February 4, 2013

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART II: AN ACCOUNT OF ABRAHAM—Gen. 11:10-25:18.

Topic A: HIS FAMILY AND HIS GREAT JOURNEYS—Gen. 11:10-13:4.                                

 

 


Lesson II.A.4: Abram Visits Egypt. Gen. 12:10-13:4.                                                                      



Gen. 12:10-13:4 (KJV)

 

10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.

11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:

12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.

13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.

14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.

15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.

16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.

18 And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?

19 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.

20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.

 

1 And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.

2 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.

3 And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai;

4 Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.

 

 

Introduction

 

This passage is placed right after Abram’s call. Here Abram is not walking by faith as he had in the beginning, but God had made promises to him and would keep them. Abram was not the only patriarch who had to be rescued rather ingloriously from such difficulties.

 

 

Commentary

 

10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.

In leaving his home and traveling to an unknown land, Abram took a great step of faith. After he arrived, God appeared to him again and he heard His word of promise. Abram and Sarai probably expected to settle down and enjoy their new home, but God would not let them. Instead, God permitted a famine to come into the land. There is no record that Abram ever faced a famine in Ur or Haran; but now that he was in God’s land, he had to find food for a large company of people, plus herds and flocks. Genesis 14:14 gives us an idea of the size of his household . . .

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. Gen. 14:14)

Famine was not an unusual phenomenon in Canaan. Nothing could be done to prevent them. The Bible records two other major food shortages during the period of the patriarchs . . .

And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. (Gen. 26.1)

And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. (Gen. 41:56)

The timing and severity of this famine, which occurred soon after his arrival and initial journey through the land of promise (12:5-9), caused Abram to migrate to Egypt where food was usually in abundant supply because the Nile furnished water for cattle and crops, instead of remaining in the land and trusting the Lord to help him. Though we will see this was a bad decision, he should at least be commended for not returning to Ur, though life was proving difficult . . .

And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. (Heb. 11:15)

 

 

The Hebrew word translated sojourn indicates that a temporary stay was anticipated. As soon as the famine had loosed its hold, Abram would be on his way back to Palestine. No evidence is given to help to determine which Pharaoh was ruling in Egypt at the time.

 

 

There is no indication in this passage that Abram was operating in faith or that God told him to leave. Actually, the last time God appeared to him, He said, “This is it, Abram, this is the land I am going to give you. You will be a blessing and I am going to bless you here.” But you see, Abram didn’t trust God.

 

 

In the Bible, Egypt is a symbol of the world system and its bondage, while Israel is a symbol of the inheritance of blessing God has for you . . .

 

 

For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs: But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. (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 (See Num. 11, 14; Isa. 30:1-2; 31:1; Jer. 42:13). God alone is in control of circumstances. You are safer in a famine in His will than in a promise out of His will. “The grace of God will not lead you to where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Abram failed to test the circumstances and turned from the will of God.

 

 

11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:

 

 

As Abram neared Egypt, he realized he was going to get in trouble because of his wife. At sixty-five, Sarai was still young and extremely attractive, and she was only half the age she was when she died (127). The patriarchs lived for a long time; Abram was 175 when he died.

 

 

This incident in the life of Abraham shows that Scripture is impartial in relating the miscarriages of the most celebrated saints, which are not recorded for us to imitate, but as a warning; that he who thinks he stands, may take heed lest he fall.

 

 

12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.

13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.

Abram was afraid Sarai’s beauty would be a real problem when they reached Egypt; that Pharaoh might kill him in order to take her into his harem, and this led him to disguise his true relationship to her. In enemy territory a husband could be killed for his wife. But if Abram was known as her brother, someone wanting her would have to make marriage arrangements with him, which would probably give him time to react in his own favor. Abram sought on his own initiative to take care of his future, as if he had to assist God in fulfilling His promises.

When you are in the place God has chosen for you and you’re doing his will you don’t need to be afraid, for faith and fear cannot live in the same heart . . .

And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? (Mark 4:40)

When he said Sarai was his sister it was a lying half-truth because she was his half-sister—Sarai was Terah’s daughter, but not by Abram’s mother. . .

And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. (Gen. 20:12)

But it was a shameful thing to do, since he was only conveying to the Egyptians what he wanted them to know. He concealed truth, which is the same as denying it, and in doing so he exposed his wife and the Egyptians to sin. Yet, the claim that she is “my sister” occurs three times in scripture; here, Genesis 20:2, and Genesis 26:7. It should not be a surprise that Abram would do such a cowardly thing since he explained in Genesis 20:13 that this was their policy wherever they went . . .

And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father's house, that I said unto her, This is thy kindness which thou shalt shew unto me; at every place whither we shall come, say of me, He is my brother. (Gen. 20:13)

The grace which Abraham was the most well-known for was faith, however, he fell through unbelief and distrust of the Divine providence, even after God had appeared to him three times. Abram did not have an alter in Egypt, and you don’t find him calling on the Lord for guidance and help. Moreover, he changed from concern for others to concern for self. He lied so “that it may be well with me.” As a husband, Abraham should have thought of his wife first and not of himself. A husband out of the will of God can bring untold trouble on his wife and family.

 

 

14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.

15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.

 

 

The ironic twist in this story occurs when someone wants Sarai who did not need to bargain for her, namely, Pharaoh. Kings in the Middle Eastern countries did for centuries claim the privilege of taking into their harem an unmarried woman whenever they liked. The brother and father may deplore the practice, but the royal right was never resisted or questioned.

