Alright, so Abram has left everything in order to serve the one true God. He has been shown the Promised Land, and experienced God’s promise of an heir. He has “called on the name of the Lord.” But now his faith is going to be tested (Gen. 12:10-20).
Isn’t that how faith is though? You feel the tug of the gospel—the conviction of the Holy Spirit. You fall on your face before Holy God, acknowledging your sinfulness in comparison with His perfection. You place your trust completely in the finished work of Christ. You are riding a spiritual high. But then comes the first major hurdle. Maybe it’s a health issue, death in the family, loss of a job, or just an emotional downturn. Whatever it is, you find yourself in the crucible, with extreme pressure being exerted on your young faith.
One of the greatest truths we can learn as Christians is that God’s faithfulness to us does not hinge on our faithfulness to Him. Let’s see how it played out in Abram’s life.
Even God’s people can have lapses in faith.
When we decide to follow God, we don’t get the “super Christian” cape. We get a new identity, but the super powers will have to wait until glory. In verse 10, we read that a famine arises in the land. Abram does what is natural—he heads somewhere to find food. In this case it is Egypt. Scripture is silent on whether this was a wise decision or not. That’s not the point. The problem arises when Abram takes his focus off of the promise of God and places it on a perceived danger.
Abram sees the potential for a life threatening situation once his family arrives in Egypt. Verses 11-13 reflect a solution rooted in a lapsed faith. Abram falls into pragmatism and in the process takes his wife down with him. At this point in the account we are given a serious warning. We must never compromise God’s Word (or the standards found in it) when faced with tough circumstances.
I believe the world is desperately looking for people of faith who are genuine and whose faith holds up under pressure. They may hate us for it, but I believe that in a world filled with wishy-washy politicians, shallow celebrities, and a self-centered general population, a genuine, firm, rock-solid biblical faith is needed. We need to reflect to the pagans around us (just like Abram should have) an uncompromising faith in the Sovereign Lord of the universe.
Our lapses in faith can jeopardize God’s blessings in our lives.
In verses 14-16 we see such a different Abram than we did in verses 1-9. Because of a perceived threat, Abram faces a predicament. God’s promises to him can’t be fulfilled if Abram is dead. So, either Abram must trust that God cannot lie and will protect him, or he must do whatever he feels he must do to stay alive. But now the whole “promise” thing is about to fall apart.
While Abram was busy scheming to protect himself, he neglected to think about the other half of the equation. Suddenly, Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s harem. This is a problem! Abram gets rich as part of the deal, as Pharaoh deals very generously with Sarai’s “brother,” but Abram’s wife (as required part of gaining a legitimate heir) is in someone else’s house.
God will show Himself faithful in order to protect His people and His plan.
Sometimes God intervenes when His people lapse in their faith, and sometimes He doesn’t. It is important to remember that even when God does step in, He often leaves the consequences in place. Here, in Genesis 12:17-20, God protects His servant even in the midst of his sin. God sends plagues on the house of Pharaoh in judgment on him for taking Sarai.
It’s important to see some of the subtleties in the text. In verses 18-19 Pharaoh exhibits a higher degree of moral sensitivity than the patriarch of the eventual people of God does. He is a man who is deeply grieved and angered. He is a pagan who has come in contact with a man who walks with God, and his experience has been utterly disappointing. Who is this Yahweh? Who is this God whose followers have to lie and deceive in order to help Him in the protection of His people? Obviously He is not a very strong, reliable, or powerful deity—definitely not one that this ruler of men should be interested in following!
And yet before we judge Abram too harshly, let’s turn our gaze inward. How often do our own actions or attitudes betray a lack of confidence in the power and reliability of our God? What kind of God would our neighbors imagine we serve simply by watching us and listening to us? What about our coworkers, family, friends, etc.?
Abram packs up and heads out of Egypt, wife returned and wealthier for the experience. But even those riches are going to come back to haunt him…but that comes later.
A few things to meditate on:
- God can and will protect His plan even when people complicate it because of sin.
- Suffering and hardships should develop faith, hope, patience, and character as they refine, mold, and purify our faith (Romans 5).
- If we are going to handle difficult moral choices when they arise, we must develop a biblical worldview. Our minds must be renewed and changed by the Word of God so that, when challenges arise, our response is rooted in the text and not in deceptive schemes or compromise.
- When we do blow it, God’s grace can overflow into our lives. This should serve as a reminder that the means of living righteously by faith (and not blowing it) comes only through the empowering of Christ.
