Genesis 12 – The Flawed Faith of Abram

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BiblePictureNow Read: Genesis 12 (I have included some of chapter 11 for context)

At the end of Chapter 11 we are introduced to Abram (11:27-32). As I discussed last time, this man represents the culmination of the descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, following the scattering of people after the Tower of Babel. Chapter 11 represents the end of the “Introduction” of Genesis. The first 11 chapters of Genesis, while full of rich and interesting detail, was in some sense hurriedly trying to get us to this point: to Abram. Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the great flood, the Tower of Babel, the scattering of nations; it has all been marching quickly to bring us to this man. And with the “introduction” now over, the real heart of the story of Genesis can begin: The story of Abram, who will later be called Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel.

Initially we are not told much about Abram. All we are really told are the names of his father (Terah), his wife (Sarai) whom we are told right off the bat is barren (11:30), his nephew (Lot) and the name of a few places where they traveled (Ur and Haran). We don’t particularly know whether he was a good man, or what his relationship (if any) was with God. Quite frankly at his introduction there is nothing particularly remarkable about this man Abram that we should give him any more thought than any of the other names and places we have been told about throughout the opening chapters of Genesis.

And yet, as we move into Chapter 12 it becomes very clear that God has selected Abram for a very special purpose. Without giving us any foreknowledge of Abram’s character, we see God saying to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (12:1-3)

From the moment that sin had entered the world through Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) we have seen hints that God has a plan to resolve the problem of sin. God spoke of the “seed of the woman” who would defeat the serpent: “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15). As God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, He clothed them with the skins of animals (Genesis 3:21). Shedding the blood of the animals so that their nakedness (their shame) could be covered, foreshadowing another blood sacrifice yet to come that would cover the sin of all mankind. With the great flood God showed us what sin really deserves, and yet God spared Noah in order to give mankind another chance. And even though God knew that the flood had not fixed the problem of sin, he gave us the rainbow as His promise that he would never destroy the earth by flood again, indicating that he had a better plan.

All of these are hints that God had a plan to defeat sin, a plan that we now recognize reaching fulfillment through Jesus Christ.

And God has chosen Abram as the first step in His plan.

It is God’s plan to establish of nation of people that would be His chosen people. He would establish a covenant with these people. He would give these people His law. He would nurture these people, provide for these people, protect these people, and guide these people. And ultimately it would be through these people that He would send His Son, to be a redeemer, not only for His chosen people, but for all people in all nations.

Before he could send His Son, He needed a nation. And before He could have a nation, He needed a father for that nation. Abram was to be that father.

At first Abram demonstrates a tremendous willingness to follow God. In spite of the fact that Abram was already 75 years old, Abram does not question God or hesitate but simply, “Went forth as the Lord had spoken to him” (12:4) along with his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot. God directed Abram on his path, to the land of Canaan. And there “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” (12:7) Abram then continued on, finally setting between Bethel and Ai, and there built another altar to God where he “called upon the name of the Lord” (12:8), reminiscent of the descendants of Seth when “men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26).

So initially Abram is off to a pretty good start. God has given him a pretty tough test of faith and Abram has delivered. As long as things are going well for Abram, he shows himself to be a man of solid faith, who trusts in God’s promises, worships God, and calls on God’s name.

But then things don’t go so well.

“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.” (12:10). The land where God has brought Abram began to throw hardship, and Abram has his first failure of faith: he abandons the land God had led him to, and flees to Egypt. Did he not trust that God would provide for him and his family? Did he not trust that God brought him to this land for a reason? Did he not trust in God’s promise to bless him?

It may a bit unfair to hold this retreat to Egypt against Abram. There was famine after all. Leaving a land gripped in famine to seek refuge in another land seems like a completely reasonable thing to do. But there is still a sense that he is abandoning the land that God had led him to as soon as things getrough. It is the first sign that as strong as Abram’s faith was, it was a bit of a “fair-weather” faith that would at times waiver in the face of adversity or uncertainty.

But if Abram can be forgiven for abandoning the land that God sent him to, Abram’s lack of faith gets worse. “It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This Is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” (12:11-13). Abram fears that the Egyptians will find Sarai so beautiful that they will kill him so that they could take her for themselves with impunity, and then Abram has his second failure of faith. Rather than trusting that God would protect him and Sarai, he decides it would be better to lie, and say that she is his sister, not his wife, so that they would not be tempted to kill Abram.

Just as Abram suspected, the Egyptians found Sarai so beautiful that they “praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house” (12:15), which is a nice euphemism for taking her into the Pharaoh’s harem, so that he could bed her. And thus we see Abram’s third, and most disgusting failure of faith. Rather than trust that God would protect him, Abram not only lied and called his wife his sister, but he then proceeded to whore her out to the Pharaoh to save his own skin.

