Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.
I. THE PRESSURE OF EARTHLY NECESSITIES FORMS THE OCCASION OF THE SOJOURN IN EGYPT. We are not told that Abram was sent by Divine direction amongst the temptations of the South; still there is providential protection even where there is not entire Divine approval. The Lord suffers his people to mingle with the world for their trial, and out of the evil brings ultimate good. Abram went for corn, but obtained much more - the wealth and civilization of Egypt.
II. SOJOURN IN THE MIDST OF WORLDLY POWER GENERALLY INVOLVES SOME COMPROMISE OF SPIRITUAL LIBERTY, some lowering of spiritual principle. Jehovah's servant condescends to prevarication and dissembling not for protection only, but "that it may be well with him." The danger to Sarai and to Abram was great. All compromise is danger.
III. IN THE SUBORDINATE SPHERE OF SOCIAL MORALITY THERE HAVE BEEN MANY INSTANCES OF CONSCIENCE ACTING MORE POWERFULLY WHERE THE LIGHT OF TRUTH HAS SHONE LESS CLEARLY. Pharaoh was a heathen, but he compares to advantage with Abram. Notice that these early plagues of Egypt mentioned in ver. 17 were very different from the later, although they illustrate the same truth, that by means of judgments God preserves his people and carries forward his kingdom, which is the truth exhibited in every apocalypse.
IV. The dismission of the little company of believers from Egypt was AT THE SAME TIME JUDGMENT AND MERCY. The beginning of that sojourn was wrong, the end of it was disgraceful. A short stay among the world's temptations will leave its results among the people of God, as the subsequent history testifies. Abram became very rich, but his riches had been wrongly obtained. There was trouble in store for him. God's method is to perfect his people not apart from their own character and ways, but by the gracious ordering of their history, so that while good and evil are mingled together, good shall yet ultimately be triumphant. - R.
Abram went down into Egypt.
I. THEY MAY ARISE FROM TEMPORAL CALAMITIES. Famine.
1. They direct the whole care and attention of the mind to themselves.
2. They may suggest doubt in the Divine providence.
3. They serve to give us an exaggerated estimate of past trials.
II. THEY MAY ARISE FROM THE DIFFICULTY OF APPLYING THE PRINCIPLES OF RELIGION TO THE MORAL PROBLEMS OF LIFE.
1. We may be tempted to have recourse to false prudence and expediency.
2. We are exposed to the sin of tempting Providence.
3. We may be tempted to preserve one good at the expense of another.
4. They may tempt us to hesitate concerning what is right.
III. THEY ARE MADE THE MEANS OF IMPRESSING VALUABLE MORAL LESSONS. Abram would learn many lessons from his bitter experience in Egypt.
1. That man cannot by his own strength and wisdom maintain and direct his own life.
2. That adverse circumstances may be made to work for good.
3. That a good man may fail in his chief virtue.
IV. GOD IS ABLE TO DELIVER FROM THEM ALL. When a man has the habitual intention of pleasing God, and when his faith is real and heart sincere, the lapses of his infirmity are graciously pardoned. God makes for him a way of escape, and grants the comfort of fresh blessings and an improved faith. But —
1. God often delivers His people in a manner humiliating to themselves.
2. God delivers them by a way by which His own name is glorified in the sight of men.
(T. H. Leale.)
2. But, secondly, the meeting of Abraham and Pharaoh — the contact of Egypt with the Bible — remind us forcibly that there is something better and higher even than the most glorious, or the most luxurious, or the most powerful, or the most interesting sights and scenes of the world, even at its highest pitch, here or elsewhere. Whose name or history is now best remembered? Is it that of Pharaoh, or of the old Egyptian nation? No. It is the name of the shepherd, as he must have seemed, who came to seek his fortunes here as a stranger and sojourner. Much or little as we, or our friends at home, rich or poor, may know or care about Egypt, we all know and care about Abraham. It is his visit, and the visit of his descendants, that gives to Egypt its most universal interest. So it is with the world at large, of which, as I have said, in these old days Egypt was the likeness. Who is it that, when years are gone by, we remember with the purest gratitude and pleasure? Not the learned, or the clever, or the rich, or the powerful, that we may have known in our passage through life; but those who, like Abraham, have had the force of character to prefer the future to the present — the good of others to their own pleasure.
Homilist.I. THAT LIFE CAN BE TOO DEARLY PURCHASED.
