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The God Who Keeps His Promises Part 1

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 25, 2014

Genesis 12:10-20 The God Who Keeps His Promises, Part I

I wonder if many of you remember the story of Dave Bliss. Dave Bliss is the former men’s basketball coach at the University of Baylor.

One of the big sports stories in the summer of 2003 was the disappearance and search for Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy. He disappeared in the spring and his body was found about two months later in some gravel pits outside of Waco, Texas. One of his teammates—Carlton Dotson—was arrested for his murder. Apparently they got into an argument while taking target practice in the gravel pits, and Dennehy was killed.

Well, during the investigation into Dennehy’s disappearance, people began to discover some peculiarities about Dennehy’s financial situation. As it turns out, he was receiving money from the coaching staff that he wasn’t supposed to receive. Dave Bliss was running a “dirty program.”

As you probably know, the NCAA does not like cheaters.

So, in an attempt to cover up the wrong doing in his program (and save his own skin), Dave Bliss cooked up a story. According to published reports, Bliss started asking his players and assistant coaches to lie for him by suggesting to investigators that Patrick Dennehy made the extra money by dealing drugs. In fact, one assistant coach caught Bliss suggesting this lie on a tape recorder.

It’s for that reason that Dave Bliss is—as I said—the former men’s basketball coach at the University of Baylor.

Over the course of the summer of 2003, there was quite a lot written and said about Dave Bliss. The media was—understandably—quite hard on him. Some said this is yet another example of everything that’s wrong with sports. Others said it was just the tip of the iceberg of the lengths some coaches will go to in order to keep their jobs. At least one radio commentator I listened to said this was absolutely the worse thing any college coach has ever done--worse than Woody Hayes punching an opposing team’s player, worse than Bobby Knight choking one of his own players, worse—even—than Larry Eustachy kissing coeds (remember that one?).

And that’s hard to argue with. Running a dirty program, paying players under the table, and then trying to cover it up by smearing the character of a young man who cannot defend himself—a young man who’s been murdered!!—that’s about as slimy as it gets.

And yet, as I think about it, I can understand why Bliss did what he did. I would hope I would never be so foolish as to get into a situation like Bliss did, but I have to admit that if my back were against the wall I might just consider a desperate lie to save my own skin. Again, I would hope I’d make better choices, but in my heart of hearts I know I’m capable of doing something foolish and stupid just like that. I know, because all too often in the past I’ve known the right thing to do, and yet I’ve done just the opposite.

And my guess is that all of you can recognize something of this within your own heart as well. Not that you would hurt another person to save your own skin, but that you could. It’s human nature—a human failing—that we all too often make stupid moral choices.

Thankfully, the Bible knows that about us. In fact, the Bible recognizes that even the greatest heroes of the faith make bad moral choices. Even Abraham.

Let’s read our scripture passage. Genesis 12:10-20:

10Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill
me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."

14When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

17But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19Why 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!" 20Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.


Will He? Can He?
Remember what we learned last week. We were introduced to Abraham and we learned that out of all the people on earth, God chose him to serve as a channel of blessing to the world. We saw that the calling of Abraham set the foundation for the whole Bible and the eventual arrival of Jesus Christ on the earth.

In the process, we heard God make promises to Abraham. He promised to make a great nation out of Abraham, to bless him, to make his name great, to protect him, and to give the land of Canaan to him. It’s a great deal for Abraham, a wonderful offer.

But it also raises a question: Will God keep His promises? Will these extraordinary blessings actually fall into place for Abraham? Will God be faithful?

Of course, we can assume that God wants to keep His promises. He wouldn’t have made them otherwise. But the question is: can He? Can He really keep these amazing promises in spite of all the obstacles that stand in the way?

I mean, think about what we already know: God has promised to make a great nation out of Abraham, but we already know that Abraham is childless and married to a barren woman (11:30). Can God overcome that obstacle?

Or, again, God has promised the land of Canaan, but we already know that the Canaanites live in the land (12:6). We know from the rest of the Bible that the Canaanites are bad. Can God overcome that obstacle?

This is really the question that is going to dominate Abraham’s whole story: Will God keep His promises? Can He? There are a lot of obstacles in the way.

And the obstacle we are going to especially consider today is the greatest obstacle of them all—Abraham himself.

That’s Not My Beautiful Wife
Let’s look with a little more detail at the story. Verse 10:

10Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Our passage begins with a problem: there was a famine in the land. Abraham is faced with a crisis—there isn’t enough food to feed all the people and flocks Abraham is responsible for—how will he respond? Abraham’s solution is to go to Egypt.

The question is: is this a wise move?

On the one hand, it almost certainly is. The text is very clear that this was a catastrophic situation for Canaan. The famine is mentioned twice in the span of one sentence, and in the Bible repetition is often used for emphasis. Plus, we are told that the famine was severe. Clearly, Abram and his household were in danger, and Egypt, with its constant supply of water in the Nile River, would have been a logical destination. From an earthly perspective, this was a wise move on Abraham’s part.

