…thou art my sister.”
Each one of us can do some pretty stupid things in our lifetimes (I have said and done too many to dispute the fact)! Here we have a classic blunder committed by Abram. In this case, he lied out of fear. How many of us have lied, or ‘bent’ the truth, because we have feared people, or the outcome? Maybe in a workplace, or in a social setting, or even in the churches? Sometimes, anxious because some might think the worst of us, we hide the facts, or twist things around so that we do not have to say outright that we have made a mistake. Have you done any of those things? (If you say ‘no’, then you have probably just lied).
Abram could have been put to death by Pharaoh for his deception. He had made the ruler look foolish, but Pharaoh displayed an immense greatness of heart by showing mercy to the visitor who had lied to him. Abram feared death if he admitted to being married to Sarai. But, his foolish lie could have got him killed anyway, so why do it? Sometimes, we panic, and think the worse. Yet, if we just trusted in God more, we would be more open. Yes, it means we might have to reap consequences we fear, but it is far better than pretending, or lying, or becoming anxious. Everybody makes mistakes, so why lie?
Pharaoh graciously sent Abram on his way, with Sarai. Instead of venting his fury upon Abram, he showed mercy. Though God does not call the actions of unsaved men ‘holy’, those same men can do what is ‘good’ in the eyes of others. They can show compassion and mercy, as well as fury and hatred. When they do show mercy and ‘good’ we ought to be grateful to God, that they did not pour out the bitterness of Satan upon us. For Christians, the hatred and viciousness of Satan is often stopped before it reaches us. On many occasions, the devil will attempt to destroy us or bring us down, sometimes when we are unaware of it – yet God protects us by deflecting our adversary’s arrows and schemes.
For this reason we should not fall into the unsaved trap of lying or ‘bending’ the truth. Made a mistake? Then admit to it and get it over with. The result might be horror or anger, but, equally, it might be gladness, even if muted, if we have been honest.
Abram became the ‘father’ of a great nation, yet, in his earlier days, as we see in this chapter, he failed to show the utter trust in God that he showed later. Within the same man was the ability to be the patriarch of all Israel and also the ability to sin. Thus, Abram was just like you and me! Right now, you might think you are a nobody. Maybe you are unemployed, or stuck at home sick. Perhaps other Christians have rejected you, because you only want to know God and His truth. But, you do not know what you are within, or what God might wish to do through you! You might even live all through your life not knowing what you have accomplished. So, be holy; speak the truth, and let God work through you. He will sort out the end results.
“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
The small family and servants went to Haran, where Terah died. We are not told why Terah moved them to Haran, but here we are told why Abram (‘exalted father’, from Abiram or Abiyram) had to move… God told him to go. He told Abram to leave Haran and all that he knew, even his extended family (called here his ‘father’s house’). He was to travel until God told him to stop. Now that is faith!
Then, in words that must have come not just as a mystery but as a shock, Abram was told that God would “make of thee a great nation”; his name would be great, and not only he would be blessed, but he would be a source of blessing to others. Also, God would bless all who blessed Abram (and, by implication, those whom he engendered), and curse those who cursed him. Not only that, but all people on earth would be blessed by Abram.
Abram could take this no other way, than in the way it was spoken. It was a very clear message, with no ambiguity… ’great’ refers to number and importance. ‘Nation’ means just that. Abram would himself become ‘great’: powerful, magnified, important, and he would be a blessing to all the world. This refers to the people who would come from him, the Hebrews, from whom would come the line of David and thus of Christ. That is how Abram blessed the world.
“So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.”
Abram left Haran and, in modern terms, he travelled ‘blind’, not knowing where he was to go, or in what direction. This, however, is not as ‘blind’ as might at first appear. Though Abram did not know where he was to go, the Holy Spirit led him all the way, through Abram’s own spirit, which caused him to make the right choices.
This reminds me of the perennial question, often asked – how do I know God’s leading? Firstly, to ask the question is to show lack of the experience. Secondly, many Christians think that major acts of God always use signs, wonders and miracles. But, not all changes made by God come in the form of a fiery cloud! Mostly they occur quietly, in everyday ways.
