“So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him…” Genesis 12:4
This is such a sad story. Well, not this part, but lots of parts that follow. It makes me angry and it makes me hurt inside. It made me uncomfortable when I read it. As a matter of fact, it struck me so much that as I was cooking later that morning after reading about the subsequent events, I just started crying. So much welled up inside of me. And I couldn’t help ask You, Lord, “Would You require this of me? Did You require this of Sarai?” So let me share the background of what happened.
Let’s jump back in time to the account in Genesis 12. You, Lord, had told Abram to leave his country, kindred, and father’s house and go to a land that You would show him. You told Abram that You would make him into a great nation and bless him and make his name great, and make him a great blessing. You told him that You would bless those that blessed him and curse those that cursed him. You told him that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him. This is what is known as the Abrahamic Covenant. This is where You first established this covenant with Abram. This is Your promise to him and we can bank on it and everyone else can bank on it too.
So you’d think that if You God were establishing that kind of covenant with Abram, that he would be right on target with You about all aspects of what You desired. You’d think that if You were that personal with Abram and had chosen him that Abram really deserved it, wouldn’t you? Here’s a guy who gets it. Here’s a guy who really gets God. Is that why You chose him?
Well, let’s read on. Abram hears You God. Abram trusts You and demonstrates that trust by leaving. At age 75, he takes Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother’s son, and all their things and all the persons attached to them and leaves for the land of Canaan. So Abram obeys You and arrives in Canaan where You appear to him again and say, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built You an altar.
Now he sets up his home of a tent on a nearby mountain and builds an altar to You and calls upon You. And he kept on journeying to the south. Then a famine arises in the land. But instead of staying in the land, Abram goes down to Egypt. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet I wonder, if You, Lord, told Abram to go to the land You told him and made that covenant with him, wouldn’t You have provided for him in that land despite the famine? Well, that’s just a thought. Sometimes, I don’t think Abram had everything about You downpat. I don’t know.
But I know that Abram took his crew to Egypt. And when he came near entering Egypt this thought struck him. “Sarai, you are so beautiful and the Pharaoh or the princes may want you for themselves. They may even kill me so that they can have you. So let’s do this. You say you are my sister, because that’s half true, so that I won’t be killed, so that you can save me. That means that you get to be taken by the Pharoah and be made one of his wives. You don’t mind doing that for me, do you? You don’t mind if I give you to Pharoah like that to save my own hide, do you?” (Well, that’s my paraphrase). But this is not a paraphrase; these are his words, “and my soul shall live because of you.” Is it right for Abram to request that of Sarai?
This just makes me ache. It makes me ache because I go back to Adam and Eve before the fall. And I think that none of this would have ever been contemplated then. When Adam looked on Eve, the bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, he knew it hadn’t been good to be alone. For the first time he experienced living in unity. Eve was created to live in unity with Adam and Adam to live in unity with Eve and in that unity they would be one with God and bring glory continually to Him. The help meet isn’t about Adam’s little helper. It’s about ezer kenegdo, a God purposed relationship created for mutual benefit where each partner was for the benefit and glory of the other, to bring out the best in the other, to bring out the glory of God in the other. They protected one another, respected one another, rejoiced in one another. This is Your original design, God. But sin happened. Actually, sin was a choice.
And of all people, Adam and Eve had the rest of their lives to remember what their relationship with each other and You used to be like. Of all people, they knew the most what they were missing and what they had lost. Of all people, I think they were the most sorrowful. Of all people, they knew what not trusting brought into their lives. They knew how much it hurt.
You have created us with this sense of what ought to be. But sin distorts it. And when Abram should have sought You to protect him, and should have sought to protect his wife, all he could think about was himself. And when Pharaoh asked about Sarai, the lie was hatched, and Abram became a wealthy man because of her. And Sarai submitted to Abram and went with Pharaoh. And we don’t know one way or another, but Pharaoh may have had sexual relations with Sarai, Abram’s wife. That would feel like rape to me. And even if it didn’t get to that point, how sold out by your husband would you feel if you were Sarai? What kind of trust would remain? What image of God would this have left reflected upon your husband?
And God struck Pharaoh and his house with plagues on Sarai’s behalf so that he found out the lie. Pharaoh approaches Abram asking, “Why have you done this to me? Why didn’t you tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say that she was your sister so I would take her as my wife? Take your wife and go.” Doesn’t it seem “wrong” that a pagan, a non-believer seems to understand the wrongness of this situation better than Abram?
