“Undoubtedly, Abraham is offered as a model for the faith of Israel (as Heb. 11 attests). But taken alone, the model is unconvincing. In that presentation, Abraham seems to be almost plastic. Faith is not that easy. Faith is always a struggle. Even father Abraham must struggle for faithfulness.”
This is how Walter Brueggemann speaks of Abraham entering into the story of Abraham traveling to Egypt found in Genesis 12:10-20. Abraham while a model of faithfulness and trusting in God, was also very human. I even mentioned in my last post that Abraham’s taking of Lot may have even been a result of a lack of faith. However, in Abraham’s trip to Egypt we see a clearer example of Abraham’s humanity and that even faith for him was not something that always came easy.
Abraham and his family have to travel down to live in Egypt due to a famine that has hit the land. In order to protect himself Abraham tells his wife Sarah to act as she were his sister and not his wife. The reason being that she was so beautiful that Pharaoh would kill Abraham and take Sarah if he knew that she were his wife.
This whole scenario just seems very counter to the Abraham that we just left. That Abraham who traveled a great distance because of his faith in God’s promise and now we see very little of that trust here. Instead we see Abraham coming up with a way to avoid danger to his own life, even at the expense of Sarah.
Even stranger in this scenario is that it goes just like Abraham predicted. The Pharaoh does take notice of Sarah and she is taken into his palace. Abraham is granted many gifts because of Sarah. It is ultimately God who causes the end of the deception. He sends disease upon the house of Pharaoh and Pharaoh somehow figures out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife and that this is the cause of their malady.
This is not a tale that winds up with an easy moral lesson. Abraham lies about his relationship with Sarah and gets Sarah to as well, gains a good deal of material gain out of it, and God watches out for Sarah in the midst of it all. Abraham puts his trust in a deception instead of God, but God remains faithful despite Abraham’s apparent lack of faith.
I think that this is a significant take away from this story. It brings together two tests as Brueggemann calls them. It tests both the faithfulness of Abraham and Yahweh. Brueggemann gives this conclusion to these tests, “The graciousness of God is fully confirmed. The faithfulness of Israel, in its very first testing, is found wanting.” Abraham’s first recorded event after his calling is not his finest moment.
In fact it would be all too easy to pile on Abraham here, but the reality is that he was human just like we are today. He was not a plastic figure presented as being perfect in all he did, but like many of the people recorded in the Bible he was a figure of contradiction. He had great faith, but also had times where he tried to get by with his own schemes and plans.
Just like the choosing of Abraham and Sarah wasn’t based on their great ability to produce a nation, we see that God’s faithfulness to Abraham is not based on his faithfulness to and trust in God. Since we are all human and all lack when it comes to faithfulness to God, at least I know I do, this is good news even today. God is faithful even when we are not.
Now really this is what I feel the main thrust of this story is about. How Abraham is human and fails to trust in God, but that God remains faithful to Abraham regardless. Brueggemann, however adds another interesting point. Why does God punish Pharaoh when Abraham is clearly the one at fault? Brueggemann takes the idea of Abraham as being a blessing or a curse to the nations and applies it to this passage.
He says, “Both Abraham and Pharaoh are on notice: It is dangerous business to deal with Abraham. Something powerful is at work here, more powerful than the father [Abraham] or the empire [Egypt]. When Abraham acts faithlessly, as he has obviously done, curse is released in the world.” I’m honestly not sure what I think about this view. It seems odd for a God who is faithful regardless of Abraham’s faith, to put the blessings and curses at the whim of Abraham’s obedience and disobedience. It also seems odd that Abraham is not affected by this curse, but it instead blessed with material gain.
I am a bit wary of this view, not to say it couldn’t be possible, but it seems to be borne more out of trying to figure out why Pharaoh was punished due to Abraham’s lack of faith than anything else. If we are assuming a framework of God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah then I think the events could fit into that framework. God is not only looking out for Abraham, but also after Sarah, even when Abraham doesn’t. The idea that Abraham brought curse seems to only work if the curse affected him also.
The idea of Abraham bringing curses could work if the curse is not simply because of unfaithfulness, but because Abraham’s unfaithfulness caused a situation that interfered with the promise that God had made. He in essence had to bail Abraham out. To do this he sent illness onto Pharaoh’s household in order to make them aware that something wasn’t quite right in taking Sarah. Which presents a reality that seems to be often missed, that Sarah is important to the promise God made and not just Abraham.
However, all that said I still think that the faithfulness of God is front and center here. God’s faithfulness endures even when we prove to be human and our faith is all too lacking. This is true for us today and is even true for someone often lauded as an example to our faith like Abraham. God’s faithfulness is much greater than our own and for that I am very thankful.