Scriptures: Genesis 12:10-20; 1 John 4:15-21
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Today we continue our sermon series on the biographies of various people in the Bible. We are currently focusing on Abraham. Where we are in his story is still fairly early in his travels. He had made it to Canaan, he had spent some time there, he had made a name for himself, somewhat, and then there was famine.
This is not all that uncommon. You see it a lot in the Bible. “There was a famine in the land.” “Then there was a famine.” “There was a famine in those years.” It's not all that uncommon an event out there. Being in a semi-arid place, in a place that has very little moisture, crops really depend on irrigation.
That is why the area along the major rivers in that region of the world is called the Fertile Crescent. There is desert on both sides, then this narrow fertile area in the middle. So if they did not get enough rainfall, or if the snow didn't hit the mountaintops and then melt, then they would suffer severe famine. They didn't have the irrigation techniques that we do today.
Frankly, even with our irrigation techniques, we sometimes have problems. We've been seeing this recently in California in particular. They depend on the runoff of snow from the Rocky Mountains, and the rainy season, as much as it makes for mudslides and stuff like that. When it doesn't rain, they get wildfires.
So they were suffering a famine in Canaan. Because of where the Pharaoh of Egypt was located, right off the Nile, and his capital city there, Abraham decided to take Sarah and head down to Egypt. Abraham was still basically a rancher, a nomad. It's not like he had to lock up his house, make sure the gas was off on the stove, and stuff like that. He just packed up his belongings and his tents, and left.
As he entered into Egypt, he told Sarah – and remember, she's at least 65 years old, and assuming it took a few years to get there from Ur, she's probably in her seventies – he said, “I know that you are a beautiful woman.” (Isn't your wife always a beautiful woman, men? You'd better say yes.) “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 will go well for me because of you, and that I may live.”
I will say that this is not without some warrant. It was fairly common in those days, for kings in particular, if they saw someone who'd they fancied, to take that woman, regardless. And if she was already married (in Egypt that really wouldn't actually have mattered that much, but in other lands, for instance, and of course with Abraham being a Jew, it did matter), they would kill the husband, in order to be able to take the wife without any questions.
David essentially did that with Bathsheba. And according to the law, he was within his rights. We know it was morally wrong, and that's why he ended up writing Psalm 51, lost a child, and a whole bunch of other stuff. But we're talking about Abraham right now.
So he had some grounds for his fear. However, what he did was not only wrong, as in we would say it is wrong, but God told him it was wrong. It's amazing to me how far the commentators would bend to minimize Abraham's lack of faith at this moment, even while claiming there was no excuse for what he did. Even the summary read by the liturgist gives him an excuse, as it were.
But there are a couple of things he did here, aside from the lying. Now, I have to say, he didn't lie. Even though he lied. Sarah was, according to some scholars, his half-sister – same father, different mother. Others say that it was uncle and niece. The fact is that, either way, they were very closely related, far more so than ends up being allowable in Exodus and Leviticus.
If she was a half-sister, then saying, “She is my sister” isn't a lie. This is, as I've spoken of before, what we call a whopper, where the things that you say are true, but because of what you leave out, It leads to an incorrect or false conclusion. It's known as lying by omission.
That doesn't mean you have to tell all of the truth all of the time, because there are times when, because of confidentiality or other reasons, you need to hold back some of it. But if you are intentionally leaving back something, in order to force somebody to have a different view that you want them to have, then that manipulation is lying. Lying by omission.
As the liturgist noted, and as the Scripture says, Abraham seemed to be putting himself before Sarah. He was more important, apparently, at least to himself. He was the one whom God had made the covenant with. So he asked Sarah to say she's his sister so that “it may go well with” him.
As her brother, as was noted by the liturgist, he is then taking care of his sister, and if she it taken by somebody as a wife, then dowries and presents and things like that come into play. So he can make something off of it. In our modern day, we call this kind of thing a scam.
They entered Egypt, and sure enough “the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.” I really wish there were a painting or something of Sarah. It would have been interesting to see how beautiful this 75-year-old woman was, enough to draw the attention of the Pharaoh (who was probably fairly young.
Now whether Abraham was her husband or brother as far as the Egyptians were concerned, Pharaoh “invited” her to his house. He was doing her a favor. Pharaoh thought of himself, as the Egyptians thought of him, as a god. He was the incarnation of Ra.
So offering to take her under his wing, and lie with her, and perhaps get a child with her, was something that would be a great honor. Abraham doesn't say no, apparently. And Pharaoh gives him lots of stuff, even as he thought might happen.
But where is Abraham's trust in God? Why can't he believe that, if God made him a promise that many descendants would come through him, that God is really going to care for him? God has cared for him, for these previous years.