1. When truth is sacrificed for its safety.
2. When the purity of others is exposed to danger.
3. When injustice is done to others.
4. When every ether thought becomes subordinate to this.
II. THAT THE DIVINE IS THE ONLY STANDARD WHICH DETERMINES THE VALUE OF LIFE.
1. We shall then realize that its existence depends on God.
2. That the strength of life is in God.
3. That its true prosperity is from God.
4. That through God it can be restored to Canaan.
II. THE FAILURE OF ABRAHAM'S CARNAL POLICY.
The Preacher's Monthly.1. Here is faith in conflict with natural disappointment. "There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there."
2. Faith is here in conflict with, and is overcome by, fear and affection. "He said unto Sarai his wife, Behold, I know that thou art a fair woman," etc.
3. Faith is here seen in conflict with a false expediency. "Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister," etc.
(The Preacher's Monthly.)
The Congregational Pulpit.I. ABRAHAM'S CONDUCT.
1. His trouble. Famine.
2. He has recourse to Egypt. The granary of the world at that time.
3. His danger and device.
4. His dishonour.
1. What a lesson on the weakness and treachery of the human heart!
2. We are taught to expect trouble in our Christian life.
3. We see here the temptation to a false and worldly policy.
4. We see the evils of trimming and temporizing.
(The Congregational Pulpit.)I. HERE IS A MYSTERY. "The famine was grievous in the land" — so it begins. And yet Abraham was in the land to which God had called him, and where God had promised to bless him. What does it mean — "the famine was grievous in the land"? That it should be counted a mystery shows how blind we are, and how shallow and selfish are our thoughts of God's holy religion. Hardship, difficulty, even famine is accepted readily enough by many men whose aims are to be reached by such endurance. The athlete in his training, the soldier in his calling, the man of science in his search for truth, the student in his work, all accept such sturdy self-denial as the condition of success. What science, and art, and love of travel can stimulate other men to endure, cannot our holy religion and the vision of God inspire us to accept and rejoice in? Or the benefactor sends the boy to sea, forth to wild storms, the boy that his mother screened, and for whom she made endless sacrifices — now amidst this rough set, tossed on angry waves, exposed to dangers on every hand. Shall they not pity him? But what shall they say now, as the surgeon bends in some work of mercy which the angels might envy — brave, skilful, unerring? Or what now, as the captain takes his place, alert and wise, rendering splendid service to a host of people? There was a famine in the land — why? Because God hath forgotten Abraham? No. Because God hath said, "I will bless thee;...and thou shalt be a blessing"; and because here, as everywhere else, hardship and stern discipline have their place and their work to do. God hath spoken it, and He knows full well how to keep His own promise. Think of the captain to whom we should say, "Sir, do you know what to do in a storm?" "No," says the captain, "I do not; I am thankful to say that I have been always kept in the harbour in very smooth water." What think you of a doctor to whom one should say, "Do you know what to do in case of fever, or in a serious accident?" "No," he replies, "I do not; I have happily never been permitted to deal with anything worse than an occasional chilblain, or a sick headache!" I should prefer another captain, another doctor, and should wonder how they got their names. O soul! dost thou know what God can be to one in trouble? "Ah!" thou sayest, "until then I never knew what God was; how tender and gracious, how mighty to uphold, how good to deliver!"
II. HERE IS A GREAT COMPENSATION. "And the Canaanite was then in the land"; "And there was a famine in the land"; "And the Lord appeared unto Abram." Did visions of a goodly land "flowing with milk and honey" fill the mind of Abraham? a land where annoyance should cease, and life should be a leisurely enjoyment; where everything should fit exactly into one's desires? If so, his was a bitter disappointment. What was the use of parting with a pleasant place like Haran for a land like this? And as for leaving a respectable set of people like our friends there, to live amidst the Canaanites — it was really a great mistake. Even faithful Sarai, thinking of the fertile slopes of Haran and the kindred, might sometimes sigh and say in her heart, "Was it worth while to come so far and to give up so much for this?" If land, and cattle and flocks and gain be all, he has made a bad bargain. But had not the God of Glory appeared to him, saying, "I will bless thee;...thou shalt be a blessing"? It was because God was more to him than flocks and herds that Abraham is here; and because God is more to him than all else he will dwell here still. The sweet promise rang in his soul. That satisfied him and silenced his doubts. If thus God is going to keep His promise, by Canaanite and famine, it is all right. Abraham has not to teach God how to be as good as His word; and with Him he has all things. "And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him." Lot saw the Canaanite and the famine, and thought it was a poor place. Abraham saw God. O blessed land, thrice blessed, where my God doth appear to me and speak so comfortably! By this everything was settled and determined. Which was counted best and dearest — the gift, or the Giver? God, or the land? Life will always be a mystery and a distraction if God be not ever first and only first. My sure possession is in God. That is the Blessed Life.