Let me make it more plain… if I ask God to do something, and I know it is in His will (because of scripture and because of discernment), what do I do? Wait for a miracle or a sign? Not usually. If I ask, and if I know it is His will, then I will also understand that He will provide the leading. If it is about buying a home, for example, then the prompting to buy rather than rent will be given. How? By an overwhelming knowledge within (not to be confused with one’s own psychological wants).
I will simply start looking. At some point God will prompt me again, sometimes against my own judgement, but usually coinciding with it. I will be strongly led to a particular property. So, I will put in my offer and it will be accepted. The proof that it is the right place is not necessarily that it is perfect, or that the neighbourhood is good, or it is a lower price. The proof is in the rightness of disposition. There will be a deep comfort in the choice, which will always reflect God’s requirement.
Throughout, then, there have been no bursts of thunder, or some supernatural sign… it has all gone on within my soul. One choice will be highlighted over another by the Holy Spirit. And, if the choices sometimes appear to be too many, I must just sit down and relax. Forget about it. Then, God will show me which way to move. This is not the same as clearing one’s mind. It is about listening to the still, small voice of God, in everyday situations. The Christian who is always looking for something dramatic and different is a sad person, who probably misses almost every godly opportunity put to him! In his intense desire to see miracles, he is completely blind to times when God speaks to him and urges him along a particular path.
Abram simply listened, and God took him into foreign lands. The strongest prompting won the day, and so he made his way through the deserts and hills, until he was told to stop. I say the ‘strongest’ prompting, because Satan can interfere and try to take us along a path we should not take. But, if we resolve to be faithful, God will overcome such false information.
So Abram ‘departed’, yalak, to walk or to go away, but also means to live as God demands. When we do this, God will act in our lives and His Spirit will talk with our spirit. We read that Abram did “as the LORD had spoken unto him”. ‘Spoken’ is dabar, and it can mean to hold a conversation, ‘to speak with one another’. I have no doubt that God and Abram held a discussion. Today, many reformed Christians are afraid to suggest that God actually speaks to us, or that we can speak back. So, they remain silent on the matter. I have spoken with God and He has spoken with me… audibly, not just in my head (even though rare)! Why should I deny it?
Abram was born a few thousand years after Adam, but his experience – discussing something with God – is typical of the men of God in early scripture. Paul spoke with Christ, Peter spoke with God (re the blanket from heaven)… why deny it? Why say that all this stopped with the Apostles, when there is no proof to say so?
Abram, at the age of 75, uprooted his home, took down his tent, and moved out from Haran in Mesopotamia. He took his wife, Sarai, Lot his nephew, and ‘all their substance’, or property, including livestock… anything that belonged to them. Just like us all, Abram had gathered many items and belongings whilst at Haran. They also took with them ‘souls’ – people. This can refer to children as well as servants.
Evidently, God led them to enter Canaan from the east, the land inhabited by descendants of the fourth son of Ham, west of Jordan. The group travelled west through Shechem (‘back’ or ‘shoulder’), 37 miles north of Jerusalem, to the ‘plain’ or tree of Moreh (‘teacher’). This was an oak tree at Shechem near the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. They were now in the land of the Canannites and set up a temporary camp.
“And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.”
God appeared to Abram. How? The word can mean to have a vision, but it can also mean to literally see or to look at, ‘to be visible’. I have no problem accepting that God (probably as the Son) actually stood with Abram: after all, He had done so with men before. But, I can also accept that this might refer to a vision, a sight given only to Abram, possibly by day, just as Paul alone could see Christ on the road to Damascus. For men, a vision is as real as an actual meeting, so it does not matter what form this took. There is no qualitative difference for us.
God told Abram that the land he was now in, Canaan, was to belong to his descendants. We are not told if God explained how or when this would happen, but Abram accepted it, and built an altar by the oak tree to mark the spot where God appeared to him.