The great confidence of a renewed faith in handling conflict (Genesis 13)
Abram had sinned, and he had dragged his wife into it. Not only had he sinned and dragged his wife into it, but he had also placed his wife at great risk. So, what happens next? Abram’s faith is going to be tested again.
We will see quickly that the same truths apply to our own lives. Our faith gets stretched, pushed, molded, and tested in every way, shape, and form. When we fail in one area, we must make it right, learn from it, and strengthen those spiritual areas, because another wave is coming! Such is the nature of living the Christian life in a sin-cursed world. The next wave in Abram’s life is going to be conflict within his own family.
When conflict arises, it is so easy to make a decision in resolving the conflict that is based strictly on our natural senses rather than seeing the issue through eyes of faith. But there is a big thought that comes from Genesis 13. Very simply, those who believe the promises of God can be gracious in resolving conflicts, and faith-based in their decision-making.
Conflict is inevitable. Barring moving to a remote island and living with me, myself, and I, we will experience conflict in this life. We don’t have a choice in that. However, we have a huge part in how we respond and work our way through that conflict.
1. The prosperity of God’s people can bring conflict (Gen. 13:1-7).
Think about what a long, quiet trip home from Egypt this must have been. But at least Abram is home, and he emerges from Egypt much wealthier than he went in. But that is going to create some problems. In 13:3-4, Abram worships. This marks a renewal period, and serves as a great encouragement to all of God’s people. When we blow it (even when we blow it big-time), a renewed connection with God is available to us!
So right away, this account is different from the previous one. This one begins with Abram’s worship of Yahweh, marking a right mindset and preparation for the challenge ahead. And the challenge comes. Abram is wealthy, Lot is wealthy, and they are trying to occupy the same geographic area. This newfound wealth generates a familial conflict between Abram and Lot.
2. Conflict must be dealt with through gracious actions by those living by faith (Gen. 13:8-13).
Look at how differently Abram responds in this situation. He takes the initiative, just as he did in chapter 12, but this time he is looking at the problem with a “God-centered” worldview. He appeals to Lot based on their relationship (8). Christians should note this. There is a familial basis for those who are in Christ for dealing with conflicts.
But then the account progresses. In verse 9, Abram makes a shockingly gracious and generous offer. He does not appeal to his position. He does not insist on his way based on God’s promise to him. Instead, he makes a gracious offer based on the fact that he can rest in the promise God has made to him.
Lot serves as a foil to Abram. Lot’s focus is strictly a “sight based” one (Gen. 13:10-11). He makes his decision based on only what he sees. Verse 10 sounds an ominous note…Sodom and Gomorrah are still there. This is not a positive thing. Lot should have taken this into consideration, but the text doesn’t reveal that he even thought about it.
I have heard Lot described as one “who would choose heaven over hell, but not heaven over earth.” I think this aptly describes this tragic character. But the focus is on Abram. Why isn’t he fighting to hold on to every inch of land? His mindset is one of promise. God has promised him the land; Abram can be gracious in his dealings because God is going to fulfill His Word!
3. The gracious actions of the faithful receive the approval of our gracious Lord (Gen. 13:14-18).
Abram has handled the situation. Lot has left. Now Yahweh speaks. He tells Abram to open his eyes and look. Just as Lot had surveyed the land earlier, the Lord tells Abram to look. But rather than having sight that moves him towards a place like Sodom, this direction from God is designed to reinforce a two-fold promise. All the land will be Abram’s, and he will have descendants who will inhabit it (Gen. 13:15). This is a forever promise. The word “offspring” is used three times in this section, giving a gentle reminder that even with a barren wife, God will keep His promise.
It’s pretty cool how the account ends. It ends much like it begins—with worship. Abram moves his camp to Mamre and builds an altar. The chapter opens with a worship of renewal and ends with a worship of response to the promises of God.
There is much that can be applied in this portion of Scripture. We can begin where Abram began. If we are going to be able to handle conflict wisely, we must maintain a walk with the God of the universe. We blow it, we sin, we fall. We must find renewal in confession, forgiveness, and restored communion with Christ. We then must learn to trust in the promises of God. God hasn’t promised any of us a specific piece of land. He has made us a lot of other more general promises, however. Walk in light of those promises, not strictly based on what you “see.”
It is through this surrender to the promises and will of God that we can then experience genuine peace as a result of the decisions we make in resolving conflict. More than anything, we should desire the approval of our Lord in how we handle conflict. I think if more churches (and Christians) had that mentality, the amount of bickering within the body of Christ would probably drop dramatically!
Brian Dempsey is the Lead Pastor of Washington Baptist Church in Dillsboro, IN. Brian has degrees from Northland Baptist Bible College (BA), Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and is currently a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).