But Abram’s lack of faith was entirely unwarranted. Even though Abram didn’t have faith in God’s protection, God protected them anyway. God protected Sarai by striking Pharaoh and his house with plague, and thereby saving her from a life of prostituting herself. And then God protected Abram from the wrath of an angry Pharaoh. When it became clear to the Pharaoh that he had been lied too, rather than kill Abram (which would be expected) he not only spares Abram’s life, but gives him his wife back and lets them go (12:19-20).

It is clear that Abram had faith. He had enough faith to follow God, picking up and leaving his home and walking into the unknown. But his faith was flawed; flawed in that when he feared for his life he did not trust that God would protect him. He did not trust in God’s promises for him.

There are a couple key things to take away from this.

  1. Abram was not chosen because of his tremendous faith or righteousness

I find it interesting that before God speaks to Abram that we are not told anything about Abram that sets him apart as being particularly special.

Before God favored Abel over Cain we were told how Abel, “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” (Genesis 4:4). Before God took Enoch to be with Him we were told how Enoch, “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22). Before God chose Noah to spare from the Flood we were told that Noah, “was a righteous man, blameless in his time his time” (Genesis 6:9). In all of these instances before God chose these individuals we are told of their righteousness or devotion as reason for God’s choice.

But with Abram, we are not told that. Before God chooses Abram, we are given no sign that Abram was a particularly pious or righteous man. And even after God has chosen Abram, while he starts out strong, it isn’t long before his faith falters. He flees the land that God brought him to, he lies to the Egyptians regarding his wife, and then hands his wife over to become Pharaoh’s concubine. Abram not only demonstrates little faith in God’s provision and protection, but demonstrates a severe lack of honor and righteousness in what he is willing to do to protect his own skin.

But God chose Abram anyway, not only in spite of his great short comings, but perhaps in some way because of them.

Abram is the first step in God’s plan to redeem mankind from sin. And it is crucial to recognize that this is God’s work, not man’s. There is nothing that any man or woman, can do accomplish this work. It is 100% the work of God. If God specifically chose Abram because of any virtues on his part it could be argued that he would bear some of the credit for God’s work of salvation. It could be said that, “Because Abram set himself apart with his righteousness; he made himself worthy of God’s choice.” But that cannot be the case. Abram cannot be given any credit for what is entirely the work of God. For that reason we are not told that Abram did anything to warrant God’s choice. Abram did nothing to deserve God’s choice. Abram did nothing to earn God’s choice.

  1. God can, and does, use flawed individuals to accomplish His will on earth

Throughout the Bible God shows us time and time again that he is willing and able to use deeply flawed people to accomplish His works. First of all, this necessary, because there is literally no one on earth for him to use that isn’t a deeply flawed individual (Psalm 14:3, Romans 3:10). But secondly it speaks to God’s tremendous ability to use what the devil intends for evil, and turn it into something good. We are told that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and Abram is a prime example, where God used someone who was deeply flawed to be the starting point in his plan for the salvation of mankind.

We should always strive for righteousness and holiness. When we sin, we should feel shame in that sin, repent, and call on God for forgiveness. But we should also not let our faults and failures hold us back from allowing God to work His good through us in the world. We don’t have to reach perfection before God can use us as instruments for His kingdom.

  1. God does not give up on us, even when we fall short of Him

It bears noting that even though Abram did not have faith that God would provide for him in the famine and fled to Egypt; that even though he did not have faith that God would protect him such that he lied to Pharaoh and handed his wife over, God still did not abandon Abram. God could have very easily said, “Well, I gave him a chance, but he’s blown it; I’m going to go find someone else.” But He didn’t.

In spite of Abrams lack of faith and terrible decisions, God still protected him. Instead of having the Egyptians turn Abram away, they still accepted him and fed him during the famine (for at least a little while). The Pharaoh, instead of immediately killing Abram out of anger over his deception, had a softened heart and allowed him to leave. After Abram was eventually thrown out of Egypt (while there was presumably still a famine) Abram clearly still survived, clear evidence of God’s providence still over him.

Even though Abram made some very poor choices, God still stood by Abram, protected him, and provided for Him. God does not abandon His children when they falter. That’s the whole point behind God’s larger plan to begin with. We, just like Abram, have failed God. But He has not abandoned us. He is so dedicated to us that He has provided for us his own Son as a sacrifice; so that we may be redeemed from our sin and be brought back into relationship with him.

Abram had faith, but it was flawed. We, like Abram, have failed God. But just as Abram’s flawed faith reminds us of our own failures; God’s unwavering dedication to Abram reminds us of the tremendous love that He has shown us through Jesus Christ.

Next Post: Genesis 13-14 – The Renewed Faith of Abram

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