||Godprint: The Life of Abraham
Genesis chapter 12. Now we have been studying Genesis and we have seen that so far, we have dealt with events. Although people are mentioned it's been solely about events—major events. The creation, or the formation, of the heavens and the earth. The formation of the universe. That was followed by the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve and their story of bringing sin into the world. So the formation of the universe; the fall of man. Then we saw the flood. The flood that was a universal flood that covered the entire earth, as God judged that entire generation and they all perished as the waters covered the entire face of the earth. And we even noted the geological evidence for that. Then we looked at the fall-out that comes from man's rebellion. We saw the Tower of Babel; we saw the judgment as God confused their languages and dispersed them on the face of the earth.
And now we turn a corner in our study of Genesis. A very distinct division happens between chapter eleven and chapter twelve. You might say we're looking at the forming of a nation, if you want to keep it all alliterated points up to this point. Keeping with the "F's," this is the formation of the nation of Israel. We go from studying great events to studying great people and we will primarily, for the next 39 chapters, look at the biographies of Abraham, called Abram at first, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Those four will dominate the landscape in the book of Genesis. Just to let you know how important this is to God, the first eleven chapters of Genesis cover some 2,000 plus years historically. The next 39 chapters only cover 350 years. So God really didn't say a whole lot about cosmology and creationism and all of the things He could've said He left out. That's really not important to the story. What is of primary importance to the story is the generations and genealogy of a guy named Shem. And we'll see how one comes from that lineage named Abraham and that will be the focus of the rest of the Bible. The genealogy of Shem and part of that will be culminated in the Lord Jesus Christ who will come and then come again.
So you've got 2,000 plus years of history in the first eleven chapters; 350 years in the next 39 chapters. In those 2,000 years of history in chapters one through eleven, we've covered about 19 generations. Now the next 16 chapters, the middle of Genesis, will deal with one person—Abraham. Abraham. He's called the father of faith or the father of those who believe. We're going to look at his story, his testimony, and tonight we're going to look at two things: his testimony and his testing. That comprises the 20 verses of chapter 12.
You probably know that there are three world religions, as they like to say, that want to trace their spiritual heritage, at least in part, back to Abraham. Or at least pay reverence to Abraham. And that would be the Jewish nation, principally, followed by Christians and also Muslims. All of them look to Abraham and revere him. However, if you've ever read the Koran and any of the writings about Abraham, they have the story written a little bit differently. When it comes to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they'll take Isaac out of the picture and put Ishmael as the promised son and in Genesis 22 the one that Abraham almost sacrificed to God. So they will rewrite the story, but nonetheless, those three great religions pay homage to Abraham.
So we have a bulk of material that focuses on Abraham, that's in the Old Testament. But that influence carries on into the New Testament. You'll have one chapter of the book of Romans that uses Abraham as a prime example of justification by faith. You have two chapters in the book of Galatians that does sort of the same. He, as I said, is used as the example—the example—of faith. Abraham believed God and it was accounted unto him for righteousness. So he becomes the example of what it means to be justified just by trusting in God apart from your own works. As the writer in the New Testament Paul will say, that Abraham came before the dispensation of the law, hence faith is predominant over the law. Not only that but the writer of Hebrews in chapter eleven will mention Abraham in that Hall of Faith. We'll briefly look at that verse tonight. And then three times in the Bible, Abraham is called the friend of God. The friend of God. Once in 2 Chronicles 20, once in Isaiah 41, and once in James 2, he's called the friend of God. To this day, Arabs call Abraham el kahlil—God's friend or friend of God.
It says in chapter 12 that 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." We do need to go back a few verses because, well it's been a month, and we may have forgotten some. Certainly I didn't get to cover all that I wanted to but more importantly, Abram's story begins in chapter 11. So I think we should begin a few verses back because there's a lot, I believe, we have skipped over that really forms the personality of Abram. Now his name is Abram right now, not Abraham. He will be called Abraham. God will change his name; God likes to do that. Abram means "exalted father." Abraham means "father of a multitude." That's what God will make him and we'll even see part of that promise tonight. Verse 24 of chapter 11 begins that story:
"Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah. After he begot Terah, Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters. Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran."
