Two of my favorite verses in the Bible: Psalm 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”. . .Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” What a comfort to know that God not only numbers all the hairs on our head but also numbers all of our tears and will wipe them all away in the end!
One of my favorite lines in a hymn is this: “O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.”
It comes from the hymn, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”. I recently learned the historical background to the hymn and thought I would share it here.
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
1. O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
2. O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
3. O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
4. O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
History of Hymn
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” written on the evening of Matheson’s sister’s marriage. His whole family had went to the wedding and had left him alone. And he writes of something which had happened to him that caused immense mental anguish. There is a story of how years before, he had been engaged until his fiancé learned that he was going blind, and there was nothing the doctors could do, and she told him that she could not go through life with a blind man. He went blind while studying for the ministry, and his sister had been the one who had taken care of him all these years, but now she is gone. He had been a brilliant student, some say that if he hadn’t went blind he could have been the leader of the church of Scotland in his day. He had written a learned work on German theology and then wrote “The Growth of The Spirit of Christianity.” Louis Benson says this was a brilliant book but with some major mistakes in it. When some critics pointed out the mistakes and charged him with being an inaccurate student he was heartbroken. One of his friends wrote, “When he saw that for the purposes of scholarship his blindness was a fatal hindrance, he withdrew from the field – not without pangs, but finally.” So he turned to the pastoral ministry, and the Lord has richly blessed him, finally bringing him to a church where he regularly preached to over 1500 people each week. But he was only able to do this because of the care of his sister and now she was married and gone. Who will care for him, a blind man? Not only that, but his sister’s marriage brought fresh reminder of his own heartbreak, over his fiancé’s refusal to “go through life with a blind man.” It is the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gives him this hymn – written he says in 5 minutes! Looking back over his life, he once wrote that his was “an obstructed life, a circumscribed life… but a life of quenchless hopefulness, a life which has beaten persistently against the cage of circumstance, and which even at the time of abandoned work has said not “Good night” but “Good morning.” How could he maintain quenchless hopefulness in the midst of such circumstances and trials? His hymn gives us a clue. “I trace the rainbow in the rain, and feel the promise is not vain” The rainbow image is not for him “If the Lord gives you lemons make lemonade” but a picture of the Lord’s commitment! It is a picture of the battle bow that appears when the skies are darkening and threaten to open up and flood the world again in judgment. But then we see that the battle bow is turned not towards us – but toward the Lord Himself!
Recently I preached a sermon on Galatians 6:9-10: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We can easily grow weary in doing good and there are various reasons for this. But one reason that we can easily grow weary in doing good is because we sow and sow and sow and sow and we hardly see any fruit, if any at all. And so, we grow impatient, frustrated and weary. And this is why Paul says in Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
“Don’t think that Sunday is when people are sanctified. Be prepared for a lifetime of ministry to your congregation, one where you will see them struggle with certain sins and shortcomings for years. Be prepared to labor at great lengths and be long-suffering. Over time, you will see Christ sanctify his people. It just probably won’t happen in one day as a result of one sermon.”
This is so true and yet so hard to remember. Pastors and Christians in general get easily discouraged in doing good to others because of the lack of fruit that they see for all of their sowing. But God’s Word encourages us that “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
“The harvest will come. It will come at the proper time, a time determined not by the seasons or the weather, but by the will of God. Whether it comes during this life or when Christ comes again (cf. 1 Tim. 6:15), the harvest will come in God’s own good time. In due season, those who do good will reap their reward. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).
