I have a small obsession with getting back at people. It’s weird; it doesn’t even have to be me who does it. If someone does something wrong – hurts my feelings, cuts me off on the road, undermines me at work – then I begin imagining all the many and wonderful ways that person will get what they deserve. Maybe you can relate. I shouldn’t do this, but it’s just something deep inside me – I can’t stand the idea of someone doing something wrong and not getting amply punished for it. So when I read this chapter of the Bible, I spent most of my time cringing in frustration.
First things first – Abram’s father, Terah, is dead, but God’s plans haven’t stopped with him. God visits Abram to let him know that he has been chosen, that he will be great, and that he will be blessed. Abram, in his gratitude, builds an altar to God before continuing on what had been his father’s journey to Canaan. He is seventy-five years old!
Abram makes good time before coming across famine. So he decides to bide his time in Egypt until it’s safe to continue. There’s a problem, though. Abram is sure that the Egyptians will want to take his wife from him – Sarai’s just that gorgeous. In fact, they’ll want her so bad that they’ll kill him to get her! So Abram cooks up a plan – he’ll tell the Egyptians that Sarai is his sister, so that they’ll take her without killing him, essentially turning a lose-lose situation into a win-lose, I guess. His plan works. He even gets rich off of it (verse 16).
Even though Pharaoh has kindly given Abram something like a dowry for his wife-sister, he’s still taken a married woman, so God strikes Pharaoh’s house with disease. Pharaoh is appropriately livid when he realizes Abram lied, so he orders him to leave. Abram, his wife, and the nice wealth he’s amassed slink from Egypt, finally Canaan-bound again.
The Treasures Within:
Someone Done Messed Up
I have a serious problem with Abram in this chapter. Homeboy seems to care for nobody but himself. He practically sells his wife to the Egyptians because he is frightened for his life. Apparently, these people are so savage that they would murder a man in order to get his wife. Well, fine, that may indeed have been true about Egypt in those days. But if they are so savage why would you willingly hand your wife over to them?? He doesn’t seem to care about her well-being! In fact, he’s thinking about how this whole situation will benefit him! In verse 13 he says that he wants her to lie about being his sister so that his life will be spared AND so that he will be treated well. And guess what? He sure was.
Abram got rich off of this situation. Thanks to the Egyptians, Abram piles up sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and servants while his wife is doing God knows what in Pharaoh’s palace (verse 16). Then, THEN, the only other victim in this story, Pharaoh, is struck with disease! All because of this selfish jerk! Abram did something wrong and got away with it. The wrong people got punished! It’s so unfair! Why did God mess things up like this?
Well, did He? From our vantage point it looks like everything has been handled in exactly the wrong way. But this is God we’re talking about! Not only is it impossible for God to do anything wrong, it is impossible for God to miss anything. He had full knowledge of the ins and outs of this situation, something we absolutely do not have. Maybe Sarai was completely down with this plan. Maybe Pharaoh knew more than it seems. Maybe Pharaoh desperately needed an encounter with God in order to change his life. Who knows? And in fact, we don’t necessarily need to know. God doesn’t always do what we expect. He doesn’t always do what seems fair. But that’s why He’s God. As His place is higher than ours, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And all we must do is trust Him.
It’s interesting that despite all the mess that went down in Egypt, God blessed Abram. Firmly. Confidently. The promises He made to Abram in verses 2 through 3 are no joke. You can practically hear the warmth in God’s voice as He promises to make His son great. And then Egypt happens. But it’s not like God saw what went down and then was like “Oh snap, I wish I could take it back!”. He knew how badly Abram would screw up. He knew it so well He could have recited it to you. But He blessed him anyway.
What do you call that? Love? Forgiveness? Wisdom? Mercy? Hope? All of the above? God made a commitment to Abram. He made him a promise. He was in love with Abram. And He knew the immense possibility that would be opened up to His son if only he would commit his life to Him. There is nothing that Abram had done or would do that could break the bond God had with him. So God blessed him. And He watched him fall. And then He rescued Abram from his mistake. And with God at his side, Abram moved on toward what comes next.
God’s Message To Us:
“I know you and the plans I have for you.” Pictures have been painted of our God as an aloof god, wrinkling His nose as He watches us screw up, wondering why He puts up with us. But that God isn’t real. The true God is one who’s not afraid to get His hands dirty. Heavenly, divine perfection plunges with us into the mire of our souls – our wickedness, our greed, our selfishness, our worst thoughts and desires. He sees all of us. He understands all of us. But He dreams of something more.
God dreams of what we can be and He gave His life so that we can get there. He works with us and on us, day in and day out, doing all He can to fulfill the plans He has for us. We don’t let Him in. We push Him away and insist on doing our own thing, telling our own lies, fixing our own problems. But He doesn’t give up. Why does He handle us the way He does? Why does He cause some things to happen and not others? We may not know the details but we know the big picture. God knows us. He dreams about us. Will we trust Him? Will we walk forward with Him, forward into what comes next?
There Are Always Questions:
- I find Abram’s actions in verse 7 fascinating. He builds an altar from God, apparently to thank Him for the promises He made. Did Abram offer a burnt sacrifice too, or just build an altar? What is the modern parallel to altar-building, if any? Abram built an altar in response to God’s promises, so today, what do we do in response to God’s promises? Just say “thank you”? I always feel like the instances when people in Biblical times went all out for God stand as examples to us today, as if to say that this is how we should treat our God. But what is that “how” for us today?
What do you think? How did the Egypt situation make you feel? What dreams do you think God has for you? What is God’s message to you with this chapter?