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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:When Abram's faith faltered, God's promises did not!
Text:Genesis 12:10-13:4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 121:1,2

Psalm 119:5

Psalm 61:1,2,3

Hymn 55:1,3

Psalm 121:3,4

Read:  Genesis 12:10-13:4

Text:  Genesis 12:10-13:4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

It all seemed to have started so well, but then the wheels came off.  In Genesis 12:1 the LORD had told Abram to leave his country, his family and his father’s house and to go to the land that the LORD would show him.  And Abram went, believing God, taking Him at His word, trusting in His promises.  But then there was a famine in the land – a famine in the land of promise.  So now what?  What should Abram do?  Where should he go?  Where should he turn to for help?

It was not the right thing to do, but Abram left the Promised Land.  It was not the right thing to do but Abram did what seemed to be the obvious and, indeed the only thing to do:  he followed his empty stomach and the empty stomach of his animals and of all those with him into Egypt where he would find food to eat.  It was not right because by going to Egypt and lying about Sarai his wife, Abram had stopped trusting in God, had stopped believing God’s promises for him and had stopped doing what God had told him to do. 

It was wrong, but we can understand it.  It was wrong, but we can relate to what Abram was going through, we can relate to what he did.  Because aren’t we tempted to do the same?  What do you do when the wheels come off?  What do you do when things do not work out?  What do you do when your way seems right but God’s way does not?

It is one thing to trust God and to obey Him when things are going right.  But what about when they are not?

But when we think this way we forget one very important point:  the God who has promised to be with you and to bless you, the God whom you serve, is greater than all your troubles, is greater than all your problems.  And the God whom you serve does not forget His promise.  “I will be with you”, He has said, “and I will take care of you.”  And He will.

And that is what Abram learned.  When trouble came and a famine struck, Abram forgot that the God whom he served was greater than his problems and Abram lost sight of the promises that the LORD had made to him.  But the good news is that when Abram’s faith faltered God’s promises did not!  And that is what I wish to preach to you about this morning.  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

When Abram’s faith faltered, God’s promises did not!

  1. Abram’s faltering faith.
  2. God’s gracious intervention.

1. Abram’s faltering faith.

Before we look today’s Bible reading more closely, it would be helpful to remember what had taken place before this.  Genesis chapter 11 gives the genealogy of the descendants of Shem, the son of Noah.  This Bible chapter tells us about a number of people who were born, got married and had children who in turn had children of their own.  But then you get to Abram, the son of Terah.  Genesis 11:29 says that Abram took Sarai to be his wife, but then verse 30 says,

“But Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

And that is where you might have expected things to have ended.  Except for the fact that it was this man, Abram, along with his wife Sarai that the LORD had marked out for a special purpose.  And Genesis 12:1-3 tells us what that special purpose was –

Now the LORD had said to Abram: Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And Abram believed God and he went, just as God had told him to do.  Reflecting on this Hebrews 11:8 says,

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

And so Abram arrived in Canaan, the place that is now known as Israel.  And he travelled to the middle of the country, to a place called Shechem.  And then, verse 7 says,

“the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”

And Abram believed God – even though he had no descendants and even though his wife Sarai was barren.  Abram trusted that somehow the LORD would do what He promised to do.  And so Abram built an altar and he worshipped the LORD. 

But then Abram moved on from Shechem, drifting south, until he came to a mountain between the towns of Bethel and Ai.  There he built another altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.  But Abram still did not settle down.  Genesis 12:9 says,

 “So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.”

And so he went towards the Negev, the land between Canaan and Egypt.  The land in the south of present-day Israel is dry at the best of times, but there is a theory that due to the cooler climate, there would normally have been more grass and water there in Abram’s day, 4000 years ago, than there is now. 

Except not this time.  When Abram went in search of pasture for his animals he discovered that there was a famine in the land, a famine that was severe.  That must have been a shock for Abram.  What now?  What was he going to do?  Up until now life seems to have gone quite well for Abram.  In his early life he had lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, by the Euphrates river in modern day Iraq and from there Abram had gone with Terah his father and his nephew Lot to Haran, a city in modern-day Syria.  And for the main part, life was good.  So good in fact that Genesis 12:5 says that Abram had acquired quite a bit of stuff, had become a rich man.  But the LORD had told Abram to go from there to Canaan.  And the LORD promised Abram that He would bless him there and that he would make his name great. 