The biggest thing, in my mind, is that after this story, he does the exact same thing, in Genesis 20, with a different king. Didn't he learn? Or maybe this time, was he counting on God's response, in an almost underhanded manner, in Genesis 20? I don't know. I'm not Abraham. And the Bible doesn't tell us.
But the fact is, Abraham seems to distrust God at this point, and put himself before Sarah. He had an easier job going someplace that he didn't know than he did letting God protect him in a situation he did know.
When Sarah moves into Pharaoh's house, it says, the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarah. I wonder, again, how long Sarah was there. It doesn't tell us, but apparently long enough that there were multiple plagues. And there must have been a vision or a dream, where God told Pharaoh this is why it was happening.
Because Pharaoh calls Abraham and says, “What is this that you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so I took her myself as a wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go.”
All of the commentators were in agreement that Pharaoh had not defiled her, spoiled her. Pharaoh had not consummated whatever their relationship was. And this is believable. After all, Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. It might have taken him a while before he got to a new wife. But I'm sure Pharaoh had whoever and how much he wanted.
If we look at what this story tells us about God, God made clear to Pharaoh that Sarah was not to be touched. God sees all. He knew what was happening. And God is faithful. He protected Sarah, even when Abraham did not. God was going to make sure the covenant was fulfilled, even if it meant making up for Abraham's failings
By the way, this story points us to the gospel in that way. Because ultimately, Christ went on the cross because we could not keep the first covenant, in perfectly fulfilling the law, and therefore justice demanded there be an atonement. And what we couldn't do, God did, despite our failings.
And we see this here in Genesis. God was faithful. He had promised Abraham, not only many descendants, but that he would have one with Sarah. There had to be no doubt in anyone's mind about whose child this was. So God protected her.
God is all-powerful, we see in this the story. We are His only because He chose us, just as He chose Abraham. He showed this as He puts the plagues on Pharaoh, who was a supposed god (this, by the way, might foreshadow Exodus as well) and as He spoke directly to Pharaoh in a dream (this is a supposition, but that would be just as He did with Abraham).
The fourth thing this tells us about God is that God will protect us and work things to our good ultimately. We see this in a material way with Abraham here. But even more important is the spiritual benefit we gain from our trials.
The material goods here were really God's way of providing for Abraham in a time of need. Remember, there was a famine in the land. If you look at what he got, he got sheep, oxen, male donkeys, camels female donkeys. He got breeding stock, basically. Food on the hoof, as they say.
God will always provide what we need. Always. We need to trust that. I've told the story before, but when I went into ministry, I left a very good-paying job with Johnson & Johnson. I had had two promotions in five years. I had a future ahead of me.
I lost that money when I left there to go to seminary. I cut our income more than in half, and then tacked on the additional expenses of school. I worked part-time in a retail business as a salesman, first at Egghead Computers, then at Best Buy. You don't make a whole lot of money there. Then when I got a call in Michigan and we had to try to sell our house, due to its proximity to Trenton it stayed on the market for two years, while we paid the mortgage there plus the mortgage for our house in Michigan.
But I want to tell you this. In all that time, we never lacked for a car payment. For we never lacked for a house payment. We never lacked for putting food on the table. Yes, Christmas wasn't as big. Yes, our vacations were nothing much, and our timeshare was not used for about a decade. But the fact of the matter was, what we needed, we had. I will also say, that was probably partly due to my wife's wonderful handling of our finances. But God provided what we needed.
Let's see how this story connects with 1 John 4. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment, and one who fears is not perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” Do we believe that?
We say we take Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. But do we believe that? Does it show in our lives, our daily trials? As we apply this passage today, and the idea of not having fear, we learn first, that it is not OK to lie, even by omission, but also that we can trust in God, that He will fill in where we lack.
There was a song that was playing before the service. I don't know how many of you listen to those. Bob chooses them usually very carefully. I asked him for it this time. If you have access to YouTube, you can check out “He Never Failed Me Yet” with the Notre Dame choir (it's a virtual choir). It's very entertaining. The band Predestined actually played this within the last year.
I'm going to read you some of the words.
I will sing of
Every day every hour
He gives me power
I will sing And give thanks to Thee
For all the dangers, toils & snares
That He has brought me out
He is my God And
I’ll serve Him
No matter what the test
Trust and never
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet
I know God is
To deliver in time of storm
I know that He’ll keep you
Safe from all earthly harm
One day when my
weary soul is at rest
I’m going home to be forever blessed
Trust and never
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet
God never fails. You can trust in that. No need to lie. No need to fear. You're safe in God's hands. Live like it, and show God's power, God's grace, and God's love to a world that desperately wants that kind of security. You'll bring a smile to the Father's face.
In the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.