Until the harvest comes, we must keep sowing. A good example of what it means to sow and then to wait for the reaping comes from the life of William Carey, the first modern missionary to India. From the day that he arrived on the subcontinent in 1793, Carey began to teach the Bible to anyone who would listen. This he continued to do for the next seven years without winning so much as a single convert to Christ. Not surprisingly, Carey sometimes got discouraged. On one occasion he wrote back to his family in England: “I feel as a farmer does about his crop: sometimes I think the seed is springing, and thus I hope; a little time blasts all, and my hopes are gone like a cloud. They were only weeds which appeared; or if a little corn sprung up, it quickly dies, being either choked with weeds, or parched up by the sun of persecution. Yet I still hope in God, and will go forth in his strength.” Though he sometimes grew weary in doing good, Carey refused to give up. In 1800 he finally began to reap what he had sown, baptizing his first Hindu convert in the Ganges River. This was the firstfruits of a great harvest among the Indian people.
Or consider another example, this one from the colony of Virginia. It concerns the conversion of a man named Luke Short at the ripe old age of 103. Short was sitting under a hedge when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel (d. 1691). As he recalled the sermon, he asked God right then and there to forgive his sins through Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, this inscription was put on his tombstone: “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”
But here is the remarkable part of the story: The sermon Short remembered had been preached by Flavel back in England eighty-five years before! Nearly a century had passed between the sermon and the conversion, between the sowing and the reaping. But a man reaps what he sows, and at the proper time Flavel reaped his harvest.
This is a reminder not to evaluate ministry on the basis of immediate results. Too many churches, especially in America, want to taste the fruits of their labours the day they are planted. Yet most spiritual produce takes time to grow. A long time. Often it takes years before parents, teachers, or ministers are able to see their work pay off. “Be patient, therefore, brothers,” wrote the apostle James, “until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”” (James 5:7-8).
And so, if you have grown weary in “doing good. . .to everyone, especially those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 5:9-10), remember these words from the Apostle Paul “for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 5:9). In thankfulness for God’s grace to you in Christ, sow faithfully and wait patiently for the harvest.
Here is a beautiful meditation on unfulfilled prayer from James and Joel Beeke in their book, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing With God. There are 31 chapters/meditations and each one is so short that it is a great daily devotional to read through in one month. This particular mediation on “Unfulfilled Prayer” is so good that I just have to quote the whole thing for your encouragement. It will also give you an idea for about how long each mediation is:
I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan. . .and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. . .Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. (Deuteronomy 3:25a, 26b, 27)
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Moses’ prayer was legitimate. After forty years of leading the children of Israel through all the trials, difficulties, and setbacks they encountered in the wilderness, he now longed to rejoice in God’s fulfillment; he desired to actually enter and see the land of Canaan. But the Lord denied his request because of his own act of anger and unbelief in smiting the rock twice. Though God forgave Moses, He said to him, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.”
Paul’s request was also legitimate. He experienced a constant thorn in the flesh, a handicap or impediment, and he asked God to remove it. Perhaps Paul thought he could serve the Lord more effectively if it was gone. But God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” In Paul’s case, we read of no sin connected to God’s lack of response.
These are biblical examples that legitimate prayers, proper requests, and fitting petitions can remain unfulfilled. It is possible that our prayers for wayward sons of daughters, for more effective gifts to serve, or for the healing of a loved one remain unfulfilled. Legitimate prayers may remain unfulfilled prayers. Such experiences can hand as a cloud over our spiritual lives. Everything begins to look darker and feel colder. We can become depressed, coming to wrong conclusions like, “All my prayers are fruitless,” or “I must not be a child of God because my prayer is not answered.” Both of these conclusions are mistaken. Remember that despite these examples of unfulfilled prayers, Moses and Paul were true children of God and many of their prayers were answered.
If our prayers do not obtain the benefits we desire, this does not necessarily mean that they are fruitless. Unfulfilled prayer can serve as a means to produce far deeper and more valuable benefits than those we originally requested. Unfulfilled prayer can teach us patience and contentment, surrendering and bowing before God. Moses did not rebelliously ascend Mount Nebo to look despairingly at the land and resentfully to die there. No, God was glorified more by Moses’ response to his unfulfilled prayer than if it had been answered in the way he desired. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to exercise the soul and produce greater reliance upon God. Paul confessed, “When I am weak (in self), then am I strong (in the Lord)” (2 Cor. 12:10b). Whatever his thorn was, it kept him humble and dependent upon the Lord. Do you see how God provided richer experiences to Paul by not granting his request? The Lord can use unfulfilled prayer to work deeper fulfillment, rest, and trust in God. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” A craftsman will be more glorified when he produces beautiful art with imperfect tools. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to teach us humility and dependency, to trust more in God and less in self. Unfulfilled prayer can loosen our attachment to man and temporal things.
