[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]

Old Testament Study - Genesis 12:10-13:18

Here, we continue our study in Genesis.

Abram Stumbles

12:10Now 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 that 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.

Here, Abram stumbled. He suffered from a lack of faith, which lead to deceit, which lead to putting his wife's safety in jeopardy. Our faith in the promises of God is an important foundation that can keep us from falling in many ways. But when our faith falters, the trap door is open for further sin.

It often happens, nearly always, that after great acts of obedience, after great displays of faith, after great spiritual victories, comes testing. We see many examples of this in the Bible: after Joseph resisted great temptation, he was thrown in jail (see Gen. 39); after David slew Goliath, he was pursued in jealousy by Saul (I Sam. 17ff); after Hezekiah restored the temple, he was attacked by Assyria (II Chron. 31:20-32:1); Christ Himself, after He was baptised in the Jordan, was led into the wilderness to be tempted (Matt. 3:13-4:11). So also, in these verses, after Abram finally in obedience arrived in Canaan, "there was a famine in the land." Abram's testing was particularly difficult because the famine occurred in the (so-called) promised land.

At times, it is as difficult to stay in the promised land, as it is to enter it. We expect, since we are in obedience to God, that life will go smoothly. But God allows the testings of affliction and the temptings of the evil one so that we may be strengthened in our character, and so that we may not grow too fond of this fallen world. He desires that we look to Him for our peace, not to the world. We, in our weakness, do not understand this. "[W]henever our expectation is frustrated, and things do not succeed according to our wishes, our flesh soon harps on this string, `God has deceived me.'"[Footnote #1] During these times, when we ought to turn to the Lord for guidance, we turn to the world and our own wisdom and strength. We are fickle: we trust in God for our eternal well-being, but, when things get a little tough, we do not trust in Him to provide our immediate needs.

So, Abram, that builder of altars, did not turn to God for guidance and providence through the famine, but looked to verdant and fertile Egypt. Abram, at this point, lacked the faith to believe that, despite external circumstances, he really was where God wanted him. Being from Ur, an extremely fertile area itself, Abram was not used to famine; being from Ur, an idol worshiping land, Abram was not used to a life of faith. We all must often choose between the flourishing life in the world and the rough life of faith. Abram stumbled in his faith because he pursued relief from trials the way the world would, depending on other men to deliver him.

"What?!" (you might say), "Abram, this great man of faith, stumbles in faith?" Yes, Abram is well known as a great man of faith, but he is a great man of faith because (by the Spirit of God) he overcame his weaknesses to become a great man of faith. Abram was a man, made of flesh and blood, with flaws and failings, called by God, trying to obey and be true to this calling. However, sometimes in his weakness, he went astray. The Bible is honest about its heroes. The true Word of God relates their failings as well as their triumphs. This is for our benefit. If Abram can overcome his weaknesses, so can we; if God can work in his life, so He can in ours; if Abram can stumble in his faith, and yet become known as a great man of faith, so can we. There is hope even for us.

Abram chose to go to "down to Egypt." This is the first mention of Egypt in the Bible. Egypt, of course, was very prominent in the history of the Jews. Egypt, here and throughout the Bible, symbolizes the threat of the world to the people of God, and the destruction that occurs when the people of God trust in the world. As God warned through Isaiah: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD" (Isaiah 31:1).

Abram's lack of faith in God's providence during the famine led to further sin. Abram feared that, because of his wife's beauty, the Egyptians may kill him to get her. So, he planned to deceive them and pretend that Sarai was his sister. Abram compounded his sin by enjoining Sarai in it. Moreover, Abram's motive for lying was not only to save himself, but also that he would be "treated well for her sake" (v. 13). This statement possibly suggests that Abram planned on getting some sort of dowry for Sarai. In any case, his lie demonstrated, as all lies, selfishness and a lack of trust in God.

"The Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman." Many have problems with this statement, Sarai being so old at the time (she was older than seventy). However, her beauty in the eyes of the Egyptians can be attributed to the following facts: she was fair-skinned; lives were longer at that time; and, having had no children, she maintained her youthful vigor. These things, combined with the fact that God had apparently blessed her with great natural beauty, made her "beautiful" in the sight of the Egyptians.

