A Victim of Circumstances


Gen. 12:11-20; 16:1-16; 20:1-18; 21:2-21


Before us are three of the most unusual circumstances in the life of Abraham. Abraham is such a man of faith that Paul calls him "Abraham the believer" or "Abraham the faith-er." Yet in spite of this title, in these 3 passages the last thing that Abraham demonstrates is faith. Abraham is going to have good reasons for doing what he does; however, these reasons are definitely not operating out of faith. Instead, his reasons are operating out of fear, the enemy of faith. Because of his fears, Abraham will almost allow circumstances to destroy the promise God had given him when he left Ur of the Chaldeans.


Pharaoh (12:11-20)

11 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; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 "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." 14 It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 Pharaoh's officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. 17 But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 "Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go." 20 Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.

Why does Abraham want Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she is Abraham's sister (11-13)?

Now Sarah technically was not lying. The truth is that Abraham and Sarah were half-brother and half-sister, having the same father (Terah) but different mothers (Gen. 20:12). (This last bit of information may explain a whole lot.) But "technically" not lying is the same thing as lying. Abraham and Sarah were a lot closer than just brother/sister--and Abraham knew it. He was just trying to save his own skin.

When Pharaoh hears of Sarah's beauty (remember she is at least 65 years old at this time), what does Pharaoh do (12:15)?

How does Pharaoh show his appreciation to Abraham for Sarah (12:16)?

How does God feel about all of this (12:17)?

When Pharaoh discovers the truth, at first he rebukes Abraham. Does he make Abraham return all the goods he had given him previously (12:20)?

In spite of Abraham's lack of faith, God blesses Abraham--just like He had promised him earlier (12:1-3). At least on the surface it appears that all came out good for Abraham. The truth is that among the Egyptian slaves Abraham receives from Pharaoh, there is one in particular who will cause much damage in the days to comeóHagar.

Abimelech (20:1-18)

OK, it is easy to excuse Abraham for messing up with Pharaoh. He had just started his walk with God when he first went down to Egypt and claimed that Sarah was only his sister, not his wife. The next episode occurs approximately 20+ years later after Abraham has been walking a long time with God. Some sins are okay because they are the sins/faults of new believers. What we can excuse in younger believers should not be excused in older believers. There is NO excuse for what Abraham does in the following verses. It was not only careless, it also endangered the very promise God had made to Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3.

1 then he sojourned in Gerar. 2 Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, "Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is married." 4 Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? 5 "Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this." 6 Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 "Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours." 8 So Abimelech arose early in the morning and called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were greatly frightened. 9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, "What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done." 10 And Abimelech said to Abraham, "What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?" 11 Abraham said, "Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. . . . 14 Abimelech then took sheep and oxen and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored his wife Sarah to him. . . . 17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. 18 For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife.

Abraham does practically the same thing here as he did in Egypt, claim that Sarah was only his sister, not mentioning she was his sister. After God scares Abimelech, Abimelech reproaches Abraham, asking him why he lied to him. What is Abraham's response in verse 11?

It all comes down to fear. Did Abraham have legitimate reasons to be afraid?

We may believe God exists but

  1. Does God really know what He is doing?
  2. Does God really care about my situation?
  3. Have I done something so terribly wrong that God won't forgive me and therefore won't come through whenever I get into difficult situations?

What are some other reasons we might come up with in order not to trust God during these kinds of situations?

All of this sounds quaint and harmless. More is at stake here, though. If Sarah had had sexual relations with Pharaoh and/or with Abimelech, she might have gotten pregnant. Whose child would it be? Abraham's or Pharaoh's or Abimelech's? Remember that the whole reason Abraham followed God was that he wanted a son. The promise to Abraham would be carried on by the son. The whole identity of the son is at stake here. Moreover, the Christ was to be descended from Abraham. A whole lot is at stake here. Lack of faith can be very dangerous.

The CONTEMPORARY way to get ourselves off the hook is to claim that we are victims. Abraham was a victim...he had no choice in what he did because Pharoah and Abimelech were too powerful for him to tell the truth. They could have actually put Abraham to death! What is the problem with this line of reasoning?

But it would be too hard to tell the truth (for example, to admit you're pregnant; therefore, have an abortion. Jesus' response: The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and few are there who find it (Mat. 7:14).

FEAR OF LOSING THE PROMISE (Gen. 16:1-16; 21:2-21)

1 Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. 4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; . . . . 15 So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him. . . .

2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. . . . The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." 11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.

God has promised not only to bless Abraham but also to bless his descendants. Now in order for God to bless Abraham's future descendants, he must have at least one child, specifically at least one son. Well, Abraham has been following God for 10 years. He is now 85 and no children. Sarah desires that he have a son. if she doesn't come up with a plan quickly, Abraham might need to replace her with another woman who could provide that child. So Sarah comes up with a brilliant plan. What is that plan (verse 2)?

The whole purpose of that plan is that Sarah might "obtain children through her [Hagar]." In other words, since she is Hagar's owner, she will be able to adopt Hagar's baby as her own and thus fulfill the promise God made to Abraham. Has God given any indication this is His plan?

On the surface this plan looks good; however, God desires to give a son to Abraham through Sarah. Approximately 14 years later God informs Abraham that he will have a sonóbut through Sarah. The time arrived, Sarah gave birth to a son (Isaac), the boy grew until he was weaned at which time Abraham through a feast on his behalf. How did Ishmael treat Isaac at that feast (verse 9)?

Ancient Hebrew tradition claims that Ishmael actually shot arrows at Isaac. Again, this is just tradition and not Scripture...but it may be true. How does Sarah respond to this situation (verse 10)?

How does Sarah's command affect Abraham (v. 11)?

Several issues here:

  1. Abraham as the leader of the household should have never taken Sarah's original advice and slept with Hagar. He, not Sarah, was the head of the home and was ultimately responsible for the problems that emerged.
  2. Because of Abraham's lack of faith, he suffered terribly. It pained him to send Ishmael away at the age of 13. He loved Ishmael. Abraham would have never experienced this suffering if he had fulfilled his duty as head of the home.
  3. If scholars are right, then Isaac is the father of the Jewish race (Jews) and Ishmael is the head of the Arabic race (Muslims). Enough said.

All because of Abraham's fear and lack of faith. Abraham is human; therefore, we don't need to throw stones at him. Nevertheless, his being human doesn't mean that great harm will not come from his faith-less acts. Great harm does come, first to Abraham, next to his first-born son Ishmael, third possible harm to Isaac the chosen son, and finally to generations after generations of Jews and Arabs who have been at each otherís' throats for nearly 70 years. Although we are just human, God created us great; therefore, our actions can have GREAT positive results or GREAT negative results. Whether positive or negative, those results will be great.