Do you understand how unfulfilled prayer can produce rich, fulfilling purposes? And how fruitless prayer can serve a fruitful purpose? The difficulty lies with our vision. We often have our eyes on more shallow, temporary results and fruits. God’s vision is deeper; he aims for eternal results and fruits. Moses’ eye and prayer were focused upon earthly Canaan, which God denied; from Mt. Nebo, however, God took him into the heavenly Canaan. Paul desired that his temporary thorn be removed, but God gave him grace to bear it, and in the end Paul entered God’s rest where all thorns are removed.
When considering unfulfilled prayers, let us remember that God’s “no’s” are often deeper “yes’s.” We may view unfulfilled prayer as receiving a no answer from God, but He may be providing deeper answers. The Lord can fulfill much through unfulfilled prayer, to His glory and to our amazement.” (pp. 70-72).
I recently preached on Genesis 13 where Abram faces a test that is just the opposite of the test he faced in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12 he faced a test of adversity, namely famine. There we see Abram struggling to walk by faith. After just receiving God’s amazing promises to him in Gen. 12:1-9, He fails to trust God’s promises and to call upon the name of the Lord when famine comes his way. It’s as if he has already forgotten those promises and immediately goes into survival mode in order to fix things himself. He walks by sight in Gen. 12 and gets himself into an even worse situation when the Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife. But regardless of his faithlessness, God is faithful to his servant Arbam and the promises that he made to him. He brings him out of Egypt with his wife and family and incredible wealth. But then when he returns to the promised land he faces another test, a test of prosperity. Now he has too much stuff. The land where Abram and Lot are dwelling cannot support the both of them and so Abram gives Lot a generous offer to have a share in the promised land. But Lot looks up and sees that the Jordan Valley, which is either outside the promised land or just on the border, looks better than the promised land. And so, instead of choosing the promised land and trusting God’s promises, Lot now walks by sight and head’s towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram remains in the land of Canaan trusting God’s promises by faith. Commenting on Lot’s choice in this episode, R. Kent Hughes writes:
“Lot was the kind of man who would certainly choose Heaven over Hell if given the choice, but not Heaven over earth. Material prosperity was the bottom line. He was the example of believers who choose professions for their children or encourage marriages that will elevate the family’s prosperity and power–with no thought of what it will do to their soul and the souls of their children. Lot’s descendants testify to this as they became enemies of God’s people.” (Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, 201)
It is indeed a tragic thing to see God’s covenant people in the church today making choices like Lot’s based merely on what they see rather than walking by faith and trusting God’s Word. Besides what R. Kent Hughes mentions, I think of those who move their family for a great job opportunity with no regard for whether or not there is a faithful church in that area for their family to worship at. Or I think of the person who takes a great job opportunity locally with no regard for whether or not it will allow them to attend to the public means of grace on Sunday. I also think of parents who allow their children to miss the means of grace on the Lord’s Day in order to play in a sports tournament. They’d rather be prosperous in this world than walk by faith and place their hope in the glories of the age to come. Instead of trusting God’s Word which tells us that we need to be at church every week to worship Him and to receive his grace for the trials of this life, they choose to place their trust in money, job security, and social status.
O that God’s people would learn the lesson of Lot! Lot went from dwelling near Sodom (Gen. 13) to dwelling in Sodom (Gen. 14) to sitting in the gate of Sodom, most likely a reference to his status as some kind of a noble (Gen. 19), to giving his daughters to the men of Sodom in marriage (Gen. 19). Sodom was a place where the people were “wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). But Lot saw (like Eve saw) that it looked pleasant to the eyes and was a prosperous place. And so, he took the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And the consequences for his family were tragic.