III. HERE IS A FALL. "And Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there." Certainly Abraham had no business to be in Egypt. Egypt is ever the type of the world that knows not God, out of which God calls His Son. And the one incident which is recorded of Abraham there, as well as that which is not recorded, makes us feel that he is out of his place. Alas! here there is no room for an altar; and no opportunity for communion with God. Here is wanting the record that Abraham pitched his tent and builded his altar. Here it is not written that Abraham called upon the name of the Lord. He could scarcely be alone! This silence is full of meaning. Abraham without his altar is Abraham shorn of his strength, weak as are others. Learn that many a man loses the blessed life in seeking to better his position. Never was there more need for strong words upon this matter than today, when changes are so easily made, and when unrest is in the very atmosphere. How many go down to Egypt in these times! there is a famine in the country. How many hundreds are there in London of whom it is true! I have known many man in the country, doing comfortably enough by hard work — a very pillar of the Church, the centre of an influence that was felt throughout the place, helpful to the neighbours and rich towards God — a life full of brightness and peace. Then, with the hope of making money, he came to London — a stranger. He found nothing to do in religious service; chiefly, I believe, because he did not look for it. And day after day he sank deeper and deeper in the clay, until he could not get out of it, trying very hard to keep a little religion alive; and that is the hardest thing in the world. Pride and greed and querulousness plagued him, and plagued those about him. Set the verses over against each other: "He builded an altar, and called on the name of the Lord, and there was a famine in the land"; "And Abram had sheep and oxen and he-asses, and men servants and maid servants, and she-asses and camels" — but no altar. Which was better: the famine with his God — the wealth without? Let us learn another lesson: That our safety is only in God. If any position could keep one from falling, Abraham might claim it — he to whom the God of Glory had appeared, to whom were spoken such "exceeding great and precious promises," in whom such sublime purposes awaited fulfilment, a man of such brave and triumphant faith. But that availed him nothing without his God. Our safety lies only in communion with God. No attainment leaves us independent. The old Puritans had a saying that a Christian was like a wine glass without a foot; though it be full it must still be held, or it will speedily be emptied. If our communion with God be disturbed, then is everything imperilled. If circumstances render that impossible, then is all lost. Our God alone is our "Refuge and Strength."
IV. THE RESTORATION. Abram returned unto the altar that he had builded at the first, and called upon the name of the Lord. The man of God makes but a poor worldling. He is spoiled for it. Of all people in Egypt, none is so unhappy as Abraham without his God. So true is it, in all conditions and of all variety of character, "Thou hast made me, O God, for Thyself; and my heart cannot rest until it rest in Thee!"
(M. G. Pearse.)1. The famine itself, being in the land of promise, must be a trial to him. Had he been of the spirit of the unbelieving spies in the time of Moses, he would have said, "Would God we had stayed at Haran, if not at Ur! Surely this is a land that eateth up the inhabitants." But thus far Abram sinned not.
2. The beauty of Sarai was another trial to him; and here he fell into the sin of dissimulation, or at least of equivocation. This was one of the first faults in Abram's life; and the worst of it is, it was repeated, as we shall see hereafter. It is remarkable that there is only one faultless character on record; and more so that in several instances of persons who have been distinguished for some one excellency, their principal failure has been in that particular. Such things would almost seem designed of God to stain the pride of all flesh, and to check all dependence upon the most eminent or confirmed habits of godliness.
3. Yet from all these trials, and from the difficulties into which he brought himself by his own misconduct, the Lord mercifully delivered him.
(A. Fuller.)1. Affliction to affliction, trial to trial, doth God knit sometimes for His believing saints.
2. Where His saints come, God sends sometimes heavy judgments, though not for their sakes.
3. A fruitful land is quickly made barren at the word of an angry God.
4. In midst of famine God opens a way for His believing saints to avoid the stroke.
5. Believers will turn no way but God's for their security and sustenance.
6. Saints desire but to sojourn in the world; for a little space to live here.
7. Grievous, prevailing judgments in a place are sometimes a call to God's servants to remove (ver. 10).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)1. Abram must have received a new impression regarding God's truth. It would seem that as yet he had no very clear idea of God's holiness. He had the idea of God which Mohammedans entertain, and past which they seem unable to get. He conceived of God as the Supreme Ruler; he had a firm belief in the unity of God and probably a hatred of idolatry and a profound contempt for idolaters. He believed that this Supreme God could always and easily accomplish His will, and that the voice that inwardly guided him was the voice of God. His own character had not yet been deepened and dignified by prolonged intercourse with God and by close observation of His actual ways; and so as yet he knows little of what constitutes the true glory of God. What he so painfully learned we must all learn, that God does not need lying for the attainment of His ends, and that double-dealing is always short-sighted and the proper precursor of shame.
