famine had become grievous in the land of Canaan. Even Calvin finds some praise for him — because he intended only to sojourn there and as soon as possible he would return.

We deny there was sufficient reason for him to leave the land of Canaan, for he had received a special promise from the Lord and did not receive a commandment to leave. I know it is easily written, but earthly difficulties never justify leaving a God-assigned place. This can be applied to all circumstances in our life. Often outward circumstances give us the freedom to move from one place to the other. Then, we often do not look if there is a possibility of attending church or of our children receiving a Christian education. No, our job, our salary, are the most important; we must think of our future! This is true, but we must also think about our eternal future. The Bible says, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:6). How necessary that this is practiced also in our daily life!


When the Lord tries His people and they may overcome, it will lead to the strengthening of their faith.


Abram’s departure into Egypt was a sinful way to go. He was weak in faith at this moment and did not dare to trust himself to the Lord who had promised to be with him. The father of the faithful began his way with sin, not trusting in the Lord and he continued at this time. So often we hear, “Sin is a slippery slope.” When we go on a sinful way then it is hard to stop, just as when we come down a steep hill. This is a warning for all of us. When we give in to sin, even when we call it a small sin, then soon this will begin to grow, the same as a malignant growth which can only be taken away by surgery. And that is painful. For the Lord it is not impossible to stop us, as He did Manasseh in prison and Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus.

What was Abram’s sin? Not only his going into Egypt, but also the proposal he made to Sarai, his wife. God’s Word tells us she was a fair woman. They made the agreement that they would say that Sarai was his sister. Why? Because he feared that the Egyptians would kill him for Sarai’s sake and take her away. Sarai also agreed to this lie. We could say it was a half-truth because she was his half-sister. They had the same father, but a different mother, as we have seen before. We have to take into account that this is a premeditated lie, as we can find in Genesis 20:13, “And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said unto her, this is thy kindness which Thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother.” This was an agreed policy of Abram and Sarai from the moment the Lord called Abram out of Ur. So we have to do with an old sin which must protect them, although the Lord had promised, “I will curse him that curses thee.” It is clear Abram did not trust the Lord fully.

At this time Sarai was at least sixty-five years old. Probably you will ask, “And still so fair?” Would this still be a threat for Abram’s life, as he said? We have to remember that she lived 127 years and therefore she was still in the vigor of life. Especially in comparison with the darker women of Egypt, Sarai was a fair woman and this could become a threat for her husband. Did Abram also think of Sarai’s welfare? Probably he was concerned about her, but we cannot find it in his words. He was mostly concerned about his own life, even if it would be at the cost of the honor of Sarai.

This fear for his own life was not without ground because in the ordinances of 2000 B.C. it was written that women and children of foreigners who visited Egypt could be taken in possession by the Pharaoh. Ancient Egyptian monuments confirm this narrative. We would say, “Abram, why do you not return?” A proverb says, “A fault confessed is half redressed.” Notwithstanding his fear, Abram went ahead anyway. It was a way of unbelief and disobedience.

In this history, we find a remarkable difference between the world and God’s Word when mention is made of heroes. The world tries to extol its heroes’ commendable deeds and attempts to cover up or minimize their shortcomings as much as possible. The Bible gives an honest report of men in their sins and shows that they are of like passion as we are. It does not omit their shortcomings. Man extols man and in doing so glorifies himself. This is happening also today. Lately, a sportsman who is idolized in the United States, had to confess he is infected with AIDS as a consequence of his immoral past. His lifestyle is not condemned by the people, but he is honored! Even President Bush is taking part in it—to give him a place on a committee studying the problem of AIDS. This is wrong; sin is sin and should be punished. When the government does not do it, the Lord Himself will intervene.


How hard did the devil try also at this time to make it impossible that the promised Messiah would come! And Abram was helping!


Abram’s sin and unbelief are clearly shown to us in this history. It is sad that the father of the faithful had fallen. The devil has laughed about it and so did the world. It was not to the honor of God. Still, there is a people who are glad, not for the sin of Abram, but for the faithfulness of God shown towards His people. In their own life they have found so many sins — also the same sin of going their own way — but the Lord has been faithful for His child and He is the same today.

When Abram and Sarai came into Egypt, it happened exactly as they had feared. The Egyptians saw Sarai. She was recommended to Pharaoh and brought into the harem. The word “Pharaoh” is a title, not a name. In the Egyptian language it means “the large house.” This points to the royal palace. No names of Pharaoh have been used, which is in accordance with the old Egyptian custom. Around the year 1000 B.C. this changes and then the names and titles of kings and Pharaohs are mentioned in the Bible. In the Orient it was the custom that kings or rulers had many wives; this was a symbol of power.

When Sarai was taken away, she did not resist. She felt it her duty to protect the life of Abram. Pharaoh sent many presents to him which he had to accept. How could he do differently? But it is doubtful whether he was happy with them when he thought of Sarai.

