Tag: famine

Story 42: Like Father Like Son: The Choices of Abraham and Isaac

Genesis 26

In the early days of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage, long before they had their twin boys, they went through many trials and struggles.  At one point, a great famine came upon the land, and it grew more and more difficult for families to find enough to eat.  It was getting dangerous.  The lives of God’s chosen family was at risk.  What was Isaac going to do?

Well, he packed up his family and his servants, his tents and his livestock and all of their valuable treasures. They began a journey to Egypt, where the Nile River poured out an unending water supply.  It brought plentiful harvests to feed the Egyptian people and their animals.  Along the way, Isaac and Rebekah passed through the land of the Philistines.  While they were there, Isaac heard from God.

The LORD told Isaac not to go down to Egypt.  Isaac was to stay in the Land of Promise.

Wow.

That would take tremendous courage and faith.  It might mean hunger for his clan.  It would probably mean the death of many of their animals.  Yet Isaac was faithful.  He went to the region ruled by Abimelech, who live in the midst of the Promised Land.

Abimelech is a name we have already heard before.  Abraham and Sarah met a man of that name in their travels.  He was a king, and Abraham was afraid of him.  Sarah was so beautiful that Abraham feared the king would kill him if he learned that Abraham was her husband.  So he told the first Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, and Abimelech took her into his house to become his wife.  Wow!  Can you imagine what that was like for Sarah?  But God saved the day.  He came in a dream and told Abimelech that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and Abimelech sent her back to her husband.

Now Isaac was face to face with another tribal leader.  Some scholars suggest that he was probably the grandson of the first Abimelech.  This king called himself the king of the Philistines in the land of Gerar.  God told Isaac not to journey any further, but to rest in Abimelech’s land with his family.

Then something amazing happened.  God appeared to Isaac in a grand theophany.  “Theophany” is a fancy word to describe when God appears to a human.  God showed himself to Abraham in a theophany three times, and each time it was a great marker in the life of his chosen servant.  God came to communicate his covenant promises to Abraham, which should tell us how incredibly important those promises were.  Now the LORD had come to Isaac to pass the covenant of Abraham on to him. The Lord said to Isaac;

 

“‘Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendents I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.’  So Isaac stayed in Gerar.”

Genesis 26:2b-6

 

Wow. What an awesome moment.  For all those years, Isaac had learned about the promises of God from Abraham and Sarah.  Now God had appeared to him, and Isaac heard the words in person.  This was not just a gift to his parents, he was a critical part of the covenant himself.  His descendents would be as many as the stars, and every nation would be blessed through him.  The fate of all humanity was tied up in the fate of Isaac and Rebekah.

It is interesting that God said these promises were given to Isaac through Abraham.  There was a wealth of blessing stored up from Abraham’s obedience that was pouring out onto Isaac.  Abraham kept the whole of all that God desired from him.  His relationship with God was a righteous partnership so abundant that it flowed to the next generation!

God gave Isaac great and precious promises of abundance, but Isaac had to believe in them without seeing them.  God gave them in the middle of a great famine, and he would make Isaac and Rebekah wait for twenty years to have their twins!  Isaac was being called to live by the same faith that Abraham had.  He was called to live by the same righteous standard and the same immediate obedience, too!  He showed his immediate obedience by settling his vast clan down in Gerar!  He chose the hardship of famine and faithfulness to God over the abundance of bread and ease in a place that was outside of God’s will.

The men of Gerar were very quick to notice Rebekah.  She was a woman of remarkable beauty.  Isaac was afraid to admit she was his wife.  What if they wanted to kill him so they could have her?

And so he lied.  He told them that she was his sister.  Hm.

Who else does that remind you of?  Isaac was acting just like his father.

Now, these lies might seem a bit strange to us, but we need to remember that they lived in very different times.  There were no police officers to come and protect a family when others came to attack.  There was no court system to try a man if he murdered someone.  It was a dangerous and almost lawless land, and men were vicious and corrupt.  The most powerful men often determined the law of the land, and Abimelech was very powerful.  When Isaac weighed his options, the crisis of his own death might have seemed a lot less than facing the problem of a local man claiming Rebekah for his own while they were resting in Abimelech’s land.

There were good reasons for Isaac to be afraid if he was merely living according to the rules of this world.  But Isaac wasn’t meant to live as this world is all there is.  He was a man of God’s sacred covenant.  He had heard the stories of how God provided for his father.  He himself was one of God’s great provisions.

But God had a discipleship for Isaac just as surely as he had for Abraham, and Isaac was in the midst of one of the twisting points.  Isaac had already avoided one of Abraham’s mistakes…he didn’t go to Egypt.  Now he had another choice.  Did he believe more in the fear of the power of men, or in the promises of God?  Did he trust that God would protect his marriage, that Isaac could protect his wife and trust God with the results?  What would happen if one of the local men wanted to take Rebekah and marry her?  What would happen to the covenant if Rebekah’s children no longer belonged to Isaac?  Would Isaac let her go?  What would happen to the promises of God?

