(Originally written 14 June 2020)
Good Sunday morning. As per usual, the first thing I write on Sunday mornings is a message of faith. I hope you are encouraged, believer or not.
Christians debate whether the first 11 chapters of Genesis are historical, allegorical, or some mixture. But when the 12th chapter begins, the tone shifts significantly from a 50,000-foot view to a singular focus on one man: Abraham, the claimed father of two modern faith “lineages” – Judaism/Christianity and Islam. It is here that the archaeological and secular evidence begin to line up with the narrative, so it is likely that Abraham was real and that we are reading an account of his life. In a literary sense, he is the first “hero” of the Bible – too bad he was a pretty lousy hero as characters go. In fact, when given the first tough choice in the narrative, he punted it. I want to talk about that choice, because it says a lot about what happens in our world every day.
Abraham lived in Canaan. Where? Probably a region somewhere around modern-day Israel and Jordan, a hop to the northeast from Egypt. In those days, Egypt was an empire, and regions like Canaan were its property. It stretched through modern-day Sudan to the south and covered the entire Mediterranean coast to the north, all the way to modern-day Syria. Those lands were conquered lands, and those people were seen as enslaved by the Egyptian people. Still, when a famine gripped Canaan and Abraham’s household needed food, it was logical that he would travel to Egypt – when we are in trouble, we seek government assistance, right? In fact, 12:10 says Abraham actually went to live in Egypt, to work as a servant to feed his family. But there was no guarantee of this. The Egyptians had no obligation and could have turned him away or even worse. This was a risk. Even more, Abraham had just moved to Canaan at God’s request. I’m sure he was thinking, “God, you told me to move here and that I would father great nations, and now we can’t even eat? And now you want me to walk into the house of the oppressor and ask for help?” Wouldn’t we all think the same? So he’s annoyed, maybe angry, and humiliated.
When he reaches Egypt, he cracks. His wife, Sarai, is also his half-sister. Culturally at the time, this was not uncommon – today, of course, it is nauseating – but that aside, it raised a conundrum. Abraham says to Sarai, “When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (v.12-13).
The father of three faiths lied. What’s worse, he lied to save himself at the expense of his own wife. We can infer from the story that Abraham believed that the Egyptians would claim Sarai for themselves NO MATTER what he said. This says a lot about how the Egyptian ruling class perceived the Canaanites – whatever they have is ours. Whatever we want, we take. You want Egyptian grain? Here is the price. So Abraham convinced himself that Sarai was to be the “sacrifice” that would save his family, and offered her up. I want you to imagine how Abraham felt that day. I’m sure it was something like this:
God had led him into famine.
God had led him into humiliating servitude to the ungodly.
God had led him into losing his beloved wife.
God had let the bad guys win.
So Abraham decided he would help God out. He sold out Sarai and got a lot of material wealth for it, enough to solve the famine problem for sure. How about that? One little compromise and everything was better! See, God, THAT’S how you do it! But God isn’t mocked. At the end of the chapter, after Pharoah is punished for Sarai’s presence in his harem and the truth comes out, Abraham leaves Egypt, hungry and back to Square One.
As you think about this story, here is a question to ponder: Are you an Egyptian or a Canaanite?
I can see why those who see themselves as Canaanites feel like they do, because I’ll wager that every one of you reading this identifies that way. No one would claim to be the Egyptians – powerful, superior in their own minds, using others for their own gain. Yet the Egyptians have to exist – that is the duality of this world. So who are they? They are “them”, not “us”. And we want what they have.
Christians, do you ever feel like you’re in famine today? Like the world around you is full of “occupiers” who are godless and heathen? Yet this is where we are – we must survive. We must eat. We must live. So, will we do what Abraham did – compromise, rationalize, and twist truth for these ends, even at the expense of others? Will we “sell out” so that we can get more right now? Abraham tried to “help” God and came away with nothing.
So ask yourself today and every day – are you doing what God wants, or are you doing what you WISH that God would want? If that sounds hard, it should – being a Christian isn’t easy. God never said it would be. And we all fail. But God promises to pick us up. Abraham lied two more times about his wife, slept with a servant woman, and made some other mistakes even after the lesson in Gen. 12. God never abandoned him.
I hope all of you have a wonderful Sunday. Take care.