Well, from here on out we see Abram apparently “caving in” to Sarai’s requests. From here on out we see Sarai apparently feeling the need to step into Abram’s decision making process. We see a lot of things that seem to resemble a real soap opera. And these are our examples? These two are listed in Hebrews in the hall of faith?
Faith is a walk. Faith is a step by step process. And actually, I think Abram and Sarai had it harder than we do now. It wasn’t harder because of the culture or time period. We have something they didn’t. Abram and Sarai had to walk out the walk of faith without the internal presence of the Holy Spirit. In those days, You appeared at times. And that’s all they had to go on. They didn’t even have Scripture yet to help. It wasn’t till later that You established the covenant of circumcision with Abram and got more specific. Yet You count Abram and Sarai as heroes of faith. So faith must be hearing Your voice and acting upon it. And that kind of faith must cover all the rest of the dumb things we do.
When Paul writes to the Romans he states that he and the other apostles had “received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all the nations, for His [Christ’s] name.” See, through grace we are given a commission and called by Christ into His fellowship. So were Abram and Sarai. He continues in verse 17 to remind us, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'”
Are the just the really good people that You select, God? No, not at all. The just are the justified, those who are made good by Your imputed goodness. Abram was made good and faithful by Your faithfulness, by Your work in His life, by You imputing Your goodness to Him because He trusted in You the only way he knew how. It was the same for Sarai. See, despite their sin, despite their bad decisions, they were walking in faith, that faith called “going”. They didn’t know what it really looked like other than moving in that direction You pointed. They were babies in the faith, straight out of Ur where many gods were worshipped. But You were covering them and teaching them. And they let You. And we need to let You. Only they had to do it on their own, with Your occasional redirection. We can be filled with the Holy Spirit and rely on His continual direction.
So I shouldn’t be so rough on Abram for selling out his wife and Sarai for probably losing faith in him and getting a might controlling and maybe bitter. Because these two people walking by faith were sinners justified by God, by what He was doing in them and for them. And I’m no different. I’m a sinner who needs to be justified by You, Lord and what You are doing in me and for me. Paul warns, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whosoever you are that judges: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things.” See, if I break one part of the law, I’ve broken the whole law. There’s a lot of wrong things that Abram and Sarai did, but what about me? Oh, maybe I haven’t done anything to that extreme, but have I broken one law? I’ve probably broken more than I care to know. Maybe I need just as much grace as they do. Maybe if I expect it for myself, I ought to extend that same amazing grace to others.
I mean, God, what are You looking for in our faith? Paul says we should “by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” and that will lead to eternal life. What is patiently continuing? It’s the Greek word hupomone. Paul mentions it again in Hebrews 10:36-38, “For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Now listen to how Skip Moen explains this hupomone or patient continuance, “The Greek word hupomone means ‘to bear up under, to persevere.’ But its constituent parts tell us something important. They are hupo (under) and meno (to remain). Endurance is remaining under. It is the choice to stay with the group, to remain a servant to all, to lead by being at the rear, to carry every straggler. Endurance is symbolized in washing feet, in humbling myself so that others may shine. Endurance is choosing to decrease so that He may increase. The secret of a life delightful to God and a blessing to others is patience. Waiting for God is always the answer because waiting requires the sublimation of my desire to take charge.” This is what Abram and Sarai were learning and the only way you learn this is by going through struggles and hard times that require patient continuance.
“For there is no respect of persons with God.” You don’t treat Abram and Sarai differently than You treat me. You have the same expectations and the same methods, just individualized according to who You created each of us to be. Abram’s and Sarai’s trials were specific to them. And I will meet my own specific trials in my life and they will all be designed to teach me patient endurance, to teach me how to walk more closely in faith with You, to draw me closer to You and give me a more and more personal knowledge of You. Those silent or hard times in my life are an opportunity for me to not just be a hearer of the law, but a doer, no matter the circumstances. And sometimes they give me the opportunity to fall hard on my face. But even that gives me the opportunity to have You come pick me up and set me on the way again and renew my vision and teach me again what doing the will of God looks like. Because it’s only in the walking, which is in the trying, that I’m justified. It’s not according to what I store in my head or what I know. It’s according to how I act upon what I know.
