Dr. James T. Naismith of Peterborough. Ontario, a physician and Bible teacher, continues his series on Genesis Copyright by Everyday Publications Inc., used by permission.
The Compromises Of Abraham
The faithfulness of the Scriptures in recording not only the triumphant faith but also the tragic failures of the leading characters is one evidence of their divine origin. Human biographies tend to gloss over the mistakes of their heroes; not so, the Word of God. Apart from their being truthful to facts, we can discern at least two reasons why the Scriptures record failures such as Noah’s and Abraham’s:
(a) For our Encouragement, not for our example. Note that in Romans 4:12, we are not encouraged to walk in the steps of Abraham, but in the steps of his faith. Not for our excuse: in contrast to Abraham, we have the written Word of God for our guide, the Son of God for our example, and the Spirit of God for our empowerment. But we can be encouraged in the knowledge that the friend of God, whose faith is so often presented as an example to us, was no superman with superhuman qualities and a supernatural faith, but “a man subject to like passions as we” (just as Elijah — James 5:17), strong in faith, but also subject to failure. We are encouraged, too, to read that Abraham was graciously restored by God after failure — and so may we be.
(b) For our Warning. God does not condone the faults and failures of great men of God. They are presented to us as beacons of warning — see 1 Cor. 10:11, 12.
Let us then consider some of the lessons we can learn from Abraham’s failures recorded in Genesis 12:10-13:4; 16:1-6; and 20:1-18.
A. The Circumstances And Character Of Abraham’s Failure
1. Abraham’s failures affected the strongest point of his life — faith. Abraham trusted God to provide a land for him as He promised, but he failed to trust the same God to provide food in that land in a famine. He believed in the Lord that He would make his seed as the stars of heaven, Gen. 15:5, 6, yet he did not trust God to accomplish this in His own way, Gen. 16. How like ourselves — trusting God for eternal life and spiritual blessings, but not for temporal and material needs! Since Abraham fell at his strongest point, we need to learn that there is no point on which we are so strong that we do not need to watch and pray. Satan often attacks the strongest point.
2. In Abraham’s life, failure begat failure. One sin led to another. Compromise with the Lord, Gen. 12:10, led to compromise with truth, v. 13. It has been suggested that Abraham was not wrong in going to Egypt — indeed, that God was driving him there to witness for Him. The whole story of Genesis 12:10-20, however, suggests that the first step down to Egypt was a wrong move — stepping out of dependence upon God. The geographical direction of this step —”Abraham went down” — seems to indicate its spiritual direction. Egypt, in Scripture, is often a type of the world, and it is suggestive that Sodom and Gomorrah, the wicked cities, are likened to the land of Egypt in Genesis 13:10. When in Egypt, Abraham practiced deceit; in calling Sarai his sister, he was not telling a lie, but hiding the truth (see Gen. 20:12). Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” As a result of this deceit, Abraham’s compromise with truth led to compromise with purity, and only God’s over-ruling prevented the tragedy of Pharaoh taking Abraham’s wife.
3. Maturity and experience were no safeguards. Genesis 20 is almost a repetition of Genesis 12, and it occurred after years of experience of God and faith in God. Temptations do not diminish in force with the passing years. Gen. 20:13 — the pact Abraham and Sarah made with one another for Abraham’s protection — suggests that this deception was his settled policy, a habit of life never broken.
B. The Consequences And Influence Of Abraham’s Failure
Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap, Gal. 6:7. This great Scriptural principle is applicable in our lives as it was in Abraham’s. Notice the spheres affected by his sin in Egypt.
1. His own life. We have seen already that, instead of turning from the sin of deceitfulness after the first warning lesson, Abraham seemed to become habituated and made it a settled practice. The sad story of Genesis 16 — Abraham’s relations with his maid Hagar — and all the tragic consequences springing from that, happened 10 years after Abraham went into Egypt and was probably a direct consequence. It seems likely that Hagar, an Egyptian, was brought from Egypt at this time.
2. Sarah. Willingly or not, she entered into Abraham’s deception and was dragged down. But for God’s merciful intervention, she would certainly have lost her purity.
3. Lot evidently accompanied Abraham into Egypt (see Gen. 13:1), and the experience influenced his subsequent life. His choice of Sodom in Genesis 13:11, 12 may well have been for its resemblance to the land of Egypt, v. 10, which he had seen. Abraham was later restored to a life of communion with God and separation, but Lot never seems to have been fully restored, and remained always a “wordly believer.”
4. The world. On two occasions, the friend of God was rebuked by the ungodly world for the same sin, Gen. 12:18-20; 20:9, 10. Instead of witnessing to the world, Abraham was driven out in disgrace. It is never easy to witness when we comprise with the world!
5. Isaac was not yet born when Abraham committed the sins of Genesis 12 or 20; his birth is recorded in chapter 21. Yet it is significant that the sin of the father was repeated in the son —see Gen. 26:7.
C. Restoration From Failure
In the grace of God it is possible to fall and rise again. The first steps of Abraham’s life can be summarized in four phases:
· He “went forth,” Gen. 12:5 —Separation;
· “went down,” v. 10 —Declension:
· “went up out,” 13:1 —Restoration;
· and “went on,” 13:3 —Progression.
