Spiritual Principles of Truth...Abraham In Egypt
Dr. Joe Temple

The Abrahamic Covenant

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Genesis, chapter 12. Keep in mind that we have talked together about the portion of the Word of God referred to as the Abrahamic covenant, an agreement that God made with Abram when he was yet in Ur of the Chaldees before he left to go into the Land of Promise. Basically, God said to Abram, “If you will leave this land where you are and go to a land that I will show you, I will do certain things for you.”

We noticed by comparison of Scripture that Abram only partially obeyed the Lord. He went as far as Haran and tarried there until his father's death. Then he went on into the Land of Promise, or at least he started into the Land of Promise. His obedience was not complete even yet, as we are going to see, because his nephew, Lot, was still with him. Even that separation will be made by and by, and then Abram will be in a position where God can bless him.

I would like for us to read the 12th chapter of the book of Genesis together. Our lesson will be one related to principles of truth that are needed today just as certainly as they were needed in the day when they were written as the experience of Abram. The lesson may not be so informative as far as new things are concerned, but it seems to be tremendously important as far as spiritual things are concerned. We want to notice together the sequel to the Covenant which God made with Abram. We read:

Genesis 12:

1Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
4So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
5And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
6And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
7And 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.
8And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.
9And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
10And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
11And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
12Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
13Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
14And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
15The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
16And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
17And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.
18And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
19Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
20And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.

That is the conclusion of the chapter. In this chapter, as I mentioned in our introductory remarks, are some spiritual lessons that I would like for us to get clear in our minds.

There is one thing that we need to learn in relation to the study of the Old Testament if we have not learned it already, and it is that many of the spiritual lessons which you will find in the Old Testament study are involved in the names of places and people and things. As we pointed out to you before, we believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. That is, every word was chosen with a great deal of care by the Holy Spirit, and a great deal of wisdom. These words are presented in order and in the places where they are that we may profit from the spiritual lessons involved.

Obedience…Spiritual Progress

The first thing I would like for you to notice with me is that when Abram finally got around to obeying the Lord, leaving the land of Haran and going on into the land of Canaan, the first two names are highly significant as far as spiritual progress is concerned. The word Sichem means shoulder . If you should take the time to follow the word shoulder through the Scriptures, you would find that shoulder is always used as a symbol and type of strength. Remember when the little lamb was found by the shepherd, when ninety-nine were in the fold and one was lost…a little lamb too weak to get back to the fold by itself? Where did the shepherd put the lamb? On his shoulder. That is the place of strength. That is the place of encouragement. So here was Abram, just as he was going into the land of Canaan, stopping at Sichem, the place of strength.

This place of Sichem was in the plain of Moreh. The word Moreh is highly significant, too, for the word Moreh means instruction . Put the two together…the place of strength in the plain of instruction. How great it was of God to stop Abram right there as he was going into the land of Canaan. He needed new strength, and he certainly needed instruction. That this was a definite spiritual experience in his life becomes evident to us when we read the very pointed statement in the last part of verse 6:

Genesis 12:

6…And the Canaanite was then in the land.

The Canaanites, of course, were the descendants of Ham, the man upon whom the curse was placed. The Canaanites became a source of irritation to the Israelites and eventually, according to the Promise, became their slaves. But at this particular time, they were a rather formidable foe, and they struck terror in the hearts of the Israelites when they even thought about conquering them. So God stopped Abram here at the place of the shoulder in the plain of instruction. How often God deals with us in that manner in our spiritual pilgrimage. When we have no strength, when we come to the end of the way, He puts us in a place where we recognize His strength, and we profit by His instruction.

That this is a time of encouragement for Abram becomes evident when we realize in verse 7 that God is re-emphasizing, renewing, reiterating, the Abrahamic Covenant contained in the first three verses of this chapter. When we were looking at the Abrahamic Covenant, we told you that God renewed it or enlarged upon it every time there was a crisis in the life of Abram. It is such a crisis we are thinking about here. Try to put yourself in Abram's place. God called you and said, “Now here is a land. I will give it to you.” Just as you were about to enter into the land there would be a great army of Canaanites. How would you feel? You would be discouraged, wouldn't you? You would be tempted to think that it was too much of a job for you. Then God in His mercy and His grace would stand by you and strengthen you.