The scary news is that You know all our secrets, whether dark or light. The good news is that You love us anyway and change us from glory to glory. Your Gospel is living action upon our lives, changing the darkness into light and making us, who are totally unworthy, acceptable in Your eyes.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not our works that justify us. Because it’s the heart behind the works that You look at. Remember, it’s not circumcision that justified Abram. It was the faith that led him to obey.
I may be upset with the way Abram treated Sarai, and rightly so. That’s not how You designed homo sapiens to care for one another. And I could find fault in Sarai for offering her handmade to her husband, because that’s not how you treat the flesh of your flesh partner. But am I better than them? No way. We’re all under sin. “There’s none righteous no, not one: there is none that understands. There is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Face it, we all have that same tendency, let’s not fool ourselves.
But we have this powerful good news, the righteousness of God imparted to us by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s imparted to all those who believe. All. All who believe. To Abram who didn’t even understand it all. To Sarai who didn’t even understand it all. And to me, who doesn’t even understand it all. See, there’s no difference. We’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God. But the great news is that we can be justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. He can purchase us back to Himself. He can bring us back to the original relationship. He can take us from darkness into light because He is light. And we do that by faith, just like Abram and Sarai.
God, you set forth Jesus to be a propitiation for us. That word is hilasterion in Greek and though it’s a Greek word, it was used by a man with a Hebrew mindset, which matters. Propitiation is all about the “turning away of divine wrath.” That’s the Hebrew behind it. The Greek, and our English dictionary definitions want us to think that it has to do with appeasement. But the truth is, there is nothing we can do to appease You, God. You aren’t fickle like the Greek gods. You demand perfection. That’s why Your divine wrath must be turned away from us or we would all perish. What could Abram or Sarai or I do that would ever be worthy enough of You, that would ever be good enough and perfect enough to cancel out our infraction against Your holiness? Can Abram go back and undo what he did wrong? Can Sarai? Can I? Can we just send You flowers and You get over it? Restitution and perfection are two different things.
It’s so hard to understand this concept. Even thinking of expiation we have to keep the Hebrew thinking in mind or we start pulling in appeasement. But the truth is that You nullify appeasement. You don’t appease, but You offer up someone else in our place. I can’t do anything. There’s no flowers big enough. I can’t go back and do it better and that will make up for it. You do it for me. You set my punishment aside because You allowed someone else to stand in for me and for Abram and for Sarai and pay our penalty for sin. You substituted a perfect Jesus to take our punishment, otherwise You would have been throwing holiness out the door. You didn’t dismiss the charges against us. You didn’t forget. You didn’t turn a blinded eye to them. You dealt with them head on. You paid the price for my sin through Your Son, through Your perfect Son, who was truly able to please You in every way. Jesus volunteered to make Himself a propitiation for us so we could be expiated- declared not guilty. Punishment was dealt. Punishment was received. Wrath was felt. But not by me or Abram or Sarai. It was all taken on by Jesus. Our punishment wasn’t set aside, it came, but Jesus took it for us. Our punishment wasn’t avoided, it came, but it was transferred to Jesus instead of us.
So, will I honor Jesus as my propitiation? Will I trust Him by faith and live according to faith in His blood. Will not only my words but my life declare His righteousness as I tell and show how he has remitted my sins through the patience of God and His sending a substitute for me? Am I living like I have been made righteous in Him? Am I living as though I have been made just and right and pure and holy? Is that kind of gratitude that mirrors the gift of redemption given to me apparent in my life? Imagine that, not even circumcision could save Abram or me or anyone. There’s no other response that can save us except for faith in the One True God through His Son Jesus Christ.
Abram and Sarai were used of God because they trusted Him and believed and lived by faith in His promises, in Him. It wasn’t that they had done such commendable things. The commendable thing is living by faith and allowing God to show Himself worthy through our lives. See, Abram, later named Abraham by God, “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
I can choose to work real hard, but then I wind up expecting a pat on the back. It’s like I develop a mentality that God owes me something. How absurd. But You give us the greatest of all rewards, a relationship with You not through works but through grace by faith. You do the work and we just reflect what You are and what You are doing. You take this ungodly lump of flesh, and when I believe in You, You make me beautiful like You. You count me righteous like You. You do all the work and I just learn to receive that work and walk in it with my life and actions and thoughts. See, if I wind up saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin,” then I have realized or am realizing that I didn’t do it. My iniquities are forgiven continually by You, the One who has the power to forgive. My sins are covered, not by me, but by the One whose blood was shed for me. It’s not imputed to me because of what I did, it’s imputed to me because You stepped in and took my place.