Just stop right there for a minute. You see the name Haran? That's the name of a person, but it's also the name of a place that they will settle in for a period of years. I'll explain why in a little bit but just for the sake of tonight's Bible study, just so we don't confuse the place with the person, if you don't mind I'm coming to call the person Haran and the name of the place Haran. That was the original way you'd pronounce it; with the emphasis on the last syllable. So I'm going to call the place Haran, but the person Haran, just so we can get those two and not get them confused in our minds.
"This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran."
"Now the Lord has 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." Abram came from a place mentioned twice in chapter 11: Ur or Ur of the Chaldeans. This is in southern ancient Mesopotamia, what is today southern Iraq. Ur of the Chaldeans was the greatest commercial, most advanced cultural city of that time. The spade of the archeologist has revealed. It was the capital of ancient Sumer. It was the capital. It was a highly advanced civilization; the city of Ur of the Chaldeans at the time of Abram had about 300,000 people. That's how many people lived in that ancient walled city. It was an advanced civilization. Again, the archaeological discoveries have revealed advancements in musical instruments and crafts, there was a university there with a giant library, they specialized in astronomy and in mathematics. An advanced culture.
But at the same time, it was one of the centers of idolatry—idol worship. And so in the center of that town was a huge temple and a ziggurat, or a tower like the Tower of Babel that stretched up into heaven. There were a lot of different gods and goddesses that were worshipped in Ur of the Chaldeans. I'm painting the picture so you know where the father of faith came from; what his digs were like, what his hometown was like. A lot of different gods of nature. It was animistic in that it worshiped nature and ascribed deity to much of the world. One of the principal gods, in fact the principal temple in Ur of the Chaldeans, was to the moon god called, interestingly enough, Sin. The moon god. So Abraham was originally a Moonie, and his family.
Turn with me to Joshua, more information is given in that book. Joshua 24. Joshua tells us about Abram's background. Joshua chapter 24. Notice it says, "Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all of the people, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River [that is, the Euphrates River], and led him through the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac."
So we have a little bit of the home life of Abraham, or Abram at the time, shining through. He was raised in an atmosphere of idolatry. According to some of the ancient sources, we don't know if it's true or if it's just a fable, that Terah was a dealer in idolatry. He made statues—little idols—and sold them. And Abram was his assistant. So no doubt, there was the worship of the moon god and the other gods of nature in that household and it rubbed off on Abram and he was not a believer in Yahweh until God appeared to Him and drew him out of that culture and brought him into the new land.
Go back to Genesis 11. I think we've painted an adequate picture of Ur of the Chaldeans. Something else we can't skip over, however. Notice in verse 28. Something happened in the home life of Abram growing up that caused great pain and responsibility. Verse 28: "And Haran [that is, the brother of Abram] died before his father Terah, in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans." That's a tragedy. It impacted Abram's life. Just keep that in mind as you study about him. There was loss. I lost my brother when I was 22 years of age; it made a profound and lasting impact on my life. And if you've ever had somebody in your family die, the very moment of the death notification is fastened in your mind forever. You know exactly where you were and what you were doing and you can even get in touch with those emotions. If you've ever watched somebody die, you vividly remember that. I watched my mother die; I remember where I was when I heard that my father had died. I remember where I was when I heard my brother had died. It makes a lasting impact.
So this tragedy, this pain of loss, shaped the early life of Abram. We have to keep that in mind when we study who this man was because now he will be saddled with the responsibility of raising his brother's son, Lot. And he will take Lot with him and he will form part of the story in chapter 12, 13, 14, etcetera. Now there's an old Jewish fable that says the way Haran died was that his father, Terah, told his boys that they had to worship all of the gods of Ur of the Chaldeans. And one of them was the god of fire. They refused to do that and so the father threw the son, Haran, into the furnace and he died, burned to death in front of his father. Now we don't know if that's true or not. It just says he died before his father. It could mean, number one, that his father watched him die: he died before his father. Or it could mean, not just directionally, but it might mean, chronologically. He just died before his father died. It could mean one of those two things. Either way, he died and Abram will raise his son.
