The Life of Abraham: Egyptian Sojourn
Before Abraham was Abraham, he was Abram. He was a man from a family of idol worshipers. He did not know Yahweh. He was not seeking God. But God chose him. He chose him for a very special purpose. He called Abram out of the land of his family to a land that He promised to his descendants.
Putting his faith in God, Abram left the only home he knew to wander in an unknown land among an unknown people. This is where the story continues.
Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. (Genesis 12:10)
Abram had left the land he was comfortable in to wander in the land which he knew nothing about. However, this land had always been a quite fertile land. Abram probably had a good feeling about the potential of this land.
But then, famine hit the land.
This land was not prepared for Abram’s descendants yet. The evil Canaanite still ruled this land. Before God would give this land over to Abram’s nonexistent progeny, He was going to start the process of driving the idolatrous people from His promised land.
This had to also strike Abram in the gut, as well. Here was the land God had promised to his future family and now it was dried up and useless. I’m sure he was tempted to wonder, “I left my family and our land for this?”
“That fruitful land was turned into barrenness, not only to punish the iniquity of the Canaanites who dwelt therein, but to exercise the faith of Abram who sojourned therein;” ~ Matthew Henry2
How often do we see people following Christ only to be met with trials and tribulations? In many countries, converts to Christianity can expect to lose jobs, be rejected by family and friends, have their children taken from them, be imprisoned, suffer physical torture, and even be put to death. Those tribulations are less common here in America, but we can still expect to be rejected by many in society, friends, and family; be offered less opportunities in business; and be mocked and threatened.
We are never promised in Scripture that life will be easy once we come to Christ. In fact, we are promised by Jesus Himself that “You will be hated by all because of My name” (Matthew 10:22). But God will strengthen us when we face trials and He will preserve us until our day of Promise arrives.
“Strong faith is commonly exercised with divers temptations, that it may be found to praise, and honour, and glory,… It is possible for a man to be in the way of duty, and in the way to happiness, and yet meet with great troubles and disappointments.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Romans 5:3-5 says, “…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
When we face difficult times, we can trust in the Lord that He is using this difficulty as a way of sanctifying us and making us more into His image. He is breaking our bonds to this temporal world and causing us to find our hope in Him alone.
Do not fret when trials come, know that God uses these times to mature us into stronger Christians.
“Therefore, since the condition of the present life is unstable, and obnoxious to innumerable changes; let us remember, that, whithersoever we may be driven by famine, and by the rage of war, and by other vicissitudes which occasionally happen beyond our expectation, we must yet hold our right course; and that, though our bodies may be carried hither and thither, our faith ought to stand unshaken.” ~ John Calvin1
Abram went to Egypt to “sojourn.” In other words, to visit or partake of their hospitality during the famine with full intention of returning to Canaan. He had so much faith and trust in God that he fully expected to return to Canaan, the land that had been promised to his descendants (but not to him specifically) but he did not currently possess. He was a foreigner in Canaan but would live as a foreigner in Egypt.
Though Providence, for a time, may cast us into bad places, yet we ought to tarry there no longer than needs must; we may sojourn where we may not settle. A good man, while he is on this side heaven, wherever he is, is but a sojourner.” ~ Matthew Henry2
It is also important to consider that Abram did not return to the land of his family. He had completely forsaken this land. When famine hit Canaan, he turned in the opposite direction from his homeland and sought hospitality elsewhere.
Abram’s faith in God is such an admirable quality. He trusted God completely in what He had promised him. He also was faithful to his word. He had chosen to follow Yahweh and had no intention of turning his back on that promise.
It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and 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 may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13)
Although Abram had much faith in God’s promise to give his descendants (ignoring the fact he had not yet had any children) the land of Canaan, he apparently didn’t have enough faith in God to protect him among the Egyptians because his wife was so beautiful. How often do we do the same thing? We can be so illogical and irrational in our fear while still proclaiming the promises of God.
Abram was Sarai’s sister (half-sister) so technically they didn’t lie about that. However, manipulation through omission of vital information is still lying. Sarai lied and is guilty of that sin but Abram is doubly guilty for leading her into that sin. Not only had Abram and Sarai lied, they had to have made their entire household lie, as well. How often do what we see as small sins require us to entangle others into our sin?
God has included these stories of the heroes of the faith failing from time-to-time to remind us that it is not through keeping the Law in which we are saved but through the mercy and grace of God. He reminds us that no matter how “good” of a follower of Christ we are, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are no “super Christians.” All of us are equal in deserving hell. But God, has chosen to show mercy by saving some.
Not only that, He welcomes us to join Him in His work by doing good to others and evangelizing. He does not need us but He shows us even greater grace by inviting us to be a part of bringing others to Christ. What an honor!
“A great fault which Abram was guilty of, in denying his wife, and pretending that she was his sister. The scripture is impartial in relating the misdeeds of the most celebrated saints, which are recorded, not for our imitation, but for our admonition, that he who thinks he stands may take heed lest he fall.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Abram irrationally thought that the Egyptians would feel morally justified by murder but not for committing adultery. Even the worldly can see that murder is a much greater crime than adultery.
Abram had more fear of the Egyptians than he did of the Creator of the Egyptians.
God is omnipotent and sovereign over all our enemies and over all situations. We do not need to fear man, but we do need to fear God.