It is significant that he turned “unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning … unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first,” 13:3, 4. He returned to the place from which the failure had taken place; there he made his confession, renewed his vows and afresh offered his sacrifice to God. The first step in any restoration is a return to that place from which we went down.
D. God’s Over-Ruling Mercy In Spite Of Failure
(a) When Abraham failed, God’s gracious timely intervention averted disaster, maintained Sarai’s chastity and preserved Abraham.
(b) When Abraham returned to the place of his tent and altar at the beginning, God granted him full restoration and renewed His promises to him, Gen. 13:14-18.
The Choices Of Abraham
In Genesis 13 and 14, two great choices of Abraham are recorded which stand out as examples to us, when we are confronted with different courses and find it difficult to decide which is best.
The choice here was one of a place of residence — a decision that confronts all of us from time to time. We are not concerned with the wisdom of Abraham’s decision to separate from Lot, but should note that
1. the step he now took completed his obedience to God’s word to “get … out … from thy father’s house,” Gen. 12:1; and
2. the decision was made to avoid marring the testimony of God’s people before others. “The Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land,” Gen. 13:7, and were thus witnesses of the strife between Abraham’s and Lot’s herdsmen.
The decision where to settle —North, South, East or West — may not seem of great consequence, but what an effect it had on the subsequent lives of Abraham and Lot! Abraham teaches us here the importance of seeking God’s guidance in every choice, however insignificant it may seem from a spiritual point of view. The following lessons may be learned from the contrasts between Abraham’s choice and Lot’s:
A. Abraham chose the Spiritual rather than the Material
Lot’s choice was dictated by what he saw, “Lot lifted up his eyes … then Lot chose,” vv. 10, 11. He was allured by physical pleasure and material prosperity, but they led to spiritual poverty. Abraham disregarded the external appearances, and left the choice with God.
For a time it might have seemed that Lot made the right choice. He came to a position of responsibility in Sodom — “sat in the gate,” Gen. 19:1 — probably indicating that he was a magistrate in a place of authority. Yet there is no evidence of his using this position as a means of witness — indeed, what he did say had no effect on his fellow-citizens, Gen. 19:9, or even on his relations, v. 14. God gave him an early warning, Gen. 14:12, when he was removed forcibly from Sodom, but in spite of this, when released, he returned to Sodom, and his tragic end is recorded in chapter 19.
B. Abraham chose Unselfishly rather than Selfishly
As Lot’s uncle and senior, Abraham had the right of first choice, but voluntarily chose to forego that right, Gen. 13:8, 9, and gave consideration to Lot. Jeremiah’s message from the Lord to Baruch, Jer. 45:5, is appropriate at this point and contains wise counsel for all God’s people at all times, Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.
C. Abraham chose God’s Will rather than his own pleasure
Gen. 13:14-18. We never lose by giving others first choice, if we leave our choice with God. “He gives the very best to those who leave the choice with Him.” Note His renewed promises to Abraham.
Abraham’s refusal of the temptation offered by the king of Sodom gives us important principles to guide us in dealing with temptation today:
A. The Time and Circumstances of the Choice
In the wake of Abraham’s victory, v. 15, over four Mesopotamian kings, who had defeated five kings of Canaan. How prone are God’s people in the hour of victory to succumb to Satan’s wiles! Even Elijah, great man of God though he was, after his triumph on Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18, fled from Queen Jezebel and became so discouraged as to request his death, 1 Kings 19:1-4.
B. Preparation for the Choice
Melchizedek, priest of the most high God and type of the Lord Jesus (see Heb. 5:6, etc.) was sent by God to prepare Abraham. Note:
1. Melchizedek blessed Abraham before the king of Sodom offered his blessings; Abraham was fortified. We enjoy the rich blessings of Him who is Possessor of heaven and earth and have no need for the allurements of the world.
2. Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine, so Abraham was refreshed and sustained after his physical conflict and fitted for the spiritual conflict to follow. The bread and wine would seem to be a fitting symbol of the gracious provisions of our High Priest — see John 6:51, 53-55 — and appropriation of Him enables us to face temptation. The bread and wine remind us too of the Lord’s Supper and His provision for us there. Faithful weekly remembrance of Him is a spiritual prophylactic against the dangers of temptation. Finally,
3. Abraham gave Melchizedek tithes of all, Gen. 14:20, indicating his devotion and consecration to the most high God whom Melchizedek represented. The promise of Malachi 3:10 still holds true.
C. The Choice and how Abraham met it
The offer of the king of Sodom to Abraham was really his by right of conquest yet he refused it, because
1. He had made a vow to God, v. 22. It is well for us, too, when confronted with temptation, to remember the vows we have made to the Lord — “For Thee all the pleasures of sin I resign.”
2. Sodom represented the world — cf. Gen. 13:10, 13; Rev. 11:8 — that crucified our Lord. How can we accept the smallest riches from it, however tempting or legitimate?
3. He had received the provision of the most high God through His priest — he needed no more.
D. The Results of the Choice (Gen. 15:1)
“After these things…” God’s assurance and provision came to Abraham as a direct sequel to the choice he made. In view of any possible danger that might result from Abraham’s intervention against Chedorlaomer and his associates, God — not the king of Sodom —would be Abraham’s protection — “thy shield.” Moreover, although he had refused the reward offered by the king of Sodom, he would not lack, for God would be his provision — “thy exceeding great reward.”