Something else we have to make note of because the Bible will make a huge note of it. Verse 30: "But Sarai," this is Abram's wife—she'll be called Sarah later—"was barren; she had no child." So you have a guy coming out of an idol-worshiping country, whose brother died after he had a son, and you have Abram himself and his wife Sarai, who were unable to have children. They were infertile; they were barren. All of that shaped his past life. Now that's a set-up for the rest of the story because you know that what God is miraculously intervene and give them a son named Isaac. A son of promise in a miraculous way. She was barren, however. Did you know that in ancient cultures a woman who was barren was seen as being cursed by the gods? If you're in a polytheistic culture, you're cursed by the gods. Because if you were blessed by the gods, you would have children. And if you were extraordinarily blessed by the gods, you'd have many children.
That kind of superstition makes its way even into Judaism because Jacob, who will have two wives, one named Leah, one named Rachel, once Leah finds out she's pregnant, do you remember what she says? She says, "The Lord has looked upon my affliction." That's what she called being unable to have a child—it's an affliction. I'm infertile; I'm afflicted. Then when Rachel finds out that her sister got pregnant and she didn't get pregnant she turns to her husband and grabs him and says, "Give me children or else I die!" She didn't want to be left out; she didn't want to be under any kind of divine curse. And unfortunately, that stuck within the traditions of Judaism for generations. Even some of the ancient rabbis, I found a rabbinical saying, one of the ancient rabbis said, "There are seven people that are excommunicated from God. Number one, a Jew who has no wife. Number two, a Jew who has a wife and who has no child." It was seen as quite an affliction; a stigma, if you will.
So I imagine that after they got married, Abram and Sarai planned their lives. "We're gonna have lots of kids." But she never could get pregnant. And I've talked to infertile couples. 6.1 million Americans, ten percent of the adult reproductive population today, is in that stage, in that state. There are other ways God can bless but it's a very distancing thing for somebody trying to have children, every time they see a family bring their child for dedication. It's a hurtful thing. That's the kind of pain that they were experiencing. Well they moved to Haran but here's what we often pass over. Look in verse one. Boy, all of this we're in verse one. See, I told you we couldn't get through thirteen. It'll be God's grace if we got through chapter twelve. Notice it doesn't say, 'The Lord said.' It says, "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."
When 'had' the Lord said that? The Lord had said that not after this move to Haran from Ur of the Chaldeans, but when he was in Ur of the Chaldeans, God told him then—appeared to him then—and said, 'Get up and go.' And he got up and he went but he didn't go all the way. He stopped in Haran and spent at least 15 years there before he finally made it into the Promised Land. In fact, he doesn't obey until verse 4 of chapter 12. Notice it says,"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." So God had said for him to leave—so he left. But he wasn't leading. His father was. Chapter 11:31: "Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there."
They didn't go all the way, but they stopped at a town and they didn't leave that time until the old man dies. Once the old man is dead, then Abram goes into the Promised Land. This is what it would be like: if God said to us in Albuquerque, I want to bless you so much I'm going to blow your mind with a blessing. But for that to happen, you have to move to Mexico City. So you go all the way from Albuquerque and you stop and live in El Paso. That's a border town, but it's not Mexico City. Haran was a border town. It was the very edge of Mesopotamia, before you got into the land of Canaan. So he stayed in that border town for about fifteen years. Why did they go to Haran? Well, it's interesting. If you compare the names of Terah's relatives with some of the names of the area around Haran, they're identical. That is, either the people were named after those places or the places were named after the people. So a lot of historians believe this: that the father of Abram, Terah, originally was born in the land of Haran. That's where he was born; that's where he lived. And he migrated 600 miles to the southeast over to Ur of the Chaldeans where he raised his family. But later on, he got older in life and after God had appeared to Abram and Abram said, 'You know, I think we ought to get out of here,' his dad said, 'Good idea. I've always wanted to go back home. I want to go back to Haran where I'm from.' And so they migrated back but they stayed there.
Now watch this. Go with me now, you've got to get the whole story to get this, go to Acts 7. Acts 7 is very helpful because Stephen is recounting Jewish history to the Jewish elders. And believe me, he's not going to make any mistake when he's talking to them—this is the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Acts 7:2, Stephen said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory," that's a very unique title used only here of God, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, "Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you." Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He [that is, the Lord] moved him to this land in which you now dwell."