 

Story 22: Parting Ways: The Foolish and the Wise

Genesis 13:1-18

Abram was a chosen man.  Adam and Eve, the first humans, had plunged the world under a terrible curse by rebelling against God in the garden of paradise that he had provided with him.  They had sided with his enemy and given the enemy power over them and all of their descendants.  Yet God had a solution already prepared.  From those descendants, God promised that one of them would one day crush the power of God’s enemy (Gen. 3:14-15).

One of the most significant stages in the unfolding of God’s plan was the covenant he made with Abram (see Gen. 12:1-4 or Story 20).  God was going to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation, and somehow he would bless all the other nations of the world through them. God brought Abram out of the land of his own people and brought him to the land of Canaan, the Land of Promise, that he would give to Abram’s children.  Abram was called to stay there and live by faith in what God promised he would do.  Yet at the first sign of trouble, Abram took his wife and nephew, all his flocks and servants, and left the land.  A famine had come, and they fled to Egypt.  That didn’t turn out too well (see Story 21).

After a coming against a crazy situation in Egypt, Abram moved his family back to Canaan, to a place called Negev.  They returned to the region near Bethel.  This was the place where Abram had built his second altar to God.  That moment was a high and holy moment for Abram; it was a place of great remembrance.  Perhaps Abram felt the need to seek a recommitment of faith to the covenant that had come to him there.

As Abraham was traveling about, his nephew Lot went with him.  Both of them had huge herds of cows and goats and sheep.  There were so many animals that they were eating up all the grass.  There wasn’t enough for all the animals to eat. The herdsmen and shepherds of Lot and Abram began to fight with each other over the land and the grass.

So Abram said to Lot, “‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land before you?  Let’s part company.  If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left’” (Gen. 13:8-9).

Wow.  That was very generous of Abram.  He had already raised Lot.  Now he was giving his nephew first choice of the land.  Yet Abraham was the elder man, and the covenant promise had been given to him.  He had every right to claim the best of the land for himself.

What does his choice show us about Abram?  He did not need to grasp with greed.  He was demonstrating with his actions that he put his trust in the Lord.  He believed his future was in the hands of God.  That gave him freedom to give lavishly and graciously to his nephew.  His desire to keep peace with his nephew was greater than his desire for the security and honor of wealth and property.

Lot looked out over the land and saw the plain of the Jordan River.  It was lush and green with well watered plants.  It was perfect ground for farming and raising crops.  His livestock would have plenty to eat.  It was like the garden of the LORD.  Lot claimed the very best for himself. His decision was based on what he could see.  It was not a decision made by faith in God.  Abram honored Lot’s choice and moved on to the land of Canaan.

Lot’s first selfish choice was almost as unwise as his second choice.  Of all the cities on the plain, he chose to pitch his tents next to the city of Sodom.  It was known to be a place of great wickedness, where the people lived lives of filthy immorality and despicable sin.  The wrath of God was filling up against them.  They were not wise people for Lot to befriend.

After Lot left, the LORD spoke with Abram once again:

 “‘Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.  Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you’”

Gen. 13:14-17

Isn’t it interesting that God waited for Lot to make his choice and leave before He continued with the promise?

The LORD was rewarding Abram’s faith with assurances of His promises. Abram was to go out and walk along the land, knowing it was truly set apart for him by God.  As a king surveys the realm of his kingdom, Abram walked his land and saw with his own eyes this good place that God had prepared for him.

When Abram was done with his tour, he and Sarai moved with all their servants, flocks and herds to a place with beautiful trees called Mamre.  It was in the region of Hebron. This area was not like the place where Lot chose to live, where rivers provided a constant flow of water.  It was not like Egypt, with the never ending Nile.  Hebron was an area that depended on rain for water.  The people who lived there were at greater risk for drought or famine.   There was no river to go to when things got dry.  Abram was well aware of the danger of drought, but he also knew that his God was the Lord over the rain systems of the earth.  He trusted these gifts from God’s hands more than the safety of living in larger numbers near a constant water source.  He could trust God as he separated his family and servants from the sins and temptations of the city.   This was the faith that was growing in our hero.  Think of how he had changed from the man who fled to Egypt!   Abram showed his devotion and gratitude to God by building an altar of worship to him.

After Lot left, the LORD spoke with Abram once again:

 

 “‘Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.  Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you’” (Gen. 13:14-17). 

 

The LORD was rewarding Abram’s faith with assurances of his promises. Abram was to go out and walk along the land, knowing it was truly set apart for him by God.  As a king surveys the realm of his kingdom, Abram walked his land and saw with his own eyes this good place that God was preparing for him.

When Abram was done with his tour, he and Sarah moved with all their servants, flocks and herds to a place with beautiful trees called Mamre.  It was in the region of Hebron. This area was not like the place where Lot chose to live, where rivers provided a constant flow of water.  It was not like Egypt, with the never ending Nile.  Hebron was an area that depended on rain for water.  The people who lived there were at greater risk for drought or famine.   There was no river to go to when things got dry.  Abram was well aware of the danger of drought, but he also knew that his God was the Lord over the rain systems of the earth.  He knew that he was safe in God’s hands.   This was the faith that was growing in our hero!  How different he was from the man who had fled to Egypt!   Abram showed his devotion and gratitude to God by building an altar of worship to him there.

