“When God Protects”
Genesis 12:10 - 13:18
September 10, 2006
God's grace in the face of our foolishness should lead us to grateful worship.
I. Abram in Egypt
A. Abrams foolishness is blessed (Genesis 12:10-30)
B. Abram worships (Genesis 13:1-4)
II. Abram and Lot
A. Lots foolishness protects Abram (Genesis 13:5-13)
B. Abram worships (Genesis 13:14-18)
MessageMost of you are probably aware that Steve Irwin, the so-called Crocodile Hunter died this week. He was famous for his risky adventures with crocodiles, sharks and snakes. It got him in trouble at times, most notably when he held his one year old son in one arm while feeding a 13 foot croc with the other. He was a risk taker, and any mistake could have been his last. In fact, a line from one of his shows has become a kind of family saying to us: Crikey, I remember the last time I made this mistake. Irwin was killed by a stingray while filming for a future show off the Great Barrier Reef. But whats really amazing is not that something like this happened, but that he got away with it as long as he did. In a similar way I think we sense that though God has ordered the world to bring negative consequences for foolish behavior, yet there are many times when the foolish person does not fully reap those consequences. This week were looking at two episodes from Abrams life in which there is serious foolishness, so much so in one case youre tempted to call it stupidity. But God graciously shields Abram from serious consequences in one case and foolish choices in the other - and he does so simply because of his decision to be gracious to this man and his descendants. What well see in this text is that Gods grace in the face of our foolishness should lead us to grateful worship.
I. Abram in Egypt - Abrams foolishness is blessed (Genesis 12:10-30)
We begin with the familiar account of Abrams sojourn in Egypt. Genesis 12:10 to 20 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you." 14When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants, and maidservants, and camels. 17But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" 20Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
Thus begins a pattern which well see over and over in Genesis: the promise first made in Genesis 12 is threatened by the behavior of individuals: Abram, Jacob, Josephs brothers, Pharaoh. But God faithfully rescues the situation. The foolishness of men and their lack of faith proves no match for the sovereignty of God.
So it is with Abram. In the face of a famine both his faith and his wisdom falter; he comes up with a human plan that threatens Gods plan, but God will not allow his purposes to fail. Famines are typical in Israels history, often caused by war or drought. It would be a famine that later sent Jacobs family down to Egypt and a famine that sent Elimilech and Naomi to Moab where Elimilechs son married Ruth. God uses these famines to shape and to test his people. But Abram was a relative new-comer to the ways of God, and may have had no idea that suffering and trials were a part of Gods curriculum. He may not have known that the God who called him was also able to control nature and circumstances. In the pagan world the gods were always limited, not fully sovereign. But Abrams God, he needed to learn, was not only greater than the famine, but the giver of it, as a test of faith.
To Abram, Egypt seemed the logical solution. Because of the great Nile river, Egypt was almost immune to famine, whereas Canaan depended on rain, and required a degree of faith Abram did not yet possess. It seems clear that in deciding to go down to Egypt, Abram did not consult God, but acted independently. No altars were built in Egypt, nor are we told that Abram ever called on the name of the Lord there. It would be safe to say that Abrams faith failed in the face of famine, and he followed a foolish human plan. But just outside Egypts border he began to think about the dangers which lay ahead. Verse 11: As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. There was in fact reason for a foreigner whose wife was attractive to fear: the husband was expendable. Abram thus appealed to his wife to accept a human solution: he proposed that Sarai pose as his sister, so that he would not be killed. Well later learn that Sarai was in fact his half-sister, so there was a half-truth in this deception.
Commentators and Bible students have written copiously about Abrams scheme. Some think he was willing to let his wife marry an Egyptian for the sake of his safety. Others suggest Abram asked his wife to pose as his eligible sister so that when an Egyptian asked for her hand, Abram could stall until they could leave. Abram would consent but insist upon a long engagement, long enough for the famine to end. During this time Sarai would remain with Abram, and their marriage could secretly continue. It seemed the benefits were great and the liabilities minimal.
But the plan was foolish and sinful for several reasons. First, it ignored the presence and power of God in Abrams life. God had promised a land, seed, and blessing. Now it seemed to Abram that he was left to his own devices to procure them. This is such a common mistake we often dont even realize were making it. We try to pursue Gods purposes with our plans; we dont give Him room to provide. In the early years of ministry Gail and I saw how God provided for our needs by means of unusual and supernatural coincidences - to give us a car, or funding or guidance. We learned a truth we still find hard to practice: if you are patient and dont grab the obvious human solution to a need, God will often provide in remarkable ways.
