Often we can be in the center of God’s will and yet experience problems. When Abram and Sarai arrived in the land God promised them, they were greeted by famine. Having little food was a definite problem, especially in a strange land where there was no market on the corner, nor time to grow food. God was testing Abram’s faith. He knew all about this famine and had even planned it.
When we began ministry in our new church, we were convinced we were in God’s will. Does that mean that everything would go well and we wouldn’t experience problems? No, God allows problems, He even plans them to test our faith. Why do we fall apart when God allows testing in our lives? Why do we wonder if we really are in God’s will when problems come? II Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
And James 1:3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Some Christians wonder how can such a loving God allow suffering in our lives? According to this verse, he allows and even plans it for our good, to make us mature and complete, not lacking anything. What does this verse tell us about how we should respond to such suffering?
Isaiah 31:1 says, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help….” Too bad for Sarai and Abram that Isaiah would not write this for yet another 1300 years! They learned the hard way that God wants us to look to Him for help, not to Egypt.
Unfortunately, Abram did what most of us would have done. He took his household to Egypt (v. 10). You say, maybe he didn’t know what Egyptians were like, but verses 11-13 indicate he at least knew that the Egyptians enjoyed beautiful women, particularly Pharaoh, king of Egypt. He was decent enough to only take unmarried women, but killing off a husband was no problem if Pharaoh really wanted someone. He had men likely stationed at the entrance points into the land to be on the lookout for any such beautiful women.
As Abram approached the border, he spoke to Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are [at 65 years of age!]. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (vv. 11-13). What should Sarai have done? Obeyed Abram or insisted on the truth? It was a half-truth. She was indeed Abram’s half-sister. (Gen 20:12).
But a lie was a lie, even if only a half lie. If she obeyed, she would be going along with a lie and putting herself at great risk. Pharaoh’s men would likely take her and she could spend the rest of her days in Pharaoh’s harem. She might never see Abram again. How could he ask her to do such a thing? she may have thought. How could he expect her to lie and take such a risk to possibly save his life?
One might wonder if Sarai really had much of a choice in the matter, for as stated before, wives were always expected to obey their husbands. However, it would have been better if Sarai had appealed to Abram, suggesting they return home, sensing danger ahead in Egypt. Submission to your husband is a biblical principle, but not when your husband asks you to sin.
Let’s look at Ephesians 5:21, 22. After stating husbands and wives should be submissive to each other (v. 21), Paul adds wives should obey their husbands (v. 22). But what if the husband asks his wife to sin? Wives should please their husbands, but stop short of sinning. They should offer a creative alternative to please him. For example, when Ashpenaz declined Daniel’s request to not eat the king’s meat which had been offered to idols, he offered a creative alternative when he asked the guard to be excused from eating the king’s meat and only eat vegetables instead for a trial period of ten days (Daniel 1:8-16). The request was granted.
A wife’s creativity may be taxed, but sometimes alternatives are available. Wives could suggest an alternative to meet the needs of their husband. (For example, wives could suggest they go to a decent movie instead of hanging out at the local bar). According to Acts 5:29, the only time when Christians should disobey authorities is when they are in direct contradiction to God’s Word.
But Sarai went along with her husband’s lie. Let’s think about a New Testament character who also went along with her husband’s lie. Read Acts 5:1-10. What lie did Ananias and Saphira come up with? What was the result of their disobedience? What were the circumstances that led these couples to lie (Ananias/Sapphira and Abraham/Sarai)? Read Proverbs 3:5-6. What attitude or beliefs could have prevented these lies?
Sure enough, the Egyptians saw Sarai and took her to Pharaoh. Pharaoh gave Abram sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels and servants in exchange for Sarai. The narrative goes on to say that God marvelously intervened and supernaturally caused plagues to fall on the house of Pharaoh to protect Sarai. Notice the amount of time that would have been required for Pharaoh’s household (wives and servants) to become sick and make the connection between the plagues and Sarai’s presence. This would have taken a few days and even weeks. Each day that went by would have been one of tremendous anxiety and fear for Sarai. Would Pharaoh call for her tonight? Would she be asked to compromise her purity? Would she begin to wonder if Abram really loved her when he had risked her purity for his life?
And what of Abram? How would he have spent these days when he knew he was clearly at fault for asking his beloved wife to go along with his lie? What kind of danger had he put her in? What could he do to get her out of it? He was helpless to do anything except pray to his God, to beg Him for mercy. God answered that prayer and delivered His children. That’s His mercy and He extends it to us all the time.
Sarai truly would have caught sight of Abram’s God in this deliverance. He had revealed Himself to her in this mighty and yet so personal way. He had rescued her, just her. He had showed His love for her and had protected her.
Can you imagine the conversation on their way back to Canaan? Perhaps there was only an embarrassed silence between them. Abram had been rebuked by a heathen king (vv. 18-20)! He had been wrong to bring his household down to Egypt, and then to risk his wife to the harem of Pharaoh was even worse. Would Sarai be able to forgive him? Would she use her silence to communicate her great displeasure? Would Abram humble himself and ask her forgiveness? It could have been a very long, silent trip back home!
Most couples can identify with this scenario, however different the circumstances. Though one’s circumstances differ, most couples can identify with what happened to Abram and Sarai. We all have our communication weapons of choice, whether it’s our use of words or the use of silence. Both can be deadly to good communication.
We should always speak the truth in love. We should use words that are honest and yet kind (Ephesians 4:15,19). We should never use the silent treatment and expect our spouse to figure out what is bothering us. We can only imagine how Sarai and Abram communicated with each other, but we can trust that they did.
Some might counter, “Look at how God blessed Abram’s decision to go to Egypt. Look at all the prosperity given to Abram by Pharaoh, all the animals and servants.” But Abram knew better. He knew that prosperity was not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. Abram had been severely rebuked by a heathen king!! (It’s not good when the world rebukes a believer!) He knew he had been wrong and they both must have known that God had mercifully delivered them.