But what happened?  Upon arriving in Canaan, nothing that God had promised Abram seemed to come true.  He had found no place to settle but instead kept moving from place to place.  He does not appear to have been warmly welcomed by the Canaanites who were already living in the land and although the LORD promised to give the land to Abram’s descendants, this seemed to be a long way away.  In fact Abram did not even have any descendants, and his wife Sarai, beautiful Sarai, was barren! 

And now there was a famine!  In the land of promise!  What should Abram do?

Or let me ask you this:  what would you do?  What would you have done if you were Abram?  We can relate to Abram’s predicament here.  We can see how hard it was for him.  We believe.  We want to serve God.  We trust Him and we believe what He says.  But then circumstances get in the way!  Stuff happens that is not part of the script!  We have the idea that if we trust God and if we serve Him, then life will be good, then everything will go well with us.  Except it doesn’t!  And the troubles we experience sometimes come from the most unexpected places.  A car accident.  A cancer diagnosis.  A child suddenly turns his back on the Lord.  A job that is lost or a business that goes bankrupt.  A relationship that does not work out or a husband, a wife, that was unfaithful.  And then we are left floundering!  What should you do?  Where can you turn?

And it happens.  It happens again and again that people leave God and leave the church with their faith in tatters because things did not turn out they way they had hoped.  I saw a meme the other day, one of those pictures on Facebook or on instagram that have a have a little saying with it.  And this one said:  “God will give you everything that you want.  Type Amen and share.”   That is not true, of course, and thank God that it is not true.  Woe to us if God really did give us everything we want!  But if you think that, if you become a Christian thinking that life will be good in every way, just the way you want it, then what happens when it is not good?  What happens when the wheels come off and everything turns upside down?  Where would your faith and trust in God be then?

But the LORD had promised to bless Abram and the LORD had promised to make his name great.  But now there was a famine.  Now he was hungry. 

And now Abram’s faith faltered.  When disaster struck and a severe famine came it does not appear as though Abram turned to God; rather, he looked for his own way out of his predicament.  And his own way was to leave Canaan, to leave the  land of promise, and to go down to Egypt.

But was Egypt such a good idea?  There was food in Egypt; no one would be going hungry there.  But who would care for Abram?  Who would watch over him there?  And the closer Abram got to reaching Egypt, the more afraid he became.  You see, Abram had a problem:  he had a wife, and his wife Sarai was beautiful.

And beautiful women tend to get noticed.

But what if Sarai got noticed in Egypt?  Sarai may have been quite old, but in Egypt she would have stood out as someone different.  Someone exotic.  Someone desirable.  But Abram, on the other hand, would be a nobody.  He’d be seen as a nomad, a drifter.  No one  would have his back.  No one would be too concerned if he got into any sort of trouble. 

But then what if someone saw Sarai and wanted her for himself?  What if someone was so infatuated by her beauty that he would kill her husband Abram so that he’d be free to take her?  What if their move to Egypt would not save Abram’s life but instead be the cause of his death?

And so Abram came up with a plan.  Genesis 12:11-13.

And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance.  Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that 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, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

That is strange.  That does not make sense to our modern-day ears.  “Sarai, say you are my sister so that I don’t get into trouble!”  Actually, this is not the only time this happens in the book of Genesis:  Abram tries this again in Genesis 20 and Isaac did it in Genesis 26.  But what was Abram thinking?  Did he think, perhaps, that if someone really wanted to take Sarai he would speak to Abram first and that Abram would somehow be able to back out of the situation and leave Egypt in a hurry?  We don’t know.  But what we do know is that this is not the way to treat your wife.  What we do know is that this was wrong.

But there was something else that was wrong here too:  Abram failed to turn to turn to God in his time of trouble and Abram failed to trust in His promises.  Do you remember that the LORD had said to Abram that “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you”?  Do you remember that the LORD had said to Abram, “To your descendants I will give this land”?  And do you remember that the LORD had said to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”?  The LORD had promised Abram in no uncertain terms that He would protect him, that He would bless him, that He would have a future.  But Abram seems to have forgotten that.  If Abram had remembered these things, even if he did go down to Egypt to escape the famine, he would have trusted that God would be there with him and that God would protect him.  But now he is scared.  And being scared he was ready to place his beautiful wife Sarai in danger so that he might live.

And it seems as though Abram’s scheme worked.  Except, of course, that he lost Sarai.   So it was, Genesis 12:14 says, that when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians did not just see that “the woman” (notice that the Bible does not call her “Sarai” here but simply “the woman”), the Egyptians did not just see that “the woman” was beautiful: they thought that she was very beautiful.  So beautiful, in fact, that the princes, that is, the officials of Pharaoh, commended her to Pharaoh, king of Egypt.  And “the woman” was taken to Pharaoh’s house. 

