Abraham is a famous hero of the Jews who is credited with founding their great nation. His legacy stands tall over all time. Thousands of years after his life, Abraham is heralded as the friend of God (Jas. 2:23), and his life is used to show what true faith looks like. God knew the kind of man Abraham was, and God was sure that Abraham would lead his family in the right way (Gen. 18:19). Today, following Jesus places one in the lineage that goes all the way back to this father of the faithful. Regardless of nationality, true Christians are Abraham’s descendants and included in the very famous promise made to him (Gal. 3:29).
While exemplary and highly praised, Abraham was undeniably human. As such he was fragile and vulnerable to temptation. Abraham was not that perfect man who would come to earth and live free from sin; he was but the earthly forefather of that perfect one, Jesus. Genesis chapters 12 and 20 record a pair of infamous lies that Abraham told. Before a look at that notable lie in Genesis 12, please re-examine verse 4 and the curious case of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. In some of the most famous lines of the whole Bible, God promises to bless Abraham and send Jesus to the world as a blessing for us all (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham was also told that he must leave his home and his family. What Bible readers find next is Lot (Abraham’s relative) traveling with Abraham (who was just told to separate himself from his home and family). It seems rather obvious that God intended Abraham to leave such relatives in Ur. While this situation is providentially solved by God in short order (Gen. 13:8-9), we see a glimpse of Abraham’s poor handling of God’s word. Abraham somehow thought he could obey the command to leave his kindred with his nephew in tow. Here’s how Abraham arrived at that conclusion: he lied…to himself. He justified his actions and tricked himself into thinking that what he wanted was really all right with God. Abraham, of course, is not alone in this regard. Cain (Gen. 4), King Saul (1 Sam. 15), and many, many others have done the same thing.
Leaving his homeland, Abraham travels to Egypt where it becomes clear to him that his life is in danger. Abraham was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take his beautiful wife (Gen. 12:10-12). Abraham’s plan was simple: he would say Sarai is his sister. While there was a kernel of truth in this (see Gen. 20:12), Abraham doesn’t really seem to care about being truthful. He just wants to stay alive, and the truth appears bendable.
When Pharaoh sees the beautiful Sarai, he begins to court her. He was told that she was unmarried, so why not? In a very strange turn of events, Abraham receives customary dowry-type gifts! In an instant, Abraham goes from being in fear for his life to being lavished with gifts. Learn this lesson: a lie can be quite powerful. Abraham is getting presents. Pharaoh is courting a pretty girl. Sadly, all of this must have seemed very, very strange to Sarai. The Lord, also, was unhappy with all of this, and he punishes Pharaoh’s house with plagues. Everyone may have said Sarai is Abraham’s sister, but God said Sarai is Abraham’s wife (Gen. 12:17). Here we see that truth does not change just because people say that something different is true. Truth is truth regardless of what anyone else says (or even knows). God determines what is true, and it’s not up for discussion.
Many miles away from Egypt and many chapters away from Genesis 12, Abraham tells the same lie to Abimelech (Gen. 20:2). Sadly no lesson was learned by the prior events. Also sad to see is this blind spot in Abraham’s faith: he believed that God would take care of him as he journeyed, so why not just also believe that God could take care of him if he told the truth about being married to Sarai? Fear makes people do some very strange things, both then and now. Just as in Genesis 12, Sarai is still Abraham’s wife in Genesis 20 (even if no one said so). Abimelech, like Pharaoh, is threatened by God for taking another man’s wife. The word of God is believed and accepted by Abimelech who scolds Abraham for withholding it (Gen. 20:9). It’s interesting that both Pharaoh and Abimelech had no problem handling the truth. In both cases it was Abraham who seemed most uncomfortable with the truth of God’s word. Pharaoh and Abimelech had great respect for God’s truth. Once they were finally given a chance to hear it, they complied with its teaching. I hope this will be a lesson for us: we have God’s amazing, freeing truth, yet too many times we are afraid to tell it to others. We convince ourselves that God’s truth must be softened. We are so sure that telling it will get us in trouble. In some cases, we tell half-truths in hopes of avoiding direct conversations. Let these two pagan rulers, Pharaoh and Abimelech, remind us that God’s truth does not need to be hidden. It just needs to be told.
Abraham was not perfect, and these events spotlight his perfect frailty. Thanks be to God that we see a hero who is so relatable to us and from whom we can learn so much!
Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road church in Greenville, SC.