But Abram wasnt just failing to trust God. His plan also jeopardized Gods plan by jeopardizing the purity of his wife. God had promised to make of Abram a great nation through his seed. But Abram was willing to run the risk of another man taking Sarai as his wife, which would ruin the whole thing. Finally, Abrams plan was wrong because his fears were hypothetical. Verse 12: When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you. Abram poses a hypothetical problem, conceives of no plan except one that is morally unacceptable and then puts it into practice. Abram wasnt wrong in thinking that someone would appreciate his wife as beautiful and desire her. He wasnt wrong to suppose that someone might kill him to marry her. Where Abram was wrong to assume that this must happen and that the only way to prevent it was to lie. He never considered the promise and protection of God. He lied before any danger came, and he was foolish not to try the path of integrity.
Verse 14: When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. God taught Abram that man cant predict the future. Its the law of unintended consequences: he never imagined that Pharaoh might desire Sarai, and wouldnt take no for an answer. Instead Pharaoh would bring her into his palace to prepare a wedding. Fortunately that preparation period would have been quite long, as it was for Esther in Babylon. And during this time Pharaoh sent Abram gifts, verse 16: He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. Abram must have recognized that Pharaoh was giving him a dowry, a bride price. Yet God was blessing Abram despite his foolishness. Sometimes he just chooses to do that. Yet he does so to achieve his purposes. Verse 17 The Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. This is the first mention of God in this situation. Abram blundered along, closer and closer to disaster, until God intervened - with plagues. Notice that this is one of many ways this situation parallels the later drama of the Exodus.
Verse 18: So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" Abram was soundly rebuked and far as were told, he couldnt utter a word in his defense. The sad thing is that he was completely without any testimony of faith in the living God. The same can happen to us: grasping at human solutions affects our credibility: even when God blesses our foolishness, he often does so at his own expense. Verse 20: Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. Pharaoh didnt take advantage of Abram or deprive him of his blessings, but in true fear of Abrams God, ushered him to the border by the shortest route.
Abram escaped unscathed with the purity of his wife retained and the future of the promises intact. God allowed his foolishness, God allowed his sin, God allowed his lies, and God graciously did not allow the consequences that should have followed to follow. Now Im not saying God isnt just; his justice is proclaimed and seen in all Scripture. In fact its against the background of justice that these acts of grace stand out so clearly. God does normally allow the consequences of our actions to fall on us; if we choose to lie, if we choose to trust in our own strength, if we adopt foolish, sinful behaviors or make foolish financial decisions, we normally see that bad things happen: relationships are damaged, health is imperiled, bankruptcy looms. But sometimes God graciously prevents the consequences and lets us get away with foolishness. Ill bet all of us have experienced that driving: you make a mistake and have a near miss; a chill runs through you as you realize how stupid you were and you experience a moment of relief that nothing really bad happened.
I. Abram in Egypt - Abram worships (Genesis 13:1-4)
I think that same chill and sigh of relief runs through Abram on the border of Egypt, and he returns to Canaan with a renewed commitment to God. Genesis 13:1-4: So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. 3From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.
Abram retraces his steps. In chapter 12 he went from Bethel to the Negev and then on to Egypt. Now he reverses that and eventually ends up at the place between Bethel and Ai where he had built an altar. The sojourn in Egypt was long enough, and the gifts of Pharaoh rich enough that Abram returned more wealthy than when he left. But Abram seems to recognize that these blessings are a gift from God and he probably recognizes the jeopardy that his foolishness had placed them in and Gods grace to bring him out intact. So when he gets back to Bethel he worships and calls upon the name of the Lord, which hadnt happened, in the text, since Bethel.
This is a revival, a renewal, a return to walking in godliness. Its a pattern in Genesis and a pattern for us; when God rescues, especially when weve been foolish or sinful and tried to handle things in our own human strength, then our response ought to be grateful and humble worship. We see this in Abram, we see it in the Psalms, we see it in the woman of Luke 7 who had lived a sinful life and who anointed Jesus feet with expensive perfume in an act of grateful worship. Gods grace in the face of our foolishness should lead us to give thanks in his presence.
II. Abram and Lot - Lots foolishness protects Abram (Genesis 13:5-13)
Abram rejoices before God to have survived what could have been a major threat to Gods purposes - and maybe he learned about living not by human wisdom but by faithful dependance. In the second account in our text Abram does better - but Lot does worse. Chapter 13, verses 5 to 13: Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. 8So Abram said to Lot, "Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. 9Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left." 10Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. 11So Lot chose for himself the plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.