And so while Abram’s life had been spared, his wife was not.  Sarai was gone and in her place Abram received sheep and oxen and  donkeys and camels and servants.  But he lost his wife.

And with his wife, Abram lost everything.  Indeed:  what would happen with God’s promises now?  How could Abram become a great nation without his wife?  How could they have children for as long as she was trapped in Pharaoh’s house?  How could Abram be truly blessed?   And how could the families of the earth be blessed through him?

Abram’s faith had faltered.  It seemed as if this was now the end.  Except for this fact:  when Abram’s faith faltered, God’s promises did not!  We will see that further in our second point.


2. God’s gracious intervention.

But where was God when all this was going on?  Did God’s silence during the famine – a famine that He had sent – did God’s silence mean that He had forgotten His promises to Abram?  And did God’s silence when Abram left Canaan to live out the famine in Egypt mean that He’d left Abram to his own devices?  And when things fell apart in Egypt and Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house, did God now say that this was enough, that Abram had shown himself to be unworthy, that God would not give up on him, give up on His promises?  No!  that is not the way to read things.  In His grace the LORD did not turn his back on Abram when Abram went his own way into Egypt.  And now that Abram had come to the end of his resources and all seemed to be lost, God stepped in and He made things right. 

It was only because of His grace that the Lord called Abram in the first place.  It was not as if Abram had anything to offer God.  He was not better than others, a more worthy recipient of God’s attention and of His promises.  But God had a plan, He had a plan not just for Abram but a plan for the world.  And God would see to it that what He planned would happen.  And so the LORD did not abandon Abram, nor did He leave Sarai languishing in Pharaoh’s house.  But He intervened.   Genesis 12:17,

“But the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.”

In later years God’s people Israel would sing about this in Psalm 105:13-15.  It says there,

When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people, He permitted no one to do them wrong; yes, He rebuked kings for their sakes, saying, “Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.”

The LORD would take care of Abram, the LORD would show Himself to be faithful even when Abram was not.

And so Pharaoh, learning the truth, called for Abram and he said to him in Genesis 12:18,

“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’?  I might have taken her as my wife.  Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.”

And so Abram took Sarai back as his wife and they were escorted out of the land of Egypt and they returned to the Promised Land of Canaan.

And so they went back.  And Abram retraced his steps.  Genesis 13:3,4

“And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first.  And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.”

The Bible does not say what Abram said to God when he sacrificed another lamb and when he called on the name of the LORD.  But we can guess.  We can assume that Abram was very humble and very grateful.  Humble because of his sin and grateful because of God’s mercy.  And Abram learned that he could trust God, that he could take God at His word.

But now what about you?  Where are you right now, in your life?  Do you trust God?  Do you believe the promises that He has given to you?  Promises made to you at your baptism and promises repeated when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together?  What do you think of these promises?  Are these promises true? Can you be sure of these things not just when all is well but also in your darkest moments?  Where do you turn, yes, who do you turn to when the wheels fall off, when things do not turn out as you had hoped?

Abram may be called our father in the faith, but if you looked to Abram for help, you would find that this is not enough.  Abram, like us, was weak.  Abram’s faith faltered.  But from Abram’s descendants came One whose faith was not weak, One who never faltered, One who stood firm to the end.  And that was our Lord Jesus Christ.

When our Lord Jesus Christ was on earth there were times when it seemed as though what He went through did not match all that God had promised concerning Him.  Concerning the Christ Psalm 2:8 says,

“Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.”

But John 1:11 says,

“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”

Psalm 2:9 says concerning the Christ,

“You shall break them [that is, the nations] with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

But in the gospels we learn that He Himself was struck with a reed, He was whipped, He was beaten, and He was hung on a cross to die.  But Jesus stayed the course!  He did not give up, nor did He doubt the truth of God’s promises.  Hebrews 12:2 says that

“for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame.”

He did this to the point of death, death on a cross.  And in Jesus Christ we have the ultimate proof that God’s Word is sure, that His promises are firm!  When on the third day the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, all God’s promises found their fulfillment in Him!  And it is because of this that you can be sure that what God says to You, He will do it.

And so now, what about you?  What will you do with God’s promises?  Will you trust Him?  In good days and bad, in health as well as in sickness?  Will you follow Him?  Will you walk in His ways?

We do not have an easy life and God never said that He would give you whatever you want.  But when we live under God’s grace it is a good life, and God does promise to give to us all that we need.  And so trust God and follow Him.  Walk by faith and not by sight.  And you will see that God’s promises are true because He is true.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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