Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:10-13
The young family called me late that afternoon. They were traveling from New Orleans where he was in medical school at Tulane University. They had a young baby, and were stranded. Traffic was a jam-packed gridlock on US 290. They were worried about the safety of their baby. Could they spend the night at the church? Hurricane Katrina was bearing down and they were bugging out. No duplicity. No presence. Just an need that we could fill. They ended up staying with us that night, and were able to get on their way the next day.
We can more easily identify with such acute needs than that of famine. Our food shortages may last for a week or two with the threat of disease or weather. But even when we need to leave our homes, it is normally only for a short time. We don’t typically take our family cross country in search of food. Even so, events such as hurricanes, flash floods, and pandemic stretch our resources and our sense of personal peace often to the breaking point.
So I can understand why Abram was worried about his welfare when he entered the land of the Egyptians. He feared for his life because of his wife’s beauty. But his fear led to unbelief and distrust of God’s providential care. Matthew Henry notes:
The grace Abram was most noted for, was faith; yet he thus fell through unbelief and distrust of the Divine providence, even after God had appeared to him twice. Alas, what will become of weak faith, when strong faith is thus shaken! If God did not deliver us, many a time, out of straits and distresses which we bring ourselves into, by our own sin and folly, we should be ruined. – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
On the one hand we might find great comfort here in knowing that a man of such great faith stumbled in this manner. We can point to Abram and think, Well he fell, after all. I can’t be blamed for my failures. I’m not a man of great faith. Never is someone else’s failure a justification for our own. It’s true: we all sin. But it’s also true: the wages of sin is death. Thankfully we do not always bear the full brunt of our sin. God’s grace abounds to Abram and to us.
Sadly, however, Abram’s deception not only sullied his faith, it taught his wife and even his servants that deceit and dissembly was an option in drastic times. Drastic times call for drastic actions. But the most drastic action is that of continued faithfulness in the face of temptation and fear. The most drastic action is that of loving God and relying on him in every situation.
That’s what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did in the face of the most drastic time ever. When on the cross, though pure and sinless before man and God, he remained faithful. Even when God abandoned him, Jesus still called out to his God, “My God, my God, why…” [emphasis added].
God will rescue Abram and Sarai because of his grace. Because of that grace they are part of a grand story of redemption and salvation, blessing and grace that will reach through the centuries to our very times. This is the most drastic action of all, because our need, too, is drastic.
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