 

 

Abram’s fears were confirmed once he went into Egypt. Egyptian officials took notice of Sarai and informed their monarch of her beauty. The result was just what Abram feared, Sarai, the mother of the future leaders of the Hebrew nation was taken into Pharaoh’s harem.

 

 

Abram’s weakness created an occasion by which the Lord could show His faithfulness as covenant-Protector, cursing those who were hostile to the fulfilment of the covenant-promise and preserving the appointed ancestress of Israel to bear the heir of promise

 

 

16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

 

 

Pharaoh dealt well with Abram because of beautiful Sarai. The presents mentioned are what you would expect one pastoral chief to give to another. God’s prospering Abram out of Pharaoh’s wealth doesn’t mean He approved of his deceitfulness; it was simply a matter of grace. His scheme nearly lost him his wife, and without Sarai his promised blessing would be doomed.

 

 

17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.

We know from the Book of Esther that in those days there was a period of preparation for a woman to become the wife of a ruler. And during that preparation God “plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues,” and let him know he was not to take Sari as his wife.

The separation of Abram and Sarai was viewed by the Lord as critical enough to cause Him to take action to rectify the situation by His personal and dramatic intervention. Abram invented the ruse to protect himself (v. 13; “that it may be well with me . . . and my soul shall live”), apparently without too much thought being given to Sarai, but God’s protection focused on Sarai (“because of Sari”).

The whole pattern of Abram’s experience in Egypt form a remarkable parallel to Israel’s sojourn there.

 

EVENT

ABRAM IN EGYPT

ISRAEL IN EGYPT

FAMINE IN THE LAND

GENESIS 12:10

GENESIS 47:13

DESCENT TO EGYPT TO SOJOURN

GENESIS 12:10

GENESIS 47:27

THE ATTEMPT TO KILL THE MALES BUT SAVE THE FEMALES

GENESIS 12:12

EXODUS 1:22

THE PLAGUES ON EGYPT

GENESIS 12:17

EXODUS 7:14-11:10

THE SPOILING OF EGYPT

GENESIS 12:16

EXODUS 12:35-36

THE DELIVERANCE

GENESIS 12:19

EXODUS 15

ASCENT TO THE NEGEV

GENESIS 13:1

NUMBERS 13:17, 22

 

Abram in Egypt, changed from bringing blessing to bringing judgment. God called Abram to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3); but because of his disobedience, judgment fell on Pharaoh, the nation, and his household. If you want to be a blessing to others, then stay in the will of God. When we don’t let God rule, He overrules and accomplishes His purposes; but we pay dearly for our disobedience.

 

 

18 And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?

 

 

This is a very humiliating rebuke, and Abram deserved it. Somehow, and the Holy Spirit does not explain it, the plagues revealed Abram’s deceit to Pharaoh. The monarch humiliated Abram with his questions, showing more character than Abram gave him credit for.

 

 

If God had not interfered, he may have been tempted to stay in Egypt, and forget the promise. It is still the case that God will rebuke His people and remind them through their enemies that this world is not their home.

 

 

19 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.

 

 

Abram’s lie led to them being thrown out of the country. He took his extended family and immediately left Egypt. It was an ignominious exit—one which the servants must have talked about among themselves, and there must have been some loss to Abram’s integrity and reputation in their eyes.

 

 

20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.

We see from this that God was overruling in the lives of Abram and Sarai, but God did not appear to him while he was in Egypt.

Abram took Sarai, his followers, and his property—which had greatly increased during his sojourn in Egypt—and made his way back across the miles to the Negev, and on into Canaan. Such behavior as Abram exhibited in Egypt was not at all worthy of the majestic soul of Jehovah’s ambassador to the nations. He would need to grow if he was to approximate the divine blueprint for his life. He needed to go back to Bethel and rebuild the alter of Jehovah.

It is generally assumed that Hagar was acquired during this Egyptian stay. In “giving away” his wife, Sari, Abram may have acquired Hagar, who later became his slave-wife (Genesis 16:1-2).

 

 

1 And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.

2 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.

3 And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai;

4 Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.

 

 

Abram had learned his lesson, repented and “went up out of Egypt.”  When you disobey the will of God, the only right thing to do is to go back to the place where you left Him and make a new beginning. It is significant, that after the disastrous situation in Egypt, Abram journeyed back to where he had erected an alter and there he worshipped the Lord again . . .

 

 

And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD. (Gen. 12:8)

This time Abram went far north of Jerusalem. He had come to the south, around Hebron, and now he goes north of Jerusalem to Bethel.

Although he may stumble and fall, this man always comes back to God. There is always a way back to the alter for Abram, the Prodigal Son, and any man or woman who wants to come back to God. The arms of the Father are open to them.

After Abram renewed his fellowship with God he was ready for a new life. He was immensely rich in cattle, gold, and silver. God in His providence sometimes makes good men rich men, and teaches them how to abound as well as suffer want. The riches of good men are the fruits of God’s blessing. Though it is hard for a rich man to get to heaven, yet it is not impossible. His company of followers had increased to the point that he was confronted with a serious problem. With so many cattle and sheep, he must be able to move quickly to secure sufficient water and grass. This was the next problem with which Abram must deal.

Though it is not mentioned in the forgoing verses, Lot had been in Egypt, benefitting from Abram’s favored status and acquiring a taste for luxurious living.

The practical lesson from all this is simply never abandon your alter. Stay in fellowship with the Lord no matter what your circumstances may be. If you have disobeyed and God is disciplining you, go back to where you left Him and make things right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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