So He did here to Abram. He renewed the Covenant again and encouraged his heart. What was Abram's response? You have it in verse 7:

Genesis 12:

7…and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.

Abraham…Man of the Altar

I want you to notice that phrase particularly, because you need to become familiar with it. In the lives of these Old Testament saints, each of these men is characterized by a particular thing. Abraham was particularly the man of the altar. Isaac, his son, was the man of the well. He dug wells everywhere he went. Abram built altars everywhere he went. Altars are a place of fellowship, a symbol of fellowship, and you can gauge Abram's spiritual experiences, you can gauge Abram's relationship to the Lord, by following the trail of altars that he built through the land.

Here he was at a temporary standstill in Haran because of incomplete obedience. When he begins marching again for God, what do we find him doing? We find him building an altar in the very place that the Lord appeared to him. Of course, you will keep in mind that Abram was familiar with the blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifices were not reserved to the book of Leviticus. There were blood sacrifices in the third chapter of the book of Genesis. Do you remember when God slew the animal and made coats of skin for Adam and for Eve? Abel knew about the blood sacrifice. He offered a blood sacrifice to God, and it was accepted. So, altars were places where blood sacrifices were made, and they were the symbols of fellowship. Now that Abram was back in fellowship with the Lord, he built an altar.

I want you to notice verse 8, following the suggestion that we made at the beginning of our discussion that names are going to be highly significant in this portion of the Word. We read:

Genesis 12:

8And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.

Altar Is Significant

Here is another altar. This altar is in a very significant place. We are told that on the west there was Bethel, and on the east was Hai. We usually think that the east and the west are on the right and the left, but if you follow the Old Testament closely, you will find that the east and the west were related to what was ahead of and what was behind. You will notice that Bethel was on the west. That means that was what was ahead of him. Hai was on the east. That means that was what was behind him. Here again is a wonderful spiritual lesson, it seems to me, on the basis of the names of places. Do you know what Bethel means? Bethel means the house of God . And do you know what Hai means? Hai means a heap of ruins . Isn't that significant? Can't you get the picture in your mind? Ahead, the house of God, fellowhip; behind, the heap of ruins, the old life, or the place from whence we came.

Take those two names and apply them to spiritual experiences today. All of us have left a heap of ruins behind us. That is all our old life amounted to. Paul expressed it as a dung, a refuse. He said, “There is a heap of refuse back there. It is my old life before I knew the Lord.” Abram calls it a heap of ruins. Isaiah calls it the pit: “Look unto the pit from which you were digged.” The Psalmist calls his past the miry clay. When he was about to slip into the miry clay, the Lord lifted him up.

I like that expression about our spiritual biography. My life before I knew the Lord was a heap of ruins. From the very moment I came to know the Lord, all the days of the future are going to be related to fellowship. And so, you and every child of God have Hai back of you and Bethel ahead of you.

Broken Fellowship

We read in vere 8:

Genesis 12:

8…and there he builded an altar unto the Lord…

As I look at my Bible here, I see an indication that a new paragraph is beginning. Grammatically, that is important. Spiritually, it is more important. It means that a new phase in Abram's life is going to begin. I wish I could just close right here and say that Abram continued in fellowship from that day forward, but I cannot say that, because he did not. That is one reason we know the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Bible is the accurate record of life. A man who is writing the story of the life of a man would not be prone to play up the bad points. Courtesy, if nothing else, would demand that he skim over them. But not the Word of God. In one verse we have this man Abraham, or Abram as he was known then, at fellowship with God, kneeling at an altar. In the next verse we have him taking those first steps that break fellowship with God.

So will you notice in verse 9:

Genesis 12:

9And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.

He should not have been doing that. He should have been going into the Land of Promise, but he was going into the south. What was down there in the south? Look at the next verse: The Land of Egypt. This is the first time we find the land of Egypt mentioned in the Word of God. It is very important to notice it. There is a principle of Bible study, and we have referred to it before, which is called the Law of First Mention. However a thing is mentioned first in the Bible, that is the way it is all through the Bible. If a person or a thing or a place is presented as a certain type or a certain thing the first time it is mentioned, it means that all the way through.