In what ways is God challenging you to walk by faith instead of by sight? The truth is that we all need to learn the lesson of Lot over and over again because we all still fight against our old sin nature even though we are saints in Christ through faith. Do you not know that, not only the sufferings of this present age, but also the prosperity of this age is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed when Christ returns? (cf. Rom. 8:18). As John Newton once put it, “Savior, if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Thy Name. Fading is the worldlings’ pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” Amen!
(If you’d like to hear my sermon on Genesis 13, “The Life of Faith After Failure,” that inspired this post you can listen to it here under “morning sermons.”)
Here is a sermon I just preached on Genesis 12:10-20 called “The Struggle to Walk by Faith.” You can listen to it at our church web-site here. I hope it encourages whoever reads it or listens to it. I was greatly encouraged meditating on God’s faithfulness to Abram and preaching this text from God’s Word.
Well last week we saw how God is faithful to his promises to his people. We saw this in that he preserved Shem’s line all the way down to Abram, the one who would be blessed by God and be a blessing to all the nations. In spite of the rebellion at Babel and the dispersion of the nations, God graciously chose to call Abram out of the world so that he might continue his redemptive plan to unite one people under his great name. And we saw how even though it was a simple call, it was a very difficult call for Abram. You’ll remember that Abram was in his seventies, and God asked him to leave his country, his people, and his family and to go to an unknown land. But even though this would be a very difficult call to obey, God promised Abram: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). So Abram responded to these promise in faith and obeyed God’s call. He went to the land of Canaan where he began to build altars to the LORD and worship him as a pilgrim in the land. And so, we were left last week with a picture of Abram’s remarkable faith and obedience, one that challenged us to have faith in God’s promises and to live thankful lives as well. But this week we get to see a different side of Abram. We get to see that as great as he was last week, he’s not much different from you in me in that he struggles to continually walk by faith and trust God’s promises. And so, notice with me our theme: The Struggle to Walk by Faith. And we’ll see this as we look at the following two points from our text: 1. Abram’s Failure; 2. God’s Faithfulness
1. Abram’s Failure
Our story begins with v. 10 where we read: Now there was a famine in the land. So here is Abram and he has just arrived in the promised land and immediately his faith is put to the test. God promised him a land and a people. And not only is Sarai barren, but now the land is barren as well. No doubt this would have been a great test for Abram’s faith. He has God’s promises, and yet what he sees is a land that can’t support him and his family. And so, what is he to do? Well he does the most natural thing one could do. He starts looking around for a place where HE can provide for his family. We go on to read in v. 10: So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It’s stressed that the famine is real. And so, it’s not just that he’s tired of eating the same old meal for dinner, it’s that he and his family are really starting to go hungry. And the future is uncertain. But he sees that there is food in Egypt and so he figures Egypt is his only certainty of survival.
But what is wrong with this picture? What is Abram forgetting? He’s forgetting God’s promises. It’s not that it’s such a bad idea to go to Egypt to get food for his family. Later in Genesis when there is a famine in the land, God will provide for Jacob and his family in Egypt through Joshua. But here, Abram is pictured as having no regard for God’s promises as they aren’t even mentioned. You see, he hasn’t denied God, he’s just forgotten about Him. It seems as though he has bought into the philosophy that “God helps those who help themselves.” And often it’s the case in the Old Testament that going down to Egypt is the alternative to trusting in the LORD, and we see that here. He doesn’t call on the name of the LORD. Abram’s not really walking by faith in God’s promises here. Rather, he is walking by sight. He sees that the grass is greener in Egypt and so he turns his back on the promised land, at least temporarily, and heads south to Egypt. No doubt it was a natural choice, but not a wise one. Because immediately God’s whole promise is placed in jeopardy. Remember, God promised him not only a land but also a people. And through his offspring all the nations would be blessed. But Abram put’s these promises in jeopardy not only by leaving the land of promise but by his plan when he gets to Egypt.