Let's piece this together. This is what happened: God gloriously appeared to Abram when he was in Ur of the Chaldeans, where he was raised. And God said, 'You gotta do three things. Leave home, leave your family, leave your relatives, and go to a land that I will show you.' Which is the land of Canaan. Now he did the first thing—he left home. He did not do the second. He didn't leave his relatives, they all went with him, or should I say, he went with them because it was his dad that was doing the leading. And they did not go to the land that God was going to show them, the land of Canaan, they stopped in El Paso. In Haran. And they lived there for at least fifteen years until the old man died. And then he went into the land of promise—the land of Canaan.
All I can say about that is this: I know that Abram had it tough. He was raised without spiritual resources in a land of idolatry. He was raised in a family where he got a shocker when his brother died. All of the expectations he had for his family, of having children… I mean, what kind of a name is exalted father when you have no kids? His wife is infertile and then they have to be dislodged and moved. So all of that was tough and there were tough circumstances. But he did not obey God. He didn't go all the way into the land where God told him to go. He brings his father, he brings Lot, Lot will prove to be a problem and his dad proved to be a delay to finding the will of God.
Here's the application for you and I. Your past, whatever your past, whatever the circumstances that have brought you to this place, your past and who you are as defined by your heritage, your past, ethnicity, family, upbringing, lack of love, whatever happened in your family, that can either be a hitching post for you or a guidepost. You can let it hold you back or you can learn from it, be shaped by it, and see it redeemed. It can be a hitching post or a guidepost. And it seems that whenever we bring into our new life in Christ stuff from the old life, it becomes a problem. It can become a delay. By the way, you know what Haran means, literally? Delayed. 'Hey, let's go to the town of Delay. Let's go to El Paso and get stuck for 15 years.' That's what they did.
Now let's go back to our story in Genesis 12 that we've painted that entire picture. Look at verse one, the very end of it: "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." Did you get those promises? Five times God says, "I will." So often we like to make, we being I think preachers in churches and some Christians, like to make your Christianity all about what you do for God. What have you done for Christ? What have you done for God? The truth is, we can't do anything for God until we realize what God has done for us. 1 John 4: "We love Him because He first loved us." He made the first move and when we realize that and only until we realize that, can anything by His grace and through His Spirit ever be done for the cause of Christ.
And so I'm always a little leery when somebody makes it all about what 'I've done for Christ.' I haven't really done anything for Christ. Christ can do things in me and through me and for me. I remember back in the early days when John F. Kennedy was president and that famous speech that defined him: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." Ever hear that? You say, 'No. I've never heard that. Only when you do it.' OK. Well, he said it. But I think a lot of people make their relationship with God like that. 'Ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for God.' I love that God says, 'Abram? I understand that you're a pagan idolater who's had a family tragedy and you can't have children, so I will, I will, I will, I will, I will. Can you handle that? ' 'Uh-huh.' Good! That's all it takes! If you can believe that, then watch what I can do with you. That's essentially his story. He had no ability to have children nor did his wife, but God would bless him and make him a great nation.
Look at those promises a little more carefully. We have time. First of all God says, 'I'm going to make you a great nation.' See that in verse two? "I will make you a great nation." Don't you think God has a sense of humor to tell a man with an infertile wife, he's an old man nonetheless, he's seventy-five years old when he finally gets there, that he's going to make him a great nation when he can't even have one child? But what happened? It did happen, did it not? There was Abraham and then miraculously Isaac and then Jacob and the patriarchs and they grew and there was a famine in Egypt and they went down to Egypt for 400 years and they multiplied and then God delivered them and brought them into the land of Canaan that became known as Israel and a monarchy developed with Saul and David and Solomon and today is the nation of Israel with 7.2 million people that live within it, 5.6 million of them are Jewish, representing a 43% growth rate due to immigration of Jews from all over the world alone. They've become a great nation. A ten billion dollar per year economy. It is number four in the world in exporting citrus fruit to all over the world and number three in the world for exporting flowers. They're a great nation. God said, 'I'll make you a great nation.' Today they are a great nation.