2. But whether Abram fully learned this lesson or not, there can be little doubt that at this time he did receive fresh and abiding impressions of God's faithfulness and sufficiency. In Abram's first response to God's call he exhibited a remarkable independence and strength of character. This qualification for playing a great part in human affairs he undoubtedly had. But he had also the defects of his qualities. A weaker man would have shrunk from going into Egypt, and would have preferred to see his flocks dwindle rather than to take so venturesome a step. No such hesitations could trammel Abram's movements. He felt himself equal to all occasions. He left Egypt in a much more healthy state of mind, practically convinced of his own inability to work his way to the happiness God had promised him, and equally convinced of God's faithfulness and power to bring him through all the embarrassments and disasters into which his own folly and sin might bring him. His own confidence and management had placed God's promise in a position of extreme hazard; and without the intervention of God Abram saw that he could neither recover the mother of the promised seed nor return to the Land of Promise. He returned to Canaan humbled and very little disposed to feel confident in his own powers of managing in emergencies; but quite assured that God might at all times be relied on. He was convinced that God was not depending upon him, but he upon God. He saw that God did not trust to his cleverness and craft, no, nor even to his willingness to do and endure God's will, but that He was trusting in Himself, and that by His faithfulness to His own promise, by His watchfulness and providence, He would bring Abram through all the entanglements caused by his own poor ideas of the best way to work out God's ends and attain to His blessing.
(M. Dods, D. D.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)Christian character: — Seaweed plants, which live near the surface of the water, are green, whereas those in lower beds of the sea assume deeper shades of rich olive, and down in the depths still below, far removed from worldly glare, and where no human eye can penetrate, these flowers of ocean are clothed with hues of splendour. Abram's surface qualities do not look so very attractive, mingling as they do with human defect. But the deeper down we gaze into the moral depths of his being, the fairer are the flowers blooming there. Gazing into the clear tranquil depths of Abram's spirit, far removed from worldly glare or natural discernment, we behold richly-coloured graces and virtues.
(W. Adamson.)1. Approach to danger hastens on temptation upon God's own eminent ones.
2. Places of refuge may prove places of danger and distress to God's own.
3. Fear may overtake believers and weaken faith in times of danger.
4. Fear may put saints upon carnal Consultations for their security.
5. Beauty is a shrewd snare for them that have it, and them that love it (ver. 11).
6. Lust is baited with beauty to the violation of nearest bonds, even between husband and wife.
7. Raging lust is cruel even to destroy any that hinders it.
8. Lust spares its darling, and favours it, only to abuse it (ver. 12).
9. Believers may be so tempted as to make lies their refuge, and dissemble.
10. Self-good and security may put the faithful upon bad shifts to compass it, so here; but as a way-mark to avoid it (ver. 13).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
( W. Gurnall..)
The Pulpit Analyst.No doubt Sarai was Abram's step-sister; their father was the same, not their mother. Allowing the fullest consideration to this point, still Abram's character falls very deeply. "O that he had died when he built the altar!" we may be inclined to exclaim. Have there not been times in our own history when we have uttered the same exclamation? Had we been caught up into heaven in some ecstatic mood of devotion, we should have been saved from this sin and from that. Why were we spared, when God must have foreseen that our very next act was to be one of dishonour? Spared to sin! There are two practical points of great importance: —
I. AVOID EQUIVOCATION. It is not enough to tell the truth, we must tell the whole truth. There are men whose life seems to be one long experiment of trying how near they can go to the boundary line without becoming positive liars. There is a very minute particle of truth in what they say; and to that particle they trust for acquittal should their integrity be impugned. Few of us surely are liars — deliberate, scheming, confirmed liars; but how many of us are innocent of equivocation, of fine-spun attempts to give a word two different meanings, of saying a little and keeping back much, of saying sister when we ought to say wife?