Up to this point, ever since Ur, Abram and Lot seemed inseparable. But as time went on the strain of maintaining two wealthy enterprises grew. Verse 6: But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great. They couldnt find enough water and pasture for their sheep and cattle. As a result, verse 7, there was a marked tension between between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. This competition for limited resources inevitably led to conflict, and ultimately irritation between Abram and Lot themselves. And the situation was made worse by the fact that the Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. Moses comment reminds us that Abram was a sojourner, dwelling in a land that would some day belong to his seed, and that Abram and Lot not only had to share pasture between themselves, but were at the mercy of those who had prior claim. Strife between them was a poor testimony to the Canaanites.
If you remember Peacemakers, this is a classic case of conflict over limited resources, conflict inevitable in life and in church. Abram handles it well: this is pretty good biblical conflict resolution. He goes to Lot face to face and privately and says lets not go on with this quarreling. Then he proposes a compromise:Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left. Good solution, except for one thing: God told Abram that Canaan was for his descendants. He had no right to give Lot the option of Canaan: in doing so he endangered the plan. One principle of peace-making is to not to promise what you cant give. Abram violates that principle.
Fortunately for Abram, Lot is also un-schooled in Gods ways. Given a choice he takes the path of human wisdom and spiritual folly, quite possibly sparing Abram from making the same foolish choice. Verse 10: Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)
Human wisdom says wow, the Jordan valley is great; like the Garden of Eden; its like the Nile river valley we just left. The hills of Canaan had already proved themselves subject to drought and famine: human wisdom says take the valley. But remember the south end of that valley is now occupied by the Dead Sea, one of the most desolate areas on earth. Moses explains that this was before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gods judgment on those cities not very many years later changed the whole geography and ecology of the region.
Lots choice is spiritual folly because in that valley were the cities of the plains, full of human wickedness. Verse 11: So Lot chose for himself the plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. Lot didnt set out to actually live in the cities. At first, he simply lived nearby in his tents. But before long he moved to a condo in Sodom. Some decisions set a life course: a decision that may not seem morally important can have a moral outcome. And often the wrong choice is the one that appears to be to our advantage. So decisions need to be made carefully, patiently and prayerfully.
God protected Abram from his previous folly and from folly at this moment. But well see that Lot had to bear the consequences of his. First, his location in the plain caused him to be an easy victim of war and plunder. Later, when God judges Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot pays for his decision in his family. His wife was turned to salt because of her attachment to Sodom. His daughters also fell into sin, no doubt a reflection of moral values they had learned in Sodom. It was a tragic and foolish decision to go live in that valley - but it was, by Gods grace a decision Abram avoided. If Lot, for whatever reason, had chosen to look to Canaan and stay there, Abram would have been forced by his own words to go out of the promised land and out of Gods plan. God protected Abram from folly by the foolishness of Lot.
II. Abram and Lot - Abram worships (Genesis 13:14-18)
So what does Abram do? Gods grace in the face of our foolishness should lead to grateful worship. Genesis 13:14-18 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. 15All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." 18So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord.
Its interesting that God didnt speak to Abram, so far as Scripture informs us, until after hed made his decision: The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had parted from him . . . Gods call, we sense, was to Abram alone. He seems to have wanted even the separation from Lot, which up to this point Abram hadnt done.
But now that theyre separated, God re-affirms his promise. Verse 14 Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. 15All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. Lot had looked at the land before him with the eyes of one weighing financial potential; Abram was commanded to look through the eyes of faith. Lot saw the fertile greenness of the valley; Abram saw the dust of the hills. But God used that very dust as a testimony to the blessings that would come. Verse 16: I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.
Verse 18: So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord. Abrams response revealed a growing faith in the God who called him. He moved his tents toward Hebron, settling near the oaks of Mamre. There he built an altar and worshiped. How different were the paths of the two men. One was almost imperceptibly edging closer and closer to the city of Sodom, to live among godless and wicked men. The other was living the life of the sojourner, dwelling on those barren hills, with his hope in the promises of God. One lives in his tent and builds an altar of worship; the other trades in his tent for a home in the city of wicked men. Lots foolish choice, by which God graciously allowed Abram to make a right choice, had great consequences.
So what have we seen? That a sovereign God graciously protects the foolish from the consequences of their sin - not all the time, but all of us at times. The key moment when this grace is given is when we believe. We cannot, we dare not, trust in our own shrewdness to get us entrance into Gods kingdom. Our own best efforts are inevitably sinful and doom us to destruction. Only what God promises and provides by grace will bless. So faith recognizes our sinfulness and turns to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary for salvation and blessing. Everyone who believes receives grace from God where sin deserved judgment. And as we walk with him, when we fall into sin, we will at times be given a second chance - a preventing of consequences when we are foolish or sinful. Not every time, because God is training us up, but some times, because he is working out his purposes. And our response ought to be the same giving thanks and worshiping that we see in Abram. Gods grace in the face of our foolishness should lead us to grateful worship.