Leaven Is A Type of Evil

Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Take the word leaven . The first time you find leaven mentioned, it is mentioned in an evil sense. Therefore, all the way through the Word of God, leaven is going to be a symbol of that which is evil. Leaven is mentioned often in the Bible as a symbol and as a type. If you do not observe the Law of First Mention, you become hopelessly confused in an interpretation of type. Again, referring to the illustration of the leaven, because I think you can see it a bit more clearly than you can see this, the Lord Jesus Christ told a parable one day. In that parable, He told of the woman who took some leaven and hid it in three measures of meal. It was not very long until the whole was leavened. Now somebody says, “What does that parable mean? What does it teach?”

Some people say it teaches that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be put out by a few folks, and eventually the Gospel will spread throughout the whole world until the whole world is permeated with the Gospel. That sounds good, but if that is what it means, it is not happening. So we face the fact that it cannot mean that. It cannot mean that for no other reason than that the Law of First Mention forbids it to mean that. The first time leaven is mentioned in the Bible, I repeat, it is mentioned in an evil sense. Therefore you cannot let it stand for the Gospel.

What do you let it stand for? Well, according to that parable, you let it stand for something evil, something opposed to the Gospel, such as false doctrine, and there you have the story. A woman, always a type of false religion, spreads false doctrine in the meal. Meal is a type of that which is right and good. The first thing you know, the whole is leavened. And what is the story? The story is that in these very days in which we are living a little false doctrine is put in with a little good, and the first thing you know the false takes hold of the good and completely blocks the good out, and there is nothing left but that which is false.

Trouble for Abram In Egypt

All right, looking here at the 12th chapter of the book of Genesis, what do we see? We see that down in the southland was Egypt. As we continue our story, anticipating ourselves a little bit, we find that down there in Egypt Abram got into trouble. So Egypt becomes a symbol of the place of downfall for the child of God. As it is referred to in other places also, it is a type of the world. John, writing in his first Epistle, chapter 2, said, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The world is something evil. James said, “You adulterers and adulteresses (spiritually speaking), don't you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” The world is something evil. Egypt, first mentioned here and followed through the Word of God, becomes a type of the world…the place where the Christian meets his downfall, the place where the Christian loses his testimony and breaks his fellowship.

You say, “Well, Abram was in fellowhip. He had just built an altar.” He had, but he left that altar and went down toward the south. You will notice in verse 10 that he wound up in Egypt to sojourn there because there was a grievous famine. Think about it. A famine in the land of Canaan; plenty down there in Egypt. So, what did Abram do? He left the land of Canaan and went down to the south to Egypt, because there was plenty to eat.

Let us stop for a moment and think about the spiritual lessons that are involved. What was the promise that God made to Abraham? “You get out of the land of Ur of the Chaldees, where you are, and go into a land that I will show you. I will give you that land, and it will be yours.” That was the word of God. Abram knew that. He believed it, but he is like a lot of us. It is easy to believe the promises of God when everything is going along smoothly, difficult to believe the promises of God when things are rough. It was not hard at all for Abram to believe the promises of God while he was headed toward the land of Canaan, but when a great famine hovered over his head, that was something else. That caused him to turn tail and run.

Abram's Faith Is Tested

Didn't God know there was going to be a famine in the land when He told Abram He was going to give him that land? Yes, He knew it, and I think He permitted the famine to come at that particular time to see whether Abram was really ready to trust Him. He wasn't. He went down to the land of Egypt because they had plenty, and the land of Canaan did not.

Someone says, “Is there anything wrong in providing for your family? Is there anything wrong in getting something to eat?” There is nothing at all wrong in getting something to eat when you need something to eat, but you had better get it in the right way. You see, if God told Abram to go into the Land of Promise and He would take care of him, then he should have believed God and not gone down into the land of Egypt. “Oh, he would have starved,” you say. No, he would not have starved. God would have taken care of him. “Well, isn't it all right to get something to eat when you are hungry?” Yes, but not at the expense of your obedience to, or your faith in, God.

The Lord Jesus gave us an example of that, you remember. There He was in the wilderness. He had been hungry forty days and forty nights. The Devil came along and said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Would you have blamed the Lord Jesus if He had turned those stones into bread? But did He do it? No, He did not do it. He said to the Devil, “It is written man shall not live by bread alone.” There are times when you have got to put the demands of the physical below the demands of the spiritual. There are times when you have got to subject the demands of the physical to the demands of the spiritual.