II. TRUST GOD WITH THE PARTICULAR AS WELL AS WITH THE GENERAL. Abram had undoubtedly great faith. Abram could trust God for the end, but he took part of the process into his own keeping. So difficult is it to let God govern little things as well as great — to take care of one's home as well as one's heaven. Could God not have taken care of Sarai? Did He not, in fact, after all, take care of her and deliver her? But we cannot give up our own little foolish ingenuities; we stand amazed before our own shallow profundities, and think how grand they are. More than this, we shelter ourselves behind such words as "prudence," "due care," and "proper precaution." Where is the perfect faith which God requires, and never fails to honour? What a humiliation for Abram, to stand before Pharaoh, and to be rebuked for a mean and childish artifice! And, on the other hand, how honourable to human nature to act as Pharaoh acted! One thing, however, is to be borne in mind, and that is, that religion is never the cause of any man doing a mean thing. Do not blame Christianity because professing Christians act dishonourably; they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ; they crucify the Son of God afresh!
(The Pulpit Analyst.)I. THE FAILURE OF ABRAM'S FAITH. Doubtless the Lord intended by this famine in the Land of Promise to subject the faith of His servant to a serious test. We do not read that the patriarch asked counsel of "Jehovah who appeared unto him," and his neglect to do so was probably the point at which he went wrong. Unhappily he still "looked at the things which are seen," and lost for a season his perfect confidence in the guardian care of God.
II. THE WORLDLY DEVICE WHICH HE ADOPTED.
1. To call his wife his sister was deceitful; it was a mean equivocation — that sort of half-truth which is the most dastardly and sometimes the most dangerous of lies.
2. Abram's policy was cowardly; it was adopted as a means of selfishly insuring his own life against those in Egypt who might account murder a less heinous crime than adultery; when he ought instead to have bravely trusted, as heretofore, in the Divine presence and protection.
3. And his device was cruel; it involved elements of serious wrong to Sarai, for it constituted her a partner in the falsehood, and exposed her honour to serious perils while it also laid a snare in the way of the Egyptians. But the cunning device was a failure.
III. THE PUNISHMENT WHICH OVERTOOK HIM. When Sarai was removed from him into the royal harem, Abram must have suffered the torture of an accusing conscience, as well as intense anxiety on account of the danger to his wife, the future mother of the promised seed.
IV. GOD'S GRACIOUS INTERVENTION ON HIS BEHALF. Abram has sinned; but he is a man of God still, and the Lord "will not deal with him after his sin."1. "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isaiah 2:22). The best of men are but men at the best.
2. Eminent saints sometimes lamentably fail even in their most marked excellences of character. As here with Abram, so it was afterwards with Moses, with David, with Peter.
3. Honesty is the best policy.
4. Holy Scripture recognizes personal beauty as a good gift of God, although one not unattended with danger. None of the sacred writers countenance a gloomy monachism.
5. The simple candour of this narrative in not concealing the faults of its hero is an attestation of its truthfulness.
6. "Morality is not religion; but unless religion is grafted on morality, religion is worth nothing" (F.W. Robertson).
7. How gentle and forbearing the Lord is with the moral infirmities of His people! He "blots out their transgressions for His own sake, and will not remember their sins."
(Charles Jerdan, M. A. , LL. B.)
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)1. Sometimes what unbelief feareth, cometh to pass in the very time and place expected.
2. Unclean hearts love to gaze where lust may be satisfied.
3. Eminency of beauty God can give in old age (ver. 14).
4. The greatest beauty may bring the greatest danger.
5. High places make men bold sometimes to commit high sins.
6. Courts of wicked kings are usually schools of uncleanness.
7. God suffers chastest souls sometimes to be tempted in such places.
8. It is a grievous temptation to be under the power of a lustful king (ver. 15).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)1. God's help useth not to be far off from the extremities of His servants.
2. Great plagues are near to great sins.
3. God is the only Protector of the innocency and chastity of His saints.
4. God will reprove and punish the proudest of kings and princes for His people (Psalm 105:12).
5. God's plagues are the speedy and terrible remedy against lust.
6. Partners in sin must be so in judgment.
7. The saving of His from sin is more dear to God than the lives of the wicked (ver. 17).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)1. God's plagues may put wicked hearts upon speedy inquiry into their evils.
2. God's heavy strokes may force oppressors to call for oppressed to relieve them.
3. Wicked hearts will charge others to be the cause of their afflictions rather than themselves.
4. Sinful concealments in saints, are justly reprovable by the wicked (ver. 18).
5. Equivocation and ambiguous speaking to deceive is chargeable as evil by nature itself.
6. The infirmities of saints which may be occasion of sin unto the wicked are to be reproved.
7. Adultery is odious to the principles of corrupted nature (ver. 19).
8. Judgment wrings the prey out of the hand of the wicked.
9. Judgment makes wicked men give everyone their own.
10. God can make the mightiest enemies command good for, and be a guard to, His saints, and all they have (ver. 20).
(G. Hughes, B. D.).
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