Next promise is that 'you'll have a great name.' "I will make," verse two, "I will make your name great." I mentioned that all these three religions trace their heritage, at least in part, back to Abraham. God calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He identifies with the name of Abraham. And I'll tell you how great the children of Abraham have been. If you look at world population, Jewish population is pretty insignificant. Less than two-thirds of one percent of the world's population is Jewish. Less than two-thirds of one percent. And yet, they have, that race, has claimed between 25%-33% of all Nobel Prizes ever given out.
A third promise God gives him: "You will be a blessing." You'll bear great news. And look at what it says at the end of that verse, "And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." All the families of the earth will be blessed. Just think what we would be missing if there were no Jewish people. No sons and daughters of Abraham. Well, we would be missing our Bible. I couldn't say to you tonight, 'Turn in your Bible to…' There would be no Bible. Read through the first verses of Romans 9 and Paul lists all of the assets that they have given us. We would be without the Ten Commandments if there were no Jewish nation—that's the basis of our American jurisprudence system. There would be no Savior, and without a Jewish Savior, there would be no Christianity. We'd be missing an awful lot. "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed," is ultimately a prophecy of the Jewish Messiah who would be of the seed of Abraham.
Fourth and finally, what God is saying to Abraham, Abram at the time, is, 'You will become a great need.' Now follow this one: 'You will become a great need.' For He says, "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you." As I read the newspapers, and I turn on television, and I hear the rhetoric. Here you have today, the nation of Israel, with the enemies of Israel all around her wanting to throw her into the sea, trying to destroy any Jewish testimony of any kind geographically, historically. And so I hear the rhetoric saying, 'You know, Israel really needs the United States of America as an ally and really needs international support.' I laugh at that. Here's the truth: the United States of America needs Israel. They've become the need. Just look at all of the nations who at one time turned against Israel in ancient history, whether it's Babylon, Assyria, Rome, Egypt—they became second-rate nations. In modern times, Spain, England (at one time England, the British Empire, the sun never sat on the British Empire, it was the ruler of the seas, the ruler of the world). Read what happened just before and during World War II. And if you've ever seen the movie Exodus or read the book, it recounts the story of them being placed in ships trying to escape the persecution of Europe, but the British turned them away only for them to die in the boats or go back to Europe to be confined to concentration camps by the Nazis.
Just follow the nations, ancient or modern, that have turned against Israel and see what has become of them. "I will bless those who bless and I will curse him who curses you." I'm not worried about the economy. I'm not worried about health care as much as I am worried about this issue. We will decline very fast if we decide not to align ourselves with the nation that God said He would bless. Those are promises. You can take them to the bank. So, verse four, "Abram departed as the Lord had spoken." That was back in Ur of the Chaldeans—finally he gets around to it, "And Lot went with him." This is his nephew. Sort of adopted now by Abram; he's going to raise him. "And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran."
Now he left. God never told him where he was going. He didn't give him the GPS coordinates; he didn't even give him the name of the country. He didn't say 'Canaan which will be called Israel,' He just said, look at verse one, "to a land that I will show you." Now his dad said, 'We'll just make that Haran.' That wasn't God's plan. It was Canaan. But God never told him where. Can you imagine what that would be like? Imagine, you call a moving company, a moving truck pulls up in your driveway, loads all your stuff in it, and the driver asks you, 'Where do you want me to take this?' And you go, 'You know, I don't know yet. The Lord hasn't told me.' It wouldn't go over very well. He didn't know exactly his destination, he just had a promise that God 'will' show him. 'Will'—that's future tense. Just move, just go, I'll tell you when to stop. His dad told him when to stop, unfortunately. They stayed in the land of El Paso for all of those years without getting into the Promised Land.
But he departed and he went. And Abram took Sarai his wife. I probably need to be fair at this point and read that little section in Hebrews 11 that I mentioned. This is the New Testament commentary: "By faith Abraham obeyed [eventually, but he did and it sees him as such] when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance and he went out not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promises in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob the heirs with him of that same promise." So whatever the delay was, let's get past that. Eventually he did take the promise that God gave him and he acts on it and he'll be blessed because of it and he'll walk by faith. He'll his lapses, but he's walking by faith. He's standing now on the promise of God. Finally, eventually, but he's standing on the promises of God.
