It is very interesting when we notice what the scriptures actually say, and which is quite easy for us to miss; “The LORD had said to Abram” – this is actually stated as a past tense event. And we have different respected bible translations showing this – the NIV, the KJV, the NKJV, the NLT, and the ESV in its marginal notes.
The implication of this is that God had already called Abram to “Go from his country, his people and his father’s household to the land that God would show him”.
We will recall that Gen 11:31 had told us that Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, and his daughter-in-law Sarai to go from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan. Is it possible that this move was at the instance of Abram sharing this call of God with the very people God was calling him to separate from?
We cannot be 100% sure, but it seems that at this onset of God’s call to Abram, and this commencement of the journey and life of faith, Abram did not start off at the highest level of trust in God and separation from the world, and we see that his partial obedience cost him a lot. The father and son bond between Terah and Abram was strong indeed and hard for Abram to break-off, and this caused him great frustrations and delays until Terah died in Haran.
We cannot carry our old lifestyles and associations with us into the land and experience of faith that God calls us into. The results will just be complications and frustration trying to mix the old lifestyle of the flesh with the new lifestyle of the Spirit.
And is it not harsh and stern the details of God’s instructions to Abram? “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house… (KJV)”.
This is very striking, as God could not effectively teach, raise, and mentor Abram within the idolatrous and humanistic culture of his ancestors. Their un-regenerated mindset and natural human way of doing things would have killed the seed of faith that God was planting in Abram’s heart. And truly, God’s call to Abram was not just about Abram alone.
God was calling Abram, so that He through Abram and the nation of Israel would reveal His character and nature, and thereby extend an invitation to the entire family of humanity by demonstrating His own way of leading people and bringing them into right-standing Himself.
Let us also notice that God did not supply Abram with any specifics or details concerning the land which He had promised to show him. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that Abraham obeyed and left his familiar surroundings going to a land which he did not know when he would arrive at. Very rarely would the call of faith give a full description of the destination to those whom God will call to take Him on nothing else, but on His word.
God’s promises to Abram, “I will make you into a great nation (Israel)”; “I will make your name great (over and above those who strive vainly in the flesh to make their name great – Genesis 11:4)”; “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curse you I will curse”; and “all families (peoples) of the earth will be blessed through you.” This is nothing short of the Messianic blessing that our Lord Jesus Christ would bring to Jews and gentiles alike through the lineage of Abraham the father of faith.
So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, in obedience going where he did not know, and living in tents like a stranger in a foreign country; looking for a city with foundations whose architect and builder was God (Heb 11:8-10). We need to commend Abram’s obedience first before taking notice of another flaw and compromise in that obedience – “and Lot went with him”. Did Abram know that Lot would become a lot more than he could handle? We do not think so. But it is clear that as humans with many sentiments and emotional attachments we are constantly tempted to straddle our emotional agendas upon God’s call to us to walk by faith.
The scriptures warn us not to add to or remove from God’s instructions to us (Rev 22:18-19), and this was a classical scenario where Abram heard God, but carried out the instruction in the way that suited his own fancy. So we see that Abram the great man of faith, as we know him to be, really started out as an infant and toddler in faith; and yet the LORD being merciful and compassionate did not forsake him, but went along with Abram’s company who were moving from Haran towards the land of Canaan.
This is the God who, according to the Psalmist, knows our frame and remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14); the God who does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10). At age 75 years Abram and his wife Sarai, with his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and people they had acquired at Haran headed out to, and arrived at the land of Canaan.
Here in this writing about Abram’s sojourn of the land of Canaan, Moses the author of Genesis is intent on making a point to his original audience (the Israelites in the wilderness) that that promised land of Canaan which they were about to go in and inherit was the land that their father Abraham had traveled in. Moses mentions territories and cities which were familiar to his audience; “Abram travel as far as the great tree of Moreh at Shechem (Gen 12:6 and Deut 11:30).”