Then, he packed away his tents and again moved on, this time to a mountain east of Bethel, where he pitched the tents. Bethel was, then, on his west wide, and Hai was on his east side. Bethel (‘house of God’) was probably in what was to become southern Judah, near Ziklag and Beersheba. Hai (‘heap of ruins’) was near Jericho. Therefore, if we look at an ancient map, we can roughly locate this place. Once again, Abram built an altar in memory of God’s visit to him, just as we should all remember when God speaks with us. Then, he called to God in prayer and praise. The word ‘called’ signifies a loud cry for help, using God’s name (similar to an ancient root word meaning to accost a person one has met). Abram again moved on, this time going south.
“And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.”
As he moved south, he noted a severe famine in the land. So he kept on moving until he reached Egypt, and stopped there. But, before he and his company entered Egypt, Abram devised a plan. At the time he thought it was cunning. No doubt, later, he regretted it.
He spoke to his wife, Sarai, and said ‘Look, you are a beautiful woman (yapheh). The Egyptians will look at you and ask if you are my wife. If you say I am, they will probably kill me and take you for their own. So, I urge you, tell them you are my sister! Then, they will allow me to live.’ We cannot today fully understand this drastic plan, but we do know it was a lie. Sarai possibly went along with it, because of the custom of a wife obeying her husband, but we do not really know.
Sometimes, Christians will devise plans to circumvent a perceived disaster, when, all along they only need to put it in the hands of God. (See an alternative argument in my study on David and Jonathan, when they contrived to deceive Saul about David’s absence).
“And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great
plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.”
A while later, as they continued on their journey south-west, Egyptian men indeed looked at Sarai and saw how beautiful she was. Her beauty must have been stunning, for Pharaoh’s princes took information about her back to him. No doubt they wanted her for themselves, but they followed protocol.
We are not told specifically who these princes, sar, were, but they could have been chieftains, nobles, captains or generals, religious leaders, local elders… any kind of leaders. Whatever they were, they knew that their king would be interested in a beautiful woman. The result was that Sarai was escorted to Pharaoh’s palace to be his consort.
Because Abram was Sarai’s ‘brother’, Pharaoh treated him well, giving him sheep, oxen, male and female asses, camels, and male and female servants. But, something very interesting happened. Though Abram had spread a deliberate lie, God took action against the hapless Pharaoh, with ‘great plagues’! That is, God struck, naga, Pharaoh hard, with intense nega – plagues, “because of Sarai”. This can mean any form of disaster, but here appears to mean widespread diseases, or ‘plague spots’ such as leprosy. Why should God have treated Pharaoh thus, when he was totally unaware of Abram’s deceit? We are not told.
“And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.”
How he knew, we do not know, but Pharaoh came to realise that his awful diseases were connected with Sarai and Abram. He even knew that Sarai was really his wife. “What have you done? Why did you not tell me Sarai was your wife? Why tell me she was your sister, so that I was able to take her for my wife? Go, take her away with you!” It begs the question – should we take such contorted steps to protect ourselves, or should we just rely only on God and be straightforward? (Again, I refer you to the study of David and Jonathan, in One Samuel).
It seems that Pharaoh held Abram’s God in some kind of reverence, for otherwise he might have put Abram, Sarai, and everyone else to death. Instead, knowing God’s abilities, he let them all go, commanding his men to give them safe passage. It is only by God’s grace that any of us is protected by God, even when we have done wrong. It does not excuse our behaviour, but it is a sobering thought, that God will protect meagre creatures who sin.
Note: Abram lived about 2000 BC. The Pharaoh was from the tribe of Mizraim (brother of Cush, son of Ham). His name means ‘Egypt’. Later, from about 745 BC, the descendants of Cush (a dark-skinned people) overran the land of Egypt and began the Nubian line of Pharaohs. The original Nubian (Cushite) land is said to have been Southern Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or southern Nile, but is usually linked to Ethiopia.
© April 2005 (Revised January 2014)