And yet, the impression given from the narrative is that it was not the best decision. Back in verse 7, the LORD gave His promise to give the land to Abraham, and in the next 3 verses—in quick succession—Abraham moves down, through, and out of the Promised Land. In verse 7 Abraham is promised the land, and by verse 10 he’s left it. That doesn’t really seem to fit with God’s intention.

It seems that Abraham is already failing the test of faith. Yes, the famine is severe, but God should have been trusted to preserve him through it. From a worldly perspective, heading to Egypt may have been a wise move. But from the perspective of faith, Abraham got it all wrong.

This becomes even clearer with what follows. Verses 11-13:

11As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Abraham hits the border and takes a good look at his wife. She’s beautiful.

Suddenly, Abraham is overcome with anxiety. If the Egyptians see what a beautiful woman she is, they’re going to desire her. If they realize that he’s her husband, they’ll kill him to get to her. So he cooks up a story: tell them that she’s his sister, and not only will they let him live, they’ll probably even treat him well for her sake.

Now, in Abraham’s defense, several things should be pointed out:

For one thing, Sarai was beautiful, so beautiful that when the princes of Egypt saw her they decided only the Pharaoh was worthy of her (14-15). More than that, had they known that Abraham was her husband, they may very well have attempted to kill him. That would not have been unusual in the ancient world (cf. David’s treatment of Uriah).

Also, as we’ll find out later in Genesis (when, amazingly, Abraham attempts a similar ruse) Sarai really was his sister—his half sister, they shared the same father (Gen. 20:12).

For another thing, scholars speculate that Abraham never actually intended for Sarai to enter another man’s harem. He probably reasoned that if he presented her as an unmarried woman, the Egyptians would enter into negotiations to marry her and in the time that earned he would make his escape (Waltke, 213).

These things notwithstanding, Abraham made a very bad choice here. He may have intended to drag out marriage negotiations, but he didn’t anticipate that Pharaohs don’t negotiate; they take (v. 15). He does receive a lot of wealth for Sarai’s sake (v. 16), but that doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s just given his wife to another man. Plus, he may have been telling the truth about Sarai being his sister, but he still obscured the truth of their marriage. Rationalize this any way you want to, it’s still a blatant lie. Worst of all, Abraham’s life may have been at risk, but rather than trust in the God who had promised to protect him (v. 3), Abraham took matters into his own hands.

It’s interesting that Sarai is silent throughout this story. It appears that she went along with the scheme, but she really isn’t given a choice. She has no say. She’s a pawn being used in Abraham’s attempt to save his own skin. Look at verse 13 again. Abraham says “I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” Sarai is reduced to a bargaining chip. It’s all about what Abraham can do to survive and prosper.

The truth is: Abraham made a stupid choice in order to save his own skin. He jeopardized all the promises of God by hiding behind his wife. What failed here is Abraham’s faith. Instead of trusting in God during the famine, he went to Egypt. Instead of trusting in God to protect him, he cooked up a lie. Instead of walking in God’s promises, he wandered out into his own ingenuity.

The biggest obstacle to God keeping His promises comes right here, in the faithless actions of His chosen servant.

When you think about it, most of the bad moral choices we make come when we fail to trust the promises of God.

Imagine that you’re a hog farmer. You’ve invested a lot in overhead to compete with the bigger factory farms, and then—all of a sudden—the bottom falls out of the hog market. It costs more money to keep the hogs alive than they are worth, and you’re losing money every day. You’re having a hard time paying your bills. The bank is getting impatient. Then one day you’re standing at the check-out counter of the hardware store and the clerk gets called away. You’re standing there, all alone, with an open cash register. It’s not a lot of cash, but it’s a start. Now, do you trust in God’s promises to provide you with daily bread, or do you grab the cash?

Or, again, imagine that you’re a high school student. School’s not easy for you, but you’re good at your extracurricular activities and you’ve got a shot at a college scholarship. But now, you’re failing your physics class and if you don’t get your grade up, you’ll be ineligible. All chances of a scholarship will be gone. Then one day a friend comes to you and tells you he’s gotten hold of the answer key to the next physics test. Now, do you trust in God’s promises that all things work out for the good to those who love Him, or do you start to copy answers?

Or, again, imagine that you’re married. You and your spouse have been fighting lately. Money is short, the kids are a lot of work, you don’t seem to have the same interests anymore. Then one day you’re on an overnight trip out of town and somebody at a restaurant begins to flirt with you. You’re in a strange town, miles away from anyone you know, and this stranger invites you to come up for a nightcap. Now, do you trust in God’s promises to bless your marriage, or do you go in for a night of sin?

Abram lost sight of God’s promises, and he made a major mistake. Too often, we do the same thing.

The Turn
Now, with each of these examples, I hope it is obvious what the right thing to do is.

But the question this Bible story asks is not: What is the right thing to do? Rather, the question that arises here is: what happens when you do wrong? What happens if you make the bad choice?

Will God keep His promises even when we doubt them? What if I forget that He feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies and I take the money? What if I lose sight of the one who holds my future and cheat my way to college? What if I slip up, disregarding God’s promises for marriage and betraying my spouse? What if I forget God’s promises and give my wife to Pharaoh? Will God remain faithful even when I make a mess of things by acting completely without faith?

