Actual Question: Why did God still bless Abram when he lied about Sarai not being his wife as they entered into Egypt? And why were they not “punished” for introducing Hagar into the mix as they waited for God’s promised heir? At a time when we really saw God’s justice and anger, there didn’t seem to be any repercussions.
Possible Answer: First some background. We are first introduced to Abram in Genesis 11:26 (NASB), “Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.” Genesis 11:27-32 tells us that Haran (brother of Abram) died while still in Ur and then introduces us to the wives of both Abram and Nahor. Nahor takes a niece named Milcah (His dead brother Haran’s daughter) for a wife and Abram takes Sarai (his half sister, his dad’s daughter by another woman) as a wife. At the end of Genesis 11 the death of Terah at the age of 205 is recorded.
Two side notes that might provide some perspective:
It’s probably important here to state that marrying inside the family was common practice at this time in history. It wasn’t until Leviticus 18 and 20 that God first forbids the marrying of close relatives (see Leviticus 18:6-18 and Leviticus 20:11-12, 17, 19-21).
It’s also helpful to understand that our modern concept of “family” wasn’t the reality in biblical times. When we think of “family” we think of a dad, mom and a few kids. “Family” in biblical times was a much larger and far more diverse group of people including fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, multiple wives, multiple children, half brothers, half sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, servants and even adopted children. It’s against this backdrop that we can more fully understand the account of Abram and Sarai (his half-sister and wife).
Back to the historical account:
Genesis 12 opens up with God’s instruction to Abram to take his clan out of Haran and go to “the land I will show you where I will make you a great nation”. Here we read for the first time God’s promise to Abram to make he and his descendants into a great nation. Not only does God promise to develop him into a great nation He also promises to “bless those who bless him” and to “curse those who curse him”. In other words God would have his back from this point forward.
In Genesis 12:4 we see Abram responding as we hope to respond to a clear directive from God, “Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…” What we see from Abram from chapter 12:4 through 12:9 is a model of faithfulness and trust. Two separate times, once at Shechem (12:6) and once at the mountain east of Bethel (12:8) we see God continuing to reveal portions of His master plan to Abram and Abram responding in turn by building altars to the Lord in thanksgiving and according to 12:8 Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
Don’t miss this, Abram and God has entered into relationship with one another. God was speaking, revealing, unfolding His plans for Abram and his descendants and likewise Abram was learning to pause, erect altars and call upon the name of the Lord. This was a back and forth, two way street in which Abram’s faith was increasing.
In Genesis 12:10 we see the first signs of trouble on the horizon. Famine has struck the area. As was often the practice travelers and neighbors their sights would turn to Egypt in hopes of finding relief from famine. It’s here that we see the first crack in Abram’s faith and trust in God’s promise to make him into a great nation.
Genesis 12:11-13 (NASB) says, “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.”
Did you catch those final eight words: “…that I may live on account of you.”? Crazy right? How could Abram so quickly forget the promise of God to make him into a great nation? How could he have forgotten that his future wasn’t dependent on Sarai? How could he have forgotten that his future wasn’t dependent on the reception he was about to receive from the Egyptians. Had he forgotten the altar that he himself had erected in thanksgiving to God for the journey thus far? Why had he so quickly gone forth as the Lord had spoken to him, only to quake in his sandals at the first sign of perceived trouble?
If you fast-forward to Genesis 16 we read this in the first two verses. Genesis 16:1-2 (NASB) says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her. And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” I can’t help but notice the similarity between the final eight words of Genesis 12:13, “…that I may live on account of you.” and the final eight words of Genesis 16:2, “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” On both of these occasions Abram takes his future into his own hands.
Some quick application for today:
Isn’t this typical of our journey as well? God is showing up, providing clear instruction, mapping out our next steps while we believe our faith to be increasing only to discover that perhaps our faith wasn’t as strong as we had assumed. It’s when things turn south that our faith truly increases. It’s when the road narrows that our faith is tested and the words that come so easily in the light of day are put to the test in the dark of night.
Finally a possible answer to the questions:
Two thoughts come to mind as I’ve processed this Biblical account.
First, punishment for sin as we understand punishment for sin wasn’t exactly the case in these pre-law days. Romans 5:13 (NIV) says, “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” Sin was present and clearly Abram committed sin when he lied on two separate occasions about Sarai being his sister only and not his wife and of course sin was present when both Abram and Sarai decided to shortcut the process of God’s promise to make him (Abram) into a great nation by introducing Hagar into the mix. But as we discover from Romans 5:13 sin (in our modern understanding) was not yet charged to Abram’s account. You could certainly make the argument that much heart ache came about as a result of these poor choices. The pharaoh certainly felt pain as he was duped into thinking Sarai was in play. Sarai herself felt pain as she was “handed off” to the pharaoh to ease Abram’s fears. Hagar certainly felt pain as she was ridiculed and mistreated by Sarai for bringing Ishmael into the picture. Abram himself likely struggled to reconcile in his own mind whether or not he was following God’s plan for his future. To be sure, these foolish choices were not without punishment.
Secondly, I’m struck by the evidence that God’s promise would not be thwarted by Abram’s stupid decisions. God would not allow anything to stand in His way of accomplishing all that He desired for Abram and the future of humanity. I believe the same to be true of God today as He gives us promises regarding our futures. If God promises it, it will happen. No amount of stupidity, ignorance, fear or impatience will stop Him.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.