Notice his plan in v. 11 and following: “When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”
So Abram, is worried about being killed when he gets to Egypt because his wife is beautiful and surely the Egyptians will want her as a wife (i.e. his philosophy is “better defiled than dead”). Now, you may be wondering about Sarai’s beauty because she is sixty five at this point in her life. And so, you may be thinking would the Egyptians really find her so attractive? But we have to remember at least two things here. First: the standards of beauty in the Ancient Near East are not necessarily the same standards that we have today. And secondly: remember that the patriarch’s and their wives had a longer lifespan than we do today. Sarai lives to be 127 years old. And so, she may have been more like the equivalent of a thirty or forty year old woman today.
Either way, Abram is greatly worried about this. And so, his plan is to be deceptive by telling a half-truth about his wife. It was true that Sarai was Abram’s half-sister as we find out later in Gen. 20:12, but he’s not being completely honest here. But once again this seems to be the natural choice according to human wisdom. His fears are not completely unfounded as it was common in those days for men to take wives, especially evil rulers, even as we saw with the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. Later, even King David would commit such an evil act when he sinned with Bathsheba and disposed of her husband. And so, he has good reason to be afraid. And even though it appears that he is willing to give up his wife in order to save his own skin, it may just be that he sees it as a way to stall so that they both can escape later. Remember that Laban, who was the brother of Leah and Rachel, was pretty good at stalling when it came to giving his sisters in marriage, so that Jacob would end up working for him for 14 years. And so, it may be that he is totally selfish here, or that he has a plan for him and Sarai to escape later.
Either way, once again, Abram is forgetting that the God whom he served was greater than his problems. God didn’t need Abram to help him fulfill his promises. God said: “I WILL make of you a great nation, and I WILL bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I WILL bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I WILL curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And then when Abram arrived at the promised land God said: “To your offspring I WILL give this land.” So God never mentioned to Abram, “I’ll do my part if you’ll do yours.” He simply said, “this is what I am going to do. Now, just trust me, and you’ll see me do even the impossible for you, in order to keep my Word” because nothing is impossible with God and nothing can ultimately thwart his promises.
Now how does this relate to you and me today? Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? According to the New Testament those who have faith in Christ, are children of Abraham and are heirs according to the same promises (Galatians 3). Only we have even greater reason to trust God. Abram saw these promises in seed form but we have received the promises in full flower. We see the big picture of Christ’s incarnation, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his future return. And so we rejoice in the following promises of God in Christ:
Eph. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
Rom. 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
1Pet. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
We have such sweet and precious promises in God’s Word. In Jesus Christ, all of the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen”. And yet, like Abram, we so easily struggle to walk by faith, and we walk by sight instead. What is it in your life right now that is causing you to doubt or forget God’s promises? Is it something at work that is troubling you, perhaps a co-worker that get’s on your nerves, perhaps your computer crashed and you lost a bunch of files, perhaps your boss is always so negative. Or is it family drama? Perhaps your parents are domineering, perhaps your children are so rebellious, perhaps your brother or sister always teases you. Or is it that you are single and are struggling with loneliness? The list could go on and on. What is it right now that you are struggling with? We all go through trials in the Christian life. And when we go through trials like this it tests our faith. And we tend to go into survival mode (what am I going to do to get myself out of this mess?) before we cast all of our anxieties upon the Lord in prayer and trust in his promises by faith. But God allows us to go through trials for a good purpose. It’s not that we are to view these things as good circumstances in and of themselves, but that we are to trust that God has a good purpose behind all of our trials. This is what God’s Word teaches us:
James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Rom. 5:3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
You see trials mature us in the faith. They cause us to come to the end of ourselves and to trust God and to look to Him alone for grace. They wean us from putting our trust in idols, whether it be our own strength, money, sex, power, you name it. God brings us through trials so that we might give up on our idols, trust in him alone for joy and peace, and it increases our hope of heaven.