Lots of people think of religion as a moral journey. The Bible exists to these people as a moral roadmap to let us know which direction to go whenever we reach an ethical crossroads. And, in a lot of ways, the Bible is that. I’m guessing that all of us know—because of our Bibles—that it is wrong to steal, wrong to cheat, wrong to have an affair, and wrong to give your wife to foreign potentates.

But, thank God, the Bible is more than just a rule book. Thank God that the Bible recognizes that we aren’t always going to make the right choices. Thank God that the Bible knows that we are going to do some pretty stupid things.

If the Bible were just a manual for moral living, then the whole point of this story would be that we should tell the truth. But the point is not that Abram should have told the truth about Sarai—that should be obvious enough.

Rather, the point is that even though Abram did a stupid thing—a wrong thing, a faithless thing—God stuck with Him. God keeps His promises. God remains faithful to his chosen servant even when that servant acts without faith.

Look What Happened to Abram
Look at what happened to Abraham. Verse 17 is the only verse in the story in which God does anything:

17But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19Why 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!” 20Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Suddenly the LORD—who has been forgotten throughout the journey to Egypt—acts. He inflicts serious disease on Pharaoh and his household. We don’t know how, but Pharaoh figures out that it is because of Sarai, he figures out that Sarai is actually Abraham’s wife, and he gets them out of Egypt. The story ends by reversing its beginning, Abraham goes up out of Egypt back into the Promised Land.

God is faithful even when Abraham is faithless. Even when the patriarch was unfaithful, there are aspects of the promise that God would not relinquish to his failure. God protects the marriage of Abraham and Sarai for the sake of the promise. God protects Abraham, and even blesses him, despite his faithlessness.

And the good news in this passage for us is that even when we act without faith, even when we make a stupid choice, even when we do something totally and utterly wrong, we do not nullify God’s promises. God does not abandon us.

And so—if you’ve faced one of those situations I’ve described—or something like it—and you’ve made the wrong choice, that doesn’t mean it’s all over for you. If you’ve grabbed the money, or copied the test, or committed that infidelity--that doesn’t mean God has given up on you.

God is faithful even when we are faithless.

Now, let me be very clear here: I’m not saying that because of this we should feel free to do whatever we want. I’m not advocating widespread lawlessness here or blatant immorality. I’m not saying that God will forgive you anyway and so it doesn’t matter what you do. That’s not my point at all.

Certainly, Abraham experienced some pretty negative consequences for the choice he made. Can you imagine Abraham and Sarai sitting down at the dinner table for the first time after she left the harem? Pretty chilly.

And who can say how many of the other obstacles Abraham had to face in his journey of faith stemmed from this act of faithlessness? Maybe God left Abraham in the furnace of faith just a little longer because of his performance down in Egypt. Perhaps God realized Abraham would need some more testing before he received his son.

Clearly, this was not the choice God wanted Abraham to make. God never wants us to choose sin. God doesn’t want us to steal, cheat or deceive. He wants us to choose faith. He wants us to trust in Him. Proverbs says:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” (3:5-6)

But when we fail to trust, when we do lean on our understanding—when we find that we’ve blown it again and are stuck in a mess of our own making—we need to know that God has not abandoned us.

More than that, don’t think that God is blessing Abraham in this story because of his lies. Abraham does walk out of Egypt with a lot of Pharaoh’s treasure, but it is not because God is blessing the choices he made. Rather, God is continuing to bless Abraham in spite of his poor decisions. Abraham himself proves to be the greatest obstacle to God’s plan of promise, but God will not let that obstacle stand in the way.

The incredible thing about God is that He can love us despite our failings. He knows that we are human, He knows that we are sinful, and He loves us anyway.

Perhaps 2 Timothy 2:13 says it best:

“If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.

God is faithful even when we are faithless.

Faithful Father
Now, maybe you’re having a hard time accepting this idea. Maybe you’re having a hard time believing that God is good to us even when we completely blow it. Maybe you’re too weighed down with guilt to believe that God could ever be ready to accept you. Maybe you’re thinking: “Yeah, Russell, I can see that God stuck with Abraham, but he was an exception. God could never be faithful to me after the faithless things I’ve done.”

Well, if that’s you, then I need to remind you of a familiar story. It’s a story that Jesus told to describe God’s relationship with us. It’s a story about a Father and a son:

The son essentially told the father he wanted him dead. He went to his dad and demanded his inheritance. He’d rather have the riches than a relationship. Then, when his dad gave in, he took the money and squandered it. He made bad moral choices, stupid choices. He went off to a far away country and engaged in riotous living. Parties and booze, gambling and women, he lived it up until the money ran out.

Then, as the reality of what he had done set in—as he realized what a faithless son he was—he made the humble journey back home and discovered that his father had remained faithful all along.

That’s just the point. The God who stuck with Abram even when he gave his wife to Pharaoh is the same God who welcomes back prodigals and He’s the same God who wants to have a relationship with you.

God is faithful even when we are faithless.