And despite the fact that the Canaanites were then the occupants of the land, and Abram and his company were the traveling strangers, God appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land”. Irrespective of the idolatrous sacred places and shrines that the inhabitants of the land embraced, Abram built altars there to worship and call upon the name of the LORD who had appeared to him (Gen 12:7-8).
Again Moses shows that Abram traveled across the territories which the Israelites who would later come out of Egyptian bondage would be preparing to enter in and take possession of. Notice the similarity between Gen 12:8 and Joshua 7:2.
In order words, as the very first audience and recipients of this book of Genesis read these words from Moses about the land and territories through which their father Abraham had earlier traveled through, and in which he had repeatedly built altars and called upon the name of the LORD, they received boundless motivation and spontaneous energy to enter Canaan and take over this land which God had promised to them through their father Abram.
No sooner had Abram and Sarai arrived and sojourned through the land of Canaan does verse 10 tell us that there was a famine in the land. How could there be a famine in the land that he had just arrived at in obedience to God’s command?
Was God not supposed to lead His own into a land of his future possession to be a great nation? Then why all these trials and adversities? Or do they have a role to play in maturing and growing faith (James 1:2-4)? Adversity soon came to Abraham and his company to test the soil of his faith whether he was, according to our Lord Jesus, like the rocky soil which received the seed of God’s word, and whose root wither away at the scorching heat of the trials (Mark 4:16-17).
Just as Abraham was beginning to feel comfortable and visualize himself possessing all of Canaan, the famine grew so severe that he had to resort to a human solution to this problem; and instead of waiting for clear guidance from God, decided to go “down” into Egypt. In the Bible, Egypt is a symbol of the world system and its bondage, while the land of Israel is a picture of the inheritance of blessing that God has for His people (Deut 11:10-12).
When people went to Jerusalem, they went “up”, but when they went to Egypt, they went “down”. Spiritually speaking, “going down to Egypt” means doubting God’s promises and running to the world for help (- Warren Wiersbe). This was the test of faith regarding hardship and change of circumstances which Abram failed.
The second test was a character-test and related to Abram’s level of trust in God’s protection as he looked to interacting with the Egyptians. It is very interesting how the Bible handles the moral failure of its own heroes. And this makes us come to the conclusion that the biblical record of historical events is not embellished, or doctored in any way to make its characters look any better than the ordinary men and women which they were.
It would have been convenient for Moses to leave out or alter a detail of historical record to make his ancestor Abram look good. But like the Psalmist said, “forever O Lord they word is settled in heaven (Ps 119:89)”, or as our Lord Jesus put it in Luke 16:17, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than one little of the law to fail”. God’s word and His judgment are altogether flawless (Psalm 19:9). But one thing we can certainly learn from Abram’s experience, do not be found where God has not sent you to. That would be a recipe for falling into the sin of inconsistency and compromise.
So this Gen 12:11-13 show us the false and duplicitous pact that Abram and Sarai had agreed upon prior to embarking on this journey of faith and obedience to God, “I know that you are a fair woman to look upon: … Say, I pray thee, that thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake”.
Every bit of human self-interest portrayed as a back-up plan, should God’s protection and faithfulness run out of them. Indeed the LORD is gracious and of tender mercies, overlooking Abram’s moral failings and distrust for His faithful character, His great might and unfailing providence. Since Abram had no human example to mentor this walk of faith, God forbore with the weakness and frailty of his humanity as He does ours when we waver in the tests of our own faith.
Just like Job had said earlier in history, “the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me (Job 3:25)”, so we must realize that our fear invites Satan to prowl and attack like he did in Job’s case, and like he did in Abram’s case here. The Egyptian pharaoh’s princes did see Sarai, and advertised her to their master Pharaoh.