A good question that we should all ask ourselves from time to time is: what do you do with God's promises? There are so many of them in the Bible. What do you do with those promises? You might say, 'Well, I read them.' Others might say, 'I do better than that—I underline them.' Others might say, 'I'll go a step further—I memorize them.' All very good steps. But of course, the ultimate and best answer would be, 'I keep them. I live by them. I practice them.' There's a great story. When the United States of America was being founded there were no bridges over the Mississippi River and this country was being settled. It was early winter and a man was traveling, came up to the Mississippi River, saw that it was frozen, was unsure how deeply it was frozen, and he wanted to cross it before nightfall. It was getting dark. He spread out on all fours to distribute his weight evenly, which isn't really a great strategy when going over ice, but he did it. And he's slowly, slowly moving, distributing his weight very cautiously, very trepidously, and then his attention is diverted because behind him he hears singing. And up comes a carriage pulled by horses loaded down with goods and the man singing drives right across the frozen river. How foolish did the man on all fours now feel? Now he realized, 'Oh, this must be a local. This is secure; I can stand—I can walk on this.'
There's a great old hymn of the church: "Standing on the promises of God My Savior/Standing on the promises of God." If some of us were honest we couldn't sing that, we would have to sing, 'Creeping on the promises of God my Savior/Creeping on the promises of God." Not standing firm. Still others couldn't even say that. They'd have to say, 'I'm sitting on the premises,' rather than even standing on the promises. But nonetheless. Abram went from creeping to walking, so he wasn't a creep. Let's go now back to chapter 12, verse 5: "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."
This is about 2,090-2,100 B.C. when this event happened, when Abram came into the land. Now if you have a map in your Bible and you trace the route from Ur of the Chaldeans through Haran down into the land of Canaan, you'll notice that he begins in the Mesopotamian Tigris Euphrates River Valley and he goes up. Now, he really wants to go from here to here—side to side would be quicker. But he goes up, up, up, up and he moves toward the northwest and then finally takes a turn and goes down into the land of Canaan. Here's why: that was following the river boundaries. It was a lush area. Your cattle, your people, could be provided for. If you were to go straight across, there's nothing but empty vast desert.
This finally dawned on me when I took a taxi ride from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad, Iraq years ago. One way in a car it took me twenty-five straight hours to drive across that empty desert from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. It finally dawned on me—'I get it. Abram couldn't have come this way. There's nothing here to sustain life.' You have to follow the river valley and go up and out of the way and then down. I'll tell you what; my taxi drive was like the taxi ride from hell. This guy was a perpetual smoker, smoking those Camel no filter cigarettes, one after the other. And you know what he played the whole trip? Madonna tapes. What could be worse than that? Smelling smoke, listening to Madonna, through twenty-five hours of desert. Oh my goodness! I rather would have walked the way of Abram.
Verse six. I better speed up the pace: "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." Now Shechem is so important. Later on, Jacob will buy a piece of land there, dig a well, by the New Testament times it will be called Sychar, the land of Samaria. Jesus will go there, talk to a woman who is at the very well that Jacob dug. In fact, she will say, "Are You greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?" It's a very, very important place in their geography. Verse seven: "Then the Lord appeared to Abram." Second time He appeared: once was in Ur of the Chaldeans. "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."
God promises the land—it's part of the covenant—the land to Abraham and his descendants. Now he had a lot of descendants. How many sons did he have that we know about? The two most prominent ones are Ishmael and Isaac. As we move on in the story, God will be very selective and He'll say, 'I'm giving this land to you Abraham, but not to Ishmael but to Isaac and his descendants.' Now Isaac's going to have a couple kids and God will again later on be very selective. He'll say, 'I'm not giving this land to Esau, I'm giving it to Jacob.' And Jacob will have twelve sons and they will become the twelve tribes of Israel. So God will be very selective who He gives it to and eventually they will occupy it after they leave Egypt; after being there 400 years. So keep that in mind.