Her beauty was described to Pharoah, and Pharoah, believing that she was not married, took her into his harem, paying Abram a large dowry of "sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels." Despite this, Abram continued in his deceit and further compounded his sin by accepting the dowry. Material rewards are not necessarily indicative of God's approval. "Lest riches should be accounted evil in themselves, God sometimes gives them to the righteous; and lest they should be considered as the chief good, he frequently bestows them on the wicked."[Footnote #2]

All this deceit put in severe jeopardy the promise of God to Abram. How could Abram become the "father of many nations" when his wife was in Pharoah's harem? So, the Lord intervened and "inflicted serious diseases on Pharoah and his household." In this, God proved that He was in control of the situation all the time. God brought a plague upon the household of one of the mightiest men in the world to spare a member of his concubine. Therefore, from the beginning, Abram had no reason to fear the Egyptians (or the famine, for that matter). If God miraculously intervened to save Sarai from a perilous situation in Abram's sin, how much more would He have provided for Abram if he had just stayed in the promised land and weathered the famine there? In this passage, God demonstrated His faithfulness, honoring His promises by miraculously intervening on the behalf of someone who had gone astray.

Ironically, the only one who was listening to God in this episode was Pharoah. Pharoah somehow realized that the plague was sent on Sarai's behalf by the true and living God, and so, he did not touch Sarai. What followed was one of the most shameful things that can happen to a child of God: being justly rebuked by the ungodly. What a terrible feeling! We are supposed to be light to the world, but so often we give the world just cause to rebuke us.

Abram Returns

13:1So 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.

When the people of God stumble, the Lord so often leads them back to where they first met Him. He does this as if to say, "I give you a fresh start." Our God is the God of grace, mercy, and fresh starts. He is ever-forgiving toward the repentant, ever-welcoming to the returning prodigal, ever-forgetting of the sins we leave behind.

Abram returned from Egypt a rich man. From a worldly point of view, Abram's journey was a complete success: "Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold." But I am certain that Abram did not consider his journey a success. We have all felt the dejected feeling of failing our God. I believe Abram's mood is reflected by the fact that he "went from place to place", wandering around in his dejection, "until he came to Bethel...where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar." When Abram reached Bethel, when he reached "the house of God" (which is what Bethel means), he must have sat down and remembered his first meeting with God in the promised land, desiring to have the same feeling of excitement and fire that he had then. And so, "there Abram called on the name of the Lord."

The journey to Egypt was just so much lost time for Abram, lost time in the service of God. There was no altar, no worship in Egypt. But in Bethel, in "the house of God", Abram was restored and revived. His subsequent actions were the fruit that proved his refound faith.


5Now 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 quarrelling 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 quarrelling 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, towards Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out towards 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.

Both Abram and Lot returned to Canaan wealthy. Wealth, contrary to many people's belief, does not solve all of one's problems, and quite often brings more grief than joy. The burden of wealth often brings strife between men, as it did here. It often turns friend against friend, brother against brother, husband against wife. Worse yet, the weight of wealth makes it hard to raise one's head and hands toward God.

Now, wealth, in itself, is not evil or dangerous, but it is "the love of money" that is "a root of all kinds of evil" (I Tim. 6:10). Abram and Lot display respectively the correct and incorrect attitudes toward wealth, and the consequences that follow these attitudes. Abram proves that one can be rich and be godly, be rich and have faith, be rich and serve the Lord, be rich and still live as a pilgrim on this earth. On the other hand, Lot's end (later, in Gen. 18) is an example of the misery that the love of money can cause.

As a result of the wealth of Abram and Lot, "quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot." This certainly was not a very good testimony to the heathen "Canaanites and Perizzites", who (apparently) themselves were able to live at peace in the land. We must be careful of the impression we make before the ungodly. Do not allow the love of the things of the world embroil you in strife and ruin your witness before those who do not know God.

To his credit, Abram did not allow the quarreling to go on. He most likely foresaw the possibility of the herdsmen's quarrels leading to strife between Lot and himself. Through his foresight, his desire to end the strife, and his unselfishness, Abram was able to bring about peace. Abram's behavior here is a lesson for all of us on being a peacemaker. He shows great wisdom in saying: "Is not the land before you? Let's part company." He avoids conflict by making the difficult decision of parting ways with his nephew and long-time companion.