And so, in the midst of the trials of your life, you need to cling to God’s promises by faith and cast all of your anxieties upon him because he cares for you. Jesus encourages us in Matthew 6 that God cares for us as a Father cares for his children. And so, we need not be anxious about our life ultimately. Paul tells us in Rom. 8: “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. . .31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?. . .38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Beloved, you can trust your heavenly Father, that behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In Psalm 66 the Psalmist records: 10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; 12 you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. And so, trust that God is always with you in trials and is for you in Christ. He has brought you to a place of abundance in Christ and one day you will no longer walk by faith but will walk by sight in the new heavens and new earth. God is always faithful to his promises. And we see God’s Faithfulness in our text:
2. God’s Faithfulness
Abram carries out his plan as we go on to read, but what happens is not what he had expected. He probably figured that just some joe schmoe Egyptian would want Sarai as a wife. But we read: “14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.” WHOA! So Pharaoh ends up taking Sarai into his house to be a part of his harem. This is not what Abram had planned. No way can he expect to negotiate and stall with Pharaoh himself and later escape with Sarai. Sarai is now destined to live as one of Pharaoh’s many wives and to be buried in Egypt as a mummy. Abram’s plan was NOT A-Team caliber. He wouldn’t be able to say like Hannibal, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Rather, this was a disaster. And Sarai is probably sitting in Pharoah’s palace thinking, “Great plan honey! Now what!”
However, besides this unexpected tragedy, he unexpectedly prospers. Because he just gave up his sister to the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh is so pleased, Abram becomes rich: “16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” Now, female donkeys and camels might not seem all that great to us today, other than at the zoo, but as one commentator notes, “female donkeys were far more controllable and dependable for riding and therefore the ride of choice for the rich. . .the camels (note the plural) had just been introduced as domesticated animals and were a rarity. . .prestige symbols for show by the rich, not for utililty.” And so, this commentator notes that, in modern terms it’s as if he’s given multiple BMW’s in the female donkeys and multiple Ferari’s in the camels, and this on top of all the food and male ad female servants! (R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, 193)
So in spite of Abram’s lack of trust and deceitfulness he’s inundated with these luxuirious gifts, while Sarai is probably freaking out as she hangs out with Pharaohs harem. And as great as these gifts were, they would only be a reminder to Abram of the loss of his wife and they would pale in comparison to the eternal blessings that God had promised him.
But the good news for Abram is that God wasn’t about to let his promises go unfulfilled right after calling Abram. And so, he sovereignly and graciously intervenes to save Abram from his faithlessness and the mess that he has got himself into. We read in v. 17: “But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” So much for being a blessing to the nations! Because of Abram’s failure to trust God’s promises he ends up bringing a plague on Pharaoh and his household (literally a skin disease).
Now at this point in the narrative you should start to notice that there are a lot of similarities here with Israel. Remember that later in Genesis it will be because of a famine that Jacob and his twelve sons and their family all end up in Egypt. And even though it’s good at first, eventually they’ll be stuck in Egypt, afflicted by the Egyptians. But God will plague the Egyptians with the 10 plagues. The Egyptians then let them go with great wealth and so they travel back to the land and eventually make it back and worship the LORD in the promised land. All of these things Abram goes through here. And not only does he go through it here, he’s going to go through it again (Gen. 20) and Isaac his son will go through the same experience as well (Gen. 26). All of this foreshadows the Exodus account. In the Bible God’s people are constantly learning to trust God and that God is faithful to his promises to save and preserve his people and his promised land. And the Israelites would have received great comfort from these accounts of the patriarchs. They would have seen that God is faithful to His promises in every generation.