"And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel [that's seven miles north of Jerusalem], and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west end 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." The Negev desert in Hebrew. That's the first nine verses. Verses ten through twenty is the second part of the chapter. First is his testimony; now is his testing. I hope this is very encouraging to you. I hope that it's encouraging when you find out that the first real test after God gives him all the covenant promises, the first real test—he failed. I'm so encouraged by that. He's called the father of faith, the father of them that believe, and the first test of faith, he failed in believing the promises of God.
You and I are going to face trials of faith. Some people panic whenever they get a testing or a trial: 'Oh! What happened? God doesn't love me!' Listen: how would you ever know if your faith is real unless it's tested? Easy to test God when the cupboards are full, when the economy dwindles a bit, things get tighter—is God still able to provide? How's your faith then? See faith is like a muscle. You want to build up a muscle, you break it down, you apply pressure against it and then you push against that pressure and that process builds muscle. Same with faith. The pressure is what builds you up. You'd never know if your faith is worth anything at all unless it was tested. Some people freak out and have these expectations that they follow Christ and everything's just going to be fun and perfect and wow! Then reality hits.
There was a man who loved his lawn. One year hundreds of dandelions filled his lawn. He tried everything to get rid of them; he couldn't get rid of them. He tried more things, couldn't get rid of them. Finally, he writes to the Department of Agriculture and tells them the problem; tells them his tried solutions. And he said, 'What should I do next? What should I try now?' They wrote back and said, 'Try getting used to them.' You're going through a trial, what should you try next? Try getting used to them—they're prescribed by God to test and therefore strengthen your faith. Well let's see what happens.
"Now there was a famine in the land." What? Did you get that? This is the land of promise! This is the land 'I will show you'! This is the Promised Land and as soon as he gets there, 'I'm here. Honey, we're in the Promised Land!' and she probably thought, 'Really?! This is it? Because there's a famine here, sweetie.' Isn't it interesting that the land God gave them has a famine in it? "And Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land." Why did he go to Egypt? Keep in mind where he came from: he came from a place called Ur of the Chaldeans and there are two rivers that flood that valley called the Tigris and Euphrates. Egypt was very much like his home, Ur of the Chaldeans. There's the Nile plain and that river feeds a wonderful valley. Now he's in the land of promise, the land of Israel. Can't wait to show some of you the land of Israel because one of the things you understand about it is that it is solely dependent upon rain. And that's why God said later on to Moses, 'If you obey Me, it'll rain. If you don't obey Me, I'll shut up heaven and you won't get any rain.' So there was the early rain and the latter rain. And it was completely dependent upon rainfall—not so Ur, not so Egypt. So he's going to a place that he knows can sustain life during a famine; he's going to a place that's very much like home.
"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." Men, you can never go wrong saying that to your wives—at any time. 'Honey, you're a knockout. You're beautiful.' But Abram had ulterior motives; it wasn't just a pure compliment. It wasn't like stars in his eyes. He's got a plan. "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 that you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you."
The man of faith. God's hero in the Old Testament. The father of them that believe doesn't have much faith here, does he? What's his plan? Lie! Actually it's a half-lie and it's a half-truth and a half-truth is a half-lie. She was his wife but they had the same father, though they had different mothers. We find that out in chapter 20—that'll give us that information. So, it was half-true but it was also a lie. She still was his wife. Now we find out from ancient history that the Egyptians favored Semitic women and she was a Semite and thought they were beautiful because the Egyptians said of their own women—the Egyptian women—that they faded early. And if it was a brother/sister relationship that was, at least where Abraham came from, more sacred than even a husband/wife relationship.
If you know how old Sarai is at this point it becomes even more interesting. She's sixty-five years old. He's seventy-five; she's sixty-five. She must have been quite a looker to be sixty-five and still looking like, 'Wow!' That Abram would think, 'I've got to lie about this woman, because she's beautiful.' Now we aren't given a physical description, but again if we rely simply on the stuff that's passed down, it might be historic, it might be hearsay, it might be a legend. According to one Jewish source, they said 'There is no bride or virgin that has passed under the canopy [that's how Jewish couples got married] that could be compared with Sarah.' They used to say that God gave one-third of all women's beauty to that one woman. She had a perfect figure, the records tell us. She was just gorgeous. So he lies. He said, 'They'll let me live but they'll kill me.' He's trying to protect himself. 'Please say that you're my sister.'