And here Abram and Sarai’s lies began to look advantageous to their welfare, as the Pharaoh bestowed much silver and gold (Gen 13:2), and oxen, sheep, donkeys, camels with men and female servants, thinking Abram to be only a brother to Sarai. We need to point out here at this point God’s promise to bless the whole world by Abram’s seed through Sarai (Gen 17:19) was in danger of falling to pieces. Let us keep in mind that this promised blessing to all families of the earth via Abram’s heir is related to the promise of Gen 3:15 in the garden of Eden that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the satanic serpent. And here, the true hero of this story, which is Abram’s LORD [owner and maker], Adonai (Master), had to step in and foil Satan’s attempt at defiling Sarai’s womb. God afflicted Pharaoh and his household with great plagues so that Pharaoh reproved Abram and returned his wife back to him.
And so technically speaking at this point Abram failed in his mission to the other nations of the earth, so that instead of bringing a blessing to Pharaoh and his entire gentile household in line with God’s original purpose for him, he brought down a curse upon them through his lack of faith and trust in God. He lost his testimony before Pharaoh like we do before the people of the world when we distrust God’s word, and live outside his divine instructions for our lives. We must remember that ultimately God called Abram to be a missionary to all the families of humanity, but he failed in this his first assignment; and but not for God’s sovereign intervention at this point Abram’s mission would have been all over. So although our God is great and mighty enough to deliver us from all our troubles, and turn around disadvantaged situations, and favor us like He did here in Abram’s case, we must never go looking for trouble and putting ourselves into difficult situations by our disobedience, and tempting God to come to our rescue. This is not the purpose of this record of Abram’s experience that we have in the scriptures.
LIFE APPLICATIONS OF GENESIS 12
1) More often than not, God’s call to us to enter into the life and walk of faith requires a drastic change in our associations and immediate company. To live the life of faith effectively, Abram had to separate from his father’s house and kindred so that his former lifestyle, training, and orientation will give way to the new lifestyle and pattern of faith and trust that God had in mind for him to learn. It is the same for us today. We must separate ourselves from that company that is dragging us out of the lifestyle of faith into the lifestyle of the flesh.
2) The life of faith is a life of trusting in God’s word alone. And a lot of times the life of faith does not make sense because may have questions that are not answered even whiles we’re on the journey of obedience. God spoke to Abram; has God spoken to you today? Is there any portion of the scripture that has captured your attention today? The most critical thing in the life of faith is to hear God correctly; and for us today God speaks through His word the Bible, amongst other means. Let us be sure that whatever we have heard accords with God’s word in scriptures, and then let us make every determined effort to live and walk in obedience.
3) We need to remember that what we are reading in this book of Genesis today is divinely ordained history that Moses recorded during their wilderness journey, that the children of Israel might know and learn about their origin and ancestry, and the promises that God had made to Abram, so they could be strengthened and encouraged in their faith as they were preparing to go in and take over the land Canaan. The same way for us today that as we focus upon God’s word, the Bible, studying, listening, and reading, we also find promises and life examples that strengthen our faith and boldness to act in the same strength and boldness of our God.
4) Living the life of faith does not in any way mean that we have become immune to trials and temptations. In fact we must make up our minds and be prepared for trials, test, and temptations. This is God’s way of maturing us in our walk of faith. Abram, the father of faith experienced his own share of tests and trials, and we too must expect our own share today.
Their purpose is to help us stretch our faith muscles, and learn to rely upon God alone instead of alternative lifestyle options and plans of men. The storms of test will come to shake us off from our hold of God’s promises stemming from our trust in Him. Progressively, we come to trust in God’s promises come hell or high water, He will fulfill His promises made in His word, and we will come through our trials with a testimony of victory. We should not go “down” into unbelief; we need to go “up” in faith and obedience to God’s word.
5) We can find comfort in God’s word today even from the examples of Abram’s failures and human wisdom. God understood his human frailties, and did not leave him alone even though he gave into fears and fell into the sin of compromise and deception.
1Cor 10:13 say that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. God knows our human frame, capacity, and limitations; and His aim in the temptation that he allows to come our way is not to destroy us, but to train us in godly character. God helped and rescued Abram, and He will rescue us, but we must make up our mind to give up falsehood and deceptive character. May God help us to trust in Him with all our hearts, and not to lean on our own understanding; so that in all our ways we might acknowledge Him, and receive divine direction in our paths.