That time had come in Abram's life, and he did not succeed very well. He went down into the land of Egypt because there was plenty of food. He forsook something without possibly realizing what he was doing. He was denying himself. How wonderful it would have been had he gone on into the land into the midst of the famine, and God had supplied the need. He could have, you know. God is a mighty God, and He could have met the need, but Abram did not give Him a chance. Oh yes, he got fed, but he lost a great spiritual blessing. He not only got fed, he prospered.

Prosperity May Not Be A Blessing

Read further on in the chapter and see that the king of Egypt treated Abram well. He had sheep and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses and camels. All of this, and mind you, he was still out of fellowship!

Why am I making mention of that? Somebody comes along and talks about an individual and says, “Well, his prosperity may not be a blessing, may may not be a sign of the blessing of God.” When we get over in chapter 13, we will see that those riches became a problem. It was necessary for Abram and Lot to part company because of the riches he got down in Egypt. They plagued him for a long time. That was not all he got in Egypt that gave him trouble, either.

We will anticipate ourselves a little again and remember that Hagar, who became the mother of Ishmael, until this day a thorn in the side of the nation of Israel, was an Egyptian. If Abram had never gone down to Egypt , he never would have taken an Egyptian maid, and there would not have been an Egyptian maid to be used at the hands of Sarai to thwart the plan and purpose of God. What am I trying to say to you? Egypt is a bad place to be. The child of God has no business in Egypt. Why did Abram go? I do not think we ought to pass up anything too lightly. If you will look at verse 9, you will see he was already headed in that direction before the final temptation came.

That is the way it is with Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship, many times, is not broken in a moment. It is not always broken by one act of sin. It appears that way. If that were the only sin, it would break the fellowship. You can be sure of that, because the Bible says that if we walk in darkness, and say we have fellowship with Him, we lie, and do not the truth. One thing would break fellowship, but the point I want to leave with you is that usually the pathway is pretty well smoothed out for those sins. The Devil has made it pretty easy before the time actually comes.

Abram Barters Honor of His Wife

Abram journeyed toward the south before he got into all this trouble. He was already on the way. Now what happened? We can hardly believe what we read. The man who was called the friend of God, the man who had been given all these tremendous promises, was scared into lying…so scared that he thoughtlessly bartered the honor of his wife to save his own skin. Can you imagine a man's being that low and still being a friend of God? Oh, I tell you, no matter where you look in the Word of God, you are going to be reminded of His grace, for it is grace, and grace, and grace upon grace. What but the grace of God could so take hold of a man and change his life that he would be called the friend of God?

Abram said his wife was beautiful, and Abram said, “When we go down into Egypt, do not tell anyone that you are my wife. They may kill me to get you. Say, rather, that you are my sister.” Oh, to what lengths, to what depths, it is possible to go when once you break fellowship with God. Here was a man bartering the honor of his wife and lying. Do you know why he had to do that? Because he was out of fellowship! When people are out of fellowship, they have to get along the best way they can. They have no choice but to get along the best way they can. So, Abram had to make provision for his own safety. If he had been true to God, and had not been out of fellowship with God, God would have taken care of him. God would have protected him. He was on his own, and being on his own, he had to makeshift the best he could. How did he do it? He formed a refuge of lies by saying she was not his wife, she was his sister. If she was his sister, she was open for courting. She was open for any young man to pay his respects.

Man's Plans Never Work Out

Then, what do we find? We find that the king saw her and said, “She is beautiful. I want her in my palace.” That was according to the custom of the times, of course. So they took Sarai to the palace. Abram was left alone. Do you see how the plans of men never work out? What a shame it is that the child of God, who has access to all the riches of the grace of God, should have to stoop so low as this to provide protection for his wife.

Oh, but God is gracious. Again I say it. God is gracious, because God fixed it so Pharaoh could not lay a hand on Sarai. Maybe he sent some prophet to him, I do not know, but he was very much distressed when his house became filled with plagues. He began to say, “What is all this about?” God got the message to him finally: “You have got Abram's wife in your palace. God has made a promise to Abram and to his wife, and God is going to plague you until you give up, until you surrender his wife to him again.” Well, Pharaoh not only surrendered Abram's wife, he not only treated him well for her sake, but he saw to it that he should have anything he needed as he journeyed on his pilgrim pathway.

Oh, if we would only let God arrange things, if we would only let Him make the plans, if we would only let him follow through, what a difference it would make!


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