Moreover, Abram let Lot choose first, even though Abram had every right to choose first. After all, Abram was the older man and he had the promise of God. Despite this, Abram went out of his way to keep the peace and allowed Lot to choose first. In this, Abram trusted in God to direct him to the land in which He wanted him to live. So we see, since Abram's rededication to God (see 13:4), he had regained his faith in the promise of God. Given the great promise of God to him, Abram could afford to be unselfish and to be a peacemaker, because he was "fully persuaded that God had power to do what He promised" (Rom. 4:21). In the same way, we also, who have the great promises of God, can afford to be unselfish and to be at peace with men. Given our inheritance in heaven, we have no reason to contend with men over the things of this dying world.

Lot took full advantage of his choice. He "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, towards Zoar" (13:10). Lot, unlike Abram, made his choice by sight (as he "looked up and saw") rather than by faith. Our fallen eyes cannot be trusted. Lot, enamored with the things of the world, chose to dwell in a place "like the land of Egypt." Abram's sojourn to Egypt had its effect on Lot: Lot's heart was still in Egypt and he desired to live in a place just like it. Lot did not foresee, however, what effect the wickedness of the inhabitants of Zoar would have on his life. Lot should have considered that "the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD" (13:13). As we will see later, Lot's choice brought him a life of misery and, in fact, nearly killed him.

God Renews His Promise

13:14The 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 for ever. 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.

God responded to Abram's act of faith and unselfishness by reiterating His promise. It is significant that the Lord appeared to Abram "after Lot had parted from him." God had originally told Abram: "Leave your country, your people and your father's household..." (Gen. 12:1). As we have seen, Abram went to edge of his country and settled in Haran until the death of his father, instead of going immediately to Canaan. Then, he took Lot with him to Canaan. So, Abram tarried in leaving his country and his father's household and, by bringing Lot to Canaan with him, did not leave his people. Finally, after all this time, Abram in these verses is in full obedience to the command of God. This is why the Lord appeared to him at this time.

God was wise in telling Abram to leave his people. Abram would have been spared much trouble if he had not brought Lot. We have just seen the quarrels between Abram's and Lot's herdsmen. In the next chapter, Lot will get kidnapped by marauding kings; and later, Lot will get involved in Sodom. These troubles were due to Lot's love of the world and his choice to live among the evil. God wanted Abram to leave his people so as to be separated from their worldly lifestyle.

Significantly, God tells Abram: "Lift up your eyes..." This is reminiscent of when "Lot looked up" and chose his land (v. 10). Whereas, Lot looked up and found his land by sight, Abram looks up by faith under the direction of God. The land that Abram looked at was not as lush and fertile as the land Lot saw, but Abram's land was given by God. It is much better to live by the will of God in the desert, than to live in the lushest riches away from the Lord.

All the land that Abram set his eyes on "north and south, east and west" was given by God to him and his offspring "for ever". The land of Israel belongs to the Jews: it was given to them by God. In this century, we have seen a confirmation of this fact, for the Jews have returned to their land. The return of the nation of Israel to their land in this century is the greatest fulfillment of Biblical prophecy since the time of Christ.

Abram was also told by God that his offspring would be as numerous as the "dust of the earth." To believe this took great faith on Abram's part. At the time, Abram was past seventy-five, had a barren wife, and could count the members of his family on one hand and still have plenty of fingers left over. But, as we know, this prophecy was fulfilled. The fulfillment of this prophecy could only be attributed to the work of God. True faith demands belief in what is unseen, for "faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1).

Abram was told to "walk through the length and breadth of the land" that God was giving him. This foreshadows the time when Joshua entered the promised land and God told him: "I will give you every place where you set your foot" (Josh. 1:3). This is symbolic of the fact that we must ourselves appropriate the gifts of God. The most important example of this is that God through His Son has given us eternal life; yet, we, through faith in His Son, must appropriate for ourselves this gift of God.

The chapter ends with Abram moving to Hebron and, again, building "an altar to the LORD." Abram responds visibly to the promises of God with worship.

So, Lord, help us by Your Spirit to respond to Your promises with worship. Bring them to mind, cause us to meditate upon them, guide us to appropriate them. Help us to follow Abram's example and be peacemakers, living (as it were) in tents as pilgrims on this earth, not clinging to the things of the world. Finally, keep us strong in faith so that we would stay within Your will, trusting in Your providence (not looking to the world) in times of famine. In the name of Jesus, we pray these things, Amen.

(In the next issue, we will continue with our study of Abraham's life)


1. Calvin, A Commentary on Genesis, Vol. I, pg. 357.

2. William Secker, cited in Spurgeon, A Treasury of David, Vol. I; pg. 41.

[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]