How hard did the devil try also at this time to make it impossible that the promised Messiah would come! And Abram was helping! The Lord had made a covenant with Abram, but also Sarai was involved. If Satan would succeed in this plot, God’s counsel would come to nought. Out of Abram and Sarai a great nation would come forth and later on the Christ would be born. Would the Lord forsake Abram, which he deserved, because of the sin he had committed? No, the Lord is faithful and He would intervene to deliver Abram and Sarai. How could this be? It is written in this chapter: “And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife” (v. 17). God Himself protected Sarai in that harem. From this we can learn that they who are protected by the Lord are well-protected. Are we also seeking for this protection of the Lord? Not only for our daily life and dangers, but above all, that we need the Lord for our soul?

The house of Pharaoh, that is, his family, were also severely punished by the Lord, although we do not know the exact nature of these plagues. It must have been a disease or death, or some other calamity. This is an indication that Pharaoh was not innocent in this, although it was told to him that Sarai was the sister of Abram. These plagues served in one way or another to show the cause of misery; it was for Sarai’s sake!

So Pharaoh became aware of his sin and immediately Abram is called to give account of his doings, “What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?” In this case we are somewhat inclined to believe the monarch — that he would not have taken Sarai if he had known the truth. Pharaoh upbraids Abram deservedly because it was his fault for what had happened. Abram did not have one word to answer because it was true what Pharaoh said. He was shamed by this heathen monarch; he had been a liar!

How often this history has been repeated! Many times God’s people give reason for the world to condemn them because of their conduct, when they do not act according to God’s law. It is sad if, by our ungodly lifestyle, we give these weapons in the hands of the world. When we have true love for God and His institutions, we should hate and flee sin, but should also try, with His help, to live to the honor of God and the welfare of our neighbors.

In his condemnation by Pharaoh, Abram realizes how foolish he has been and that the name of the Lord has been dishonored. At once Abram was expelled from Egypt. Sarai is returned to him. Pharaoh commanded his soldiers to take him to the border as an undesirable alien with all the gifts he had given him because he could keep them. Pharaoh was too proud to request that Abram give them back; he was afraid that the Lord would come against him even more. He felt that the God of Abram was a mighty God.

It seems to me that the multitudes of cattle he took along testified against him. When he looked at his wife, he must have felt ashamed. He was deported to Canaan. Where would he go? To Beth-El! There was the altar which he built and it pointed to the way of reconciliation with God, the blood of Jesus Christ. In this blood his sin could be taken away. So, it is necessary for each child of God to be brought to Beth-El, which is the only place where we can find rest and forgiveness.

From this history we can learn that the saints have only a small beginning of the obedience the Lord requires of them. May it be a warning for us. Every day we should ask, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This could even not be missed in the life of Abram who began his journey to Canaan with God, but soon wandered away from God. It was only grace that he was sought again by God.

Questions for discussion

1. Explain why the famine in the land was no reason for Abram to depart.

2. Compare the leaving of Jacob for Egypt and that of Abram.

3. In the history of God’s people, Egypt takes on a particular role. Give a few examples.

4. When Abram arrived in Egypt, he continued his sinful course of action. Give the facts and reasons why he did this and compare them with God’s promise.

5. Do you recognize Satan’s plot in all that happened in Egypt with Sarai?

6. In this history we have a clear illustration of the truth that is written in Psalm 105:13-14. Try to find the application in this portion of the Bible.

7. What do you see in the rebuke of Abram?


The Power of Christ’s Resurrection

“And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart”

— Jeremiah 29:13

After the Lord has quickened our souls, for a time we often go, shall I say, blundering on, not knowing there is a Jesus. We think that the way of life is to keep God’s commandments, obey the law, cleanse ourselves from sin, reform our lives, and cultivate universal holiness in thought, word, and action. So we go, blundering and stumbling on in darkness; and all the while never get a single step forward.

But when the Lord has suffered us to weary ourselves to find the door, and lets us sink lower and lower into the pit of guilt and ruin from feeling that all our attempts to extricate ourselves have plunged us deeper and deeper, and the Spirit of God opens up to the understanding and brings into the soul some spiritual discovery of Jesus, and thus makes known that there is a Savior, a Mediator, and a way of escape — this is the grand turning point in our lives, the first opening in the valley of Achor of the door of hope.

When the soul has once seen that there is a Jesus, and once felt a measure of the power of His resurrection, it never goes to any other quarter for pardon, justification, and salvation. When the Spirit of God begins to open up with power in his conscience that there is a Jesus, that He is the only Mediator, that the Son of God has come down and taken a holy human nature into union with Himself, and is now at the right hand of that Father, it is the first break of day, the first dawn of hope; and upon that bright spot does the shipwrecked soul fix his longing eyes till the Sun of Righteousness arises upon it with healing in His wings. It is a great step in man’s experience to turn wholly and solely to the Lord.

—J.C. Philpot


Rev. A.M. den Boer is pastor of the Netherlands Reformed congregation of Sunnyside, Washington.

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van woensdag 1 april 1992

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

The Life of Abram (4): His Descent Into Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20)

Bekijk de hele uitgave van woensdag 1 april 1992

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

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