One difference however in this story is that unlike the Pharaoh that Moses faces, this Pharaoh quickly realizes what is going on and releases his captive after one plague. Abram doesn’t even have to tell him, “Let my Sarai go!” God simply sends a plague and Pharaoh is ready to let her go immediately. In fact, he rebukes Abram: “18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 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.” Literally he says in four Hebrew words, “here. . .wife. . .take. . .go” (virtually the same words that the Pharaoh will say to Moses, Ex. 12:31-32). The abruptness expresses his anger and frustration. And Abram’s silence in the matter indicates that he knows that he is guilty.
And so, we read in v. 20: “Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.” It’s really remarkable that he didn’t just kill Abram for wronging him. This would have easily been worthy of death in those days. But Pharaoh knows, that God is with Abram, and so in spite of Abram’s lack of trust, in spite of his deceitfulness, in spite of him putting the whole plan of God in jeopardy, he is able to leave Egypt alive, with his wife and with a bounty of luxurious goods. In fact he goes from severe famine in Genesis 12:10 to severe riches in Genesis 13:2 (the same Hebrew word is used to describe each situation, highlighting the reversal of his circumstances).
Beloved, do you not see how AMAZING God’s grace is to Abram? Is this not a perfect picture of 2 Tim. 2:13?: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” Now that shouldn’t lead us to test God and to have a sinful attitude that says, “well, I can do whatever I want, because God will bless me regardless.” That’s not the point of this story. In fact, it’s worth noting that Abram’s new found wealth will bring more drama to his life later. We’ll see this first in the drama with Lot’s herdsmen and then later with the Egyptian Hagar, whom he most likely acquired here. And so, we shouldn’t test God and think it’s ok then to just live however we want. Rather, it’s his kindness that is meant to lead us to repentance and to a greater amount of trust in Him.
And doesn’t the faithfulness of God in spite of your sins and failures comfort you? It comforts me to know that even when I screw up royally, God will not abandon his promises to me in Christ. I can continue to trust God and walk by faith. The only thing that causes us to worry and fear in this life is when we start to doubt or forget God’s promises and to walk by sight. But beloved, NOTHING will ever separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our LORD. Your God is a promise-keeping God. He made a promise in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would one day crush the serpents head. He made promises to Abram that he would bless him and give him a people and a land. And he made promises to you in Christ that he would never leave you nor forsake you. And he is always faithful to his promises.
And you can be sure of that because of Jesus. Jesus is the one who perfectly trusted his Father’s will. He too went down to Egypt when Herod tried to kill him so that the prophesy would be fulfilled “our of Egypt I have called my Son” (Matt. 2:7-15). And he is the perfect servant of the LORD who always trusted his Father’s will. When he was hungry for forty days in the wilderness, and Satan tempted him to forsake his Father’s will and to take short cuts to glory, he resisted by trusting and obeying God’s Word (Matt. 4:1-11). Instead of turning stones into bread he said, “man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Later he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). And yet, it wasn’t easy for him. He didn’t just face hunger. He faced rejection and ridicule, he faced sorrow and grief, he would be mocked and tortured and ultimately die on a cross as a criminal and suffer the wrath of God, even though he was innocent and without sin. But he continued to trust his Father through it all. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2: “22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
And he did it, so that if you have faith in his person and work you might be forgiven for all the times that you and I have failed to trust God’s promises and have gone ahead in sinful survival mode. And because of his life, death and resurrection, you are now viewed by God in Christ as one who has always trusted and obeyed. And therefore, he will never leave you nor forsake you. He forsook his only begotten Son on the cross and purchased you as his adopted child so that he will never forsake you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, so too will he raise you and me on the last day when Christ returns in glory to deliver us from all of our trials and tribulations!
What are we to do in the mean time? We are to look to Jesus and trust God’s promises to us in Christ. We are to walk by faith and not by sight. We are to walk in hope. And we are to walk in love towards God and each other because of the love that he has shown us in Christ. We’ve gone from severe famine to severe riches in Christ. And so, expect trials to come your way in the Christian life. Don’t be surprised! Rather trust God’s promises to you in Christ and walk in faith, hope and love, because nothing will ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!