“The fear of man brings a snare, and many are driven to sin by the dread of death, Luke 12:4, 5. “ ~ Matthew Henry2
It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. (Genesis 12:14-16)
Sarai was by most guesses about sixty-five years old at this time. While she may not have appeared as old as we think she would today, she was still past the age that most wives were taken at this time. Since she was from another place, she likely looked exotic compared to the other Egyptians. He different appearance may have been quite the spectacle and been a welcome addition to the Pharaoh’s collection of wives.
Pharaoh’s officials may have seen this as an opportunity to be noticed by Pharaoh and possibly bring them favor from the king for delivering to him this beautiful woman.
The Pharaoh did not need to treat Abram well in exchange for taking Sarai. He was the king. If he wanted Sarai, he did not need to ask permission. He was certainly in his right to have Abram killed or driven out of Egypt.
We cannot think that Abram expected this when he came down into Egypt, much less that he had an eye to it when he denied his wife; but God brought good out of evil. And thus the wealth of the sinner proves, in some way or other, to be laid up for the just.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Although Abram and Sarai had sinned, God continued to show them mercy and grace. He was providing for their future even while they were still sinning.
But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. (Genesis 12:17)
Not only was Pharaoh struck by these plagues but so was his whole household. This likely included the same officials who had recommended Sarai to the king.
Partners in sin are justly made partners in the punishment. Those that serve others’ lusts must expect to share in their plagues.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Whatever these plagues were, it caused Pharaoh to be prevented of sinning with Sarai. He would not take Sarai as his wife.
“God chastised Pharaoh, and so prevented the progress of his sin…Those are happy chastisements that hinder us in a sinful way, and effectually bring us to our duty, and particularly to the duty of restoring that which we have wrongfully taken and detained.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Many generations later God would strike another Pharaoh with plagues because of the way he treated God’s chosen people. Another hint toward the relationship of the “seed of Satan” and the “seed of Eve” always being at odds, prophesied about by God in Genesis 3.
Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this 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 that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him. (Genesis 12:18-20)
We do not know what these plagues were but it was enough for Pharaoh to realize that it had to do with Sarai and Abram. He was in complete right to have them executed for what they had done. Yet, God showed mercy on them by causing Pharaoh to show them mercy and allow them not only to live but to keep all that he had given them.
“It is a fault too common among good people to entertain suspicions of others beyond what there is cause for. We have often found more of virtue, honour, and conscience, in some people than we thought they possessed; and it ought to be a pleasure to us to be thus disappointed, as Abram was here, who found Pharaoh to be a better man than he expected. Charity teaches us to hope the best.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Abram had thought poorly of Pharaoh. His fear of him and the Egyptians led to him sinning and leading his wife and his whole household into sin. How often do we do the same? We become worried, anxious, and even sin due to misplaced fear. Yet, so many times, we find that we had no reason to fear. Time after time we see God was in control over every situation. This should cause us to put our trust in the sovereign and omnipotent God.
“We often perplex and ensnare ourselves with fears which soon appear to have been altogether groundless. We often fear where no fear is. We fear the fury of the oppressor, as though he were ready to destroy, when really there is no danger, Isa. 51:13.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We can see that it was God who caused Pharaoh to show Abram and Sarai mercy and to lavish them with great wealth. He also used this incident to remind Abram that Egypt was not the land he would settle in. It was time for Abram and Sarai to move on.
“Sometimes God makes use of the enemies of his people to convince them, and remind them, that this world is not their rest, but that they must think of departing.” ~ Matthew Henry2
I love the Matthew Henry quote above. We should rejoice in difficulty and enemies when they cause us to remember that this is not our home. Charles Spurgeon said something similarly but more poetically when he said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.”
What a great reminder to thank God not only for the blessings of ease in this life but also for the trials that drive us closer to Him.
So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. (Genesis 13:1)
The word used as Negev, in one sense, means “parched.” This land was still in famine. As Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, the land of plenty and forced to live in a place where they had to work hard for their food, Abram and Sarai are cast out of the splendor and bounty of Egypt and forced to return to the dry and difficult land.
Traveling a difficult road that forces us to rely on God for our “daily bread,” causes us to grow closer to Him. It helps us to loosen our hold on the pleasures of this world and turn our eyes to the promise God has made for us in His kingdom.
The parallels of this story of Abram and Sarai and the nation of Israel being in Egypt and escaping centuries later is astounding. The people of Israel would not have even been in Egypt to start with if there had not been a famine in the land. God sent plagues among the people of Egypt. The Egyptians provided great riches for the people of Israel as they left Egypt. The people of Israel returned to this same land, eventually possessing the land in fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abram.
In many ways, these stories can parallel our own lives. We travel a land that is parched of Truth. The majority of society are idol worshipers. Even many of those who claim the name “Christian” only worship a god of their own making and call it “Jesus.” God will one day judge those of this world. In eternity we will finally enter our Promised Land and enjoy the bounty and riches God has prepared for us there.
This world is not our home. The struggles we go through here only help us to see this dirty world for what it is, cursed. Our trials cause us to turn our eyes to our Savior and hope for the land He has promised us.
1. Calvin, John. 2017. “Genesis 12 – John Calvin’S Bible Commentary – Bible Commentary”. Christianity.Com. http://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=clvn&b=1&c=12.
2. Henry, Matthew. 2017. “Chapter 12 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. Biblegateway.Com. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.12.1-Gen.12.20.