Abram and Sarai were examples not of perfect people, but of heirs by faith. And that’s how I become an heir to grace, just like them, by faith. By faith, I receive grace, that works in me to make me Your seed. Because it’s only You God, who can bring the dead to life and who calls those things which are not as though they are, and You do it through Jesus Christ.
Faith isn’t believing what I see. Faith isn’t believing even in what I’ve experienced or known. Faith is believing in You and in every word You speak. When You told Abram he would become the father of many nations, what did he have to go on? He went on Your word. He had heard Your voice. He left Ur by faith because He heard Your voice. He waited for the baby because he heard Your voice. He didn’t know exactly what that meant or how to translate it totally into his daily life. He waited and sometimes made mistakes and sometimes sinned. But it was still waiting and still by faith. How do I know he didn’t give up? Because there came a day, a long time later, when Sarai thought she was way too old and so was Abram, that they consummated an act. So, even though they thought each other too old, they did it, because God promised. They didn’t act like a dead couple. They acted like a young couple. They acted in faith. And through God’s grace, that faith produced Isaac, a child of God’s promise.
Now this story wasn’t written for his sake alone or for Sarai’s sake alone. This story was written for us also, because just as it was imputed to Abram for righeousness, so shall it “be imputed to us if we believe on Him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” He justifies us by faith and then we have peace with God through Jesus, the same Jesus that gives us access by that faith into this marvelous grace where we stand and where we walk and where we live and where we rejoice in what God is doing in us.
And every trial and tribulation we go through, just like Abram and Sarai, even more so because we have the Holy Spirit, we have this confidence knowing that these things are ways that You are doing a work inside of us to continue in our perfecting, in making us more like You. Through trials and tribulations You are teaching us Your patience and longsuffering. You are giving us experience and proving our metal in You which proves Your metal. And as I learn to let You put me to the proof I learn how much I hope in You and that my hope will not be broken because You can’t be broken. And when I really start to understand the magnitude and strength of my hope in You, I am no longer ashamed. I see the love of God shed through and in my life. I know the love of God because I experience it through the presence of Your Holy Spirit in me. It’s real. Because everything about You is real and alive.
Even while Abram and Sarai and I were still sinners, You demonstrated publicly Your love toward us. Only I know what Abram and Sarai didn’t know yet. I get to see the full demonstration of that love through understanding that Jesus actually died for me, for us. He died for sinners who don’t deserve it. He died, the Worthy One for the unworthy. That is grace. That is love immeasurable. That is a debt I can’t repay except by faith. Really. “[W]ithout faith it is impossible to please Him: for He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him…By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.” (Hebrews 11)
I can point fingers at Abram and Sarai all I want. But then again, they could be pointing fingers at me. All I can say is, “Thank God for grace!” And I am so grateful that I can obtain grace and mercy by faith. And because of faith, I don’t have to be afraid to live or to fall because I’m covered. And I have this awesome Savior, this ever present Holy Spirit, and this righteous God who will pick me up and brush me off and set me in His direction again. He never gives up on me just like He never gave up on Abram or Sarai. And I can always count on that because when it comes to faith, He is Faithful.
Now, I never answered that first question, Lord. Would You require this of me? Yes, You would require faith of me. Would You require me to offer myself to Pharaoh? No. Because only Your sacrifice truly saves us. What do You require of us? You require that we love others as much as You love and loved us. But wait a minute! You gave Your life for us even when You didn’t want to. Didn’t You ask God, “Father, take this cup from me”? But then You submitted to His will for our good. Maybe what Sarai did, even though her husband shouldn’t have required it of her, was an ultimate gift of love. And maybe, maybe he actually finally understood that gift when she died. Because we read that at her tomb, he mourned like was the custom but then he also wept for her. He actually lamented over her. And maybe the point is, in our broken world, people may require things of us when they ought to be standing up for us, but if we choose by faith to still stand up for them, then aren’t we demonstrating faith in Christ? If Sarai sacrificed her own purity for the welfare of her husband, and maybe even the welfare of Your promise in her eyes, isn’t that counted as faith and counted as righteousness? I guess the more I read Your word, the more I see that everything isn’t as black and white as we want it to be. Walking by faith is a hard thing. Those who walk by faith face a lot of critics, including themselves at times. But walking by faith brings some hard decisions. But when we choose to walk by faith, those hard choices shine with the image of Jesus. I guess I ought to expect to do hard things. You did and are we less than our Master?