 

Story 21: A Trip to Egypt: There and Back Again

Genesis 12:16-20

Abram had moved out in faith because of the promises of God. The LORD told him to leave his country and his father’s household and go to an entirely new land.  God was going to raise up so many descendants for him that they would become an entire nation.  That nation was to be a part of God’s plan to bring salvation to the entire world.  But Abram was not alone on his journey, and he was not the only one who had to show tremendous trust in what God said. His wife Sarai would have to faithfully move out into a world that was very different from her own as well. They would have to put their hope in God together, acting as obedient partners in God’s work, reflecting the image of God in their love and support for each other.

They made the long journey to the land of Canaan. They were nomads, living in tents that were easy to pick up and move. They herded their flocks and herds with them, careful to stop in places where there would be plenty of water to drink and grass for their animals to graze on. They stayed in the hill country that fringed around the land of Canaan, careful not to threaten the tribes and nations that already lived there. Along their dusty path, Abram built altars of grateful praise to his God. They were monuments to the LORD, and monuments to Abram’s faith. He did not fight, fret, or manipulate for the land. He did not try to invade them on his own. He stood in faith, believing he would receive it freely from the hand of God.

They had been living in Canaan for some time when a severe famine came. Any famine is a terrible thing, as it means that there is not enough food to go around. Perhaps the famine came because there hadn’t been enough rain for the crops of food. Or perhaps a disease had come to destroy the plants or animals of the region. Whatever caused it, it was dangerous. Many people could starve to death. Many others would grow weak and ill.

Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and fear that Abram felt? Here was his precious wife, his nephew, their servants, and all their animals, and all of them depended on the wisdom of his leadership to survive. Did he wake up in fear at night, imagining his beloved wife having to go without food? Did he picture his animals growing skinny and weak? The Bible doesn’t say exactly which horrors drove Abram to fear, but we do know that he was overcome by those fears.

Abram gathered up his tents and moved his family down to the land of Egypt. The mighty Nile River was there. When every other region went without water because the rains had stopped, Egypt could rely on the vast flow of water that constantly poured through the Nile’s riverbanks. Their farms crops and their animals were often healthy and strong in the worst of times. The Nile was so important to the Egyptians that they worshiped the river as a god. In many ways, Abram was doing the same thing. In his fear of famine, he did not trust God to provide for him in the land of promise. He left the place of God’s calling to go where there was help that he could see and understand. Faith is believing in what cannot be seen. Abram was not standing in faith.

As they traveled closer to Egypt, Abram began to worry about something else. His wife was radiantly beautiful. He knew that other men would desire her, and he knew how vicious they might become towards the man she was married to. He was afraid. Here was another chance to take his fears to God, to show his trust and faith in the LORD. Instead, he turned to Sarai and put the burden of his fears on her. He said, “‘I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.’”

Sure enough, when they arrived in Egypt, the surpassing beauty of Sarai became known far and wide. Word spread as far as the high officials of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They went to their king and told him that a great beauty had come to live among them. The Pharaoh sent for her. When he saw her, he agreed with the rumors…she was ravishing. And since everyone had been told that Sarai was without a husband, the Pharoah took her to live in his palace.

Meanwhile, Abram was treated very well for giving the king his sister. He received sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and human servants in gratitude for giving the Pharaoh such a lovely gift. What was Abram thinking? Sarai had become a part of the royal harem! The Pharaoh wanted to come to her as a man should only come to his wife!

Abram had put his wife at terrible risk. He had put God’s promises in danger, too. God said that He would make a great nation through Abram, but in God’s eyes, Abram and Sarai were one flesh. They were married, and the promise of the covenant was to come through their united flesh. It was meant to happen through the love they shared in their marriage. Sarai had a sacred role to play that was every bit as important as Abram’s! But now Sarai was at risk to have a child from a man that was not her husband.

Imagine how Sarai felt as she sat alone in the palace, waiting for the king to come. What was she going to do? Was she mad that Abram had forced her to protect him? Did she feel betrayed that he had not protected her as a husband should? And how was God going to come through?

The Lord is patient. As Abram struggled to become a man of faith, God would help him along the way, especially as he faltered and failed. God would not let Sarai be violated by the Pharaoh of this idolatrous nation. The covenant was unbreakable. God sent a serious disease to infect every member of Pharaoh’s house. Imagine the entire palace writhing in discomfort. They all wondered what they had done to deserve this plague.  Then Pharaoh discovered that the painful infliction had come because he had taken the wife of Abram.  So the Pharaoh called for him. He said:

“‘What have you done to me…Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?   Why did you say, “She is my sister,” so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!’” (Gen. 12:18b-20)

Wow! Now Sarai was safe, but the wrath of the Pharaoh was against them…and he had every right to be angry! Abram took Sarah and everything they had and left Egypt. With all the riches given to him by the Pharaoh, Abram had become a very wealthy man. He had added great amounts of animals and silver and gold from the Pharaoh.

%d bloggers like this: