By faith Abram left Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land of Canaan.
He was not some venturesome soul looking for something better or different. He was not a man with a pioneering spirit who had dreams of other places for himself and his family to settle in .for fleshly advantage. He was not at odds with his relatives and neighbors so that it became wise for him to leave the area and get as much distance between himself and them as possible.
Hebrews 11:6 declares that God called him to leave and to go to a place he had never seen, and to which, perhaps, he had never given any or much thought. He may have heard of the land, but he certainly never gave any thought to moving there and living there. The verse also explains that he went by faith. He believed God when He told him that there He would make of him a great nation. He obeyed God because He trusted Him. He believed God’s covenant promises even apart from this new aspect of God’s covenant. He believed that he belonged to the seed of the woman, was of the seed of Shem, with whom God had established His covenant and whose God He would be. It was by faith that he took such a long and important journey to come to Canaan.
But even as faith brought him into the land of promise, unbelief soon brought him out. Unbelief did not bring him back to the land of his fathers. He did not lose his faith. But he did falter, and in an act of unbelief he left the promised land because there was a famine in the land. He never considered the sin of returning. His faith never left him so that he turned his back upon God and lost all interest in the land promised him. God will never allow His children to do that. But they, as Abram, can sin. They as Abram can falter in their faith and walk in a way of unbelief for a time.
With Abram it was a case of full intention of going back, of believing that this was his land and that he would inherit it. It was a case of being sure that God would fulfill all His promises. It was therefore also his intent only to sojourn in Egypt, not move there for a permanent place of residence.
Nevertheless it was an act of unbelief. It was a failure to trust fully the God Who called him and placed him in that land of famine. Indeed, Genesis 12:10 calls it a grievous famine. It was not a matter of having had choice food and of now experiencing lower living standards. It was a matter of the necessities of life being so scarce that life itself seemed threatened. And before we become harsh and overly critical with Abram, let us look around, and in the mirror, and see how in a land of the highest standards of living man has ever known, we find men, (and maybe ourselves) going on strike for the choicest of steaks, while they are still well able to eat cheaper cuts of meat, fill their stomachs with all kinds of delicacies, having a trailer and a boat in their back yards, spending thousands of dollars on vacations, never spending a penny or only a few, on church or school, and say that they cannot make ends meet! Their homes are more luxurious than that of many kings in years gone by, and they have just traded in their black and white television set for the one with the biggest screen made for color television. These “necessities” force them to forego the top choice of foods, and they cry of hardships and violate God’s law to seek to climb higher while knowing a luxury unknown to Abram and his contemporaries. And in the church world this is not at all a rare thing either. Nor are such strikes condemned, and membership in such organizations called what it is, namely, agreements to violations of the fifth and eighth commandments. It is lording it over the master instead of honoring him. And it is stealing his property in that the strike declares, “We will see to it that you make no money and lose in your business, in order to force you to give us a higher standard, one as close to yours as we can get!” And the church will often approve rather than condemn such evil!
With Abram it was no such situation, but he figured that his life was in danger and failed to put his trust in the God Who said that He would make of him a great nation and would give him the whole land. And lack of trust in God is sin. Unbelief is sin, and let us not try to deceive ourselves into minimizing it and by labeling it anything less than sin. It is saying that God is not God. In Abram’s case it was saying that God might not be able to keep His promise without Abram’s help. It was questioning His almighty power; and that is sin against God!
And one sin leads to another.
Unbelief breeds unbelief, lack of trust breeds more lack of trust, as rats breed rats. Having succeeded in getting Abram to doubt God’s word, Satan got him to corrupt his own words. He, with Sarai, his wife, resorted to the lie, to a half truth which is a lie as well as an open falsehood. They schemed to hide the truth that Sarai was Abram’s wife and spread the lie that she was his sister. It was bearing false witness; and although it was not false witness against the Egyptians in that it falsified their words and got them in trouble because they were found guilty when not actually guilty, but because it did get them into trouble through no deliberate act of evil on their part. Pharaoh took Sarai to be his wife in good faith believing the half truth of Abram and Sarai.
This ought to be a double warning to us and to our children. Not only does sin produce nothing but sin, one sin breeds more sin. And when we sin, we not only hurt ourselves by adding to our guilt before God, but we place ourselves in the position wherein we endanger the neighbor with whom we are to walk in love before God.
We had not better foolishly try to defend Abram and Sarai. (And she, of course, was as guilty as Abram in the matter.) We had not better say that they had to seek food for their lives and that Abram had a responsibility toward his family. Of course he did. But one’s responsibility given one by God never demands sin, distrust and the lie. And that Abram’s move to Egypt was sinful is evident in that he found it necessary to tell a lie there to protect that life that was threatened by famine in Canaan. The point is this: Abram did not put his trust in God to give him bread, and so he is in no spiritual condition to put his trust in God to keep his life from being taken by Pharaoh. He did not pray to God to ask what he should do. He simply spoke out to Sarai and said, “We are going to Egypt for food.” Therefore he also had to say to Sarai, “You tell all in Egypt the half truth that you are my sister.” In effect this meant, an-d he could just as well have said “Deceive them in regard to our closer relationship of husband and wife.”
It is on the background of such unfaithfulness on man’s part that God reveals His faithfulness and assures us that His covenant stands because He is unchangeably merciful and true to His Word. He promised a Seed of the woman Who would give us victory. He. had narrowed down the line of those from whom this Seed would be born. It was to Abram, and although not literally stated, through his wife, Sarai, that God was going to give that Seed. Sarai as well as Abram must be spared for our sakes, for the covenant’s sake. The Christ must be born of Abram and his lawful wife in a line that would soon be narrowed down to Judah and David. And even though in sinfulness, in a faltering faith Abram went down to Egypt and trusted in his own lie to protect him, God’s goodness and mercy followed him that we may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. He saves us not only from sin but in spite of our sins.
All this was in sovereign, unchangeable grace. God was under no obligation to continue His covenant with Abram anymore than He was with Adam, who had been created in a covenant relationship with God. Adam became a covenant breaker, and God drove him out of the covenant garden where they had sweet communion together. Then in sovereign and unchangeable grace He saved Adam and gave rich covenant promises. Now, too, He is dealing with a covenant breaker, one who left the land where God called him to live and wait for a son, and a great nation, and the land itself. Abram had not kept his part of the covenant. He had gone away from the covenant land. God was under no obligation to protect, to guard him in Egypt; and He did bring great fear into his heart by having his wife taken from him.
But the gospel runs throughout the whole of Scripture; and we see and read of it here. In His grace God guarded Abram and Sarai. He let no harm befall them, though they asked for great harm and serious results upon their lie.
The word is grace, sovereign, precious, wonderful grace!
What Abram—and let not us not overlook, what we—did not deserve, God bestowed. The angel of God went with him. God did not forget or forsake him, but sent an angel to guard him well, and to protect him for our sakes. Do not read this passage of Holy Writ as simply an account of what happened to Abram and in his life. Remember that God’s Church is one body, and all the members belong together. God was here following Abram with His goodness and mercy, even though he strayed from the land of promise, for OUR SAKES! Appreciate that. Praise God for it!
And remember that it all is possible because of Him Who came out of Abram’s loins and as the last Adam, and our new Covenant Head, was never guilty of any covenant breaking. He fulfilled God’s law and broke not a single commandment from any aspect of its truth. He loved God with a pure and perfect heart. He suffered the punishment of Abram’s and Sarai’s and your and my sins and lies and rebellion and covenant breaking. And for His sake we are guarded in God’s grace, even when we least deserve it.
In a sense that sums up the whole of Scripture which shows us a fallen man so very soon after his perfect creation in God’s image. The whole of Scripture shows us to be sinners, and even after being brought to faith, shows us to be saints who falter in their faith, often look more like unbelievers than believers. And on this background Scripture shows a faithful God Who guards us as the apple of His eye, is gracious to us and blesses us, even though we are so very unfaithful so very often.
We can read, and do read in the Scriptures of faltering faith; but never do we read of faltering grace. We can read and do read of saints who are not on guard while the enemy is seeking their destruction; but we never read of God being caught off guard or failing to guard His elect children. Faithless and unfaithful we are so often. No man has ever or ever will find Him unfaithful.
Truly it may be said, as one has once cleverly pointed out by using each letter of the word grace to form a new word and a definition of that grace of God,” Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Indeed, without Christ there is no explanation for this guarding grace of God to faltering Abram, or to you and me. Though cast to the depth of hell for our sins, He continued to love the Father and cry for His fellowship. And in Him we have pardon. At His expense we enjoy God’s unchangeable grace. Let that encourage us when we find ourselves having faltered in our faith. Let it not lead us to carelessness and more sin, but to a thankful appreciation of salvation that is all of grace.
For here, too, on the pages of Holy Writ we have the glorious message of the gospel that we are not saved by works but by the grace of an unchangeable God.