Verse fourteen: "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. He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels." At this point I'm certain that Abram thought, 'Good! I'm getting away with this! I'm being blessed by this.' For you see, no doubt he was thinking pragmatically when he was up in Canaan and there was a famine in the land and he thought, 'After all, I've got to take care of my family. Everybody's going down to Egypt—that's what they do in a famine. I've got to look after my family. It's my God-given duty.' But all of the promises that God gave to Abram were for the land of Canaan. God told him to go to the land of Canaan; God never said, 'Go to the land of Haran.' God never said, 'Then also go to the land of Egypt.' So he just did it on his own and at this point he's thinking, 'I'm getting away with it! Everything's favorable.'
There's a great proverb in Proverbs 16 that says, "The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord." Donald Gray Barnhouse used to translate that, "Man throws the dice but it's God that makes the spots come up." The ancients used to have their own version of that: "The dice of the gods are loaded." So here's Abram thinking, 'I got away with it.' But boy he did not. "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 that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?"
A husband who is out of the will of God is dangerous to his family, to himself. Here, this man places his wife in jeopardy because God still has His hand upon Abram and Sarai, placing Pharaoh and his household in jeopardy, all because of this disobedient man. By the way, there's never a mention that Abram prayed, built an altar, worshiped God, called on the name of God, while he was either in Haran or in Egypt. Only while he was in the land of Canaan. He will when he gets back, but right now he's not.
"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 that 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."
Here's just a real basic but very, very crucial truth. Whenever we sin we never sin alone. It always involves other people. It always has ramifications far above and beyond just who you are and what you're doing and your little situation. It affects people around you. Later on in Joshua, a guy named Achan, remember a guy named Achan? He steals money and he steals a garment; he sins. It causes the entire nation of Israel to be defeated at the battle of Ai. Much later on, David will number the people of Israel just for his own pride and 70,000 people of Israel will die because of his stupidity. Jonah will go the other direction when God tells him to go preach in Nineveh and he'll place the entire cargo ship that he is on in jeopardy and all the people aboard it because of his disobedience. So here is Abram standing before an unbelieving king, an Egyptian king, what irony this is when unbelievers start rebuking believers. Here's the unbelieving Pharaoh rebuking the man of faith. The father of them that believe, saying, 'Dude, what are you doing? I could've had your wife! Now take her and go your way.'
So we must ask, 'Abram, was it worth a little bit of relief from the famine?' There was a husband and wife; they were at the mall. They were shopping together and as they were looking at items this beautiful young woman walked by and the husband looked up and his eyes followed her and followed her and followed her and his wife didn't put down the item she was examining. She just in a whispering tone said, 'Was it worth the trouble you're now in?' I can hear God saying, 'Abram, was it worth the trouble you're now in?'
Verse 20 ends the chapter: "So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had." If your doubt leads to disobedience you are dangerous. And he was dangerous. God said that Abram was to be a blessing. He turned out to be a curse to Pharaoh. What great lessons. He lost his testimony; he'll get back on track in the next chapter. But you know, it does just sort of leave us with the reminder that we're being watched, we're being listened to. Some more than others, but all of us are being watched and all of us being are examined and all of us are being listened to. And we have a testimony. And it's either a good one or a bad one. It's either solid or soiled. And some Christians, boy, you want them to be more vocal and let people hear about what they believe in because their lives are pure. Others need to wear warning labels, quite frankly, because they're not testimonies; they're not good examples. And you want to tell some of them, 'Don't tell anybody you're a Christian because it spoils the whole testimony.' Abram's whole faith testimony was spoiled. But at the same time, I'm encouraged that the father of faith wasn't perfect. And that the Bible never flatters its heroes. Because I have failed God; I have failed in my testimony and God keeps bringing me back to Bethel. Bringing me back to the altar, bringing me back to forgiveness. I'm very encouraged by his story.